How Google killed AppSurfer
AppSurfer’s experience is a cautionary tale for start-ups
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Bengaluru: All it took was 10 days. About 10 days after Google’s annual I/O developer conference last week, Pune-based AppSurfer announced in a blog post that it was shutting down.
While many start-ups are winding up because their products don’t find takers in the market, or funding issues, AppSurfer’s story was different.
The company, which started in 2012, experimented with various business models and spent months making software that would help users try out apps before downloading them.
But the killer blow was an announcement by Google that it would launch ‘Instant Apps’, a feature that enables users to stream apps instead of downloading them.
“We think, having better control over the platform, ecosystem and mobile devices helped Google to come up with this approach. We tried real hard in last four years, spent everything we had on the product and company. Two of our products eventually got built by Google itself, and now people the world over will be using them,” wrote AppSurfer in the post.
AppSurfer may not be alone.
Google also announced a feature called ‘Tap to Translate’ that enables users to translate text on any app. This feature was one of the cornerstones of Indian operating system maker Indus OS, which made localized software for Indian users and Indian languages, and raised $5 million from Omidyar Network.
“That isn’t our only defining feature. We have a text-to-speech feature that we are launching soon that will help even those that can’t read use smartphones. We are developing this in collaboration with the government of India,” said Rakesh Deshmukh, founder, Indus OS.
What happens if Google launches the same feature?
“We don’t know what Google will launch, but I can say for sure that it’s not easy to develop this. It took years for us,” said Deshmukh.
It’s not that start-ups can’t compete with bigger, established companies.
That challenge is why most entrepreneurs start up, but when you directly take on companies such as Google or Facebook, you need massive capital, or in India’s case, you are better off tackling problems that are better solved with more people, an easily available resource in the country.
Another sector that could see a shake-up because of an announcement by a major tech company is the chat-based commerce space. When Facebook opened up its Messenger for bots, it required the existing chat-based companies to rethink their approach.
If the premise for concierge apps was that they removed the necessity for multiple apps and made a number of services possible through a single one, then why have that additional app when millions of people use Facebook’s Messenger anyway?
Experts say that while it is possible for companies to compete with Google or Facebook, it will be a significant challenge.
“Any time a company like Facebook, Google or Apple enters a sector, it has the potential to disrupt it significantly. To the extent that Facebook decides to take chat-based commerce seriously, that could have a huge impact on companies already in this sector. It obviously doesn’t mean they will all immediately go out of business, but it may well make it more challenging for them to secure business,” said Jan Dawson, chief analyst, Jackdaw Research.
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