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Main article: Xiaomi

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Sony latest phone maker to pull out of MWC over coronavirus outbreak

15:02 | 10 February

Japanese electronics firm Sony is the latest phone maker to announce it’s withdrawing from the Mobile World Congress (MWC) tradeshow — citing concerns about the coronavirus outbreak.

“As we place the utmost importance on the safety and wellbeing of our customers, partners, media and employees, we have taken the difficult decision to withdraw from exhibiting and participating at MWC 2020 in Barcelona, Spain,” Sony wrote in a press release.

MWC is due to take place in Barcelona between February 24-27.

Sony said it will now run a press conference planned for the event remotely, via its official Xperia YouTube channel, at the scheduled time of 8:30am (CET) on February 24.

“Sony would like to thank everyone for their understanding and ongoing support during these challenging times,” it added.

In recent days a number of companies have announced they’re pulling out or scaling back their presence at the conference as a result of concerns about the spread of the virus — including Amazon, Ericsson, LG, NVIDIA and ZTE.

The World Health Organization dubbed the emergence and spread of the novel coronavirus a global emergency late last month.

At the time of writing the majority of infections and deaths from the virus remain in China, where the virus was first identified — in the town of Wuhan in the Hubei province.

Several Chinese tech companies, including ZTE and Xiaomi, have said they will make changes to their participation in MWC related to coronavirus concerns, such as placing limits on staff travelling from China or requiring they self isolate in the period before attending.

Yesterday the organizers of MWC, the GSMA, also announced stringent rules to try to safeguard attendees, including a ban on travellers from Hubei and a requirement that all travellers who have been in China must be able to prove they have been outside the country 14 days prior to the event.

Attendees will also be required to self-certify they have not been in contact with anyone affected. Temperature screening will also be implemented at the event.

Last year the annual mobile tech conference drew almost 110,000 attendees, from 198 countries.

“While further planning is underway, we will continue to monitor the situation and will adapt our plans according to developments and advice we receive. We are contending with a constantly evolving situation, that will require fast adaptability,” the GSMA also said.

Attendance at MWC has regularly broken 100,000 in recent years but 2020’s conference seems likely to mark a break with business as companies face pressure to rethink their travel priorities.

 


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Twitter-backed ShareChat eyes fantasy sports in India

03:35 | 7 February

The growing market of fantasy sports in India may soon have a new and odd entrant: ShareChat .

The local social networking app, which in August last year raised $100 million in a financing round led by Twitter, has developed a fantasy sports app and has been quietly testing it for six months, two sources familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.

ShareChat’s fantasy sports app, called Jeet11, allows betting on cricket and football matches and has already amassed more than 120,000 registered users, the sources said. The app, or its website, does not disclose its association with ShareChat.

A ShareChat spokesperson confirmed the existence of the app and said the startup was testing the product.

Jeet11 is not available for download on the Google Play Store due to the Android maker’s guidelines on betting apps, so ShareChat has been distributing it through Xiaomi’s GetApps app store and the Jeet11 website, and has been promoting it on Instagram. It is also available as a web app.

Fantasy sports, a quite popular business in many markets, has gained some traction in India in recent years. Dream11, backed by gaming giant Tencent, claimed to have more than 65 million users early last year. It has raised about $100 million to date and is already valued north of $1 billion.

Bangalore-based MPL, which counts Sequoia Capital India as an investor and has raised more than $40 million, appointed Virat Kohli, the captain of the Indian cricket team, as its brand ambassador last year.

In the last two years, scores of startups have emerged to grab a slice of the market, and the vast majority of them are focused on cricket. Cricket is the most popular sport in India, just ask Disney’s Hotstar, which claimed to have more than 100 million daily active users during the cricket season last year.

Or ask Facebook, which unsuccessfully bid $600 million to secure streaming rights of the IPL cricket tournament. It has since grabbed rights to some cricket content and appointed the Hotstar chief as its India head.

