India’s Gadget Rental Companies Want You to Try Before You Buy

India's Gadget Rental Companies Want You to Try Before You Buy

With a number of new types of gadgets available these days, it’s more expensive than ever to own the latest products. These days though, you don’t have to commit Rs. 50,000 on a phone to find out whether you’re going to be happy with it. There are companies that want you to enjoy the latest and greatest products, without burning a hole in your wallet.

“I always had the fascination of trying these gadgets before buying them,” says Vidit Kalra, 26, founder of New Delhi-based smartphone and tablet renting firm Snizzzo, which started in 2012. What began as something for himself and people like him has now become a corporate-centric business.

“When I opened it up for individuals, the problem that I faced was security. I couldn’t cope up with the security issue [because] people weren’t ready to put down a cash deposit,” he says. “And there was no other way for me to get collateral for the products I was renting out.” This worry led Snizzzo to start renting smartphones to corporates instead of individuals.

Corporates rent out the phones for longer periods, so the number of transactions involved is low – Kalra says that he works on Snizzzo part time, because interest in rentals is growing slowly, he says, and e-commerce has been growing much more quickly. For this reason, Kalra says, his focus is on his smartphone accessory company, Qrioh.

Try, or buy?
Mumbai-based Eazy Leazy is a new entrant in the industry that launched only last month. And unlike Snizzzo, Eazy Leazy is all for individual renters. Eazy Leazy co-founder Peshotan Kapadia says the company wants to provide access to products that people might be interested in, but aren’t passionate enough about to spend too much money on the gadgets.

camera_photographer_holiday.jpgFor example, you might want a DSLR or a GoPro, or a karaoke machine, but any of these can run into a month or more of most people’s salaries. “We are not here to replace ownership, that’s not the idea,” says Kapadia. Instead, Eazy Leazy wants to be there for you when you need something for a 2-day or week-long period.

“I was going on a holiday and whenever I go on a holiday, I want a camera. Not because I’m a photography enthusiast or anything but because I’d be spending a lot on the holiday, so I’d like to take great pictures,” says Kapadia, talking about how the company was formed. “After I had to beg, borrow and steal from my friends, I got a camera that was 3-4 years old and I wasn’t happy with it,” he adds. And he believes that there are plenty of other people who have been in the same boat, where you can’t justify buying an expensive gadget you’ll only use for a couple of days, but would be willing to pay to rent it.

For what it’s worth, this reasoning works for some products. Most people aren’t likely to want to do anything with a camera or karaoke system outside of specific events, but products like smartphones and smartwatches are obviously more of a daily thing. Sure, professionals might borrow one for a photo shoot, demonstration or the like but there isn’t a lot of use (or fun) to be had by owning an Apple Watch over the weekend.

But Kapadia is quick to remark that’s the second feature of their business – to provide product categories whose utility people at large aren’t convinced of. “In categories where experience with the product becomes important, it makes sense to offer a try to buy service,” he says.

It does raise the question if providing access to products that most people wouldn’t buy outright can turn into a short-term novelty thing. But Kapadia says he’s seen more of the week-long renting when it comes to smartphones and accessories, and less of the two-day weekend binge. Other products such as the action cameras and karaoke machines that are rented out for a purely one-time use case basis, he adds.

gopro_hero_4_studio.jpgAlthough the model is a little unusual for high-end electronics, it’s one that’s been around for a little longer in the gaming world. Ishwar Awatramani, 36, runs video game rental company Grabbbit, and has been renting out games for two console generations now.

With the PlayStation 3, Awatramani says, games would cost between Rs. 2,000 and Rs. 2,500. But with the arrival of the PlayStation 4, games jumped to Rs. 3,299 and much higher. “That made my business expand as games had become even more expensive than what I had envisioned them to be,” he says.

Grabbbit has built a tight-knit community, he claims, and the regulars contribute back to the game pool. But if you’re looking to have a party with your friends over the weekend and don’t own a console, you’re going to be disappointed. Awatramani doesn’t offer consoles on rent to individuals, and like Kalra he cites issues such as trust and security. In addition to that, he blames people’s likeliness to tinker (“mod” in gamer talk) the systems provided on rent.

