Apple to start online sales in India in Q3 this year

Apple’s much-awaited online store in India will be operational starting Q3 this year, a little longer than previously expected, a source familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.

The iPhone-maker said in August last year that it was “eager to serve [customers of India] online and in-store with the same experience and care that Apple customers around the world enjoy.”

While the company never shared a firm timeline on when the online and brick-and-mortar stores would be set up in India, it was originally aiming to start the online sales in the country in the first quarter of this year, the source said. (The Q1 launch timeline was first signaled by Bloomberg, which reported that the operations would begin “within months.”)

An Apple spokesperson was not immediately available for comment.

The source said the company was still working on the logistics of setting up the store and that the quarter between July and September was the new tentative deadline. Apple CEO Tim Cook would likely plan an India trip for the announcement, the source said.

The company’s first official physical store in India, to be situated in Mumbai, will take an additional few months of time for setting up and might not be ready by this year, the source said.

India, the world’s second largest smartphone market, eased sourcing norms for single-brand retailers last year, paving the way for companies like Apple to open online stores before they set up presence in the brick-and-mortar market.

Currently, Apple sells its products in India through partnered third-party offline retailers and e-commerce platforms such as Amazon India, Flipkart and Paytm Mall. Prior to New Delhi’s policy change, Apple had requested the government numerous times to relax the local foreign direct investment (FDI) rules.

Apple executives have long expressed disappointment at Amazon India, Flipkart and Paytm Mall for offering heavy discounts on the iPhone and MacBook Air to boost their respective GMV metrics, people familiar with the matter have told TechCrunch.

iPhone shipments in India grew 6% in 2019 compared with a 43% decline in 2018, according to research firm Counterpoint, which projected that the growth would continue this year.

Apple on Tuesday posted a record revenue of $ 91.8 billion for the quarter that ended in December. Cook said in the earnings call that India was among the markets where the company’s revenue grew in “double-digit.”

Gadgets – TechCrunch

Juul introduces new POS standards to restrict sales to minors

Juul Labs, the e-cigarette behemoth partially owned by Altria, has today announced a new POS age-verification system that it will require all Juul retailers to comply with by May 2021.

The Retail Access Control Standards program, or RACS for short, raises the standard for age-restricted POS systems, automatically locking the POS each time a Juul product is scanned until a valid, adult ID is scanned. The system also looks for bulk purchases (four four-count packs of Juul Pods is the legal limit for a single transaction) and locks when the fifth Juul Pod pack is scanned, automatically removing the fifth pack from the customer’s cart.

Thus far, more than 50 retail chains, which represents 40,000 outlets, have committed to switching over to RACS, with 7,000 stores in the process of switching now and 15,000 to have implemented the technology by 2019’s end. The deadline for switching over to the RACS system is May 2021, at which point Juul will only sell its products to RACS-compliant retailers.

The company recognizes that overhauling a POS can be costly and difficult, and is offering $ 100 million+ in incentives to retailers who switch over. For retailers with newer POS systems, the switch might only require a software update, while others may need to update their hardware, as well.

Now, the system isn’t foolproof. After an ID is scanned, all personal information is automatically deleted from the system, which means that bad actors/unauthorized resellers could amass a bulk amount of Juul products by visiting various stores or returning to the same store multiple times.

However, this is likely just the beginning for the RACS program, which for the first time gives Juul much more control around how their products move through the market, ultimately limiting the opportunity for Juul products to end up in the hands of minors.

Alongside the introduction of RACS, Juul is also expanding the Track & Trace program it piloted in April in the Houston area.

Track and Trace allows teachers, parents, law enforcement and otherwise responsible adults to log the serial number of confiscated Juul devices, giving Juul the information it needs to track that device through the supply chain and identify the store where it was sold.

Using Juul’s 2,000 shopper-strong secret shopper program, the company can then specifically target those stores and shut down the illegal sale of Juul devices to minors.

Today, Track and Trace is expanding nationwide in the U.S.

While these are major steps in combating underage use of Juul products, the company itself admits that it believes youth vaping numbers will continue to rise.

From the release:

It is our expectation that this year’s survey, unfortunately, will likely show continued growth in youth use of vapor products in the U.S. If this turns out to be the case, it will be due in part to the fact that:

  • When this year’s NYTS data was collected, T21 laws were being passed in a dozen states but had not been implemented
  • Little to no category-wide actions have been taken as FDA is finalizing its guidance that, once implemented, should impose additional restrictions on the sale and marketing of certain flavored vapor products — actions that we voluntarily imposed on ourselves last November

In November 2018, Juul announced its Youth Prevention Plan ahead of the FDA’s crackdown on e-cig products. It included the ban of flavored Juul pod sales in convenience stores and other Juul-approved retailers, limiting the sale of non-tobacco and non-menthol flavored pods to its online storefront. Juul says this represented 50 percent of its revenue at the time. The company also took down its Facebook and Instagram pages, and revamped its Twitter to ditch any promotional or marketing content from the platform.

Still, even with the many steps the company has taken to limit youth use of the product, one of Juul’s biggest obstacles is the sale of counterfeit and infringing products, which may include dangerous and/or unknown chemicals. The company hired former Apple employee Adrian Punderson to help lead the fight against counterfeits in February.

As of December 2018, Juul was reportedly valued at $ 38 billion, estimated to own more than 70 percent of the e-cig market.

