All posts in the SmartPhone category

Smartphones / Apps : How Far Is Far Enough?

Published October 7, 2017 by vishalvkale

A stunning news on a news daily, relating to an App Interface of a very popular service brand, caught my attention : Uber may have been secretly recording your iPhone screen, even when the app is closed. Will Strafach, a New York-based security researcher, discovered that the taxi hailing app had received a special permission from Apple to access the screen-recording feature. The company, however, rejected the security breach fears, stating the code was installed to improve the experience on Apple Watch version of the app.

Now this is frankly stupidity on a colossal scale; accessing a user’s screen even when the app is closed … where are we going as an industry? By what stretch of imagination, strategy, morality or intelligence is this an advance? How far are we going to allow apps, internet and computers into our lives? This has now lead me to question the entire Smartphone aspect : I think there is a need for users to take their personal lives off the Smartphone. This has happened on Apple; how long before someone does it for Android? And it is already being done? We have no way of knowing! We, the Telecom, Smartphone, App industry have gone half a dozen steps too far. Calling for introspection!
It isn’t a question of the specific platform as much as it is a question of the extent of intrusion technology has on our lives, and the potential of possible misuse. Now Apple iOS is a very different thing to Android; hence – I am not making any insinuation, or comparison, for one cannot be made. The point is the potential capability of an app to intrude into the most basic aspect of your lives – a smartphone is nowadays an extension of your personal space; intruding into it in such less-obvious ways is not acceptable, and fraught with risks associated with data hacking and privacy loss.
Neither is it a question solely of this particular instance – as a simple google search will reveal, or a few days playing around in the app store for that matter. Even Credit Card information has been hacked more than a few times; thus, data security is one aspect of this. On the Desktop / Laptop versions, viruses have proven their intrusive capability; with their myriad types capable of cracking into the remotest part of your system, and accessing the most protected systems. We have our whole lives, right upto the Banking details, stored on our smartphones – which increases the risk profile of applications on smartphones manifold.

The key issue is “secretly” as the article reveals… meaning, as far as I can interpret, the users had no knowledge of this. And this is from a top and famous brand; which is deeply questionable on more parameters than I care to count. Further, keylogging – recording each keystroke – is eminently feasible; a smartphone is, after all, a software; and an app that can stay resident in memory and record everything secretly is old hat; such apps have been around for longer than I learnt to program! The vital issue is doing something on my device – note that, please – dear app developers and programmers, MY device, without my permission – how stupid, how amoral, how magnificently idiotic and how short-term is that?
The amorality is clear – you are giving yourself the ability to access the personal aspects of someone without his or her knowledge; the rest – stupidity, idiocy and short-termism is less apparent. In the modern world, how long before someone discovers what your app does? Evidence above! And what will the discovery of this do to your brand perception? How many users do you stand to lose? How can a responsible company dream of doing something on privacy without informing the customers? Doing anything along privacy issues is fraught with immense risk; and is not to be taken lightly. Sadly, this is a lesson we in the Smartphone trade have yet to fully absorb, it would seem.

How far is far enough? How far do we go before we, the trade, start to question ourselves, start to ask ourselves where do we draw the line? We don’t need to go too far – just think on long term perspectives and analyse. If my trade is thinking people wont find out – that is not feasible in the long or mid run; people are bound to find out sooner or later. There are people outside companies who are equally good or better than your people, and will reveal, sooner or later. And then – you stand to lose. Remember that. And neither is this limited to just the app permission, or privacy, as my future articles will go into deeper – there is a dire need to improve the user experience, but more of that later. For now – let me close with one question – for how far is far enough?


