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

India launches app innovation challenge after Chinese apps ban

Encouraging local developers and building an ecosystem

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India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology has announced a new program to encourage local developers and bridge the gap left behind by banned services like TikTok. It’s officially called “Aatma Nirbhar App Innovation Challenge” and was unveiled by India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi.

Atma Nitrbhar means “to be independent” or “self-sufficient” in one of India’s widely used languages, Hindi. A few days ago, the Indian government announced a blanket ban on a few listed Chinese apps. Within no time, they were off the Play Store and many services like TikTok and Mobile Legends voluntarily stopped service after the ban was announced.

The App Innovation Challenge includes the promotion of existing apps as well as the development of new apps. The program is split into two tracks. The first one includes already released apps that have the potential to scale and become world-class in their segment. The second track aims to identify companies as well as individuals who can build next-generation apps for the country.

Tthe government is looking for alternative apps of the ones that remain banned. Companies will have to submit their entries by July 18 and a jury for each of the tracks shall evaluate the entries.

The challenge is available in eight categories, ranging from office productivity or work from home solutions to news and games.

The government has allocated INR 20,00,000 (US$ 26,780), INR 15,00,000 (US$ 20,085), and INR 10,00,000 (US$ 13,390) for the first three winners, respectively. Adding to this, Each sub-category winner will also be rewarded.

India has suffered high casualties amid an ongoing border dispute with China. The Coronavirus pandemic has further fueled the anti-China sentiment and the Indian government is exploring options to reduce its trade deficit with the neighboring country.

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Apps

Indian telco launches a Zoom rip-off and it’s free

Definitely worth giving it a shot!

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Jio, India’s leading telecom operator has recently been in the news for a lot of reasons. The company has more than 30 percent of the telecom market in India and it intends to pivot, unlike any other telco we’ve ever seen.

The company has launched a Zoom alternative called JioMeet. The video conferencing app is expected to get a lot of traction amid calls to increase self-dependence and reduce the consumption of foreign products. However, it seems like the Jio team took too much inspiration from Zoom and thought of just directly mimicking it.

The app looks almost identical to Zoom’s offering, except for the minor color change here and there. The app is one of many in Jio’s portfolio.

However, the app offers a lot of high-end features like unlimited free calls in HD and supports for 100 participants in one go. Additionally, JioMeet does not impose a short time limit on a call’s duration.

On Zoom, you’d require a premium account to disable the 40-minute restriction on calls. Thankfully, the app is available on the Play Store and App Store for download directly, and no coupons or invite links are needed.

For security and privacy reasons, all its meetings are password protected. The host has the control to send the uninvited guests to the “Waiting Room” to ensure no gatecrashing. Obviously, standard features like screen sharing have also been included.

For desktop usage, the service can also be accessed through Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox browsers. On its official website, JioMeet claims all the meetings are “encrypted”.

In the last two months, the telecom operator has raised billion in funding from global investors like Facebook. The company also owns JioSaavn music streaming service and has its own entertainment unit that offers movies, shows, as well as live TV.

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India

POCO M2 Pro launching soon, specs listed on Geekbench

Launching on July 7

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File photo: POCO X2

POCO India has started teasing the launch of its next phone and it’s scheduled for July 7. However, even this phone — the POCO M2 Pro — couldn’t hide through the internet and its specs have popped up on the benchmarking tool, Geekbench.

Company teasers have already shown-off a quad-camera setup but we’re yet to know the nitty-gritty. The model listed on Geekbench is powered by a Snapdragon 720 SoC alongside 6GB of RAM. The phone shall ship with Android 10 out-of-the-box. The company has already confirmed it’ll support 33W fast charging.

According to the rumor mill, the POCO M2 Pro shall have a quad-camera setup on the rear. It’ll consist of a 64-megapixel primary camera, an 8-megapixel wide-angle sensor, a 5-megapixel macro lens, and a 2-megapixel depth sensor.

This will be the first phone in the M-series and will play an essential role in framing the brand’s presence in the Indian market. So far, POCO has launched only two phones in India since its debut. However, at the beginning of this year, POCO parted ways from Xiaomi to operate as an independent brand.

Xiaomi already leads the market while OPPO and vivo have an extremely strong on0-ground presence. Samsung too has a considerable chunk due to its revered brand perception. Realme has consistently shown radical growth and it’s going after Xiaomi with all its might.

With an increasingly competitive market like this, POCO has a lot to accomplish. Currently, the brand only has the POCO X2 on sale.

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