SoftBank Group Corp.-backed Bengaluru-based advertising tech unicorn, InMobi, is betting big on its business-to-consumer (B2C) unit 'Glance' that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to identify trending topics and personalise the experience for smartphone users.
Naveen Tewari, founder and chief executive at InMobi claims that 65% of all new smartphones in India today have Glance pre-installed with 28 million daily active users who spend about 20 minutes each using this so-called 'screen-zero platform'.
It was almost four years back that InMobi thought about Glance. "We were thinking about how to monetize the device. We realised that this may take some time, but we wanted to change the way consumers consume content," Tewari said in an interview.
For much of 2015 and 2016, Glance was in incubation mode as the group explored how the product would fit the market. "In 2017, we set up Glance in its current form while 2017 and 2018 was a period of product and business development. During this period, we grew across four fronts—product, content, OEM (original equiment manufacturer) partnerships and team," Tewari explained.
Glance, the group's foray into the consumer segment, is now available in Hindi, English, Telugu and Tamil. "We will soon be adding more languages," he added.
Since Glance comes pre-installed in many smartphones, InMobi has a "revenue-sharing" agreement with the phonemakers that pre-install the 'screen-zero platform'. Tewari likes Glance to a "super-app". According to him, about "70% of Glance's users come from smaller town while the remaining are from major cities". The other strength of Glance, according to Tewari, is that it's not a "user-generated platform" but a platform where the content is filtered to ensure that people trust it.
Glance uses AI tools like computer vision and machine learning algorithms for ranking and tagging, suggesting paraphrases, searching for the right image, sequencing different content pieces and for predictive serving and caching of content. However, humans are looped in too.
"We have over 100 people moderating the content," Tewari said. First, Glance uses machine learning to understand the topics that are trending. It, then, checks (with the help of human moderators) whether the content is from a trusted site or not. Finally, "we put the Glance experience together, which is led by a human, and the content is personalised for users with the help of what we call socially-aware AI", Tewari explained.
Mobile users download 30-50 apps on average but end up using only 5-7 apps daily. App Annie data reveals that we spend 3-4 hours per day using mobile apps. This usage is spread through the day in small chunks. With its presence on the lock screen, Glance wants to become the content gateway for consumers.
Glance, bypasses the Google Play app store and comes bundled with new Android phones sold by InMobi partners (e.g. Samsung and Xiaomi), so app creators and publishers also see potential upside with Glance, opines Kashyap Kompella, CEO and Chief Analyst, rpa2ai Research.
He reasons that since global smartphone shipment growth has plateaued, InMobi’s Glance is a potential bright spark for these smartphone makers as it represents an opportunity to monetize their large user base".
Currently there is no direct competition to Glance, notes Kompella. Instead, the competition for Glance comes from all apps vying for user attention such as social media apps such as Facebook, messaging apps such as Whatsapp, video apps such as TikTok and content apps such as YouTube or DailyHunt. The core idea for all of them is to build and monetize user attention.
Pointing out that Glance is based on InMobi’s longstanding experience in the mobile advertising ecosystem, Kompella said, “Ultimately, Glance is a bet on the fact that if you build it and aggregate a large number of eyeballs, you’ll somehow figure out a monetization opportunity." On his part, Tewari did acknowledge that the monetization plan for Glance is yet to be worked out.
At present, the InMobi group has three business units— Marketing cloud, TruFactor and Glance. It's the InMobi marketing cloud business that accounts for almost 90% of the group's business. "This (marketing cloud) business is profitable and growing at 35-40 CAGR with the US accounting for nearly 50% of the business." China accounts for around 25% while India is still small (around 8%).
TruFactor, which Tewari calls the “data SaaS (software as a service) business", was created to provide security, privacy, governance and compliance services to telecom services providers. In February, the InMobi group said it plans to invest about $100 million over the next three years in TruFactor.
The market potential for InMobi’s three units—two enterprise and one consumer (Glance)—is huge. The global mobile advertising market is expected to grow at approximately $169 billion by 2023, according to Marketresearchfuture.com. The prominent players in the mobile advertising market, according to the market research firm, include Facebook Inc., Google Inc., InMobi Pte. Ltd., Apfaceplovin Corp., Avazu Inc., and Chartboost Inc.
To be sure, Google, Facebook and Amazon account for a lion’s share of this market. Nevertheless, Tewari is optimistic that his group will figure “in the top five companies list (in the mobile advertising market) in the next five years".