While iPhone sales seem to be facing strong headwinds in India, Apple seems to be having better luck promoting Indian talent on its services like Apple Music and the App Store. "Hundreds" of Indian artists have gained popularity on Apple Music through its efforts like Hear it Here First (HIHF) and New Artist Spotlight. Similarly, a large number of local developers are leveraging the App Store, which has paid as much as over $100 billion (roughly Rs. 6.97 lakh crores) to developers worldwide since its launch in July 2008, to build their business. Gadgets 360 caught up with some of these success stories during a media briefing in Gurugram recently.
"One major thing that attracts artists about the Apple Music is the subscriber base," says Music Composer Qaran Mehta. "This is very diverse in terms of demographics. The other thing definitely is the curated playlists. Earlier, the traditional way of getting your record was to go through radio or MTV. But now, the Apple playlists are radio and MTV. That's the first place people go and hear new music and depending on which playlists it's on, defines whether it's cool or not, which is a huge tastemaker."
Mehta is among the key artists who are closely working with the Apple Music team to bring a localised flavour on board. He recently came in the news for Bollywood song "Tareefan" featured in movie Veere Di Wedding that was released in June.
Similar to how Mehta sees Apple Music as a fruitful platform for young artists, singer and songwriter Ankur Tewari believes that human curation helps Apple's offering stand out from the crowd. "Apple Music has got a very old school, human touch to it," emphasises 41-year-old Tewari. "It feels as if you've gone to a record store, and the record store owner is also giving you suggestions that you should listen to and hear. This is not as whey you go to other platforms. It's very machine oriented in most of the other cases."
Tewari says that most other music streaming platforms push music towards you which you would like - based on your playback history, similar to how Facebook suggests you friends on its platform. "But with Apple Music, I end up getting music I might not like or might fall in love with it absolutely. So the surprise element, or what we can simply call it the human element, which I find common through all Apple products, is that it doesn't feel as you're talking to machines," he adds.
Nikhita Gandhi, 26, whose voice is behind the item song "Aao Kabhi Haveli Pe" that lately became viral in India with over 27 million views on YouTube, considers that Apple Music gives space to indie artists who are struggling for recognition.
The Cupertino company recently partnered with Radio City to bring a weekly show called 'Apple Music Top 25' featuring top 25 most streamed songs on Apple Music. The show airs every Saturday and apart from the most popular songs, also features interviews of local artists. Apart from this, Apple Music's own Hear it Here First (HIHF) and New Artist Spotlight programmes are said to have supported over 40 exclusive releases till date in India.
"What's lacking in India is that the publishing space is not very well defined, like we have labels but not publishers and record labels don't behave the same way they do abroad," underlines Gandhi. "That's one thing that makes a lot of artists shy away from labels and shy away from putting out their work. First of all, they [labels] might not like it because it's not commercial enough. And secondly, if they like it, they'll want the intellectual property. So we can say that they want to be the artists as well as the publishers."
"The Apple team, on the other hand, is defining that role really well because they are working with indie artists as well as Bollywood artists and it's a mixture," she continues. "It's nice that everyone is kind of in the same space. It also gives a different taste to how music would be accepted in India because there is a change happening which all musicians are excited about that."
Last week, Gandhi released her first non-Bollywood single on Apple Music on Friday dubbed "Humshakal". "I have been working on my single simultaneously alongside my Bollywood songs, and they [the Apple Music team] heard it and liked it," she says.
In addition to giving emerging artists like Gandhi a platform to easily publish their music, Apple Music helps new faces sit alongside the legends. Palash Bhise aka Splash, who was featured as part of New Artist Spotlight, highlights that Apple's brand value helps young singers become popular. "I've come from originally being a SoundCloud artist and have a very niche audience," says Bhise. "I put out songs that my mom probably shouldn't be listening to. So I've come from there, and I've suddenly become this guy who's up there with XXXTentacion and Russ - all these guys that I look up to. Whenever somebody sees an Apple logo on your content, everything suddenly becomes so legit."
