Home / Companies / Google to continue to sharpen focus on India

Mumbai/New Delhi: Google Inc. is continuing to sharpen its focus on its India business by attempting to get more non-English speaking users online, providing more offline content to users with poor bandwidth, boosting the growth of its Android ecosystem, and helping more small businesses access the Internet, according to a senior company official.

This, even as the company attempts to maintain its credibility in the face of allegations of compromising data privacy, principles of Net neutrality, and abusing its dominant position in the online search and advertising markets both within the country and globally.

“As a company, we’re focused on digitizing India by bridging the gap. The strategy is to continue our focus on three pillars—bringing more consumers online, getting more local content and more SMBs (small- and medium-size businesses) online," Rajan Anandan, vice-president and managing director of Google South-East Asia and India, said in a phone interview.

A little over three billion people use the Internet globally. India is already the second largest Internet user market in the world, after China, with over 300 million Internet users and is expected to reach 500 million by 2017.

“India is adding over six million mobile Internet users every month, and the new users who are coming online are English-speaking users, so building an Indian Indic web is going to be extremely critical," he reasoned.

Google has simultaneously been working with 30 partners on the Indian Language Internet Alliance (ILIA) since over 40% of current Internet users access language content on the Web (about 125 million), but a mere 20% of these users access the language Web.

Yet, in the last one year, Hindi content on the Web has grown 94%, whereas English content is growing only at 19% in the same period, Anandan pointed out.

Hence, Google provides technical expertise and tools to help Indic publishers create online content optimized for mobile screens and search engine indexing. It is also working to help publishers monetize and build online businesses by building the digital advertising ecosystem in Indian languages—for instance, the launch of Google’s AdSense in Hindi.

Google has also introduced instant translations in Hindi with Google Translate.

Meanwhile, with around 200 million Internet users currently accessing the Web on phones, Google is also feeling the need to make the Web work across all kinds of networks, even slow ones. “Only 85 million users in India are on 3G connections," noted Anandan, adding, “This is why we’re focusing on offline as a strategy in India."

Google, for instance, has made YouTube videos available offline on mobile for 48 hours in India too, a move it introduced globally two years back. Google, he added, will “extend offline capability to more of our products" but did not give any timeline.

Google also launched a product called Google Lite Version just a month back, “which allows users in India on an Android phone and on a slow connection, like 2G, to see pages loading a whole lot faster, while using far less data, via your Chrome or Android browser from Google’s search results".

SMBs, which Anandan terms as the “backbone of India’s economy", are another focus area for Google India. But while India has over 50 million SMBs, less than 5% have an online presence. “We’ve launched a programme to help get 20 million SMBs online by 2017. This is through Google My Business. The business model for offline will remain advertising," Anandan said.

Finally, Android continues to be a “very important part of Google’s strategy in India" both for consumers and businesses, according to Anandan.

Analysts say that while Google may have an edge with its dominant Android OS than runs over 80% phones globally ( 1Toxhk1), the company’s handset partners in India have sold hardly one million low-cost Android One devices since its launch a year back.

“Google realizes that its sweet spot is sub-$50 category phones. Put at that price point, it needs to differentiate from what normal Android offers. The post-installation upgradation will not suffice. For Android One to succeed, Google needs to bring in a differentiator to drive better quality for consumers in lower smartphone segments. The company may also need to look at niche segments based on geolocation and user profiles," said Vishal Tripathi, a senior analyst at technology research firm Gartner Inc.

According to Tarun Pathak, a senior analyst at Counterpoint Technology Market Research, while Google’s Android has not faced much competition from Windows OS or Apple Inc.’s iOS for the past one year, it is “facing competition from the likes of Xiaomi and Cyanogen, which are providing better experience with a customized UI (user interface) on top of Android."

“Google will need multiple strategies instead of a single strategy for different users based on regional or demographic factors. It will need to change its overall strategy to bring in customized offerings for the users so that it can lock not only end users, but also OEMs," Pathak said.

In terms of serving businesses, Greyhound Research believes Google is doing well to strengthen its position in India.

“While the company has enjoyed strong adoption for Google Apps with SMEs (small and medium enterprises), not much success has been achieved with large enterprises that remain unsure given the complex nature of their needs, need for offline access of documents, perceived security threats among other reasons," Sanchit Vir Gogia, chief analyst and chief executive of the research firm, said.

But Microsoft Corp., with its dominant marketshare among big businesses, is offering a stiff challenge.

“While broadly, both Google Apps for Work and Microsoft Corp.’s Office 365 are in the same category, the latter offers a great balance between both offline and online access," Gogia said.

Meanwhile, privacy, Net neutrality and the alleged abuse of its dominant position in online searches and digital advertising remain contentious issues for Google.

On Monday, The Economic Times reported that the director general of the Competition Commission of India (CCI) has submitted a report that makes a prima facie case of Google having abused its dominant position.

“We’re currently reviewing this report from the CCI’s ongoing investigation. We continue to work closely with the CCI and remain confident that we comply fully with India’s competition laws," Anandan said.

Manas Kumar Chaudhuri, a partner who advises global clients on competition law and policy at legal firm Khaitan and Co., explained that “...CCI may agree, partially agree or disagree with the findings of the DG (director general). The CCI will give all the concerned parties opportunities to represent their respective points of views on the report before it takes the final decision".

Based on the complexity of the subject matter of the dispute, one may reasonably expect the final order in about one year’s time from now, he added.

Chaudhuri, though, pointed out that even as the matter in the European Union is still pending, “Google has been exonerated in several jurisdictions including the US, Taiwan, South Korea, France and Germany. These decisions may impact the final decision of the CCI".

He concluded that “...a clear balancing act may be the need of the hour in India between adjudicating anti-trust breaches and overall economic principles of governance so as not to cause any irreversible harm to the economy and the markets".

But what about concerns over comprising Net neutrality principles?

“We as a company globally are supportive of Net Neutrality. Both here, and in India, we have worked with industry bodies (Iamai, or the Internet and Mobile Association of India) to put forward our point of view. Google is a strong supporter of the free and open Internet. We believe Internet access providers shouldn’t block or throttle legitimate online services, nor should they sell ‘fast lanes’ to Internet services that prioritize their traffic over others," Anandan said.

He added, “We’re a company that makes big bets—from Search to YouTube, Android and self-driving cars. We’ve had a lot of success, but we want to ensure we’re enabling the fastest, most focused innovation possible."

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