As a result, the core of Grabbbit’s business is game software, on a Blu-ray or a DVD. Think of Netflix before it started streaming, but for video games instead of movies. The catch is that the video gaming industry is increasingly moving towards digital delivery, which would make it impossible for people to trade games easily. A game that’s been registered once to someone’s PSN, Steam, or Xbox account cannot be transferred to another user.

Awatramani isn’t concerned in the slightest, though. “I don’t like to stereotype but it is Indian mentality to have a hard copy. And most gamers I have spoken to want a physical copy of the games they love,” he adds.

As for taking the business completely online, he says they are too small at the moment to consider that. He points at the arrival of Netflix, and notes that big players will enter the market sooner or later. “You can say we are still the local friendly video game renting store, yeah,” says Awatramani.

xbox_one_controller.jpgA bit of both
What’s clear from these companies is that there is a lot of interest in technology products, mostly held back by prices. Whether people will really go from experiencing a product, to actually buying it, is a bigger question.

“The whole smartphone business is dependent on how quickly you can procure it and how easily you can sell it later on and what’s the depreciation in between,” says Snizzzo’s Kalra. “If you’re not able to cycle the inventory, you’re dead.”

For games, it’s all about building up a reputable collection, according to Awatramani. While discussing the need to procure the latest game the day of the release, he bemoans the wants of today’s gamers, who just want to play on the PlayStation 4 and have no love for old or retro games.

While that statement may not apply across the board – an iPhone 6S is inherently the logical choice as opposed to an iPhone 3G – all three companies agreed that the catalogue you build to renting electronics is not going to stay relevant for very long. It’s not like a library where each book you add brings value to the collection – here, older items are a burden.

Kalra says the market is its nascent stage, but thinks the mindset of the Indian consumer is changing which will lead to a growth in demand in the next few years. “There is a large group of people – the everyday guy – who don’t have access to these products in their ecosystem,” Eazy Leazy’s Kapadia notes.

[“Source-Gadgets”]

People Keep Going to This Home Looking for Their Lost Phones – and Nobody Knows Why

People Keep Going to This Home Looking for Their Lost Phones - and Nobody Knows Why

For months now, angry strangers have been showing up at Christina Lee and Michael Saba’s front door with a curious demand: “Give me back my stolen phone!”

Sometimes, families will show up; other times, it’s groups of friends or a random person with a police officer in tow, according to Fusion. Despite using different service providers, everyone who bangs on their door has been led to the suburban Atlanta home by a phone-tracking app.

The problem – as the couple desperately tries to explain visitors – is that the missing phones aren’t at the house and never have been.

They are not, in fact, thieves. Saba is an engineer; Lee is a journalist.

The pair doesn’t understand why exactly, but both Android and iPhone users on various networks are being directed to their house by phone-tracking apps.

Once the awkward situation is explained, most lost-phone-seekers are understanding. But the couple told Fusion that a smaller number of people who place absolute faith in their tracking technology are convinced that the couple is lying, provoking potentially volatile conflicts.

“My biggest fear is that someone dangerous or violent is going to visit our house because of this,” Saba told Fusion by email. “If or when that happens, I doubt our polite explanations are gonna go very far.”

“The majority of incidents happen later at night, after dinner,” Lee told the BBC, noting that neither she nor Saba have an idea why the problem persists.

On several occasions, Fusion reports, the problem has led to serious misunderstandings, such as an incident in which the couple briefly became suspects in a missing persons case:

In June, the police came looking for a teenage girl whose parents reported her missing. The police made Lee and Saba sit outside for more than an hour while the police decided whether they should get a warrant to search the house for the girl’s phone, and presumably, the girl. When Saba asked if he could go back inside to use the bathroom, the police wouldn’t let him.

On a separate occasion, Lee told the BBC, three “frantic” young men showed up outside their door looking for someone.

“The minute Michael opened the door they were, ‘like where is he?'” she said.

So why is it happening? So far, nobody is entirely sure; but several theories have been floated by experts.

