Don’t act surprised: Google has a drone-delivery program

Don’t act surprised: Google has a drone-delivery program

Amazon is building drones to deliver things consumers buy, and Facebook is building dronesso more people can get Internet access. And naturally, Google has been tinkering with drones, too.

At first, the idea of 2-year-old Project Wing, as the company has dubbed this Google X research project, was to use the unmanned aerial vehicles to send defibrillators to places where people had heart attacks. But Googlers now think the technology could help people share their belongings with one another in a matter of two minutes, according to a story on the project in the Atlantic.

Google has gone in all sorts of wild directions in recent years, experimenting with contact lenses that could help people with diabetes, self-driving cars, Google Glass, of course, and even a cardboard version of a virtual-reality device. But as Google has ventured from its original intent to provide a way to search the Internet (and sell advertising), it’s moved into, among other areas, providing goods to people with Google Shopping Express. Perhaps Project Wing could lead to a whole new way to deliver goods instead of the truck.

Or Google could end up becoming a more reliable shipper of stuff people order from other services, like eBay.

In any case, like other drone projects from startups and these tech giants, it’s a fascinating project worth learning about.

And like other programs, it will face government scrutiny, at least in the U.S. Google has been talking with regulators, according to the Atlantic report.

-Courtesy: VentureBeat

Tencent, Baidu And Wanda Form $814M Joint Venture To Take On Alibaba

Chinese Internet giants Tencent and Baidu are teaming up with conglomerate Wanda to form an RMB 5 billion (about $814 million) e-commerce joint venture in a bid to challenge Alibaba’s dominance. Wanda, a real estate and movie theater chain group, will hold a 70 percent stake, while Tencent and Baidu will each hold 15 percent.

The companies are competing for a bigger slice of China’s e-commerce market, which is the largest in the world and still growing rapidly. According to iResearch, online retail sales in China will grow 45.8 percent to RMB 2.76 trillion (about $446.6 billion) this year. A PricewaterhouseCoopers poll showed that one in seven Chinese shop online at least once per day.

The partnership will promote Tencent’s online payment platforms, including TenPay and Weixin Payment, which are competitors to Alibaba products like Alipay. TenPay and Weixin Payment will now be the preferred payment method for transactions across all of Wanda’s businesses, including its movie theaters. Tencent will also benefit from having access to movie, TV, and online dramas that Wanda owns.

In a joint statement, the companies said “the JV underscores Tencent’s commitment to enriching our O2O ecosystem and delivering superior experience to our users through connecting them with goods, services, and businesses.” Online-to-offline purchases are especially important to Tencent as it seeks to capitalize on the 396 million users of its popular messaging platform WeChat.

The companies added “the three partners will further deepen collaboration on initiatives such as traffic sharing, media and advertising, resources sharing, membership benefits, payment and internet finance, big data, etc.”

The JV is the latest of several moves that Tencent has made to challenge Alibaba as the latter moves toward its highly anticipated IPO this fall. For example, in May it spent $187 million for a 11.3 percent stake in NavInfo, one of China’s largest mapping companies. The deal was notable because Alibaba recently bought mobile mapping provider AutoNavi Holdings, one of NavInfo’s main competitors, which powers its location-based e-commerce services.

Before that, Tencent took a 15 percent stake in and formed a strategic partnership with is much smaller than Alibaba, but it is China’s second-largest e-commerce company and rapidly growing.

The deal came after Tencent launched a new mobile open platform initiative to attract developers and invested $195 million in logistics firm China South City.

-Courtesy: Techcrunch

Snapdeal Gets Backing From Tata Figurehead In India’s Hot E-Commerce Market

On the heels of Flipkart raising an eye-popping $1 billion, here’s one more sign of the landgrab going on in the Indian e-commerce market today. Its rival Snapdeal has raised yet more outside investment, for the third time this year, this time from Ratan Tata, the chairman emeritus of Indian conglomerate Tata Group.

The amount is undisclosed but we are trying to find out (and will update if/when we do). In this year alone, not counting today’s investment, Snapdeal had already raised over $233 million, including $100 million in May from Blackrock and others; and $133.7 million from a group that included eBay.

In the meantime, Snapdeal CEO Kunal Bahl has confirmed the deal to us directly: “Mr. Ratan Tata, Chairman Emeritus, Tata, who is probably the most respected business leader in India, has invested in Snapdeal,” he wrote in an email, elaborating a bit further in a separate, canned statement that’s been quoted widely in the Indian press. “An investment by a legendary and respected figure like Mr. Tata is an excellent validation of our focused strategy on building a long term enterprise and marks the start of a very important phase for the company, ” he said (via Economic Times).

Although this is an investment by Mr Tata, not Tata Group, news of it comes a day after Snapdeal announced an agreement with Tata Value Homes, one of the many subsidiaries that form the Tata empire. Tata Value Homes, which builds affordable housing, will be selling a portion of its inventory through Snapdeal, starting at the end of this month.

