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India’s Times Internet isn’t ceding ground to US rivals Facebook and Google – TechCrunch

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The aggressive push by Silicon Valley companies and Chinese firms to win India, one of the last great growth markets, has decimated many local businesses in recent years. With each passing day, Amazon is closing in on Walmart-owned Flipkart’s lead on the e-commerce space. Uber is fighting with Ola for the tentpole position of the ride-hailing market; and Google and Facebook dominate the ads business, to name a few. But a handful of companies in India have not only survived the growing competition, but they have built businesses that are positively thriving.

Media conglomerate Times Internet, one such company, says that its properties now reach 110 million users each day and 450 million users each month. To put this in context: Facebook and Google have about 300 million monthly active users in India. Facebook, which is mired in controversy over the spread of misinformation on WhatsApp in India (and other regions), has not revealed its growth in the nation in last two years. But in a marketing pitch, the juggernaut says its family of apps (marquee Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram) reach 350 million users in the nation each month.

In a rare industry move, Satyan Gajwani, vice chairman of Times Internet, shared an overview of the conglomerate’s business on Tuesday, revealing the ever growing tentacles of its ambitions.

If the numbers are so huge, why self-publish? Gajwani declined to comment but his company is in a unique situation. For all its scale, Times Internet remains one of the least talked about conglomerates of its size in the country. Most news organizations in India compete with its media outlets, which may explain why it is under-reported in the press.

The ever-growing portfolio of Times Internet companies

The subsidiary of 181-year-old Bennett Coleman and Company Limited (popularly known as Times Group) operates more than three dozen properties, including newspaper Times of India, online outlet Indiatimes, advertisement business Colombia, venture arm Tventures, and streaming services Gaana and MX Player . And nearly all of these properties are growing, Gajwani said.

For instance, Times Internet’s news outlets have amassed 265 million monthly active users. The Times of India, the country’s most read newspaper and news website, alone has 212 million monthly active users, up by 44% since last year. Times Internet’s regional digital periodicals such as NewsPoint, Navbharat Times, Maharashtra Times, Vijay Karnataka now have 122 monthly active users, he said.

Music streaming service Gaana, which raised $115 million from Tencent and others last year, reached 100 monthly active users in March this year, the service announced last week. MX Player, a video playback app that doubles as a streaming service that Times Internet acquired for some $140 million last year, is one of the most popular Android apps in emerging markets.

During the first month of ongoing IPL cricket tournament, one of the hottest events in India, 118 million users tuned into Times Internet’s Cricbuzz, a news and entertainment service dedicated to sports. As the ecosystem of mobile gaming begins to gain major traction in India, Times Internet says it is building a portfolio of apps in this space, too.

Its lifestyle properties such as MenXP, iDiva, and Whats Hot have 40 million monthly active users and its videos clock more than 200 million views each month. These properties are exploring an additional revenue channel by selling products directly to customers, Gajwani told TechCrunch in an interview.

Times Internet vice chairman Satyan Gajwani

Moving beyond ads

Chasing that avenue illustrates Times Internet’s growing push to grow its business beyond ads. Most of Times Internet’s properties are built on top of ads and don’t cost users anything for access. Its own advertising business, called Colombia, now supplements some advertisement on its network and is used by more than a dozen outside brands including Ola, ABP News, and Hotstar.

But online advertising still can’t compete with those of TV and print in India, Satish Meena, an analyst with research firm Forrester told TechCrunch. So in recent years, Times Internet has announced a number of subscription services across many of its properties.

“Especially for premium publishers, an ads-only business model is not likely to last or sustain in the long run,” Gajwani said. Last year, Times Internet announced Times Prime, a subscription bundle that includes access to premium version of Gaana, an ad-free experience on Times of India, and discounts on a number of third-party services such as food delivery Swiggy, retailer BigBasket, and theatre chain PVR Cinemas. Gajwani said Times Internet has hit a million customers across its subscription services.

Part of Times Internet’s push to expand its revenue channels is its growing focus on Tventures, its VC fund that made early investments in a number of startups including edtech startup Byju’s and logistics startup Delhivery, two unicorns. It has also invested in ride-hailing service Shuttl, and cricket fantasy app MPL among others.

Gajwani said Tventures looks at “use cases that can benefit from its growing network.” And that’s one of the big advantages of Times Internet’s scale. The properties they own enjoy great advertisement benefits across its sprawling network. “There are very few companies — with exception of Google and Facebook — that have our level of scale,” Gajwani said.