To grasp the problem, it helps to rewind history to the mid-1990s, when cellphone companies were forced to create a way to locate cellular devices so that their coordinates could be sent to police dispatchers. At the time – as the Las VegasReview-Journal reported in 2013 – a growing number of calls to police were occurring via cell phone and authorities needed a way to accurately locate the callers.

Nearly two decades later, a recent USA Today investigation revealed, the number of calls to dispatchers from cell phones has increased to 70 percent; but in many cities around the country, the technology has not always kept pace.

The ubiquity of the technology may leave the impression that location tracking is always reliable, experts say.

Alan Woodward, a cyber-security expert from Surrey University, told the BBC that trackers rely on GPS, which isn’t available in many locations.

Without GPS, he noted, phone trackers rely on a less accurate process of determining location known as “triangulation.”

“All triangulation does is draw a line equidistant between three cell towers and if your house is on that line you’ll get visits,” Woodward said. “I don’t have enough data to know exactly what’s going on but I wouldn’t be at all surprised [if it was a triangulation error].”

In instances where triangulation doesn’t work, a tracker will attempt to use the “the last known wi-fi signal the device found,” according to the BBC.

Ian Williams, a security consultant from Pentest Partners, told the BBC that the problem may arise during this crucial step in the location process. He noted that a moved or stolen wi-fi router may still be “registered as being in the vicinity” of the home.

“I have actually seen a person’s location data hop around a map where a router has been relocated due to a house move and before the databases of the routers location have had the chance to be updated,” he said.

A similar problem plagued a 59-year-old man named Wayne Dobson, who started receiving unwanted visitors looking for their missing phones at his Las Vegas home in 2011, according to the Review-Journal.

“I’m standing there and I’m thinking, ‘What are they talking about?’ ” he told the paper. “They might as well have said, ‘Give me my horse back.'”

The people pestering Dobson were all Sprint users, the paper reported. By 2013, they were still showing up at all hours of the day. Dobson was also searched by police on one occasion and narrowly avoided several other conflicts with strangers. Eventually, he told the Review-Journal, he began to fear for his safety and his domestic life began to deteriorate.

“It’s very difficult to say, ‘I don’t have your phone,’ in any other way other than, ‘I don’t have your phone,’ ” Dobson told the paper.

“It’s a hell of a problem,” he added. “It would be nice to be able to get a good night’s sleep.”

Sprint eventually located the problem and apologized to Dobson, according to the Verge.

Despite similar circumstances, Saba and Lee have not been so lucky.

They told Fusion that their home is near three cell towers, the closest of which is belongs to T-Mobile. Efforts to reach out to the company as well as Google and Apple seeking help yielded no assistance, Fusion reported. The publication even reached out to the Federal Communications Commission “the agency in charge of regulating wireless devices,” according to Fusion but were told the issue didn’t fall under their control.

The couple plan to file a complaint with the FCC and their senator.

Moving isn’t an option, they told Fusion, because Lee’s parents own the home.

“Public pressure is how stuff like this changes,” Saba told Fusion. “It sucks that it happens to us, but I hope our experience will lead to it not happening to anyone else.”

[“Source-Gadgets”]

This Is the Biggest Threat to Apple’s Business Around the World

This Is the Biggest Threat to Apple's Business Around the World

When is selling an iPhone not the same as selling an iPhone?

Easy: when you’re selling it in a country whose currency is declining in value. So how many is that? Well, in the last 18 months, it’s been pretty much all of them other than the United States. Indeed, the dollar has shot up about 22 percent against a trade-weighted basket of other currencies since the middle of 2014. And in Apple’s case, that’s meant what would have been $100 (roughly Rs. 6,800) of foreign sales in September 2014 was just $85 (roughly Rs. 5,779) by the end of 2015.

That’s not good when you get two-thirds of your revenue overseas.

The strong dollar, in other words, has become an earnings albatross for Apple. It’s getting paid in currencies that aren’t worth as much, and, at least up till now, it hasn’t made up for that by raising prices that much lest it lose market share. Even worse, it doesn’t look like any of this is going to get any better anytime soon. That’s because the Federal Reserve has begun raising rates at the same time that the rest of the world is either cutting them or even printing money.