So it comes as no surprise that many sports betting apps have signed cricketers as their brand ambassador. Hala-Play has roped in Hardik Pandya and Krunal Pandya, while Chennai-based Fantain Sports has appointed Suresh Raina.

But despite the growing popularity of fantasy sports apps, where users pick players and bet real money on their performances, the niche is still sketchy in many markets that consider it betting. In fact, Twitter itself restricts promotion of fantasy sports services in many markets across the world.

In India, too, several states, including Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Odisha, Sikkim and Telangana, have banned fantasy sports betting. Jeet11 currently requires users to confirm that they don’t live in any of the restricted states before signing up for the service.

“It doesn’t help matters either that the fantasy sports business’ attempts at legitimacy involve trying to be seen as video games — a cursory glance at a speakers panel for any Indian video game developer event is evidence of this — rather than riding on its own merits,” said Rishi Alwani, a long-time analyst of Indian gaming market and publisher of news outlet the Mako Reactor.

An executive who works at one of the top fantasy sports startups in India, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that despite handing out cash rewards to thousands of users each day, it is still challenging to retain customers after the conclusion of any popular cricket tournament. “And that’s after you have somehow convinced them to visit your website or download the app,” he said.

For ShareChat, which has been exploring ways to monetize its 60 million-plus users and posted a loss of about $58 million on no revenue in the financial year ending March 31, that’s anything but music to the ears. In recent months, the startup, which serves users in more than a dozen local languages, has been experimenting with ads.

 


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Vivo beats Samsung for 2nd spot in Indian smartphone market

19:22 | 24 January

Samsung, which once led the smartphone market in India, slid to the third position in the quarter that ended in December even as the South Korean giant continues to make major bets on the rare handset market that is still growing.

According to research firm Counterpoint, Chinese firm Vivo surpassed Samsung to become the second biggest smartphone vendor in India in Q4 2019. Xiaomi, with command over 27% of the market, maintained its top stop in the nation for the 10th consecutive quarter. A Samsung spokesperson in India did not respond to a request for comment.

Vivo’s annual smartphone shipment grew 76% in 2019. The Chinese firm’s aggressive positioning of budget S series of smartphones in the brick and mortar market and expansion into e-commerce sales helped it beat Samsung, said Counterpoint analysts. Vivo’s market share jumped 132% between Q4 of 2018 and Q4 of 2019, according to the research firm.

Realme, which spun out of Chinese smartphone maker Oppo, claimed the fifth spot. Oppo assumed the fourth. Realme has taken the Indian market by a storm. The two-year-old firm has replicated Xiaomi’s playbook in the country and so far focused on selling aggressively low-cost Android smartphones online.

The report, released late Friday (local time), also states that India, with 158 million smartphone shipments in 2019, took over the U.S. in annual smartphone shipment for the first time.

India, which was already the world’s second largest smartphone market for total handset install base, is now also the second largest smartphone market for annual shipment of smartphones in a year.

Tarun Pathak, a senior analyst at Counterpoint, told TechCrunch that about 150 million to 155 million smartphone units were shipped in the U.S. in 2019.

More to follow…

 


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Samsung invests $500M to set up a smartphone display plant in India

02:00 | 20 January

Samsung, which once led India’s smartphone market, is investing $500 million in its India operations to set up a manufacturing plant at the outskirts of New Delhi to produce displays.

The company disclosed the investment and its plan in a filing to the local regulator earlier this month. The South Korean giant said the plant would produce displays for smartphones as well as a wide-range of other electronics devices.

In the filing, the company disclosed that it would be using some land for the new plant from its existing factory in Noida.

In 2018, Samsung opened a factory in Noida that it claimed was the world’s largest mobile manufacturing plant. For that factory, the company had committed to spend about $700 million.

The new plant should help Samsung further increase its capacity to produce smartphone components locally and access a range of tax benefits that New Delhi offers.

Those benefits would come in handy to the company as it faces off Xiaomi, the Chinese smartphone vendor that put an end to Samsung’s lead in India.

