Innovation & Imitation - The JioMeet Saga
On 30th April, Reliance Jio posted its quarterly report and announced that it will be launching a video-calling platform. In the short two months that have passed since a lot has transpired - India has banned 59 Chinese apps amid border tensions, lockdowns have been extended and retracted, and Reliance Jio has managed to launch Zoom’s identical twin - JioMeet.
Early screenshots ruffled a few feathers, with several screens being an exact rip-off of Zoom. The fact that even the copyrights page was copied is pure, unadulterated irony. Jio is now slowly changing some UI components. For example, the home screen icons have gotten a fresh new look, but that is besides the point. The point is what Reliance has done right and who it has wronged.
Being at the right place at the right time
Two key factors have gone into setting the perfect stage for JioMeet’s entry. First, with people stuck indoors around the world, video calling has grown by leaps and bounds. In April 2020, Zoom had more than 300 million daily meeting participants, up from 10 million daily meeting participants in December 2019. Microsoft and several big firms have rushed to create scalable video platforms to grab a piece of this exponentially growing pie.
Second, skirmishes with China have led to a further surge in nationalism. The app-ban not only created a giant hole waiting to be filled but enabled a shift in preferences to made-in-India riding on the Atmanirbhar campaign.
R̶e̶i̶n̶v̶e̶n̶t̶i̶n̶g̶ Stealing the wheel
It is hard to fathom that Reliance could have been resource crunched for not coming up with an original design - Jio Platforms alone has raised $15.2 billion in the last three months - more than what all of India’s tech startups combined raised last year.
A more palatable explanation is an intentional strategy. Take a look at Jio chat (which is an imitation of WhatsApp with identical color palettes and home screen design) and you can probably see the pattern. Being a look-alike helps easier migration of users to its mega-platform, and if Jio has to succeed at being the WeChat of India with an all-in-one ecosystem of data, apps, and devices, it will continue to absorb users from other highly sticky platforms through products with a similar look and feel.
What does this mean for Zoom
Zoom has limited avenues to look for justice. Google and Apple could possibly play an arbitrator, having a history of taking down apps from their stores on grounds of plagiarised design.
But in all likelihood, Zoom will not be fazed. An inordinate proportion of Zoom’s revenues comes from enterprise (more difficult to migrate than individuals due to longer duration of contracts and entrenched hardware and software integrations) and the company has limited exposure to India (19% of 2020 revenues came from APAC and EMEA combined). Moreover, Zoom has had to deal with the doubling of infrastructure costs owing to the disproportionate increase of users on free plans, so there is little reason for it to fight for more of these in India. This probably explains why Zoom did not lift the 40-minute duration limit in India even as it did so in several other countries.
Who bears the brunt
When the biggest company with all its financial and technological might resort to plagiarism, it unleashes harm to an entire industry. First, it gives the Indian tech industry bad rep internationally - this translates to lower trust in our R&D capabilities and makes it harder to secure foreign funding and customers. Second, by setting such precedent, it encourages smaller players to do the same, thus stifling innovation in small companies and eroding their chances of success. Some firms might even be forced to cut R&D and design budgets in order to compete.
There are also some externalities for consumers, especially during a recession when smaller, less efficient firms get weeded out and firm exit leads to growing enterprise size. In one potential scenario, we can expect a prolonged boycott and ban of tech with external ties and look forward to an onslaught of home-grown monopolistic copies - much like how Baidu and WeChat played out in China.
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About the Author: The post is written by our EZPP Partner Monika Chaudhary with relevant edits from our editorial team. Monika is a graduate from IIM Calcutta and has worked with Uber.
Disclaimer: All views expressed in the post are personal, and not related to any organization to which the writer belongs.