Apple Music is available in over 100 countries globally and serves a catalogue of more than 45 million songs to a subscriber base of over 50 million subscribers. These numbers are indeed enough to compete against compelling music streaming services such as Amazon Music and Google Play Music, Gaana, and Saavn that are other major players in the online music streaming market in India. The creators talk about what helps Apple Music stands out among the crowd.
"A lot of the time when you try to get your music heard, you get a lot of corporate people telling you we listen to your creation and give you a feedback, but they're not really musicians," says Gandhi. "It's fine as at the end of the day you do want feedback from people who are not musicians, but it's little strange if the stamp of approval comes from somebody quintessentially, not a musician."
"When you're writing songs, you want people to hear it," adds Tewari. "You don't want bots. It is also important that with a platform like Apple Music, the feedback comes from an honest space. It doesn't come from commercial space. Out of that, you may at some points agree or at some points disagree with it, but any feed that comes from an honest space is great."
When asked about how Apple Music helps in generating revenues for young artists, Tewari says that it's not about revenue for artists, it's about the respect. "For us, it is very important that we first, it is sad to say but, kind of get respected here," he says. "Otherwise, you don't feel respected as an artist in most of the places where you end up performing. As an artist, the most important thing you might be getting great revenue but if you're not respected as an artist, then it doesn't make any sense."
Apart from giving focus much on Hindi content, Apple Music has 14 localised radio stations that are a combination of popular local languages such as Punjabi, Tamil, Telugu, and Bengali, as well as stations for different eras of music such as 90s Bollywood Radio, Telugu Romance, and Hindustani Classical, among others. Apple also last October tied up with AR Rahman's Music school KMMC to set up a macOS Lab in their Chennai as well as an upcoming campus in Mumbai. The Lab will essentially help students learn to create music using Logic Pro X. Further, Apple is also sponsoring full-time musical scholarships for 10 students from underprivileged backgrounds.
Apple is set to further enhance the user experience on Apple Music with features such as Artists Pages, Top 100 section, and Friends Mix that will all be available with the release of iOS 12, expected sometime next month.
Local iOS development is getting smarter and bigger
Similar to how it is being successful in attracting indie artists and Bollywood talent, Apple is also influencing app developers to use its platform and tools to bring interesting stuff on board. The App Accelerator in Bengaluru that was announced in May 2016 and eventually launched in April last year has played a big part in empowering local developers. The revamped App Store where the iPhone maker also offers a curated experience for the local audience has also helped highlight the best apps coming out of the country. For example, Apple used India's Independence Day earlier this month to feature local apps and games that have created their own niche among users.
99Games, the makers of Star Chef, which is touted to be India's most monetised game, has observed some key advantages in building games for iOS over Android with the launch of Fantastic Chefs. "When it comes to ARPPU (Average Revenue Per Paying User) as well as the overall conversion rate, it's a bit on higher side on iOS," Shilpa Bhat, VP of Games, 99Games, tells Gadgets 360. "Similarly, uninstall rates are much lower on iOS over what on Android."
For Fantastic Chefs that is targeted at women between the ages of 20 and 55, 99Games has used Unity engine that enables cross-platform game development. The gameplay is also similar on Android and iOS, however, the games has a bunch of iOS-exclusive features such as an Apple Watch Companion app, iMessage stickers, auto-renewable subscription, and Game Center integration.
As compared to Google's Play Store, Apple's App Store does not support the same variety of payment methods in India, as Google's store even lets you make payments via mobile wallets such as Paytm, net banking, and even via your carrier. Meanwhile the App Store only lets users pay via their credit/ debit cards or using the existing Apple ID balance to buy a new app or game. However, Bhat doesn't see the payment method limitation as a big issue. "iOS offers us more premium users who don't mind using their credit or debit cards to make purchases through the App Store. So that way we are not seeing much of a payment hurdle as such on iOS," she says.
