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India’s Android antitrust case against Google may have some holes – TechCrunch

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India ordered an investigation into Google’s alleged abuse of Android’s dominance in the country to hurt local rivals in April. A document made public by the local antitrust watchdog has now further revealed the nature of the allegations and identified the people who filed the complaint.

Umar Javeed, Sukarma Thapar, two associates at Competition Commission of India — and Aaqib Javeed, brother of Umar who interned at the watchdog last year, filed the complaint, the document revealed. The revelation puts an end to months-long interest from industry executives, many of whom wondered if a major corporation was behind it.

The allegations

The case, filed against Google’s global unit and Indian arm on April 16 this year, makes several allegations including the possibility that Google used Android’s dominant position in India to hurt local companies. The accusation is that Google requires handset and tablet vendors to pre-install its own applications or services if they wish to get the full-blown version of Android . Google’s Android mobile operating system powered more than 98% of smartphones that shipped in the country last year, research firm Counterpoint said.

This accusation is partly true, if at all. To be sure, Google does offer a “bare Android” version, which a smartphone vendor could use and then they wouldn’t need to pre-install Google Mobile Services (GMS). Though by doing so, they will also lose access to Google Play Store, which is the largest app store in the Android ecosystem. Additionally, phone vendors do partner with other companies to pre-install their applications. In India itself, most Android phones sold by Amazon India and Flipkart include a suite of their apps preloaded on the them.

“OEMs can offer Android devices without preinstalling any Google apps. If OEMs choose to preinstall Google mobile apps, the MADA (Mobile Application Distribution Agreement) allows OEMs to preinstall a suite of Google mobile apps and services referred to as Google Mobile Services (GMS),” said Google in response.

The second allegation is that Google is bundling its apps and services in a way that they are able to talk to each other. “This conduct illegally prevented the development and market access of rival applications and services in violation of Section 4 read with Section 32 of the Act,” the trio wrote.

This also does not seem accurate. Very much every Android app is capable of talking to one another through APIs. Additionally, defunct software firm Cyanogen partnered with Microsoft to “deeply integrate” Cortana into its Android phones — replacing Google Assistant as the default virtual voice assistant. So it is unclear what advantage Google has here.

Google’s response: “This preinstallation obligation is limited in scope. It was pointed out that preinstalled Google app icons take up very little screen space. OEMs can and do use the remaining space to preinstall and promote both their own, and third-party apps. It was also submitted that the MADA preinstallation conditions are not exclusive. Nor are they exclusionary. The MADA leaves OEMs free to preinstall rival apps and offer them the same or even superior placement.”

The third accusation is that Google prevents smartphone and tablet manufacturers in India from developing and marketing modified and potentially competing versions of Android on other devices.

This is also arguably incorrect. Micromax, which once held tentpole position among smartphone vendors in India, partnered with Cyanogen in their heyday to launch and market Android smartphones running customized operating system. Chinese smartphone vendor OnePlus followed the same path briefly.

Google’s response: “Android users have considerable freedom to customise their phones and to install apps that compete with Google’s. Consumers can quickly and easily move or disable preinstalled apps, including Google’s apps. Disabling an app makes it disappear from the device screen, prevents it from running, and frees up device memory – while still allowing the user to restore the app at a later time or to factory reset the device to its original state.”

Additionally, Google says it requires OEMs to “adhere to, a minimum baseline compatibility standard” for Android called Compatibility Definition Document (COD) to ensure that apps written for Android run on their phones. Otherwise, this risks creating a “threat to the viability and quality of the platform.”

“If companies make changes to the Android source code that create incompatibilities, apps written for Android will not run on these incompatible variants. As a result, fewer developers will write apps for Android, threatening to make Android less attractive to users and, in turn, even fewer developers will support Android,” the company said.

The antitrust is ongoing, but based on an initial probe on the case, CCI has found that Google has “reduced the ability and incentive of device manufacturers to develop and sell devices” running Android forks, the watchdog said. Google’s condition to include “the entire GMS suite” to devices from OEMs that have opted for full-blown version of Android, amounts to “imposition of unfair condition on the device manufacturers,” the watchdog added.

The document also reveals that Google has provided CCI with some additional responses that have been kept confidential. A Google spokesperson declined to comment.

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Twitter Spaces arrives on Android ahead of Clubhouse – TechCrunch

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Twitter announced today it’s opening up its live audio chat rooms, known as Twitter Spaces, to users on Android. Previously, the experience was only open to select users on iOS following the product’s private beta launch in late December 2020. The company says that Android users will only be able to join and talk in Spaces for the time being, but won’t yet be able to start their own.