Samsung is now the second largest smartphone player in India, which is the world’s second largest market with nearly 500 million smartphone users. The company in recent months has also lost market share to Chinese brand Realme, which is poised to take over the company in the quarter that ended in December last year, according to some analysts.

TechCrunch has reached out to Samsung for comment.

 


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Xiaomi spins off POCO as an independent brand

11:05 | 17 January

Xiaomi said today it is spinning off POCO, a sub-brand it created in 2018, as a standalone brand that will now run independently of the Chinese electronics giant and make its own market strategy.

Manu Kumar Jain, VP of Xiaomi, said Poco has grown into its own identity in a short span of time. “POCO F1 is an extremely popular phone across user groups, and remains a top contender in its category even in 2020. We feel the time is right to let POCO operate on its own now, which is why we’re excited to announce that POCO will spin off as an independent brand,” he said in a statement.

More to follow…

 


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Wearable band shipments grew globally, driven by Xiaomi

18:07 | 14 December

Apple may dominate the wearable conversation here in the States, but things look a fair bit different on the other side of the world. In Asia, Xiaomi is the giant in the room. According to new numbers form Canalys, the Chinese manufacturer was the key driver in global growth.

Wearable band shipments grew 65%, year over year for Q3. Xiaomi continues to top the list, with an even more impressive 74% versus this time last year. That puts gives the company 27% of the total global wearable band market — its highest number since 2015.

Low prices have been the key to the company’s success, which have helped grow shipments in China by 60% overall. The company’s strategy has also rubbed off on competitors like Samsung and Fitbit (soon to be counted among Google’s numbers), which have sought to offer low cost devices in order to appeal to those users, particularly in Asia.

Huawei saw substantial growth for the quarter, as well, at 243% year over year, courtesy of strong sales in its native China. Those numbers helped the company hold onto third place globally, just ahead of Fitbit.

Even Apple is offering up lower cost devices by keeping older model Apple Watches around, hitting the $200 price point The company’s new, premium devices continue to dominate, however. The Series 5 comprise upwards of 60% of the company’s global shipments for the quarter.

 


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Xiaomi launches app to offer credit to millennials in India

14:57 | 3 December

Xiaomi, the top smartphone vendor in India, today joined a growing wave of fintech startups in the nation that are offering credit to aspirational young professionals and millennials.

The Chinese electronics giant said today it is launching Mi Credit, its curated marketplace for digital lending, that offers users credit between Rs 5,000 ($70) to Rs 100,000 ($1,400).

Xiaomi said it has partnered with a number of startups such as Bangalore-based ZestMoney, CreditVidya, Money View, Aditya Birla Finance Limited, and EarlySalary to determine who should get a credit and then finance it.

Users are required to let Mi Credit app access their texts and call logs to look for transactional information and some other details to assess whether they are credit worthy. This whole process takes just a few minutes and eligible users can walk out with some credit, said Manu Jain, Vice President of Xiaomi, at a conference in New Delhi.

He added that having multiple partners for the crediting platform ensures that the likeliness of a user securing a loan is high. Once a user has secured a credit from the app, they can avail more credit in the future with a single click, the company said.

For startups that have partnered with Xiaomi, the big draw is access to a large user base, an executive with one of the partner startups said.

Xiaomi, which has been the top smartphone vendor in India for nine consecutive quarters, has an install base in tens of millions in the country. The company has shipped more than 100 million smartphones in the country, it recently revealed.

Xiaomi said the Mi Credit app will be preinstalled on all Xiaomi smartphones running Android -based MIUI operating system. The app is also available for non-Xiaomi smartphone users from the Google Play Store. (It’s not available for iPhone users.)

A wave of fintech firms have emerged in recent years in India to help millions of users secure credit and other financial services for the first time in their lives. The penetration of credit card remains very low in the country (roughly three in 100 people in India have a credit card.) This has meant that very few people in the nation have a traditional credit score.

This void has created an immense opportunity for startups to explore a range of other data points to determine who should get a loan. In emerging markets such as India, where the laws are lax, nobody appears to be alarmed with the idea of a company gleaning a lot of personal details.

