India

Xiaomi has a limited window to fix MIUI amid Chinese app ban

Brand perception matters the most right now

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Xiaomi is India’s top smartphone maker and it has been leading for a couple of years now. The brand is credited for revolutionizing affordable 4G smartphones in the country and since then, it has expanded to smart homes, wearables, IoT, and even luggage. However, the brand faces a fresh challenge unlike any other. Anti-China calls are at an all-time high and Chinese app makers are already facing the brunt. How long can a brand like Xiaomi survive?

In a recent interview with The Economic Times, Xiaomi India CEO, Manu Kumar Jain said, “Once or twice in the past one week or 10 days, there have been one or two episodes when people have come outside our stores and raised slogans… we haven’t seen any major episodes till now. But this, to us, appears more like Twitter reaction.”

India and China have radically increased their troop deployment in the bordering region of Ladakh. The skirmish has escalated severely after clashes broke out and both sides suffered casualties. The spread of Coronavirus had already seeded anti-China sentiments and the recent border crisis has watered them further.

India has already banned 59 Chinese origin apps in the country. Buyers are inclined to avoid Chinese goods and even companies are scrambling to reduce their dependence on Chinese imports.

In the middle of all the chaos is Xiaomi, the brand with a Chinese name. So far, the company hasn’t faced any drastic issues and phones continue to sell like hotcakes.

Thanks to local sourcing, marketing, and perception of the company, it has become a household name in India. Adding to this, its affordable offerings are unmatchable, giving it a natural edge over the others. But all of this could soon tumble like a house of cards.

MIUI — the elephant in the room

Every time I review a Xiaomi phone, a few points are always common. The phone has a solid design, cameras are usually above average, and battery backup is spot-on. Performance depends on the processor and we’ve seen top-notch results in most phones. However, everyone, including me, has one complaint — MIUI and its ads.

MIUI is a mature skin and has been crucial for Xiaomi’s rise as a phone maker. With a new iteration coming every year, it has developed a fan following equivalent to Google’s stock Android releases. Filled to the brim with features, it’s perfect for everyone. But, it incorporates a very complex web of apps that are supposed to be an extension of MIUI.

Apps like Mi Video are notorious for pushing ads in the UI. Furthermore, apps like GetApps and Themes will constantly recommend content that you can download. These too, are essentially ads.

On a normal day, the notifications tab is filled with ads and bloatware suggestions. Keep in mind, the phone already ships with a ton of bloatware and is now asking you to install more.

Users have often complained about “indecent” or “inappropriate” ads showing up on their phone. Xiaomi announced last year it’s working on fixing the issue.

This year, two apps by Xiaomi — Mi Browser Pro and Mint Browser, were caught collecting a huge amount of data about any website a user visits, even in incognito mode. The data was sent to remote servers, sparking a fresh controversy on Xiaomi’s reliability. These apps often ship by default on MIUI phones.

MIUI 12 incorporates a host of new features that focus on improving the privacy and overall security of the phone and its data. However, MIUI 12 roll-out is still in the early stages and won’t act as an immediate stop-gap measure that’s required right now.

Xiaomi’s brand perception is on the line now

India banned 59 apps including TikTok for safety concerns. These apps have a notorious history of collecting too much user data without clear consent.

Many of them are serial offenders who’ve built their business models around data collection and ad targeting. Adding to this, their Chinese origin adds a layer of opaque international bureaucracy and practically impossible enforcement.

Alibaba backed UC Browser and UC News feed on your information and thrive by delivering ads. Irrespective of whether they’re relevant or not. The apps are a security researcher’s nightmare.

When I compare the behavior of UC Browser against Xiaomi’s stock apps, the difference isn’t big enough. Both push cheap and desperate ads in my notifications area.

Wouldn’t any average Joe feel the same? Pretty much every app included in India’s ban list has a strong history of flouting basic moral conduct. Xiaomi, being a respected brand in the hardware space, cannot afford to be included in this list.

I’m not saying ads are bad. Google is the world’s largest advertising company and it operates with transparency. The company is liable for privacy lapses and laws like GDPR (European Union) exert a moral responsibility on the company’s management. This accountability is lost as soon as we reach China.

Safe vs affordable: which side will you choose?

Xiaomi started integrating ads in the user interface because it helped in making the actual phone cheaper. A considerable chunk of Xiaomi’s revenue is dependent on bloatware (pre-installed apps) and ads.

In the short-term, the brand is able to sell more phones thanks to aggressive pricing and earn ad revenue in the longer run. But, times are changing and geopolitical forces exert more pressure than ever.

Now’s the time for Xiaomi to decide — can it let go of some revenue in exchange for long-term brand perception? These ads are clearly not helping the company make a point and users are gradually understanding the value of their data.