That added functionality is expected to ship “soon,” Twitter says, without offering an exact timeframe.

The company has been working quickly to iterate on Twitter Spaces in the months since its beta debut, and has been fairly transparent about its roadmap.

Last month, the team developing Twitter Spaces hosted a Space where users were invited to offer feedback, ask questions, and learn about what Twitter had in the works for the product in both the near-term and further down the road. During this live chat, Twitter confirmed that Spaces would arrive on Android in March.

It also promised a fix to how it displays listeners, which has since rolled out.

Other Spaces features are being shared in public as they’re designed and prototyped, including things like titles and descriptions, scheduling options, support for co-hosts and moderators, guest lists, and more. Twitter has also updated the preview card that appears in the timeline and relabeled its “captions” feature to be more accurate, from an accessibility standpoint.

The time frame of some of its new developments  — like Android and scheduling options — were being promised in a matter of weeks, not months.

This fast pace has now led Twitter to beat its rival Clubhouse — the app currently leading the “social audio” market — to offer support for Android. Today, Clubhouse remains iOS-only in addition to being invite-only.

It’s also indicative of the resources Twitter is putting into this new product, which was first announced publicly just in November. Clearly, Twitter believes social audio is a market it needs to win.

The company also sees the broader potential for Spaces as being a key part of a larger creator platform now in the works. During its Investor Day last week, Twitter spoke of tying together its new products like Spaces, Newsletters along with a “Super Follow” paid subscription, for example.

It’s now also testing a Twitter “Shopping Card” that would allow users to tweets posts that link directly to product pages via a “Shop” button — a feature that would seem to fall under this new creator focus, as well.

Some Twitter users on Android had already found their way to Spaces before today’s announcement by way of the Twitter beta app on Google Play.

But now, a separate beta app won’t be required — when live Spaces are available, they’ll appear at the top of the Twitter timeline for Android users to join.

 

 

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West Tenth’s app encourages women to start home businesses, not join MLMs – TechCrunch

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A new digital marketplace called West Tenth, now backed by $1.5 million in seed funding, wants to give women a platform to start and grow their home-based businesses. Through its mobile app, women can promote their business to others in the local community, then field inquiries and requests through the app’s integrated messaging platform, as well as finalize transactions through in-app payments.

The startup was co-founded by Lyn Johnson and Sara Sparhawk, who met when they both worked in finance. Johnson remained in finance, but Sparhawk later moved on to work at Amazon.

Johnson explains that her experience led her to better understand the economic inequality of women in the U.S., where they only own 32 cents to every dollar in financial assets than men own. A large driver of this is that women leave the workforce, often to raise children, which results in years where they don’t have earnings.

“We’re really good as a society at supporting women on the way of out of the workforce to care for their kids, but really terrible at supporting them on the way back in,” Johnson says. “Women know this, and as an alternative to employment that just seems to fail them, they’re starting businesses in droves.”

Image Credits: West Tenth

With West Tenth, the goal is to encourage this sort of entrepreneurship — and more broadly, to help women understand that the many of the talents they’ve developed at home are, in fact, potential businesses.

This includes opportunities like home-based bakers and cooks, photographers, home organizers or designers, home florists, baby sleep consultants, party planning and event services, crafting classes, fitness training, homemade goods, and more.

The company notes that the app isn’t necessarily closed to men, but the current market for U.S. home businesses favors women as they’re more often the partner who chooses to leave work to raise children. However, there are some men on its platform.

Though today many of these entrepreneurs market their home businesses on Facebook, they’re missing opportunities to reach customers if they’re not heavily involved in local groups and responding to requests for recommendations. West Tenth instead centralizes local businesses in one place to make discovery easier.

Image Credits: West Tenth

 

In the app, customers can browse and shop local businesses, filtering by category via buttons at the top of the screen. The results are sorted by distance and offer photos, description, and the starting price for the goods or services offered. Through integrated messaging, users can reach out directly for a quote or more information. Customers can also complete their purchases through the app’s Stripe payments integration. West Tenth takes a 9.5% commission on these sales.

Another key aspect to West Tenth is its education component, The Foundry.

Through a $100 per quarter subscription membership (or $350 per year), business owners will be able to attend bi-monthly events, including classes focused on the fundamentals of setting up home-based businesses, marketing, customer acquisition, and other topics. These classes will also be available à la carte at around $30 apiece, for those who want to pay per session.

In addition, attendees will hear from guest speakers who have experience in the home-based business market, and they’ll be able join mastermind networking groups to exchange ideas with their peers.