As of today, Mi Credit is available to users in 1,500 zip codes, or 10 states in India. The company said it plans to extend the credit service to all of India by March next year.

Partner startups involved declined to comment on the financial arrangement they have with Xiaomi. The aforementioned unnamed executive said the agreement would vary with partners and the kind of product they are bringing to the table.

Xiaomi said it has deeply integrated its partners’ offerings into the app. As a result, users are able to see details such as disbursement of loans, lower interest, and credit score in real time.

The company began testing the app with some users in India last month. During the trial, it disbursed loans of over 280 million Indian rupees ($3.9 million).

For Xiaomi, the new offering would help it make its services ecosystem more engaging to consumers. The company, which recently posted one of its slowest growing quarterly reports, has been attempting to cut its reliance on hardware products and make more money off its internet services and through ads.

In March this year, Xiaomi launched Mi Pay, a UPI-powered payments app, in India. The company said the app has already amassed over 20 million registered users in the country.

Hong Feng, co-founder and senior vice president of Xiaomi, said the company understands the consumption behaviour of its 300 million users. “It is one of the strengths we aim to leverage to build a stronger Mi Finance business globally. We see a huge opportunity for consumer lending in India with estimations reaching up to $1 trillion dollars in digital lending by 2023, as per a report from BCG. This makes us believe that our Mi Finance business, based on solutions such as Mi Pay and Mi Credit can truly revolutionise the Indian FinTech industry.”

 


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Xiaomi’s Q3 earnings report shows slowing growth

18:05 | 27 November

Xiaomi, the world’s fourth largest smartphone vendor, on Wednesday reported a 3.3% revenue growth (QoQ) in the quarter that ended in September. While the results fell largely in line with analysts’ expectations, a drastic drop in the company’s growth underscores some of the struggles that handset makers are facing as they shift to services to make up for dwindling smartphone purchases globally.

The Chinese electronics firm posted Q3 revenue of 53.7 billion yuan, or $7.65 billion, an increase compared to 51.95 billion yuan ($7.39 billion) revenue it reported in Q2 and up 5.5% from the same period last year.

This is largely in line with analysts’ estimated revenue of 53.74 billion yuan, per Refinitiv figures, but growth is slowing. As a point of comparison, in Q2, Xiaomi reported QoQ growth of 18.7% and YoY of 14.8%.

Xiaomi said its adjusted profit in the aforementioned quarter was 3.5 billion yuan ($500 million), up from about 2.5 billion yuan a year ago. Gross profit during the period was 8.2 billion yuan ($1.17 billion), up 25.2% year-over-year.

The company said its smartphone business revenue during Q3 stood at 32.3 billion yuan ($4.6 billion), down 7.8% year-over-year. The company, which shipped 32.1 million smartphone units during the period, blamed “downturn” in China’s smartphone market for the decline.

Marketing research firm Canalys reported this month that China’s smartphone market shrank by 3% during Q3. Despite the slowdown, Xiaomi said its gross profit margin of smartphones segment had reached 9% — up from 8.1% and 3.3% in the previous quarters.

Other than Huawei, which leads the handsets market in China, every other smartphone vendor has suffered a drop in their shipment volumes in the country, according to research firm Counterpoint.

But for Xiaomi, this should technically not be a problem. Long before the company listed publicly last year, it has been boasting about its business model: how it makes little money from hardware and more and more from delivering ads and selling internet services.

That internet services business is not growing fast enough, however, to be an engine for the overall company. It grew by 12.3% year-on-year to 5.3 billion yuan ($750 million) and 15% since last quarter. Either way, it accounts for only a fraction of smartphone business’ contribution to the bottomline.

Xiaomi said two years ago that it will only ever make 5% profit from its hardware, something its executives told TechCrunch has been engraved in the company’s “constitution.” But the slow shift to making money off of internet services, while making less money from selling hardware, is one of the chief reasons why the company had an underwhelming IPO.