With the recent app ban, a Chinese app or software that delivers ads is inherently assumed to be compromised or risky.

The company may have to rework their product pricing or could move away from ads in a phased mnner with new phones. It can also offer a monthly subscription wherein users can opt-out of ads and data collection. But selling privacy after selling you a device may not go down well for many users. Amazon has tried this subscription model with its Fire tablet lineup that targets the entry-level segment.

If Chinese phone makers want to sell units anywhere in the world, one thing’s for sure — they need to focus on privacy as a fundamental right and not a privilege. The Huawei ban has proved that getting in the bad books of non-allied nations could mean doom for them.

India

Google to invest US$10 billion in India over 5-7 years

Tech companies are bullish about India

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Benjamin Dada on Unsplash

alAt its annual Google for India event, Google announced it will be investing INR 75,000 crore (US$ 10 billion) within the next five to seven years. Google CEO Sundar Pichai said the investment will be via multiple channels. This includes direct investments, partnerships, and infrastructure.

“Investments will focus on four areas important to India’s digitization,” he said emphasizing on infrastructure.

He added that the recent pandemic has shown the need for technology and the adoption of new digital tools. Google will focus on improving internet access and offer more information in regional languages like Hindi, Tamil, Punjabi, and more.

Secondly, it will focus on building new products and services that will empower India’s businesses. Leveraging AI in the fields of health, education, and agriculture is a priority.

Google added that its Internet Saathi has already helped more than 30 million women across India. It’s an initiative that strives to spread internet awareness.

The tech giant has also increased its focus on India in the last few years since the market is hugely untapped. One of its most successful launches has been Google Pay. It leverages the country’s UPI (Unified Payments Interface) to transfer money instantaneously to friends, businesses, and even online services.

Pichai lauded Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision of Digital India stating that India has made huge progress.

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India

Samsung starts making smartwatches in India

Includes an entire range of 18 smartwatches

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Samsung has launched the Galaxy Watch Active 2 4G Aluminium edition in India. The Galaxy Watch Active 2 has been available in the country for quite some time, but there’s something special about the Aluminium edition.

It’s the first Samsung smartwatch to be built in India. The brand said it has started manufacturing its entire range of 18 smartwatches in India as part of the Make for India program. The company has been making phones in India for years, but wearables were usually imported.

Samsung has a huge production facility in Noida, India. Smartphones are also built for export and the plant can be expanded further depending on demand. Amid the call to avoid foreign goods, Indians are actively looking for options that are made or designed in India.

Coming to the watch, it’s priced at INR 28,490 (US$ 378) and shall be available in Cloud Silver, Aqua Black, and Pink Gold color options.

It sports a 1.4-inch Super AMOLED display with Gorilla Glass DX+ for protection. The smartwatch is IP68 certified and rated to work at a maximum pressure of up to 5ATM. It runs on Tizen OS with 1.5GB RAM and 4GB internal storage.

Once connected to a phone, it can also access the smartphone camera, videos, and use Wireless PowerShare to transfer data quickly.

It has e-SIM connectivity that enables calls, messages, and notifications on-the-go. Lastly, it’s equipped with a heart-rate sensor, ECG sensor, accelerometer, gyroscope, barometer, and ambient light sensor.

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POCO M2 Pro launches with Snapdragon 720G, quad cameras

A Redmi Note 9 Pro look-alike?

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After becoming an independent brand, POCO has focused on the affordable segment and is gradually expanding. Today, the brand launched the POCO M2 Pro in India and it’s the most affordable phone to sport a Snapdragon 720G chipset.

The phone looks eerily similar to the Redmi Note 9 Pro. In fact, the new phone directly undermines Redmi’s offering. It’s no surprise the two brands are leveraging Xiaomi’s supply chain perfectly.

Coming back to the phone, it has a 6.7-inch Full HD+ display with a punch-hole cut-out and Gorilla Glass 5 protection. Powering the phone is a Snapdragon 720G processor with up to 6GB RAM and 128GB internal storage. The phone has a P2i coating that enables dust and water resistance.

On the rear is a quad-camera setup consisting of a 48-megapixel primary sensor, an 8-megapixel wide-angle lens, a 5-megapixel macro sensor, and a 2-megapixel depth sensor. For selfies, a 16-megapixel selfie shooter is located on the front.

It ships with POCO Launcher 2.0 out-of-the-box. Powering the phone is a 5020mAh battery with support for 33W fast charging.

The phone is available in three configurations. The first one with 4GB+64GB costs INR 13,999 (US$ 186), followed by 6GB+64GB at INR 14,999 (US$ 200), and lastly, the 6GB+128GB options goes for INR 16,999 (US$ 226). Color options are called Out of the Blue, Green and Greener, and Two Shades of Black. The phone will be up for purchase via Flipkart from July 14.

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