HT Article – Uber app can secretly record your iPhone screen, security researcher reveals

IMAGE CREDIT – Google Search

Analysing The Telecom Tangle 1 – Systemic Risks

Published June 14, 2017 by vishalvkale

The telecom sector has been in the news of late for all the wrong reasons – rising stress, high debt, loss making or low profitability, mergers, job losses and lot… this sector is one of the high-points of the India Growth story. For this to happen in this showcase industry seems strange from the outside… the reality is, in my opinion, the exact reverse. The seeds of the stress were sown right at the beginning; all hints to this reality were ignored, and by everyone. I do not recall anyone pointing these, self included; though I did come close, to be honest. Yet, when I now look back with my experience garnered since then – there can be no doubt : the seeds of the problems were inherent in the model itself…
It wasn’t, for the most part, deliberate; the decisions that were reached were all rational decisions made by rational people. They may not have been the right ones, as we know from hindsight, but they were decisions reached with a strategy in mind, as we shall see. Also bear in mind that this was a new trade, with no established learnings, norms, procedures, case studies. In essence we were creating them as we went along. And this was the first, most critical point – we went wrong, as we focused on the end-results – new customer acquisitions – in isolation; there should have been equal focus on establishing industry firsts, processes, learnings, sharing of good practices, deep analyses etc. None of this was done for the levels that mattered. The result is there for all to see!
The next error that happened was frankly, stupid in the extreme – I make no bones about it. It was simply inexcusable – and it was simply this : there was never any training imparted to new employees as they came into the company, beyond the perfunctory induction training & some technical training. This is fine for old established trades, with established learnings and processes, and in-built mechanisms at team level. This was a disastrous decision for a new trade with none of these. These first two factors taken together sowed the seeds for disaster, as we shall see how they connected years down the line to create hell.  As a matter of fact, in a brutal indictment of the Telecom & Handset Trades, these two trades stand as the only trades where I have not received extensive training on joining the company. s
Yes- there were other problems, as we shall see. You could make the case that the major issue was the investments are not justified by the market or its size. There may be some truth to this; an analysis of this is, however, not on the menu for this article. That too will be attended to, in the fullness of time. Please bear with me, as the aspect of the quantum of investments into the industry is deep, has many parameters, and ramifications in addition to a massive scandal associated with it from our past. So, let us leave that aside for the moment. My point is to first of all identify the systemic risks in the model of business as it was practiced on the field. This is because systemic issues create insolvable long terms, and become critical only over a long period of time.
So what do you do, once you have invested in the business? For starters – you are stuck with that decision, and then it is upto you to make the best you can out of it. And this is where the second phase of problems started, and right at the beginning. Mobile Telephony was a new concept to India; and the implied assumption might have been that customers don’t need education. This was especially so in the period prior to internet on mobile. You were in a new market, in a new industry, selling a new product. And when Data happened – this fledgling problem became a full-scale crisis…
The focus should have been on developing the market, deepening it; opening new customer lines; new markets; investing in finding new usages and the market sizes of these new usages {think data here}; studying how it can be a game-changer. If any of this happened-  it certainly didn’t percolate to the field levels, and most certainly did not show up in the customer communications. There was little effort to educate the customer, to create the market. The emphasis was always on acquiring new customers. That is by itself a laudable objective; the problem was that this  was the only present objective. By the time the realization sunk in that merely acquiring new customers is useless if they don’t contribute to the bottom and top lines of your company, the rot had set in.  