Now there are two things to remember here. The first is that our slow-and-steady recovery really has won the race. Our unemployment rate is pretty much down to normal, and should get there soon considering that the economy has been adding an average of 284,000 jobs a month for the last three. It’s enough that the Fed thinks it has to increase interest rates today to keep inflation in check tomorrow. Everywhere else, though, things are either stagnant or slowing down to the point that policymakers are doing whatever they can to try to jumpstart growth.

And that brings us to point number two. People move their money to where it can get the best returns. So would you rather buy a 10-year German bond that pays 0.45 percent or a U.S. 10-year bond that pays 1.99 percent? Investors, especially big European ones, have been answering that by turning their euros into dollars, which is just another way of saying that there’s been more demand for dollars – so its price is rising. And it should keep doing so.

Consider this: Europe has promised to keep printing money through at least March 2017, Japan is printing its own with no end in sight, and China is facing big capital outflows itself. That means the euro, yen, and yuan would probably fall against the dollar even if we weren’t raising rates – but we are. The Fed says it wants to do so four times this year, which seems far too ambitious, but even just one or two would be enough to send the dollar up, up, up to, well, not quite infinity and beyond. But high enough that our workers and our companies would both see their bottom lines bottom out.

So it’s a great time to take that trip to Europe you’ve been thinking about, well, just as long as you weren’t planning on selling any iPhones.

[“Source-Gadgets”]

No Need to Fret, Apple Is Doing Fine

No Need to Fret, Apple Is Doing Fine

Let’s get this out of the way first: Despite what you may have heard, the iPhone is not dying. Neither, by extension, is Apple.

It’s true that in an earnings report Tuesday, after weeks of speculation by Wall Street that iPhone sales would finally hit a peak, Apple confirmed the news: iPhone sales grew at their lowest-ever rate in the last quarter. And the company projected total sales of as much as $53 billion (roughly Rs. 3,61,532 crores) in the current quarter that ends in March, which would be a decline of 8.6 percent from last year and Apple’s first revenue drop in more than a decade.

But if Apple is now hitting a plateau, it’s important to remember that it’s one of the loftiest plateaus in the history of business. The $18.4 billion (roughly Rs. 1,25,518 crores) profit that Apple reported Tuesday is the most ever earned by any company in a single quarter.

(Also see:  This Is the Biggest Threat to Apple’s Business Around the World)

It’s necessary to start with these caveats because people have a tendency to react strongly, almost apoplectically, to any suggestion of weakness on Apple’s part. Like pickles, cilantro and Ted Cruz, Apple inspires extreme opinion. The doubters are now ascendant. Apple’s share price has fallen more than 11 percent over the last year, in stark contrast to gains by the other four American tech giants.

So this column will try to do something tricky: explore what’s ailing Apple without going off the deep end. And after talking to several observers who watch the company closely, here’s my ice-cold take:Apple is doing quite OK.

Could it be doing some things better? Sure. Are any of its problems urgent? Not particularly, and from what one can tell, it’s working to address many of its shortcomings. Does it face existential threats? Yes, but no more than any other tech giant. Will it remain an outsize presence in the tech industry for years to come, generating profits on a scale that no other corporation can match? Almost certainly.

(Also see:  Apple’s iPhone Success May Be Reaching Its Peak)

“I’m not worrying about Apple in 2015 or Apple in 2016,” said Ben Thompson, an analyst who runs the site Stratechery, and who questioned Apple’s far-off future in a recent piece. “I’m thinking about the arc of Apple from 1976 to Apple in 2046. The iPhone era has been the pinnacle of everything that Apple does best. Anyone fretting about Apple right now is totally overstating it. But if I look out 10 years, 20 years, each of Apple’s advantages starts to fade.”

I’ll get to those long-run worries in a bit, but let’s start with the present. At the moment, Apple’s biggest problem is its own success. The iPhone turns nine this year. The iPad turns six. These devices have made Apple the world’s most valuable company (until Google’s parent company, Alphabet, overtakes it, which might happen soon).