Times Internet, which employs over 5,000 people, also operates Times Bridge, an investment firm that ties with international brands to help them launch in India. Some of its strategic partners include Uber, Airbnb, and Coursera. It also partnered with a number of news outlets including Business Insider, TechRadar, Huffington Post (which, like TechCrunch, is owned by Verizon Media Group), AdAge, PCMag, and Gizmodo Media properties Lifehacker and Gizmodo to launch them in India.

But it isn’t all success, there have been less successful ventures particularly in the media segment.

The Indian versions of Lifehacker, Gizmodo, TechRadar, and PCMag failed to attract significant audiences in the nation and have already closed shops. Huffington Post ended its partnership with Times Internet in 2017 and it now wholly controls Huffington Post India.

Gajwani admitted that Times Internet realized working with some niche publishers isn’t so sustainable. “We have some partnerships that we maintain that are doing well such as Business Insider,” he added. Today, Times Internet is no longer primarily looking at publishers for future partnerships, and instead focusing on “platforms and technologies.”

A couple of hiccups aside, the biggest challenge for Times Internet going forward is generating sufficient revenue from ads and convincing enough users to become paying customers. Times Internet generated $202 million in fiscal year 2018 at a loss of $23 million, according to regulatory filings. In an interview last week, Gaana CEO Prashan Agarwal said his music streaming service, which dominates the market but is not profitable, will introduce a number of premium plans across a wide range of price tiers to attract users.

Gajwani said he also hopes to build Colombia into one of the biggest ad networks in India and tap 20 million paying subscribers by 2023. He said some properties within Times Network could raise additional cash from outside investors in the coming future.  These are ambitious goals, but Times Internet is one of the few firms in India that realistically has a shot at co-existing with dominant overseas tech platforms.



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Meet Matter: The IoT badge aiming to simplify the smart home

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Get ready to look out for a new name and logo as you shop for the smart home, with the Zigbee Alliance rebranding and launching a new name, Matter, for Project CHIP. The revamp sees the old alliance name retired in favor of the Connectivity Standards Alliance (CSA), intended to reflect a broader array of ways for things like connected bulbs, smart locks, cameras, and more to talk among themselves.

The Zigbee Alliance has been around for a while now, pushing the low-power, mesh-supporting network technology. While it may not be a consumer-recognized brand, Zigbee is actually found in a fair amount of smart home devices. Hue bulbs, for example, rely on it for their intercommunication, much like numerous remotes, locks, and other devices.

You can even find Zigbee on Mars at the moment, with the Ingenuity helicopter using the wireless tech for its link to NASA’s Perseverance rover.

While Zigbee may be well-traveled, as time has gone on it has become clear that no single communication standard will dominate the market. Instead, multiple different wired and wireless standards exist, and multiple different companies want to use their own proprietary connection types.

The CSA will try to bring them together as much as possible, it said today, and at least from the list of names onboard that does seem a more achievable goal. Amazon, Apple, Google, IKEAGoodbye Project CHIP, hello Matter

Key to the transition is the arrival of Project Connected Home over IP – aka Project CHIP – which is also getting a rebrand today. Now known as Matter, the brand by which it will launch in stores by the end of the year, it’s intended to be a badge by which smart home and IoT device interoperability can be checked. That, the CSA hopes, will cut down on “will gadget X work with ecosystem Y?” confusion in stores.

Initially developed by Amazon, Apple, Comcast, Google, SmartThings, and the Connectivity Standards Alliance, and subsequently joined by IKEA, Legrand, NXP Semiconductors, Resideo, Schneider Electric, Signify, Silicon Labs, Somfy and Wulian, Matter has some decent buy-in from device-makers at least. The platform promises IP-based connectivity with built-in security, initially via ethernet, WiFi, and Thread, with Bluetooth Low Energy used for easier initial setup.

The upshot should be devices that can be controlled within multiple ecosystems simultaneously, as well as interoperability between devices from different brands. “The Matter mark will serve as a seal of approval,” the CSA says, “taking the guesswork out of the purchasing process and allowing businesses and consumers alike to choose from a wider array of brands to create secure and connected homes and buildings.”

For example, a Matter-compliant device could work with Amazon Alexa, a SmartThings hub, and with Google Assistant devices. Existing devices will be in many cases brought along for the ride, too, such as Signify’s Hue bulbs. Final certification is expected in late 2021, across everything from lighting and electrical, HVAC, access control, security, smart shades, TVs, and more.

