Google I/O 2018 is all set to kick off at the Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, California on Tuesday. Before that happens, the search giant had a few updates to deliver to the select members of the press about its Next Billion Users (NBU) initiative. This program was put together to create products and services tailored towards emerging markets, like India, in order to make the Internet and in turn, Google's services, more accessible for consumers who are still stuck with low-end smartphones and sketchy data connectivity. We were joined by Dave Shapiro, Director of Marketing and Technology at Google and Josh Woodward, Product Manager at Google, who gave us an update on the team's progress.
Three apps have emerged out of this initiative so far, which include Datally - an app designed to help users save mobile data. Although this isn't particularly a problem any longer in India thanks to Reliance Jio and the cascading effect it has had on competing telecom operators. The second, is Files Go, which manages the limited storage offered by entry-level smartphones. This app launched in India around December 2017, along with the Google Go app, and has since received numerous updates for faster search, Google Drive file backup support and more localised languages. According to Woodward, an average user is freeing up about 1.1GB every time they use the app.
Perhaps the most relevant to audiences back home though, is the Google Tez app. It's been over six months since Google launched the app in India and currently, it has around 16 million monthly active users, according to Woodward, up from 12 million in December. The NBU team has been adding new features like the most recent ones being the support for payment of utility bills and a new chat feature. The addition of the latter feature made most of us suspect that Google might be attempting to take on messaging giant, WhatsApp, which also happens to have a UPI-based payments system integrated now. However, Woodward says that's not the case. The chat feature was introduced because according to their research, people were sending "elaborate captions" as 'notes' for a transaction, so a chat feature makes it easier (and neater) to read the messages.
At the moment, Google Tez if offering its users plenty of incentives like cashbacks, when you make transactions or even when others sign up to the platform with your referral. The app is also add-free, so how is Google earning any money? Shapiro explains, "Right now we're just working through the first stages where we're meeting user needs. We haven't worked through fully what the business model will be, sources of revenue and so forth. I think that's to come." The incentive system also seems to have a loophole of sorts, where if you transfer money back and forth between a couple of users, you still end up getting a 'scratch card', which can earn you denominations up to a Rs. 1,000 for not actually making any transaction at all. "Yeah, I think there are YouTube videos on this if I'm not mistaken," quips Woodward. "The idea behind Tez and the scratch cards in general is we're tying to explore other ways that people can get more out of the payments app, and what we've built today is kind of our first version of that."
Google Tez in its current form, is a standalone app but Google already has its main payments service called Google Pay. So how does Tez tie into this? Can we expect a more holistic integration of Tez with other Google services like the Play Store? "We're looking at opportunities like that," says Woodward. He further explains that the focus so far for the NBU team has been getting Tez off the ground and given the current momentum of UPI based payment systems in India, the focus is more on the core app right now. When asked about the price segment of phones that see the most active usage of the app, Woodward wasn't able to give us any figures but he stated that team is seeing a broad coverage so far in Tier 1, Tier 2, and Tier 3 cities in the country.
Another product designed for adoption in areas with poor Internet infrastructure has been the Reliance Jio Phone. Google brought the Assistant to this 'effectively free' feature phone back in December, which brought about a big spike in usage in just a month. Given the massive adoption rate of the Jio Phone, it only makes sense for Google bring Tez onto this platform too, however Woodward says they have "no plans right now."
Disclosure: Google sponsored the correspondent's flights and hotel for the trip to Google I/O.