India Announces Radical Changes to its FDI Policy, Apple Stores May Finally Get a Green Light Now

The Government of India today announced some “radical” set of changes to its Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) Policy across various sectors, including a major change to Single Brand Retail Trading.

The Government of India and Apple have been in some sort of a game of See-saw, with the possibility of company-run Apple Stores in the country hanging in the balance. The Cupertino based company has been keen on opening its stores in the country and over the last several months, they’ve almost been stuck in a system of ‘one step forward, two steps back’, thanks to India’s policies. Apple was last reported as saying that there would be no Apple Stores possible unless the 30% local sourcing norms went away.

Thankfully, India seems to have somewhat loosened its policies. As part of its announcement today, it has included the following change for Single Brand Retail Trading:

It has now been decided to relax local sourcing norms up to three years and a relaxed sourcing regime for another five years for entities undertaking Single Brand Retail Trading of products having ‘state-of-art’ and ‘cutting edge’ technology.

The ball seems to be in Apple’s court yet again.

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Fraser Speirs, teacher, speaker, podcast host and an amazing human being has just announced a new project — iPads for India — an initiative that aims to send iPads to the Barefoot College in India. He writes,

My friend Srini Swaminathan recently asked me if we had any iPads that we could donate to the project he’s working with in India. We didn’t actually have any right then but we are coming up to the end of our lease at school and I thought there might be an opportunity.

Our lease requires that we either send the iPads back to the leasing company or buy the lease out. To buy out, we would need to pay back the fair market value of the iPads, which is currently about £100 per unit and we have 110.

And

Barefoot College, which was recently visited by Apple VP Lisa Jackson, is an organisation that trains women in rural India to build solar powered projects to help their villages. These projects include solar water heating, cooking, desalination and even data projectors for use in night schools.

Great initiative. The project goal is set at £10,158 and as of this writing, £870 have already been raised towards it by 17 generous backers.

If we over-shoot the funding goal, we will use the money to either buy other equipment that will help the Barefoot College mission (USB hubs, spare cables, chargers, etc) or we will donate the surplus directly to Barefoot College.

If we don’t make the target, Barefoot College will receive all donations.

You can (and should) donate at the link below:

Things I Want to Say to Siri

Apple Siri

This is a guest post by my buddy & ex-Apple enthusiast, Rohan Naravane, who manages content for PriceBaba. He’s previously written about the Apple TV and the “Rotten Apples” here on Nuclear Bits.

As we approach closer to this year’s Apple Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC), rumours about what could be unveiled at the event have begun cropping up — including one about Apple making a voice assistant device like the Amazon Echo and Google Home. But another juicy tidbit that made its way along with it, is the release of a Software Development Kit (SDK) for Siri, which should help 3rd party developers extend the functionality of this upcoming device, along with other iOS devices and even Macs.

Siri, the voice assistant, was seen by the world for the first time in 2011 as a marquee feature to the iPhone 4s. It’s been close to five years since, and Siri’s functionality to date is limited by how many partnerships Apple can strike. Opening Siri to any developer who has their app on the App Store can potentially revolutionize the way Apple device owners will interact with technology. With Siri making its way to the Mac, and being an important input method for the Apple Watch and in cars with Apple CarPlay, the SDK couldn’t have come at a better time.

In an attempt to keep the user experience in check, Apple has always given its own apps the first priority. For example, a hyperlinked email address in a messaging app when clicked, will open the Mail app, and not Gmail. Or when a location is shared on WhatsApp, it is Apple Maps that opens up by default, not Google Maps. Although past experience doesn’t suggest Apple will let people choose their default app preferences, letting Siri roam beyond the walled garden can provide 3rd party apps a level playing field at least with voice control.

Here are five things I’ll be glad to say to Siri once developers are given access, effectively bypassing some of Apple’s mediocre service offerings.

1. “Hey Siri, use Google Maps and Take me to Powai”

Despite Tim Cook announcing a facility in Hyderabad to improve Apple Maps, there’s no telling how much longer it will take for Apple Maps to support basic directions in India, let alone voice-assisted turn-by-turn directions, that are critical during driving. It’s well-known how valuable iOS users are to Google, and it’s evident with recent attempts like Gboard, which offers Google Search right into the keyboard on iOS. So, there’s a good chance Google will want to take advantage of Siri’s SDK for all its apps on the iPhone.