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New iPhone 13 leak tips a mighty change in size

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The latest iPhone info leak suggests there’ll be a significant change in how the devices look and feel in your hand – when you’re looking from the back, or the side. If you’re the sort of person who never looks at the back of your phone and always uses a protective case the differences may not seem all that extreme. The biggest change comes in the Pro model, where the camera array becomes massive.

The iPhone 13, iPhone 13 Pro, and iPhone 13 Pro Max will likely be revealed at an event this Autumn. Information shared with MacRumors suggests there’s a large enough change in size for both the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Pro that users will not be able to use an old model case. Both the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Pro are expected to get a thickness increase of 0.17mm.

The iPhone 12 is 7.4mm thick – the iPhone 12 Pro is also 7.4mm. That’s the thickness of the bulk of the device – not including the camera bump. Both models are expected to come in at 7.57mm without their camera bumps. The bump on the iPhone 12 is 1.5mm, while the iPhone 13’s bump is expected to grow to 2.51mm.

The iPhone 12 Pro has a camera bump relatively similar to the iPhone 12. The iPhone 12 Pro’s camera bump is 1.7mm, while the iPhone 13 Pro’s camera bump is expected to grow to a whopping 3.65mm.

It would seem that the new iPhone 13 Pro will feature a camera array that’s significantly different from that of the iPhone 13. The iPhone 13 Pro will likely have the same camera feature set as the iPhone 13 Pro Max. This suggests that there will be features that are important enough to the whole series that they will not be restricted to one model alone.

It’s likely there’ll be an event in October of 2021 at which Apple will reveal the new iPhone 13 device lineup. It’s difficult to predict when the devices will be released due to changing schedules and supply lines courtesy of the COVID-19 pandemic and manufacturing fallout therein. If Apple holds an event in mid-October for the iPhone 13 device family, we’ll likely see an iPhone 13, iPhone 13 Pro, and iPhone 13 Pro Max release date by the end of October 2021.

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Naim Uniti Atom Headphone Edition puts amp and streaming apps in one lavish box

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If the idea of your own little bubble of perfect audio sounds appealing, Naim Audio’s new Uniti Atom Headphone Edition may be the trick to bringing out your inner-audiophile. A headphone-optimized version of the British music equipment specialist’s Unity Atom system, it combines a streaming box for platforms like TIDAL and Spotify with a high-quality headphone amp and more.

Rather than playing music back through a set of speakers, then, Naim’s newest box is focused on a single listener. It comes equipped with a new transformer design which, Naim says, has been reworked to deliver the best power for a headphone amp. There’s a choice of both balanced 4-pin XLR and Pentaconn outputs, plus a standard 6.3mm output.

The amp itself is a class-A that can switch into class-AB. Normally, at regular volumes, it sticks with class-A, but as you crank the power up – and the impedance of your headphones drops – then it can add in class-AB power for the top dB. There’s 1.5W per channel into 16 Ω, regardless of which output you’re using, and the Uniti Atom Headphone Edition connects to all outputs simultaneously.

There’s also support for using the box with a pre-amp, for those times you do want full speaker support. However, you can choose which to use depending on which headphones you feel like listening to. If you’re using the front 6.3mm and Pentaconn outputs, for example, the pre-amp outputs automatically mute and a headphone button illuminates. Or, you can press it manually if you want to use the XLR connection on the back.

On the streaming side, meanwhile, there’s the same tech that Naim already used on its Mu-so 2nd Gen, Uniti, and ND 555 players. There’s native support for TIDAL, Spotify Connect, and Qobuz, along with Chromecast and AirPlay 2 streaming to access other services, and Roon Ready status. TIDAL Connect, meanwhile, will be added in a few months time, Naim says.

There’s support for up to 24-bit/384kHz WAV, FLAC, and AIFF audio, plus ALAC. For MP3 and AAC, there’s up to 48kHz/320kbit (16-bit) support, plus up to 48kHz (16-bit) OGG and WMA. There’s DSD 64 and 128Fs, and finally SBC and AAC support over Bluetooth.

For connectivity, there’s an ethernet port, and WiFi 802.11ac, plus a USB port that can play music from external drives. Up to five Naim Streaming products can be connected and have their playback synchronized, all controlled via the Naim app. If you’re just operating the Uniti Atom Headphone Edition, there’s a front panel with buttons and a traditional rotary volume knob, or you can use the included Zigbee remote.

The Naim Uniti Atom Headphone Edition is available now, priced at $3,290.

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