India Journalism

Mobile Money Heats Up in India as Google Doubles Down

That’s the headline of my most recent story, which came out yesterday. It begins:

NEW DELHI–Alphabet Inc.’s Google is raising its mobile-payments game in India with new functions and services as global players race to woo the nation’s legions of consumers who are skipping credit cards and transacting on smartphones instead.

A day after Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. said it had invested in the parent company of India’s largest digital-payments firm, called Paytm, Google said it is expanding its mobile money service in the South Asian nation. It is partnering with several local banks to offer consumer loans from within its app in the coming weeks, aiming to assist users seeking cash to cover expenses such as school fees.

Google is also expanding its tie-ups to more online merchants as well as to physical retail shops such as India’s ubiquitous mom and pop stores.

Click through to read the rest.

India Journalism Tech

A Browser You’ve Never Heard of Is Dethroning Google in Asia

Uc browser

That’s the headline of my newest story, out today. It begins:

JAKARTA, Indonesia—A mobile browser rarely used in the West has outflanked Google’s Chrome in some of Asia’s fastest-growing markets, giving owner Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. an advantage in the race among technology giants to capture the next generation of internet users.

Hundreds of millions of people in India, Indonesia and other emerging markets getting online for the first time are picking UC Browser, owned by Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, over ones made by U.S. rivals. Users say UC Browser works better in countries dominated by low-end smartphones and spotty mobile service.

“It’s faster, it takes up less memory, and it looks better” than Chrome, said Rizky Ari Prasetya, a 20-year-old Jakarta resident who recently ditched Chrome for UC Browser.

India and Indonesia are among the last, great untapped markets for internet users. Just 30% of India’s 1.3 billion people are online, and only 25% of Indonesia’s 260 million use the web, according to the International Telecommunication Union, a United Nations body.

Click through to read the rest.

India Journalism

Google, India and Next Billion Users Follow up: More Data


Following my story Tuesday about Google, India, and the future of the web, I wanted to share the text of some tweets, slightly edited for presentation here, that I posted after Google’s launch event.

These are some stats Google revealed at the gathering, along with a obvservaiton of two of mine:

–…India now has 400 million internet users, most accessing the web via their smartphones, Google says.

— Still, some 900 million Indians aren’t online.

230 million people use the web in local Indian languages today.

170 million are using messaging services, Google says, and 106 million consume online news.

— Some 1 billion apps are downloaded every month from Google’s Play Store, more than any other nation.

28% of search queries in India are done via voice.

Google is seeing 400% growth in Hindi queries year on year.

— On Google’s new India-first mobile payment app, Tez: launched 10 weeks ago, about to pass 12 million active users, Google says. 500,000 merchants are on the platform.

There are “big new features planned, especially for merchants,” in 2018, said Caesar Sengupta, of Google’s Next Billion Users team.

Re-cap of new stuff: Android Oreo (Go edition), for inexpensive smartphones. Google Go, search app for beginner web users. Files Go, for freeing up space on (again, inexpensive) phones. Google Assistant for JioPhone. Maps feature for motorbike riders. [Note: more details are here.]

— And an incident that illustrates how tough voice search tech can be to get right. An exec was demo-ing how to use Google Assistant to find a restaurant in Delhi.

In live demo, he said: “How do I get there?”

The phone then displayed the text:

huawei adventure advocate?

— He and the audience laughed it off, and he tried again, asking for directions, and Google Assistant gave him directions to different location than the restaurant.

UPDATE, December 29: If you’d like to watch the event, you can find it on YouTube here.

India Journalism Tech

By Me Yesterday: Google, India, and the Future of the Web


The story begins:

NEW DELHI—An explosion of smartphone usage in India is changing the way Alphabet Inc.’s Google sees the future of the internet.

As a mobile price war in the South Asian nation has slashed data rates to less than $5 a month for unlimited high-speed access, hundreds of millions of people are getting online for the first time and bingeing, stretching their low-end smartphones to the limit.

The Mountain View, Calif., company rolled out several apps and functions Tuesday aimed directly at these net newbies and those like them in other emerging markets.

As online activity here has increased this year, the inexpensive smartphones used by many consumers have struggled to handle the surge. To help, Google has shrunk the file size of its mobile operating system and many popular apps. Users in India are frequently offline so Google has given them the ability to do more without an internet connection. Also, they are much more likely to get around on motorcycles than in cars so Google Maps has started offering suggested routes and travel-time estimates for two-wheelers.

Click through to read the rest.

For more on the products, here’s a blog post from Google containing additional details.

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.