Image Credits: West Tenth

This system of combining education and networking with business ownership could potentially help more women become home-based business entrepreneurs instead of joining multi-level marketing (MLM) companies, as is common.

“When we started this, we recognized that MLMs are one of the few kind of industries that’s focused on this demographic of women who’ve left the workforce — which is a huge, untapped talent pool in the U.S.,” notes Johnson. “But they’re really predatory. Only the top 1% of sellers distributors really make money and the rest lose money. And they lose their social capital, as well. What we’re really interested in doing is becoming an alternative to MLMs in many respects,” she adds.

Not surprisingly, MLMs aren’t allowed on the West Tenth platform.

Image Credits: West Tenth

The startup, which completed Kansas City TechStars last summer, has now raised $1.5 million in seed funding to get its platform off the ground. The round was led by Better Ventures along with Stand Together Ventures Lab, Kapital Partners,The Community Fund, Backstage Capital, Wedbush Ventures, and Gaingels.

The funds will be used to develop the product and grow its user base. In time, West Tenth aims to build out product features to better highlight local businesses. This includes shopping elements that will let you see what friends are buying and video demonstrations, among other things.

Since 2019, West Tenth has grown its footprint from just 20 businesses on the app to now over 600, largely in suburban L.A. and Salt Lake City. It’s now aiming to target growth in Phoenix, Boise, and Northern California.

Image Credits: West Tenth

The timing for West Tenth’s expansion is coming on the tail end of the COVID-19 crisis, where things have only gotten worse for women’s traditional employment.

School and daycare closures combined with job losses that greatly impacted women’s roles have now driven more women out of the workforce compared with men. And according to McKinsey, women accounted for nearly 56% of workforce exits since the start of the pandemic, despite making up just 48% of the workforce. This COVID-driven “shecession,” as some have dubbed it, is also disproportionately impacting women of color, studies have found.

“We’ve seen 5 million women exit the workforce — some because they were laid off or furloughed, and a huge chunk because they’re opting out because the caregiving responsibilities just became overwhelming,” says Johnson.

“The thing is when women leave the workforce for caregiving reasons — for some reason we really discount that and we make it even harder for them to return to work. So I think over the next 18 to 24 months, we’ll see a big surge in economic activity in the home with women trying to bring in additional sources of income by running a business from the home,” she says.

The West Tenth app is available on both iOS and Android.

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Flipboard expands its local coverage to more than 1,000 cities and towns – TechCrunch

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News aggregator Flipboard‘s local coverage is making what product lead Brian Gottesman described as a “quantum leap,” expanding from 60 topics (a.k.a. cities, towns and communities that you can follow) to more than 1,000.

While Flipboard has allowed users to follow stories focused on major cities like New York for years, it launched a broader initiative around local news at the beginning of last year. The company says it’s now bringing together news coverage in locations across the United States and Canada, including all 210 Designated Market Areas tracked by Nielsen.

This comes as local newspapers continue to struggle and shut down, creating what are known as news deserts. But Flipboard’s data quality analyst Marty Rose said that its local news sections don’t just rely on traditional newspapers — they can aggregate stories from travel blogs, publications aimed at diverse audiences, TV stations, regional/national publications that do stories of local interest and more.

“Our aggregation could create a local paper where in communities they don’t exist,” Gottesman added.

Flipboard is now tying these local topics to GPS locations, as well. Users will be asked to share their location with the app (Gottesman noted that to protect user privacy, Flipboard is only using “coarse precision” and doesn’t retain user location data), then presented with a list of nearby cities and local topics of interest that they can follow. This will allow them to keep up on everything from local political news to COVID-19 updates, weather forecasts and dining recommendations.

“This is such a key part of informing our users,” Gottesman said. “They need to know if there’s a natural disaster in their area … they need to know if there’s a new place to go and get vaccines. Their community is more important than ever.”

Conversely, Rose said that by building relationships with local news organizations, Flipboard could also “elevate” their coverage to non-local sections when it might be relevant to a broader audience.

Asked how publishers’ subscription strategies and paywalls might affect the stories that appear in these local topics, Rose acknowledged, “Some local publications do have paywalls. It’s entirely up to them, we have no problem with that whatsoever … We provide the headlines and if the user clicks through and they’re presented with some kind of paywall, it’s unfortunate for them, but it’s not really our call.”

At the same time, he said that local TV coverage isn’t paywalled, and that a growing number of local blogs and digital publications are relying on more of a donation or membership model: “I really hope that they stick around and we can push those a bit more.”

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