That deal initially will cover 1,000 properties in urban centers like Mumbai, Pune, Ahmedabad, Bangalore and Chennai, with home prices ranging from 18-70 lakh ($30,000-$116,000). The model of selling homes online — not just advertising them for offline sales — is one that has also picked up some traction in Silicon Valley, with investor and former Square COO Keith Rabois currently building Homerun.

“It is a big first out here and sets the stage for e-commerce in India participating in lives of consumers in ways that include many things beyond physical products as well,” Bahl tells us.

Four year-old Snapdeal, which has 20 million registered users and about 4 million products in its inventory running the gamut from houses to hosiery to books about both, passed the $1 billion mark in sales after 2.5 years, Bahl tells us. Although the company is now raising a lot of money, it wasn’t always that way.

“We got there investing less than $100mn, which is one-third the time and one-third the capital of another market player with one-tenth the team size,” he says, making an unnamed reference to its big rival Flipkart. “It demonstrates how being the ‘Alibaba equivalent of India,’ by being focused on building a platform for 50,000+ small businesses and brands in India with zero inventory to sell to 25 million users in 5000+ towns and cities, we have been able to build India’s largest B2C marketplace, cost and time efficiently.”

The $1 billion figure is a tipping point that Bahl in the past has said would be the moment when he would start considering an IPO for the company.

The economies of scale in e-commerce certainly seem to point either to that route, or to massive consolidation — witness Flipkart’s acquisition of buying fashion site Myntra for $300 million earlier this year as one example of the latter, and Rocket Internet of the former. Sometimes termed a “clone factory” that simply builds companies to flip them to the originator, Rocket Internet is now increasingly looking like it will keep its holdings together and go for an IPO itself. Pressures like this, plus the small matter of having Amazon in its backyard, will be driving a lot of Snapdeal’s business moves.

Without any news of where Snapdeal may be sitting in terms of the public markets, it’s aggressively expanding in the meantime, to catch the growing wave of hundreds of millions of middle-class people in its home country who are going online more using cheap smartphones and low-cost bandwidth to buy goods and services.

Further afield, Snapdeal is also looking to grow, but in a different way. Bahl regularly visits the West Coast of the U.S. and has been, in the words of one person, “raiding” Silicon Valley and Seattle for engineers. The company currently has 1,300 employees and a remit to double that by year-end, adding some 250 engineers. That may even mean bolt-on acquisitions, too.

-Courtesy: Techcrunch

Mozilla’s Firefox Marketplace will soon use crowd-curation for apps (exclusive)

Mozilla’s Firefox Marketplace will soon use crowd-curation for apps (exclusive)

But Mozilla has some of the same problems that other app stores do. They need a way to surface the really good apps, and push down the apps that are a little less inspired. DeVaney believes at least part of the answer lies in audience curation of apps.

“It would be giving people a playground, and letting them rate and review apps, letting people vote the best app reviews up to the top,” he told VentureBeat. “It’s creating a space that’s a little less polished than the homepage [of the app store].”I asked DeVaney what this method of app curation might look like to a user. He said it will be a separate space at the app store that has a slightly different look and feel than the home page of the Firefox Marketplace.

DeVaney knows something about curation. Before arriving at Mozilla, he managed a team at Apple charged with creating the promotional language around iTunes, App Store, and iBookstore content.

At the Firefox Marketplace, DeVaney says, there will be a central scroll that will display apps based on the geographic location of the user. The selection of these apps might be informed by what apps other people in the user’s area find useful.

You might also find curated lists of “best apps” by people who have a special interest in a certain class of apps, like productivity apps or games.

The thinking is that the best people to promote apps are not the people who make them, but rather the people who have used them. “We’re really trying to democratize app discovery,” DeVaney said at a retreat for app developers Friday.

Some app stores are looking at using algorithms and automation to identify good apps, and DeVaney says he’s interested in that approach — to a point. “Analysis only takes you so far in predicting the next hit,” he says.

“I could have a staff of 100, but I still wouldn’t know what people in a little village in Nairobi are going to want, or what the people in the village 100 miles away will want,” DeVaney said.

DeVaney said you’ll be seeing the new crowd curation features show up at Mozilla’s app store “very soon.”

-Courtesy: VentureBeat

New Restrictions On Online Billing In India May Impact International E-Commerce Companies

New restrictions on online billing in India may affect international e-commerce businesses, including Google Play, Amazon India, and Uber.

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) said last week that online transactions using credit cards for the purchase of items and services within India must be done through a bank within the country and be transacted in rupees. As the Indian Express explains, this may hurt online businesses, including Google Play, Amazon, and Uber, that route credit card transactions through an international payment gateway, bypassing the two-step verification required by the RBI.

In a statement, the RBI said:

“It has come to our notice that despite the above clarifications there are instances of card not present transactions being effected without the mandated additional authentication/validation even where the underlying transactions are essentially taking place between two residents in India. It is also observed that these entities are evading the mandate of additional authentication/validation by following business/payment models which are resulting in foreign exchange outflow.”

The RBI added that even though its new restrictions are effective immediately, it will give businesses until October 31, 2014, to comply.

Indian news analysis site Medianama notes that it is still unclear whether the RBI’s restrictions affect purchases only made in India, or if they will impact all purchases made using Indian cards in India.