By this time, unfortunately, the teams were accustomed to getting customers by any means at their disposal – leading to a Brain Drain from the trade as well, as Channel Partners as well as elite employees realized early on that this was wrong, and quit back to their original trades. This was to hurt, and hurt the trade very badly indeed in the time to come. The complete absence of checks and balances to check misuse, {including out-and-out unethical tactics & short sighted approaches to sales} and short term tactics, or profitability over the long term, meant these practices became systemic- giving rise to a fourth systemic risk in the practiced Business Model.
There was never any genuine focus on profitable customer acquisition; this is something I did point out, and in my first few months in the trade, as I could not see the point of having a customer who purchased nothing! That said – I readily admit I did not foresee this getting to be an endemic serious and crippling issue in the trade. When the trade did wake up, the solution proffered was wrong; they started tracking calls, in the sense that sales targets were accepted basis first and second calls and so on. Will 2 or 3 or even 25 calls give you a profitable customer? Obviously not! The only answer should have been to move to revenue targets and per customer revenue, and all along down the line. This was never done, at least not till very late.
The core challenge in this trade is  the nature of the cash flow from Telecom service products, which is a service, and a recurrent revenue source. The employees had no idea of the accounting involved in such a different trade; being from product sales, wherein profitability calculations are far simpler. In this trade, a customer registers a profit only after regular usage of the service over a period of time. This should have been clear right from the start  till the last level of the organization – it wasn’t. I had to educate myself regarding the concept of profitability in such a scenario. The companies did not invest in training employees. It is only after studying the theory myself, including case studies {something laughed at by most salesguys} that I came to the realization of the risk of taking a strategy that did not cater to the risk imposed by the nature of the cash flows that emanated from the Business.
The result of this was a front, second and third line totally disconnected with profitability from operations. In a product sales scenario, so long as the pricing decisions have been & and are properly made, inventories planned out, and an intrinsic demand generated, profit is almost a certainly so long as demand continues to arise, and the scalability of the business attended to. However, this is not the case in Telecom Services, which is a recurrent revenue model, involving very different profit concepts. Unless the profitability is built into the strategies, the processes and the systems at field level – disaster is a foregone conclusion, at least at an industry-wide level.
The inability to ensure sufficient revenue per customer is a problem that has roots in this simple issue; it has, of course, since then grown into gigantic proportions, and with many other, more serious parameters now involved. We shall look at them in later parts of this Telecom Series. The key issue here is, had this been built into the DNA of the organization and the industry at the beginning itself, this would have been hard-coded into the entire company. Working with only  profitable customers would, could and should have been the buzzword for the trade. That it wasn’t the case is a Manifest Truth.
Yes, there are issues of marketing strategies involved – wherein you spread the net wide and then draw it in; was this strategy the best one feasible? Yes, in a fast-growth market, you need to grow in tandem with the Market- But that does not mean you incubate a series of deep systemic risks in your business model for too long, which is what happened! We know now, with the benefit of hindsight, that it clearly wasn’t the best way to go about it. The industry numbers tell the tale. A check was badly needed; had this check – that of profitable customers only – been there at the start, with a proper process and strategy behind it – in all likelihood, the situation would not have been as bad. For Business is always a matter of choices – and in this case, the choice apparently was between scale or profit. No one thought that it was feasible to develop a strategy of Building-Scale-With-Profit. And that was the biggest industry failure.