Although the usability of this purely depends upon how well Siri is able to recognise names of Indian streets and areas, it’s the first step to actually using Google Maps hands-free on your iPhone. While we’re on the topic, it’s also a shame that Apple CarPlay, which has started integrating into some cars in India like the Suzuki Baleno, has no Maps application. And it’s not like the CarPlay platform is open, like iOS, where any developer can make an app. So it’s up to Apple and in turn Google’s willingness for a Google Maps app to exist for CarPlay. This will enable people in countries where Apple Maps are next to non-existent to still use navigation facilities, with their voice while driving.

2. “Hey Siri, send a WhatsApp to Annkur Agarwal, Let’s meet at Hoppipola”

Right now, you can only send text messages or iMessages to other iPhone users using voice. The SDK will benefit not just WhatsApp, the number one messaging client almost everybody you know uses, but others alike. This is important because there’s a good chance you talk to different people on different messengers and you have at least a few different apps installed on your phone right now.

I already find it convenient to initiate WhatsApp conversations on my Android phone, even directly from my wrist using Android Wear. And although Google has enabled voice actions for other popular messaging apps like Telegram, Viber, etc., Apple will have a leg up because any and every obscure messaging app will be able to make use of the Siri SDK to get their app voice-ready. It’s unlikely that Google will compete anytime soon, since there was no mention of opening up voice actions for 3rd party apps at this year’s Google I/O; not to mention the “custom voice actions” which allowed any 3rd party app to perform such actions, have been indefinitely suspended.

3. “Hey Siri, use Zomato to find me a Good place that serves donuts nearby”

Ask Siri to suggest for any type of eateries nearby today in India, and there’s a good chance it will throw up some obscure options, relying on its currently-lackluster Apple Maps data. The Siri SDK would open up many useful use cases with apps and brands we trust, that can be called out using voice. I’d rather trust Zomato in helping me find a particular restaurant nearby or even place an order from my favourite one. I’d rather prefer asking Siri to check BookMyShow for movies screening nearby, since Siri doesn’t do that at all in India. I’d prefer checking if that favourite movie is available to watch on Netflix instead of Apple iTunes. And although I prefer using Apple Music (even on Android), I can imagine how handy it’d be telling Saavn and Gaana what to play.

4. “Hey Siri, show me photos from Gurgaon in November 2015 from Google Photos”

Apple’s iCloud photo backup service is reasonably priced at Rs. 190 per month for 200GB of cloud storage (for comparison 100GB on Google Drive costs Rs. 140). But the Google Photos app has two compelling reasons why 200 million users use it actively today — unlimited backups of photo & video with reasonable compression and Google’s advanced image recognition capabilities, which throws up surprisingly accurate results to queries like “photos of whiteboards in November 2015”. So although you can summon iCloud photos using Siri directly today, I’d rather use Google Photos to do the job.

5. “Hey Siri, call me an Uber Go”

Finally, this is yet another activity that many of us perform often. Calling an Uber or an Ola using Siri, which right now has no facility to call any transportation in India, would be a useful trick. Assuming that developers will be able to recreate their custom experiences via Siri, I can totally imagine the Uber app saying “There’s an Uber Go 5 minutes away, at a 2.5x surge. Should I book it or notify you when the surge ends?” thus letting the entire app flow be managed purely by speaking.

Towards the end of writing this, I realised that although this Siri SDK will open up a lot of possibilities, it also sounds a little cumbersome to have to say the service provider’s name for each voice query. The makers of Siri, who had joined Apple after they acquired it, quit a year later to build their next voice assistant dubbed Viv. They recently demoed it, and in the video you can see their implementation had preset partners like Uber, Hotel.com and Venmo. But what happens when you have more than one provider of the same service? Will voice assistants like Siri or Viv ask you for your preference the first time and remember it? For example, if you said “Hey Siri, call me an Uber”, will Siri call you an Uber and not an Ola the next time you say “Call me a cab”?

