India Journalism Tech

By Me Today: Google Wants a Piece of Mobile Payments in India


The story begins:

Alphabet Inc.’s Google is aiming for a piece of India’s booming—but increasingly crowded—mobile-payments business.

The Mountain View, Calif., tech giant on Monday launched its first-ever smartphone app that lets users transfer money to individuals and businesses in the country without the use of a credit or a debit card, a crucial factor since many here lack plastic.

Click through to read the rest.

So, to re-cap the state of play as people leapfrog from cash (over credit cards) to payments via smartphones here:

  • Paytm — which we profiled back in June — is the market leader, with more than 225 million users. There are other popular services here, as well, like Mobikwik.
  • WhatsApp, with 200 million users in India, is exploring a payments feature.
  • Hike, India’s biggest home grown app, added a payments feature a few months ago.

Watch this space.

India Journalism

International Students Avoid Red States

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That’s the gist of a story I wrote with my colleague Doug Belkin in Chicago. It begins:

International students accepted to U.S. schools are planning to enroll at a similar rate as last year in most areas except the southern part of the country, especially Texas, according to data from 165 U.S. colleges and universities.

I spoke with one student here in New Delhi, as you’ll read, who said he really wanted to apply to Rice University in Texas. But his parents would’t let him — due to the state’s liberal gun laws.

You can also hear me on our What’s News podcast discussing the piece.

India Journalism Tech

Our Facebook Live Video On Apple and India

Last week my colleague Eric Bellman and I conducted a live Facebook chat on Apple’s big gamble on India.

The video is embedded above and on The WSJ Facebook page here.

Eric and I discuss India’s promise as the second biggest smartphone market after China (hundreds of millions of people are getting online for the first time on low-cost smartphones), what Apple’s been doing to make strides here (assembling phones locally for the first time, working to open its own official stores, trying to boost the iOS ecosystem, etc.) and the challenges it faces (the biggest: price).


And for more, see a couple of our recent stories:

India Journalism Tech

Photos: iPhones, Assembled-in-India, are Here

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I tweeted this on Friday and wanted to share it here as well: as we reported last month, the first-ever assembled-in-India iPhones are a reality.

Here’s a closer look at a couple of images of SE models I snapped at two shops recently here in New Delhi.

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For more on the wider context, see our story Thursday on Apple’s push in India. The headline: “Apple Scraps Like an Underdog in Second Biggest Mobile Market.”

India Journalism Tech

India’s WhatsApp Rival Launches Mobile Payments

That’s what I wrote about in this story today, which begins:

India’s biggest local messaging app, Hike Ltd., has beaten Facebook Inc.’s WhatsApp into the country’s booming mobile-payments business.

Hike on Tuesday launched free bank-to-bank and mobile-wallet payments for its roughly 100 million users, meaning people can quickly send money to one another via the company’s smartphone app.

“We are the first to bring payments to a messaging app in India,” Hike’s founder and chief executive, Kavin Bharti Mittal, said at an event in New Delhi.

For more on Hike, see my story from last year, when they raised $175 milion from China’s Tencent and others.

India Snippets

How you know you’re buying good cheese here in India

“Manufactured by a Dutchman according to Dutch traditions.”

India Snippets

Among the many excellent birthday gifts I got this year:

A sponsored this lovely New Delhi street dog in my name! Still missing Ashley a ton but thrilled to be helping out another pooch. 

India Travel

Trip Report: Varanasi, India’s Holiest City

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Back in February we took a quick trip to Varanasi, India’s holiest city. I’m late in writing about the journey, but it was remarkable and I wanted to share some images.

Varanasi, located about 400 miles southeast of Delhi in populous Uttar Pradesh state, is renowned place of pilgrimage for Hindus. It is known for its many ghats, or embankments along the Ganges river where people perform religious ceremonies and cremate the dead.