In the next parts – I shall go deeper into these systemic risks, and identify the way forward now for the trade, basis hard-core case studies from other industries I have since worked in, as well as my extensive reading of Business Literature from across the world. Stay connected! Furthermore, at no point do I deny the external factors that were to buffet this fledgling trade. My point is simply that the internal systemic risks made the entire system more susceptible to external environmental shocks…. 

Smartphones – India Vs China Markets

Published January 26, 2017 by vishalvkale

Recently, we saw a very interesting, and for Smartphone and Telecom trade pundits and employees, monumental occurring – a recent report of marketshare showing that the top 5 brands in the Indian Smartphone market are not Indian. On top of this is a constant lament by Media and Telecomists {to coin a new term} alike, that Indian Handsets Brands are not making it; that Indian  manufacturing is not picking up in this industry.
Let us try and place things in perspective first, before we try and understand what can be done to improve the situation; or, indeed, whether it can be improved. In this article, I focus only on the perspective, and an overall market analysis of the two markets in general terms as well as specifically Teleocm / Device terms. After that perspective, I then introduce the basics of the competitive scenario. The reason for that is you need to understand the two markets and their difference to make a meaningful comparison, as well as figure out the way forward.
Let us get something straight : we cannot compete against China as things currently stand. This isn’t pessimistic thinking, but a simple statement of facts. You cannot compare chalk and cheese, or as some like to state, apples and oranges. India is a low-income market, while China is approaching middle income levels. Indian Per Capita Income is dwarfed by the Chinese income. As of April 2015, Nominal GDP per capita of China was $11449, while India was at $2672. If you take PPP, even then we are dwarfed : $20004 vs $9327. There is simply no comparison feasible between two markets with such a comparative economic scenario; we are doing ourselves a massive disservice by comparing
Be it Steel Industry or Handset Industry, India is dwarfed in numbers, and this is something that is not going to change anytime soon. The markets as well as the manufacturing scenarios are completely different; China is a nearly 100 Billion dollar Smartphone market, with production in excess of 600 Million units in 2015, although 2016 may see a slight dip. Exports account for more than 2/3rds of these numbers – even so, you are looking at numbers in excess of 140 Million Handsets in 2015, which though comparable to India’s 100 Million plus/minus a few, is still a larger market. Of greater relevance is the footprint of Chinese Exports, which are 450 Million plus – and that is one hell of a lot.
Moving on, the higher numbers in terms of dollars for the Chinese gives them enormous financial clout, flexibility and strength to innovate. Also note that there is a price differential of a full 100-plus dollars in the average sale price of a smartphone in India vs China. That means, China is a more mature Smartphone market than India. Three, Smartphone penetration in China is also much higher, in excess of 68%  – there were 913 Million Smartphones in China in 2015, and 691 Million unique users. China had 208 Million Smartphone users way back in 2012! In & by 2016,  50% of China’s population had internet connectivity – a figure we are nowhere near. The internet advertising market in China is 3 times India’s.
I could go on; but I think the generic and the industry numbers quoted above or indicated above give a reasonably good feel of the two markets – India vs China. It stands to reason that the Chinese players will be more mature, with a better handle & understanding of the technology involved, with deeper pockets and a larger range of products. They are also ahead on the learning curve, and have been growing right in step with the technological developments in the trade; we are only now catching up in terms of keeping abreast in the technological space.
2010-2012 were the critical years for the Smartphone trade, with a rapid evolution in technology, a massive churning in the competitive space. These two factors combined to heat up the smartphone market from 2008-9 onwards, give or take an year. And the numbers tell us that the Chinese market was following closely on the heels of these developments; thus, making any India-China comparison an exercise in futility, and despondency if we are trying to outcompete them playing on their turf!
They have the money and the deep pockets; they have the manufacturing investments; they have the infrastructure; they have the competence in the industry in terms of economies of scale and captive markets as well as a much wider experience in the technology; they have the technology; they have the processes; all of these add up to a significant advantage. There is no point in beating around the bush; we cant beat them– so long as we are playing to their strengths. This does not mean we cant compete; our competitive response has to be formulated basis our market realities. This is what I look at in the next article, wherein I spell out the ground realities of the smartphone market and consumer in India
References : 