These questions are hopefully just days away from being answered at WWDC 2016. Here’s hoping the Siri SDK will bring the same magnitude of revolution to the usability of the smartphone, the way the App Store did in 2008.

Chaitali Chakravarty & Writankar Mukherjee, reporting for ETtech:

[…] Apple has no immediate plans to manufacture devices in India or buy parts from vendors in the country, said two persons with knowledge of the matter.

The company, however, wants permission to set up stores without conditions attached, said the two people cited above. Since the idea behind the local sourcing rule was to create jobs in India, that aim has already been achieved with Apple lining up two big investments in the country, they said.

I’ve been keeping a close eye on the developments around Apple opening its company-run Apple Stores in the country, and it looks like it’s time to give up all hope about it.

Steve Kovach, reporting for Tech Insider:

Apple now has the tech in place to give its digital assistant a big boost thanks to a UK-based company called VocalIQ it bought last year.

According to a source familiar with VocalIQ’s product, it’s much more robust and capable than Siri’s biggest competitors like Google Now, Amazon’s Alexa, and Microsoft’s Cortana. In fact, it was so impressive that Apple bought VocalIQ before the company could finish and release its smartphone app. After the acquisition, Apple kept most of the VocalIQ team and let them work out of their Cambridge office and integrate the product into Siri.

A lot has been said in the last few days about Apple, Siri and how the company is severely lacking against its competitors Amazon — which has Alexa, and Google — which has Google Now and has just announced Google Home at Google I/O a few days ago.

Reading about VocalIQ, I’m excited about WWDC now.

Indian Govt. Won’t be Relaxing Local Sourcing Norms for Apple Stores in India

It looks like we’re back to square one with Apple and our hopes of seeing Apple Stores in India.

Just over six months after the Government of India announced FDI reforms and the possibility emerged for seeing Apple Stores in the country, the Govt. has now taken a sort of a U-turn about the whole thing.

ETtech’s Ruchika Chitravanshi & Deepshikha Sikarwar report that the government panel has decided not to relax the 30% local sourcing norms.

The US company’s proposal to set up Apple Stores under the single brand policy has been approved without any relaxation in the sourcing conditions, two officials privy to the development said. Apple can set up single-brand retail stores in India but it will have to meet the 30% local content sourcing requirement, they said.

“Apple’s proposal is acceptable to us but we cannot make an exception for it and forego the sourcing requirement if it wants to set up its own stores here,” a senior government official said.

sigh

Tim Cook just wrapped up almost a week-long visit to India, where he spent time in Mumbai & Hyderabad, and also met the Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi and discussed plans to sell refurbished iPhones as well as the possibility to manufacture phones in the country, as part of Modi’s ‘Make in India‘ initiative.

However, looking at today’s development, it seems like Apple’s got a rocky road ahead.

Apple Unveils New Apple Store at San Francisco’s Union Square

Apple has unveiled a new design and aesthetics for its Apple Store at San Francisco’s Union Square location, along with a shot of new services and features that the company will be rolling out to other retail locations worldwide in the coming months. This unveiling comes 15 years after Steve Jobs introduced Apple’s first two retail stores.

The Union Square Apple Store features a 42-foot-tall sliding glass doors and will be powered by 100% renewable energy. Speaking about the new store, Angela Ahrendts, Apple’s senior vice president of Retail and Online Stores, said:

We are not just evolving our store design, but its purpose and greater role in the community as we educate and entertain visitors and serve our network of local entrepreneurs.

Apple has also introduced the following new features at this store location:

The Avenue,” inspired by the window displays along a boulevard that dynamically change with the season. Avenue walls are interactive themed “windows” where Apple’s products and services come to life, from music, to creativity, apps, photography and more. New “Creative Pros,” Apple experts in creative arts, offer advice and expertise at each of the displays. Customers will also find “Only at Apple” products on the Avenue, a curated collection of third-party accessories.

Genius Grove” invites customers to get support working side-by-side with Geniuses under the comfortable canopy of local trees in the heart of the store.

