Apple is getting really serious about the publishing business. The company announced Tuesday that it’s rolling out some big new tools for Apple News that can lure more writers and editors to the service – and improve it for current partners, as well.
The company has previously partnered with more than 100 major publishers and publishing groups (including The Washington Post) to get their articles and other stories served directly to millions of iPhones by way of the News app, which is included on every iPhone. Starting this week, the company will allow small- and medium-sized publishers who also want to reach that audience by signing up with the service.
According to the company, that could be anyone from an individual with a blog to a local newspaper or magazine. Opening up the platform to publishers of all sizes gives Apple far more variety to offer to its readers, who may want to turn to the app to get caught up on the news.
Apple is also going to give all publishers an easier way to see how articles are performing on the service, with a statistics dashboard. Apple said that these tools will include basic information such as how many people are reading and how long, as well as when and how they’re sharing certain pieces. This information was available to Apple News publishers before, the company said, but it will now be much easier to read.
The additions extend Apple’s efforts in publishing, an area it first announced it would enter six months ago, that put it into competition with Facebook, Flipboard and others interested in offering people a centralized way to aggregate articles from different sites. Reactions to the product were mixed. Early reports suggested that some publications didn’t think Apple was offering enough information about how many readers found their way to articles through the app. Apple senior vice president Eddy Cue also confirmed to the Wall Street Journal that an early glitch undercounted how many people used the app.
Apple now estimates that 40 million customers have regularly used Apple News in the six months since its launch, illustrating fairly fast pickup. By comparison, Flipboard, which was founded in 2010, has about 80 million monthly active users.
Still, Apple will continue to try to raise the profile of its news product. In addition to the announcements for publishers, the company said it will also kick off a major advertising campaign for News in print publications, as well as on bus shelters and subway platforms.
© 2016 The Washington Post
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Since we last met, a lot has happened in the world of personal technology. From Apple’s ongoing battle with the FBI, to the new legal tug-and-war on call drop penalties, it has been an exciting week for tech enthusiasts in India and across the world.
Possibly the biggest news of the week was the launch of the Samsung Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 Edge in India. The South Korean giant priced the Samsung Galaxy S7 at Rs. 48,900 and the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge at Rs. 56,900, and put the smartphones up for pre-orders alongside. Separately, Samsung, ahead of the global launch of the smartphones on Friday, announced that pre-orders for the two new Galaxy flagships had been better than expected.
Samsung’s biggest rival in the mobile sphere, Apple, also had a major announcement this week. The company started sending invites for a March 21 event that is anticipated to see the launch of the much-awaited 4-inch iPhone, thought to be called the iPhone SE. The event is also expected to see the launch of a 9.7-inch iPad Pro, as well as new Apple Watch models ahead of a proper refresh later.
Of course, Apple was part of a lot more news this week, thanks to its ongoing battle with the US government over the unlocking of an iPhone used by one of the shooters in the recent San Bernardino terrorist attacks. The most recent development on that front is from Thursday, when the US Justice Department submitted a filing with a California federal court that accused Apple of making “false” statements.
The US DoJ said that Apple’s rhetoric was misleading, and that the company had attacked the FBI investigation as “shoddy” and portrayed itself as “the primary guardian of Americans’ privacy.” Apple reacted strongly to the accusations, with lawyer Bruce Sewell saying the prosecutors were trying to “smear” the company by trafficking in “desperate” and “unsubstantiated” claims.
The US DoJ earlier this week also appealed a separate ruling by a New York judge that said Apple wasn’t required to pry open a locked iPhone, calling it “an unprecedented limitation” on judicial authority. Separately, France this week also cleared a bill that could force companies like Apple to unlock terror data.
Back in India, telecom operators are battling with the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) in the Supreme Court with the aim to squash call drop penalties. Legal counsel of the two industry bodies of telecom operators on Thursday called the call drop compensation policy a ‘populist’ measure.
Also in India, Uber set up its first engineering centre in Asia in Bengaluru. The centre’s aim is to come up with solutions to the very unique problems faced in emerging markets like India. While it has less than 10 engineers at the moment, Uber CTO Thuan Pham said the company is looking to expand aggressively in the country.
