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India’s growing potential & new status as a tech hub
Sanshey Biswas  15th Aug 2015

The ZenFestival was a mash of entertainment, technology and celebrities.

Within 24 hours of the invitations being out, over 2,000 fans had already applied to be part of the global launch of MIUI 7, one of the most popular ROMs based on Android. This isn't the first time that Xiaomi is holding the global launch of one of its products in India. The Mi 4i was a first, and the launch was a huge success, with the company managing to sell an average of 1,500 phones per second at their first flash sale of the device. But Xiaomi isn't the first company to hold a global launch in India. India has slowly crept up the priority list of tech companies globally, thanks to the formidable financial muscle shown in the purchase of mobile devices. Before 2010, we'd usually be guessing when (if at all) a device launched in the US would become available in India. And now, we have companies targetting India as their chosen venue for global launches.

One reason for this spurt of launches is the fact that India is the fastest growing market for smartphones in the world. Xiaomi, however, wasn't the first company to act upon these statistics. Android One from last year was the first ever international launch of a platform here, making it possible for users to purchase budget devices that would get regular updates. Samsung, Karbonn and Spice were the chosen three to build phones for the programme. That said, the Android One devices weren't just a way to capture the budget segment of the market but also tackle the fragmentation issue plaguing the Android OS. Every phone has its own version of the OS, and the Android One devices were placed in the budget price bracket to get users onboard a uniform stock Android platform. The project wasn't a failure as such, but it didn't solve all the issues at hand. With the second leg of the programme coming up this year, there are rumours of a phone half the price of the original lineup of Android One, with the same promise of regular updates.

And it isn't just hardware companies approaching the Indian market. With the increase in number of smartphone users, the number of people on the internet also takes a leap. That's a huge opportunity for software companies to sell their products in India. Swiftkey, a company that specialises in predictive text keyboards, is already working hard to bring regional languages to mobile devices in India. Considering that the gap between the projected figure of smartphone users and people who can read and write in English has a huge difference, Swiftkey might be on its way to becoming the most popular regional languages keyboard in the country. Speaking at the launch event, Dr Girish Nath Jha, who is an Associate Professor of Computational Linguistics at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi and is helping Swiftkey make on-screen keyboards for regional languages, said that even though ours is a multi-lingual country, digital technology here remains an anglophone preserve. A major reason for the same is that it's really difficult to type in these languages and scripts because of their complex usage. But, with predictive text, Swiftkey is eliminating that and we hope to see a lot more digital content in regional and even lost languages.

Swiftkey is taking a major risk here. Their entire business model depends on how much users in India spend to customise the app after they have downloaded it for free. And getting users to buy themes for their keyboards might be a challenge as well.

For phone and tablet manufacturers, the odds seem better. Why else would Asus hold an extravagant flying-drummer, standup-themed, celebrity-featured demo and launch event for their fans and the press at the Jawahar Lal Nehru stadium in Delhi, called the ZenFestival? Many bloggers felt the extravagance was unnecessary, and that they should have focussed on the quality of the product. Well, it was Asus' way of showing their appreciation and intent. Jonney Shih, the Chairman of Asus, also revealed a new device, the Zenfone Max, that they plan to bring to the market in October, on the heels of the Zenfone 2, which has garnered impressive sales in the country. Even though the lavish event by Asus had entertainment, tech and giveaways, it still fell some way short of the most impressive global launch India has seen.

The launch of the Mi 4i, in September last year, is what first set the ball rolling. It featured Xiaomi's global VP, Hugo Barra, giving a Steve Jobs-inspired keynote speech, with just the turtleneck missing. But the event still hit the right note with fans and techies who had filled up the Siri Fort Auditorium in Delhi to witness the global launch of the Mi 4i. And now that they have an assembly unit in India in partnership with Foxconn, devices by Xiaomi will become more easily available. And to re-affirm their faith in us, New Delhi will be the host of the global launch of MIUI 7 after the launch of the Chinese version on 13 August. We wonder which companies will make a global announcement in India next? (The company that assembles iPhones is setting up facilities around the country, and we don't think Tim Cook would mind a trip to India.)

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