Varanasi map

The city has been continuously inhabited since about 18th century B.C., and the Buddha is said to have founded Buddhism nearby in the late 6th century B.C.

Varanasi is “older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend,” Mark Twain wrote in his 1897 travel book “Following the Equator,” “and looks twice as old as all of them put together.”

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Map of the city, which is also known as Banaras. We stayed on the southern stretch of the river

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The view from our hotel, south of the central ghats, looking up the Ganges.

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Cows on the riverbank

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A ghat

The city and surrounding area can feel overwhelming, not just due to the intense sensory impressions but also due to thick crowds and traffic.

So you might wish to take a targeted approach to visiting, which we used: Leave Delhi early on a Saturday morning, arrive in Varanasi and have the evening and Sunday morning there, then return to Delhi that afternoon.

You could certainly stay longer, of course, but for a first-time visit this schedule allows you to take everything in quickly and easily.

We took a flight on the Indian carrier IndiGo that departed Delhi at 8 a.m.; the flight takes less than an hour. Then it’s about an hour drive from the airport to downtown Varanasi.

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Heading up the river as the sun goes down

An excellent way to see the activities along the river is via rowboat. You can rent one, with a driver, for about 200 or 300 rupees ($3-$4.50) per hour. We took one on Saturday as the sun set on the river, and another at sunrise on Sunday.

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A ghat where cremations take place

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Saying a prayer and floating a diya, or small lamp, in the river

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Varanasi at night

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View from the river

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Performing a ganga aarti ceremony at the main Dashashwamedh Ghat

You can stop along the banks and take in the sights, like this prayer ceremony.

We stayed at the descriptively named Hotel Temple on Ganges. It’s quite basic, but has a big rooftop, serves decent food, and the staff are very helpful.

If you need your morning cuppa, you might visit the nearby Open Hand Cafe, which has good coffee and a variety of baked goods. There’s also Raga Cafe, which serves excellent Korean food.

For those interested in India, I put Varanasi in the “must-see” category.

Previous travel-related posts:

Trip Report: Three-Day Getaway to Neemrana Fort Palace

My Top 10 Southeast Asia Travel Tips

Two and a Half Days in Istanbul: How to Have an Amazing Time

India Journalism Tech

By Me Yesterday: Microsoft, eBay, Tencent Pour $1.4 Billion into India’s Flipkart

The story begins:

NEW DELHI—Indian e-commerce startup Flipkart Group has raised $1.4 billion from Microsoft Corp., eBay Inc. and Tencent Holdings Ltd., taking a hit to its valuation to raise the cash it needs to defend its home market from Inc.

Flipkart, which was started in 2007 by two former Amazon employees, said Monday that the new investment values the Bangalore company at $11.6 billion. That allows Flipkart to retain its title as India’s most valuable startup but is still a step down from the $15 billion valuation it received during fundraising in 2015.

“This is a landmark deal for Flipkart and for India,” Flipkart founders Sachin Bansal and Binny Bansal said in the statement, calling it the company’s biggest fundraising round ever.

Flipkart said Chinese internet firm Tencent led the round, but a Flipkart spokeswoman declined to provide a breakdown of investments by company.

Separately, eBay said on Monday that it was selling its Indian business to Flipkart and was making a $500 million cash investment in the startup for an equity stake.

India Journalism

Facebook Live Video: A Colleague and I Talk Trump, H-1B Visas

I mentioned in this in my most recent Newley’s Notes, but wanted to embed the video here in an individual post.

On Friday my colleague Eric Bellman and I discussed Pres. Trump and potential restrictions on H-1B skilled worker visas. The video is embedded above and on The Wall Street Journal Facebook page here.

Click through for comments and reactions from viewers.

My most recent H-1B-related story is here: “Indian Outsourcing Firms Look to Get Ahead of Immigration Curbs.

A round-up of my most recent H-1B-related stories is here. And our previous Facebook Live appearances are here (discussing India’s “demonetization”) and here (talking about Amazon in India).