Unlike 99Games that doesn't distinguish the overall experience on Android and iOS devices, Myntra is giving an augmented reality (AR) based Shoe Size Finder specifically for its customers using iOS devices. The online fashion store has leveraged ARKit to solve customers' problem of finding perfectly fitting shoes. "To do augmented reality, one of the scientific problems you have to solve is figuring out dimensions of things in the real world," says Sharath Bulusu, SVP at Myntra. "We said hey people are using it for games and for fun experience, can we use this to solve the problem in fashion? All we need is the length of your foot to help you pick the best-fit shoes for you. This becomes easier with ARKit."
Going forward, Myntra is looking to use the same technology to measure not just the foot length but also the height, width of the shoulders, chest, waist, and hips to give the best-fit apparels to its customers. But there are certain challenges on the way. One such challenge is that while people are likely to start using their barefoot to measure their sizes for purchasing a new pair of shoes, they can't be expected to do the same for their entire body, or even wear skin-tight clothing just to get an accurate measurement.
"We are building some models for that," Bulusu tells Gadgets 360. "Let's say if somebody is wearing clothes, then we'll take the edge of the clothes. But in that case, how can we detect the real body size from that? We have models who wear the clothes and stand there and we shoot them. We then shoot them with bare shoulders or with skin-tight clothing and from that, we get the exact dimensions. From wearing clothes, we find slightly larger dimensions. But now since we have both of them, we can build a machine learning model that says for a completely new person I see the type of clothing such as cotton or wool, what dimensions should I detect for the shoulders and what should be the best suitable size."
Eventually, Myntra will also deploy Google's ARCore to bring a similar experience to Android as well. But Bulusu says that the experience on ARCore is currently limited to a few devices only, unlike ARKit that supports devices starting from the iPhone SE and fifth-generation iPad to the iPhone X and the iPad Pro. "With ARKit, the benefit for us was one experience that we could just build and test and go out to market and try with real users and see if it works," the executive says, adding, "We can definitely see that people who use our ARKit-powered Shoe Size Finder, their return rates are lower."
Apple's ARKit is not just helping the likes of Myntra limit their return rates, the API tool is also powering the immersive experience on SpacewAR Uprising developed by Kochi, Kerala-based Tresreis Games. The indie studio has a team of three that used ARKit 1.0 to built the extra-terrestrial infinite war game which is exclusive to iOS so far. The game was conceptualised at the App Accelerator after CEO Bony Raju and his two other friends attended a section on ARKit.
"At the App Accelerator in Bengaluru, we had a section on ARKit," Raju tells Gadgets 360. "We then thought of making a game out of AR. We all are like Marvel fans, so we figured out a space-based theme for this game. We want to do something different from other games. Most of the AR games are like table-top games and don't offer a complete AR experience where the gamers can be immersive in the game."
The prototype of SpacewAR Uprising was created within eight weeks after the inception of the original idea and then the team went to the App Accelerator to get support from Apple experts. "They have given some good feedback about the game, such as how to make the game presentable to the global audience and how to make the player immersive in the game," recalls Raju. "We also initially made a dull tutorial. But the App Accelerator team helped us add an intuitive tutorial that comes along with the gameplay. They taught us how to make the tutorial interesting for the game as nobody is interested in reading long-length tutorials."
Like the SpacewAR Uprising team, the App Accelerator has helped thousands of developers since its launch. Forggipedia, Myntra, FitSo, and Fantastic Chefs are among those who have benefited from the App Accelerator, which is open to all registered iOS developers in the country. Notably, the makers of Calzy 3, a simple, no-nonsense calculator for iPhone and iPad, even won the Apple Design award at the WWDC earlier this year. This was the first ever app from India that was recognised at the Apple Design Awards, the annual event that takes places on the sidelines of Apple's developers' conference.
Tresreis Games' Raju and his teammates have no plans to use ARCore to bring SpacewAR Uprising to Android in the near future. The reason for adhering to ARKit is the limited support of ARCore, similar to what Myntra pointed out. However, Tresreis Games is already working on deploying ARKit 2.0 to bring a multi-player gaming experience to their title.
New iPhones may well be amazing but will Apple follow a new strategy in India? We discussed this on Orbital, our weekly technology podcast, which you can subscribe to via Apple Podcasts or RSS, download the episode, or just hit the play button below.