Apple’s iPhone business is now so huge it sounds almost fantastical – Apple books more revenue from the iPhone (about $154 billion or roughly Rs. 10,50,534 crores in its last fiscal year) than Amazon,Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard or IBM generate from all of their operations. Two-thirds of the world’s countries have gross domestic products smaller than annual sales of the iPhone.

Yet the very dominance of Apple’s aging mobile empire inspires doubts about its future. The bigger the iPhone gets, the harder Apple has to work to beat its previous milestones, and the more vulnerable it appears to some fatal technological surprise.

The primary criticism of Apple’s recent performance is that it’s doing too much, and as a result, the general quality of its products has slipped. Related to that is the notion that Apple has lost some of its innovative and design magic. It has put out a larger-than-usual number of features and products that have failed to thrill reviewers. As Gizmodo put it in a headline summing up 2015, “Everything Apple Introduced This Year Kinda Sucked.”

Apple still does noteworthy new things, but I can understand Gizmodo’s frustration. The Apple Watch is a work in progress. Apple Music and Apple News feel awkward, far less pleasant than dedicated music-streaming and news apps that have long been available in the app store (like Spotify and Flipboard). The Apple TV offers little I couldn’t get on other devices, and its remote is heroically unfriendly. And 3D Touch and Live Photos, the new features in the latest iPhone, are nice but not groundbreaking.

But there’s something worth keeping in mind about each of these criticisms. They’re the gripes of a technophile, and they don’t necessarily reflect mainstream consumer perceptions about Apple’s products.

“Most of these critics are those who spend most of their time in this world of Apple analysis, so of course they’re hypersensitive to their devices,” said Horace Dediu, a fellow at the Clayton Christensen Institute, a think tank, and an analyst who follows Apple at his site, Asymco.

Dediu said customer satisfaction data showed continuing love for everything Apple sold. Almost everyone who has purchased an Apple Watch loves it. The same is true for iPhones and iPads. Apple’s crash logs show that its software isn’t getting buggier, contrary to what heavy users might think. “And people have short memories – they forget that the first iPhone was also full of bugs, that things in the past weren’t perfect,” he said.

Dediu is one of a chorus of analysts who argue the iPhone is far from its peak. With incremental improvements to the device’s interface and capabilities, Apple can add more than enough to keep people hooked to its devices. He calls the current peak in sales a “localized peak” – a blip from which Apple will soon emerge. In a piece last fall, I echoed this theory that the iPhone can’t lose; so has Thompson.

But if continued growth sounds like wishful thinking, there’s another path for Apple to prosper even if iPhone sales do hit a wall: Suck more money out of each phone. In a note to clients last fall, analysts at Goldman Sachs suggested that through a widening number of subscription services baked into the iPhone, Apple could begin to reap a huge monthly fee from its users, which it said constituted “the most lucrative installed base in the world.”

It’s an argument Apple executives are starting to vocalize loudly. On Tuesday’s earnings call, Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive, said the popularity of the iPhone provided the company a “long-lasting foundation.”

Apple’s ecosystem is so sticky that people tend to flock to its services even if there are better products out there. Even if I’m not a fan, 10 million people have subscribed to Apple Music in its first six months.

Given all these options for minting bullion from the iPhone, the most alarming worries for Apple aren’t about the present. They are about the future beyond the horizon, and they are necessarily speculative.

The basic question is this: In the future, will physical devices matter less than they do now? If computers are more like the machines in the movie “Her” – ethereal, ambient computers that exist in the cloud, that respond to our voices and our bodies, anticipating our desires – what will happen to Apple then? This is a company whose entire existence hinges on the cultural appreciation of physical things. Can it prosper in an age of ambient computing?

These are interesting questions to pose. I had a long conversation with Thompson about these ideas, and Apple’s apparent weaknesses – how it’s not as good at artificial intelligence and voice recognition as Google, how it lacks the cloud infrastructure that Amazon has built, and how, most important, its entire corporate culture is geared toward making actual stuff, which could limit its capacity to create fantastic online services.

But ultimately the discussion felt academic. It seems obvious that as the tech world changes around it, Apple, over the next decade, will need to reinvent itself. But so will everyone else. That is just what you do in this industry.

[“Source-Gadgets”]