Though the restrictions will negatively impact foreign online business operating in India, Medianama notes that it will result in more business for Indian payment gateways and banks, because all merchants will have route transactions through Indian payment gateways.

India recently became Uber’s largest market outside of the U.S. The car calling app is now available in 10 Indian cities, the same as rival Olacabs, which is headquartered in Mumbai and may therefore have an easier time dealing with the RBI’s new restrictions.

Amazon, meanwhile, sees India as one of its most important growth markets. It recently announced that it plans to invest $2 billion in its Indian marketplace, just one day after rival Flipkart, which is headquartered in Bangalore, announced that it had received a massive $1 billion in new funding led by Tiger Global Management and Naspers.

TechCrunch has contacted Uber, Amazon, and Google for comment and will update this post if we hear back from them.

-Courtesy: Techcrunch

Amazon Launches Local Register, A Square Competitor With Lower Transaction Rates

Amazon has launched a Square and PayPal Here competitor called Local Register, which provides users with a free app and a $10 card reader, and charges merchants and anyone selling services who use it just 1.75 percent per swipe on both credit and debit transactions, so long as users sign up before October 31. That’s a special rate, and is a full percentage point lower than Square’s 2.75 percent per swiped transaction (3.5 percent plus 15 cents for manual entry), and will last until January 1, 2016, at which point it will return to the standard 2.5 percent per transaction Amazon is charging (or 2.75 percent for manually entered transactions).

The $10 fee Amazon is charging for people to buy its reader is also essentially erased since Amazon grants users of its payment system $10 in transaction credit right off the bat. Amazon is clearly hoping it can lure real-world sellers away from the established competition with more attractive rates, but it’s also boasting that Local Register is backed by Amazon’s customer support, a secure card reader design that “limits swivel” during swiping, and their existing secure infrastructure for accepting payments which is backed by all the experience of their online storefront.

Amazon also offers business reporting within the Local Register app, which is available on the Amazon Appstore, iOS App Store and Google Play, which provides info like when you experience peak sales and overall performance. Amazon is also offering an ecosystem of accessories, including cash drawers, receipt printers and semi-permanent stands and mounts for mobile devices in order to give shop owners and food truck vendors everything they need to set up more involved installations.

Payments received through Local Register go into a seller’s bank account the next business day, and Amazon makes funds available to use on its own ecommerce portal almost immediately. It’s a clever way to funnel some money back into its ecosystem.

 Overall, Amazon looks to be pushing business owners to do all their sales, both online and off, via its platform, and to make that happen it’s willing to undercut the competition. Starting August 19, the new Amazon reader will also be available in Staples locations in the U.S., which should help it somewhat in matching Square’s general retail availability.

Square recently announced an EMV chip card reader that would be coming to the U.S. soon, so that might give it a temporary edge over Amazon, but Amazon can move quickly to iterate on its product when the time comes. Overall, this could be a big challenge to Square and PayPal’s local payment efforts, depending on how aggressively Amazon decides to go after winning over users of its competing services.

-Courtesy: Techcrunch

Battle of the cabs: Olacabs drives into India’s industrial hub Ahmedabad, days after TaxiForSure


The race to cover Indian cities with on-demand cab services has entered a new stretch, with the entry of Olacabs into Ahmedabad just 12 days after its competitor TaxiForSure drove into the capital of Gujarat and home of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This is the 10th Indian city in which Ola has launched operations since starting out three years ago in Mumbai, while its six-month-younger Bangalore-based competitor is now in five cities.

Ola has raised US$65 million in three rounds of funding, the latest being in June this year, so it has the fuel to speed ahead with its expansion. “We currently have over 12,000 cabs on our platform across these 10 cities and plan to double our capacity in the next one year,” says Anand Subramanian, director of marketing communications, Olacabs. TaxiForSure has a more modest US$14 million in its kitty, but is reported to be in talks to raise funding, and has a similar target of around 25,000 cabs in a year from now.

Gujarat is a leading business hub of the country, and Narendra Modi’s election this year was driven by the so-called Gujarat model of growth. Ahmedabad is often cited for its urban planning, but personal transportation services have been lagging behind other Indian cities. Now that gap will close rapidly. Amdavadis, as the denizens of Ahmedabad are called, enjoy the benefits of competition between taxi aggregators.

Cities like Delhi, Mumbai, and Bangalore have already seen intense competition, especially since the entry of global operator Uber.

In fact, the entry of Uber has shaken up Indian cab operators like Meru Cab, Mega Cab, and EasyCabs. Just last week, a letter from the Association of Radio Taxis to the Reserve Bank of India complained of illegal credit card transactions on the Uberapp.

The GPS-based hassle-free ordering of Uber also stole the thunder from Ola, which had introduced mobile app-based ordering of taxis in India. The launch of UberX, the smaller car variant of the UberBLACK, has also brought it on par in terms of price.

Now the battle to sign on taxis and drivers is in full swing on these services, none of which keep their own fleets. Hence the race to Ahmedabad, in which TaxiForSure had its nose ahead of Ola. But then again, this race has just begun.
-Courtesy: Techinasia


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