The Forum” is a vibrant gathering place, centered around a 6K Video Wall. It is home to “Today at Apple,” which brings to the community the world’s most talented artists, photographers, musicians, gamers, developers and entrepreneurs to inspire and educate our customers to go further with the things they are passionate about. Today at Apple includes year-round programs for kids, new monthly events for teachers, sessions for current and aspiring developers, Creative Sessions in partnership with local experts in creative arts, Game Night with editors from Apple’s App Store® and more. The Forum and Video Wall are a place of discovery, including events about the making of movies from iTunes®, or exclusive premieres of new music and music videos from Apple Music™.

The Plaza” will be found only at Apple’s most significant stores, including Apple Union Square. It’s open to the public 24 hours a day, features public Wi-Fi and seating, and takes Today at Apple outside, with a regular weekend series of well known local acoustic performances such as Travis Hayes and global talents like Escondido, who will then give exclusive interviews about their craft in the Forum. The Plaza at Apple Union Square features a fountain by well-known San Francisco sculptor Ruth Asawa, originally commissioned in 1969, and a new work, “Love” by local artist Laura Kimpton, commissioned by Hyatt Hotels.

The Boardroom” is an intimate space where the store’s Business Team offers hands-on advice and training to entrepreneurs, developers and other small and medium business customers.

Wired was invited to an early preview, and they put together this lovely video for it.

Sobia Khan, reporting for ETtech:

Apple is in talks to lease over 40,000 square feet of office space in Bengaluru where it intends to set up a development centre, three people familiar with the development said.

“The company has signed the letter of intent with Galleria, a mixed use project in Yelahanka in Bengaluru,” one of these people said. Galleria is 3 lakh sq ft office space that belongs to Standard Brick Tile Company.

I’m sure loving these India-focused developments coming out of Cook’s visit to India this week.

Apple Announces Opening of a Development Office in Hyderabad

Apple has today announced the opening of a new development office in Hyderabad, one that will focus on development of Apple Maps for its product lineup. It’ll be located at the Waverock campus in Hyderabad, developed by Tishman Speyer and is poised to create up to 4000 jobs. Apple also announced a new iOS App Design and Development Accelerator in Bengaluru yesterday.

waverock

Released in September 2012, Apple Maps replaced Google Maps on iOS and over the last 4 years, even though Apple has continued to improve its mapping data, the product has been severely lacking for India and other countries. For example, Apple Maps was missing the Bandra-Worli sea-link, Mumbai’s iconic cable-stayed bridge for the first ~8 months.

This announcement is being made on day two of Tim Cook’s India visit, the first of which was spent in Mumbai. Commenting on this announcement, he said:

Apple is focused on making the best products and services in the world and we are thrilled to open this new office in Hyderabad which will focus on Maps development. The talent here in the local area is incredible and we are looking forward to expanding our relationships and introducing more universities and partners to our platforms as we scale our operations.

I’m hoping this announcement and the efforts of everyone at the new office will improve the terrible state of Apple Maps in India. Forget features like 3D buildings, Flyover or Transit directions, even basic mapping data like roads and streets are missing. I’ve been sending feedback and submitting corrections through the Maps app for years now, yet I have never seen any corrections made to the data.

Apple also included this in their release:

Across India, Apple supports over 640,000 iOS app developer jobs and other positions related to the iOS ecosystem.

Impressive.

Apple Announces New iOS App Design and Development Accelerator in Bengaluru

Apple today has announced its ambitious plan to start a Design and Development Accelerator in Bengaluru, the startup capital of India. This initiative has been planned to “support engineering talent and accelerate growth in India’s iOS developer community,” according to Apple’s press release issued today.

Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO who is currently on his India visit landed in Mumbai today morning and visited the Siddhivinayak Temple. He says,

India is home to one of the most vibrant and entrepreneurial iOS development communities in the world. With the opening of this new facility in Bengaluru, we’re giving developers access to tools which will help them create innovative apps for customers around the world.

This first-of-its-kind center will have Apple experts who will lead briefings and provide one-on-one app reviews for developers in India. It will also provide support and guidance on Swift, Apple’s new programming language that it announced at WWDC 2014.

This Design and Development Accelerator is expected to open in early 2017.