Best of 2017

The year when big tech reflects

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It is that time of the year when I put my smartphone away and stay away from those social media feeds to catch up on my reading, listen to podcasts and what not. I think you should, too. It’s also a time to sit back, put your feet up and reflect. Reflect on obviously the year that went by, and come up with that one resolution that you are (almost) unlikely to stick to. That’s how it works, doesn’t it? Mine, for example, would be to get off Twitter. Impossible, right?

But as it stands, Twitter’s a good starting point to reflect. Both, for us, and the company. For it is struggling to get its act together in India right now. It is stagnant, as users are moving away from the platform to other spaces. Instagram and Snapchat being the most prominent ones, especially among this one-term I’ve come to loathe off late: millennials  We captured both those trends last year. But guess who’s working overtime towards winning that space? Facebook, with its quiet, yet super aggressive, policy build up. And all of that with the 2019 general elections in mind. And then, there’s also Google, which wants to change the way people search in India. Through languages, through voice search, which they believe will be decisive in the push for the so-called “next billion users.” That’s not where it ends with Google. It has sensed an opportunity with local search and is trying to explore the same with hyperlocal delivery. Remember Areo? Or Aa-ree-yo, as the Google officials insist it must be pronounced. Also, that investment in Dunzo is worth a mention.

Allow me to indulge in a bit of whataboutery, for it has become our favourite national pastime. I’ve seen a lot of tweets begin with ‘What about X’ this year than ever before. It has now also trickled into our offline discourse. In bars, coffee shops, airport lounges and the most awkward of places you can imagine (read: public bathrooms). SO WHAT ABOUT UBER, you ask, caps lock on. And I say, it’s all quiet on that front. At least while the new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi is trying to tidy the good old mess left by its former CEO, Travis Kalanick. It wasn’t that way in India, at least early last year. Driver strikes, new products and execution. That was their hallmark. But then, a speed breaker. Eric Alexander left Uber as part of the marching spree there, for illegally obtaining the medical records of the 2014 New Delhi rape victim. All hell broke loose in the Valley tech press. But we had it covered for you. And then you ask, WHAT ABOUT APPLE? I know the past week has been rather eventful there: Sanjay Kaul leaving, the slowest growth in eight years and all that. We had that covered too, reporting first in May about the government of India standing up to the world’s most valuable company, not ceding its ground as far as incentives are concerned.

While all that is great, you and I have an Aadhaar sword hanging over the head. Yesterday, I met someone who told me this in the most audacious, Hindi tone possible. To quote, “Bhaad main jaaye Aadhaar” (May Aadhaar go to hell). Obviously, he’s not too pleased with all the events around Aadhaar and mandatory linking. But what if I told you that a Bengaluru-based company was misusing Aadhaar in almost all of 2017 before it was caught in the act by UIDAI? The implications of that situation are definitely worth reading. And scary. Moving on. What if I also told you that India will become an important, if not the final, frontier for telecom licensing? With the likes of Qualcomm and Ericsson trying to virtually pulverise Indian OEMs into submission, and in subtler terms, use advocacy. You know what’s also interesting? That the government is trying to ride the AI bullet train. Like China, South Korea, the UK and many others. Except, its plans are rather fuzzy right now.

Sigh!

I don’t know about you, but these are some of our stories I’d put down as must-reads this year.

Aadhaar’s Dr Security and Mr Scale Problem

The rehabilitation of Nitin Mangal

The last line Uber India crosses, and Uber India wants to fix things. Everything

With three key battles shaping up, Facebook beefs up its policy play. Also, a profile of its most powerful official in India, Ankhi Das. And then, Facebook’s bid to become the Indian government’s default public square

India — the last telecom licensing frontier

You can bring bullet trains from Japan, but not artificial intelligence, which as it turns out, Google seems to have a headstart in India.

I hope 2018 is just as exciting for some of these companies. They’re now in big tobacco territory globally, but in India, with the market only growing, there could be plenty more trends coming up next year. Needless to say, at The Ken, we’ll have it covered.

Learning Japanese is one of my other resolutions. In that spirit, Sayonara and Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu!

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