Some thoughts on Jio’s ambitious push into consumer electronics and specifically Jio Glass:
There are things that can be solved by throwing money at a problem. Jio has no shortage of that. Setting up a cellular telecommunications service is one of that. It’s not rocket science. The tech’s out there, it’s been worked upon for years and Reliance was able to quickly build a team that over the course of a few years built a strong system. The R&D is low in this field. It’s primarily a money problem. If you’re ready to invest in this business, you can set it up with the right people and the right monetisation strategy.
The average streaming service is also a money problem. If you can cough up enough money to bid for the rights for a show, you can run a streaming service in the short term, even the strategy for long term success is a monetisation strategy. There’s little tech stack you need to develop.
But when it comes to consumer electronics, and more specifically emerging technologies that are still very nascent. The stakes are much higher. It’s not only a money problem. It’s a technology problem too. You don’t just need a team of management experts to decide on how to make the profits. You need a team of experienced inventors to be able to create the tech that successfully creates your vision of the future. (You also need a vision by the way). These teams aren’t built in a single day. It takes years for them to mature. Imran Chaudhry’s first patent wasn’t the slide to unlock screen. He wasn’t the only one who worked on the iPhone. The team involved people who worked to build the WebKit engine, people who had been in the industry, leading changes in user paradigms for much before the iPhone ever existed. Some even worked on the first personal computers. The manufacturing and industrial design teams were also working on the processes for more than a decade. These and many more combined together to form the tech stack that powered the iPhone. You can’t just throw money at a problem like that.
Can Jio build a tech stack of any reasonable quality to power their Jio Glass? Not today. Simply because they haven’t been in this field but also because there’s a dearth of R&D on future interactions and hardware that will empower the electronics of tomorrow.
Do investments from Facebook and Google enable them to build this stack? That would be incredibly naive to think so. Both Facebook and Google are competing with Jio in augmented reality. This isn’t charity. Microsoft didn’t help Apple build OSX or Safari when they invested in them to keep them alive. They invested in them because they could ride on the money if Apple indeed pulled back, but would never have been a threat to their PC business. Over the years, Microsoft exited that investment. Moreover, if you think an capitalist American corporation would help you, simply because it has an Indian origin CEO, you’re living in a fool’s paradise. They’re in it to ride on the wave of revenue that Jio’s services will generate; they will exit the day they don’t have monetary skin in the game.
I’d love to see Jio or any Indian company for that matter to build innovative and high quality consumer electronics. Unfortunately, that day hasn’t arrived yet, and Jio Glass seems more like a move to appease investors. Their demo looked unfinished at best but likely dubious vapourware.