Understanding The Smartphone, And The Market

Published September 26, 2016 by vishalvkale

The market for Smartphones in India is one of the most talked-about in pink papers as well as white sheets alike, with regular articles on top and budget smartphones making headlines all too often; yet, paradoxically, it is the least understood outside the trade, i.e. those of us who are actually in the handset trade. For the pink sheets and white sheets, it is the Apples and the premium phones that matter, or the budget smartphones with a range of online as well as offline offerings being highlighted.
This is a very simplistic look at one of the most complex markets in my experience, which spans telecom services, data, insurance, FMCG/D  – for a number of reasons, some known and some unlisted insofar as my reading goes. The pace of technology development is one of the well-understood reasons; as is the pricing factor. These are just of the factors that make this market such  a fascinating yet complex study. The speed of change means products change every few months; the attendant pricing pressure changes the market dynamics every so often – all this is well understood. Here I attempt to look at some of the nuances not covered in the most articles on this subject.
The smartphone is not just a touchscreen, or a multimedia device; it isn’t a music player with hi-fi; it isn’t a vivid display; and it isn’t an internet access device; it is all  that and much more; this understanding is absolutely critical. And yet, paradoxically, in the Indian context, it is also true that the smartphone in some segments is just that : a touchscreen device, with an attractive interface. India is a market in which feature phones still sell, where smartphone adoption is still on the upswing; this creates two clear markets, which are as alike as Refrigerators and Chwayanprash; we are talking of two completely different markets in just about every marketing parameter you can care to define.
A proper understanding of the smartphone requires viewing as the sum of its parts, and as a solution; a service, not as a product. By itself, it is almost useless.It requires a sim card and an operator connection with Data for its power to be unlocked. And that is why it is absolutely critical to approach this market as a service rather than a product in order to realize its full potential both for consumers as well as for handset manufacturers. The screen you see is a window into a land of infinite options and opportunities, of facilities and methods and of solutions; understanding firstly the need of consumers in various segments, and secondly the capabilities and their combinations is the need of the hour!
Before we move into India-specific analyses, let us try and understand what I mean when I say solution. The smartphone device is a complete package, a combination of the hardware and the software.Amoled displays or Octa-Core processing power by itself is valueless, unless it has the software present to utilize these facilities. And that will be the future of the market; the ultimate winners will be the ones who will place a product solution that meets the consumer’s requirements along these parameters.
The first point of contact for the consumer is the UI – the User Interface; the second is the App Store. The entire layman user experience is around these two only. This being a nascent market, currently there is a lot of fuzziness and experimentation at both company and consumer level; this is par for the course. But, over time, the consumer is bound to settle into a defined choice range in what he or she likes or prefers; at that point, solutions with a better integration and seamless performance of the desired functions are going to be the winners in this race; which is partly why you see companies now beginning to develop their own UIs in their solutions.
These functions can be a vivid display at the software levels – colourful themes & wallpapers, or on-board office capabilities, good music output in terms of clarity and loudness both; the internet experience; overall device performance in terms of heating, durability; integrated apps within the UI like office or Amazon; Guides like maps etc – these uses will increase with increasing requirements and further inroads of the internet. Note that I don’t highlight battery – with increasing computing power, battery is always going to be a tremendous challenge for everyone in this market
I highlight App integration because a well-integrated on-board app will perform better and give a much smoother consumer experience than one that is not native to the device or the solution – think Apple here. This is going to be the battlefield of the future – and once demand further develops and crystallizes into clearly defined segments, this is going to be the be-all and end-all of this market, just as any in any other computing device. An internet resource from more developed markets highlights that 84% of users pitch for a better mobile App performance. {}
For the Android Ecosystem, it means developing a UI, or indeed an entire OS that is Android based, gives the look and feel of an Android, as well as its features, but is developed internally – this leads to a much superior user experience, which even has the capability of changing demand parameters. The longer term winners will be the companies that can craft an integrated experience based around Apps well integrated with the underlying hardware. But that is bound to take time in the Indian market, which is a different ballgame altogether, being comprised of the two segments I refer to above. In simplified choice, it means integrated the most popular Apps on-board the device, developing a unique selling proposition based not on hardware, but on a solution… while not hindering consumer choice in terms of downloading Apps from the net or the Play Store…
India is a land of wide disparities and low income; this needs to be underscored – for from this arises the learning that there is scope for both segments I refer to above in the Indian Market, but more of that later. With reference to a smartphone, the market in India is nascent, with the fascination for a vivid colourful window into technology in the form of the screen, the experience of internet and its power as another factor, and niche groups like music aficionados. Another factor that needs consideration is that not all consumers give importance to all capabilities, leading to vast unutilized features as well as a fuzzy positioning scenario, which I shall look at a little later. The learning from this is that this is a developing market, with generic demand as of now, which has yet to crystallize further
These two markets, in my terminology, are a need-cum-pricing-based segmentation, basis long experience of watching retailers sell to consumers across various geographies in West India.  These segments are the Computing Power segment / Power-User Segment; and the Basic Usage Segment. I have deliberately avoided replacement market, or any other parameters for a reason : and that reason is the product itself. The Smartphone is essentially a solution, as observed  above, or a service; not a product unto itself. It requires another product : Data Connection to become a usable item for the most part. Hence, we need to segment along usage at the primary level, as shall become apparent in my article.
While the Power Users are beginning to become more discerning, the Economy segment is still way behind in the learning curve due to low income as well as undeveloped demand. I say undeveloped as the requirement for the more esoteric as well as advanced apps has yet to gain a defining momentum due to demographic factors, a full study of which is beyond the scope of a blog article. For the Economy segment, the defining pleasure is still at a nascent and beginners level – although some sub-segments within the Economy Segment are beginning to show the demand nature of the Power segment, but are hampered by income  challenges.

Within each primary segment, you can have a series of segments as per your purposes – replacement market, processing power, sound/audio, battery, pricing and so on and so forth. But at the core level, the profile of the consumers in these two segments are completely different. Sure, there will be some overlapping, as in consumers having one handset from both segments, but even that underscores the segmentation – power usage device for power and data intensive usage, and basic device for basic usage, though that is frankly a rarity. But, in the Indian context – the Economy Market is still paramount in terms of volumes as well as potential, as more and more people upgrade… but that poses challenges on a different scale to the companies-  something we shall look at in the second part…