Gadgets – TechCrunch

Apple is offering interest-free financing to boost iPhone sales in China

Apple is looking to get over its sales woes in China but offering prospective customers interest-free financing with a little help from Alibaba.

Apple’s China website now offers financing packages for iPhones that include zero percent interest packages provided in association with several banks and Huabei, a consumer credit company operated by Alibaba’s Ant Financial unit, as first noted by Reuters.

The Reuters report further explains the packages on offer:

On its China website, Apple is promoting the new scheme, under which customers can pay 271 yuan ($ 40.31) each month to purchase an iPhone XR, and 362 yuan each month for an iPhone XS. Customers trading in old models can get cheaper installments.

Users buying products worth a minimum of 4,000 yuan worth from Apple would qualify for interest-free financing that can be paid over three, six, nine, 12 or 24 months, the website shows.

Apple is also offering discounts for customers who trade in devices from the likes of Huawei, Xiaomi and others.

The deals are an interesting development that comes just weeks after Apple cut revenue guidance for its upcoming Q1 earnings. The firm trimmed its revenue from the $ 89 billion-$ 93 billion range to $ 84 billion on account of unexpected “economic deceleration, particularly in Greater China.”

Offering attractive packages may convince some consumers to buy an iPhone, but there’s a lingering sense that Apple’s current design isn’t sparking interest from Chinese consumers. Traditionally, it has seen a sales uptick around the launch of iPhones that offer a fresh design and the current iPhone XR, XS and XS Max line-up bears a strong resemblance to the one-year-old iPhone X.

The first quarter of a new product launch results in a sales spike in China, but Q2 sales — the quarter after the launch — are where devices can underwhelm.

It’ll be interesting to see if Apple offers similar financing in India, where it saw sales drop by 40 percent in 2018 according to The Wall Street Journal. Apple’s market share, which has never been significant, is said to have halved from two percent to one percent over the year.

Finance is a huge issue for consumers in India, where aggressively priced by capable phones from Chinese companies like Xiaomi or OnePlus dominate the market in terms of sales volume. With the iPhone costing multiples more than top Android phones, flexible financing could help unlock more sales in India.

China, however, has long been a key revenue market for Apple so it figures that this strategy is happening there first.


Android – TechCrunch

Poor smartphones sales drag LG to first quarterly loss in 2 years

We’ve written extensively about LG’s struggling mobile business, which has suffered at the hands of aggressive Chinese Android makers, and now that unit has dragged its parent company into posting its first quarterly loss for two years.

The Korean electronics giant is generally in good health — it posted a $ 2.4 billion profit for 2018 — but its smartphone business’s failings saw it post a loss in Q4 2018, its first quarterly negative since Q4 2016.

Overall, the company posted a KRW 75.7 billion ($ 67.1 million) operating loss as revenue slid seven percent year-on-year to KRW 15.77 trillion ($ 13.99 billion). LG said the change was “primarily due to lower sales of mobile products.”

We’ve known for some time that LG’s mobile business is strugglingthe division got another new head last November — but things went from bad to worse in Q4. LG Mobile saw revenue fall by 42 percent to reach KRW 1.71 trillion, $ 1.51 billion. The operating loss for the period grew to KRW 322.3 billion, or $ 289.8 million, from KRW 216.3 billion, $ 194 million, one year previous.

Over the full year, LG Mobile posted a $ 700 million loss (KRW 790.1 billion) but the company claimed things are improving thanks to “better material cost controls and overhead efficiencies based on the company’s platform modularization strategy.”

LG used CES to showcase a range of home entertainment products — that division is doing far better than mobile, with a record annual profit of $ 1.35 billion in 2018 — so we’ll have to wait until Mobile World Congress in February to see exactly what LG has in mind. Already, though, we have a suggestion and it isn’t exactly set-the-world-on-fire stuff.

“LG’s mobile division will push 5G products and smartphones featuring different form factors while focusing on key markets where the LG brand remains strong,” the company said in a statement.

It will certainly take something very special to turn things around. It seems more likely that LG Mobile head Brian Kwon — who also heads up that hugely-profitable home entertainment business — will focus on cutting costs and squeezing out the few sweet spots left. Continued losses, particularly against success from other units, might eventually see LG shutter its mobile business.

Still, things could be worse for LG, it could be HTC.


Android – TechCrunch

Amazon has paused sales of its Echo Wall Clock due to connectivity issues

Amazon launched an Echo Wall Clock before the end of last year but, less than a month later, things aren’t running to schedule. The e-commerce giant has paused the sale of the $ 30 Alexa-powered smart clock after a number of customers reported connectivity issues, according to The Verge.

The clock is still listed on Amazon but, as of Tuesday, it is “currently unavailable.”

“We’re aware that a small number of customers have had issues with connectivity. We’re working hard to address this and plan to make Echo Wall Clock available again in the coming weeks,” Amazon told The Verge in a statement.

The clock is pitched at existing Alexa users who could use it to set timers, countdowns or alarms, while it automatically adjusts to seasonal time changes. It is unashamedly basic, both in design as well as functionality, but it is an interesting addition to Amazon’s expanding home appliance push. That also includes an Alexa microwave (less impressive), a singing fish (ok…) along the more established cast of home speakers, the “Show” video screen, a subwoofer and more.

Gadgets – TechCrunch