India

Xiaomi revamps its midrange segment with the Redmi Note 6 Pro

Is this phone worth upgrading to?

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Earlier this year Xiaomi launched the Redmi Note 5 Pro, which has been among the brand’s top-sellers. Since then, the brand has consistently launched new midrange phones like the Redmi Y2, Mi A2, and Redmi 6 to cover every possible price bracket.

Today, the company launched the Redmi Note 6 Pro officially in India. Concentrating only on the midrange and budget segments has enabled the brand to establish unprecedented supremacy and even become the number one smartphone maker in five consecutive quarters.

The Redmi Note 6 Pro brings in a slightly larger 6.26-inch Full HD+ notched display with an aspect ratio of 19:9. The processor remains untouched, though; it’s the same Snapdragon 636 SoC that powers the Redmi Note 5 Pro.

On the rear is a 12- and 5-megapixel dual-camera combo while the front has a 20- and 2-megapixel array. The phone can capture pictures with AI-assisted bokeh effect and comes with automatic software-based scene recognition.

It’s available in two memory and storage variants: 4GB+64GB and 6GB+64GB. There is also support for expandable storage via a microSD card. The phone runs on MIUI 10 based on Android 8.0 Oreo out of the box and boasts infrared sensor-based facial recognition. Powering the phone is a 4000mAh battery that supports fast charging.

The phone will be up for sale starting tomorrow, November 23 via Flipkart, Mi.com, and other offline retail partners. The base 4GB memory variant costs INR 13,999 (US$ 195), while the 6GB configuration is priced at INR 15,999 (US$ 225).

It will be competing against the Honor 8X, ASUS ZenFone Max Pro, Nokia 6.1 Plus, and the Realme 2 Pro.

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.

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Apps

How India is implementing the Chinese apps ban

TikTok is banned, once again!

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In a startling build-up, India has disclosed a list of 59 apps that originate from China and currently stand blacklisted. The two countries are involved in a deadly border stand-off and the anti-China sentiment is brewing at maximum speed.

The banned apps include globally recognized social platforms like TikTok, utility apps like CamScanner, and even games like Mobile Legends. The Ministry of Information and Technology stated that these apps are a threat to India’s security and sovereignty since their user data collection practices are questionable.

TikTok has been taken off the Google Play Store as well as Apple App Store. It means that if you already have the app installed, you can continue to use it without any issues. However, you won’t be able to download the app again since it’s no longer listed.

Obviously, you can rely on direct .apk files. But, this method isn’t recommended since it could pose a security or privacy threat to your phone and hasn’t cleared bare minimum audits.

TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, is headquartered in Beijing and the app first became popular in the Chinese market before spreading worldwide.

The ban isn’t effective yet since a lot of apps like ShareIt, CamScanner, and Shein are available in the stores. We expect these apps to gradually move out in the coming hours or days.

Furthermore, India has asked its internet service providers to help enforce the ban. While the details about this implementation remain unclear at the moment, we’re assuming a few IP addresses related to these apps will be blocked. Once this comes into force, you won’t be able to access TikTok or Mobile Legends content even if you have the app.

India already bans a host of porn websites using this technique. An error message is displayed that says the ISP has blocked access to the website after receiving a directive from the Ministry. If the telecom operators are fully onboard, India can successfully thwart a major chunk of traffic flowing to these apps.

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Apps

TikTok, Mobile Legends, 57 more Chinese apps banned in India

ByteDance IPO going down the drain?

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The government of India has decided to ban 59 apps of Chinese origin and released a list of all the blacklisted apps. This includes ByteDance’s TikTok, Alibaba’s UC Browser, and other popular apps like CamScanner, ShareIt, and Mobile Legends.

India’s Ministry of Information Technology said it was banning the 59 Chinese apps after receiving “many complaints from various sources” about apps that were “stealing and surreptitiously transmitting users’ data in an unauthorized manner”.

TikTok was in the news recently for “snooping” on users’ clipboards, which was uncovered by the latest iOS 14 update that is currently a beta for developers. TikTok had nearly 120 million active users in India and was among the top 10 apps on Google Play Store and Apple App Store.

The list of apps banned by India also includes the microblogging platform Weibo, strategy game Clash of Kings, and e-commerce apps Club Factory and Shein.

Numerous local rip-offs of TikTok are already online and users are migrating in hordes. TikTok users too have tried to migrate their audience over a period of time to Instagram, but the conversion rate has been lower than expected.

Tarun Pathak, an analyst at research firm Counterpoint, estimated that the order will impact one in three smartphone users in India.

CamScanner and ShareIt are utilitarian apps with a very rotten reputation of data collection. Furthermore, UC Browser and UC News push too many ads and have near-zero advertising moderation. These genuinely pose a serious threat in terms of data collection.

The relations between India and China continue to head downhill amid a huge border standoff. The skirmish has already amassed casualties on both sides but neither has any intention of backing down. Amid the Coronavirus pandemic, the anti-China sentiment is at an all-time high and Indians are actively trying to avoid anything that finds its roots in China.

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