Isro on Thursday launched its sixth navigational satellite, as part of the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System – meant to be the homegrown counterpart of the United States’ GPS. The 1,425-kg IRNSS-1F satellite was injected into space by the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV-C32) rocket, and becomes the sixth of seven satellites required to make the navigational system operational.
And before you think we forgot, Google, much to everyone’s surprise released an early preview of Android N to developers. The latest version of Android, anticipated to be called Android 7.0 Nutella, comes with several new features that are already visible in the preview – these include multi-window support, a revamped notifications pane, and improved Doze functionality. The search giant alongside introduced the Android Beta Program, which allows users with eligible devices to try out pre-release builds of the latest version of Android.
Google (and its holding company Alphabet) made the headlines on other fronts this week, with its subsidiary DeepMind in the news for pitting its AlphaGo AI against one of the foremost Go players in the world – Lee Sedol. With three matches remaining to go, AlphaGo already has a 2-0 lead. You can catch the remaining matches on Saturday, Sunday, and Tuesday.
In the meanwhile, Google hired Christopher ‘Moot’ Poole, the founder of the infamous image forum 4Chan, to work on its Photos and Streams products. Google also released a Search feature for mobile users called Destinations, meant to help users plan every aspect of their vacation. The company also announced another search related feature that would let brands and celebrities post directly to search results.
The search giant this week also joined Facebook’s Open Compute Project initiative, with the combined aim of innovating data centres for efficiency. Microsoft also made big news, by announcing it would be submitting its Linux-based Sonic database software to the Open Compute Project as open source.
Talking about Facebook, the social network this week had two announcements. It released a Material Design revamp of its standalone messaging app Messenger, and, also announced the usage statistics of its app for emerging markets – Facebook Lite. The company revealed that Facebook Lite has seen incredible adoption of the app, hitting 100 million monthly active users within 9 months of launch. In fact, Facebook has had a busy week. It also fixed a flaw that could have let anyone access anyone’s account, released WordPress plugin for Instant Articles, and also announced its acquisition of face swapping app Masquerade.
Back in India, ride-hailing apps Uber and Ola launched their bike taxi pilots in Bengaluru. Things soon turned sour for them, with Karnataka’s Regional Transport Authority deeming the services to be illegal, and saying the firms had not sought the authority’s permission to offer the services. This resulted bike taxis in fact being seized by local law enforcement for violating the Motor Vehicles Act. This week, Ola quietly shut down the service by removing the listing from its app. The company also shut down its Ola Store and Ola Café services, which had been running for a while.
Amazon also got into the air cargo delivery business by leasing 20 Boeing 767 wide body freighter aircraft. The aim is to handle more of its own deliveries in the United States. The deal comes at a time when the world’s biggest online retailer is offering ever-faster, and increasingly free, deliveries for millions of online orders.
WhatsApp, arguably the world’s most popular messaging app, released two separate updates for its Android and iOS apps. While the former got a revamped settings page with a greater emphasis on user profiles and removal of a payment option, the latter got a fix for a bug that took up unused storage space on some devices.
Separately, Samsung also unveiled two new budget smartphones globally, with no details about pricing or availability. These were the Samsung Galaxy J1 (2016), and the Galaxy J1 mini, both of which were listed on country-specific company sites.
On the security front, there were three major happenings this week. Researchers at the Michigan State University have found a way to unlock your fingerprint-secured smartphone using things like an off-the-shelf inkjet printer. Devices tested and found to be vulnerable to this exploit included a Samsung Galaxy S6 and Huawei Honor 7, while researchers were only able to achieve ‘mixed results’ on an iPhone.
In the world of Android security, we saw Google release the March Android security update, and we also saw researchers publish a report about a new type of Android malware called ‘accessibility clickjacking’ that could affect roughly 500 million devices. Apple’s OS X on the other hand got its first known ransomware called KeRanger, transmitted through an infected copy of BitTorrent-based P2P file transfer network called Transmission
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Given that Flipkart is expected to list its shares in the US at some point over the next few years, the valuation estimates of the mutual funds will be an important indicator of how stock market investors will value the company. Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint
Bengaluru/New Delhi: Late last month, Flipkart India Pvt. Ltd, the country’s largest and most valuable Internet company, got a taste of the exacting standards of US stock markets, where it hopes to list.