Meanwhile, the user base of Xiaomi’s Android -based MIUI software is growing. It had 292 million monthly active users as of September this year, up from 278.7 in June.

In more promising signs, Xiaomi said its smart TV and Mi Box platforms had more than 3.2 million paid subscribers and revenue from its fintech business, a territory it entered only in recent quarters, had already reached 1 billion yuan ($140 million).

But it’s hardware that continues to make up the biggest proportion of its revenues. The company, which is increasingly moving its gadgets and services beyond Chinese shores, said revenue from its international business grew 17.2 year-over-year to 26.1 billion yuan ($3.7 billion) in the third quarter — accounting for 48.7% of total revenue.

In a statement, Xiaomi founder and chairman Lei Jun said the company is hopeful that it will be able to further grow its revenues when 5G devices start to get traction. The company has plans to launch at least 10 5G-enabled smartphone models next year, he said. No word from him on what the company intends to do about its services ecosystem.

 


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Android’s Ambient Mode will soon come to ‘select devices’

21:00 | 26 November

You’ve probably heard murmurs about Google’s forthcoming Ambient Mode for Android . The company first announced this feature, which essentially turns an Android device into a smart display while it’s charging, in September. Now, in a Twitter post, Google confirmed that it will launch soon, starting with a number of select devices that run Android 8.0 or later.

At the time, Google said Ambient Mode was coming to the Lenovo Smart Tab M8 HD and Smart Tab tablets, as well as the Nokia 7.2 and 6.2 phones. According to the Verge, it’ll also come to Sony, Nokia, Transsion and Xiaomi phones, though Google’s own Pixels aren’t on the company’s list yet.

“The ultimate goal for proactive Assistant is to help you get things done faster, anticipate your needs and accomplish your tasks as quickly and as easily as possible,” said Google Assistant product manager Arvind Chandrababu in the announcement. “It’s fundamentally about moving from an app-based way of doing things to an intent-based way of doing things. Right now, users can do most things with their smartphones, but it requires quite a bit of mental bandwidth to figure out, hey, I need to accomplish this task, so let me backtrack and figure out all the steps that I need to do in order to get there.”

Those are pretty lofty goals. In practice, what this means, for now, is that you will be able to set an alarm with just a few taps from the ambient screen, see your upcoming appointments, turn off your connected lights and see a slideshow of your images in the background. I don’t think that any of those tasks really consumed a lot of mental bandwidth in the first place, but Google says it has more proactive experiences planned for the future.

 

 


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European smartphone shipments grew in Q3, driven by Samsung

19:13 | 25 November

Europe bucked global smartphone stagnation in the third quarter, marking an 8% year over year growth in device shipments. That number, provided by Canalys, puts the region at the top of smartphone growth figures, beating out Asia/Pacific’s six percent.

Once again, Samsung was the biggest winner here. The Korean manufacturer saw a healthy 26%, year over year growth. As noted back in Q2, Samsung’s growth comes as the company floods the market with a variety of different devices. Its mid-tier A Series accounted for all four of its top spots during that time period.

Huawei held steady in second place, as the company refocuses on Europe amid US/China trade tensions. Huawei accounted for 22.2 % of units shipped, versus Samsung’s 35.7%. Fellow Chinese manufacturer Xiaomi saw an extremely healthy boost for the quarter, jumping 73 percent for the year, to nab fourth place behind Apple.

While the numbers are positive in the face of larger negative trends, politics are still having a marked impact on figures.

“On the negative side, Brexit has already had an impact,” analyst Ben Stanton said in a release. “In the UK, shipments of premium devices from Samsung and Apple accelerated before each Brexit deadline this year, in March and recently October, followed by a large dip, as distributors were forced to stockpile product and hedge against impending tariff risk. This shot-term artificial boost distorts the market and the accompanying risk, costs and uncertainty, is a drain on the industry.”

Like much of the rest of the world, the European market is looking forward to a 5G rollout to help further juice shipments moving forward.

 


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