On Friday, Morgan Stanley Institutional Fund Trust, a minority investor in Flipkart, disclosed a write-down in the value of its holdings in the company by as much as 27%. The mutual fund reported the number in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the US stock markets regulator.
Flipkart was valued at $15 billion when it received $700 million from Tiger Global Management, Qatar Investment Authority and other investors in June.
That was its fourth round of fund-raising in a year. Its valuation shot up roughly fivefold from $2.5-3 billion in May 2014.
Morgan Stanley’s latest estimate implies the mutual fund now values Flipkart at $11 billion.
The markdown is significant not only because it proves that Flipkart’s valuation had run ahead of itself, but also because mutual funds comprise one of the largest institutional buyers of shares in stock markets.
At least two other mutual funds, T. Rowe Price and Baillie Gifford, are investors in Flipkart. T. Rowe Price hasn’t yet reported the latest estimated value of its stake in the company.
Given that Flipkart is expected to list its shares in the US at some point over the next few years, the valuation estimates of the mutual funds will be an important indicator of how stock market investors will value the company. Flipkart declined to comment for this story.
Flipkart is hardly the only unicorn, a term that is used to describe start-ups that are valued at more than $1 billion, to have its value marked down by mutual fund investors.
Along with cutting the value of its stake in Flipkart, Morgan Stanley also reduced the worth of its holdings in file storage company Dropbox Inc. and data analytics company Palantir Technologies Inc. Late last year, mutual funds owned by T. Rowe Price, Fidelity and BlackRock cut the worth of their holdings in US unicorns en masse.
BlackRock is also an investor in online marketplace Snapdeal (Jasper Infotech Pvt. Ltd), which raised roughly $50 million last month at a valuation of $6.5 billion. BlackRock’s next filing on Snapdeal will be closely watched to see if other Indian unicorns will be marked down, too.
Snapdeal’s $50 million fund-raising, which was accompanied by $150 million in share sales by existing Snapdeal investors to new shareholders, took more than six months to close, primarily because there are not too many takers for India’s top e-commerce firms at their current valuations. The $50 million fund-raising was also significantly smaller than what online retailers typically seek from investors.
Mint reported on 4 February that China’s Alibaba Group is in early talks to buy a stake in Flipkart and increase its holding in Snapdeal. The talks are at a very initial stage and the likelihood of a deal is a function of Flipkart’s willingness to offer a discount on its current valuation of $15 billion, Mint had reported then.
“Our valuation has grown steadily between our last two funding rounds,” a Snapdeal spokesperson said.
There are two broad concerns about the valuations of Flipkart and Snapdeal. One, whether they will ever be able to cut their ballooning losses without sacrificing sales growth. Two, whether they will lose out to the Indian unit of Amazon.com Inc., the world’s largest online retailer.
Over the course of 2015, Amazon gained market share in India at the expense of both Flipkart and Snapdeal, according to publicly available data and several company executives.
Future estimates by mutual funds of their holdings in Flipkart and Snapdeal—and these companies’ eventual IPOs—will depend a lot on these two factors.
“Growing at negative operating margins to raise money in quick succession is a destructive style of doing business,” said Kashyap Deorah, serial entrepreneur and author of The Golden Tap, a book on India’s hyper-funded start-up ecosystem. “It kills the ecosystem… to build a thriving long-term business environment, we need to get off the addiction of global funds buying market spaces in India like territory.”
Deorah predicts Flipkart’s valuation will eventually slump to the amount it has invested. Flipkart has raised anywhere between $3 billion and $3.5 billion. “The downward trend will continue until Flipkart’s valuation equals invested capital,” he said.
To be sure, Deorah’s prediction seems extreme.
Flipkart is still the largest e-commerce firm in the last remaining big e-commerce market in the world. It has a solid brand, a strong leadership team and deep-pocketed investors, among other strengths.
“Flipkart’s valuation may look stretched at $15 billion in this current environment, but you can’t take away the fact that the company still has a solid business,” a Flipkart investor said on condition of anonymity. “In the worst-case scenario, it may take the company a year or two to grow into that valuation. But it will definitely happen. And if the market sentiment becomes better, it will happen sooner.”