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Is this the end of the smartphone?
Also in today’s edition: Sivakasi seeks a makeover; Drama in the Vembu family; Disney’s eventful week; Zuck isn’t listening
Good morning! What happens when cupid meets capitalism? Celebrity weddings. Mint reports that Indian celebrities are making $$$ off their weddings by collaborating with brands for sponsorships, endorsements, exclusive content deals, et cetera. A-listers like Parineeti Chopra, Nayanthara, and Richa Chaddha, among others, have joined the bandwagon. Industry experts estimate that such deals can range from ₹1.5 crore to ₹10 crore ($180,075 to $1.2 million). And you thought marriages are made in heaven.
Dinesh Narayanan and Adarsh Singh also contributed to today’s edition.
A quick programming note: We are off until November 15 on account of Diwali. There will be no editions of The Signal and The Signal Daily podcast until November 17. The Impression will resume on November 22. Wishing all readers a joyous festive season!
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The Market Signal
Stocks & Economy: US Fed chair Jerome Powell threw a wet blanket over the stocks’ party on Thursday, saying the regulator could raise rates if required. That broke an eight-day winning streak in US equities. Powell did not veer away from previously stated intentions but the reminder that an end to rate hikes was not a certainty dampened spirits.
The mood spread to Asian shares as well. Markets across the region were awash in red. Early trend in the GIFT Nifty indicates a weak opening for Indian equities too. Analysts continue to favour small- and mid-cap stocks, which have already provided handsome returns to investors. Indian stock exchanges will hold the traditional one-hour Muhurat trading session at 6 PM on Sunday for Diwali.
Oil prices continued to fall on demand concerns, although the Saudi oil minister blamed speculators for the drop.
Fire(works) In The Belly
Diwali is impossible without Sivakasi. A century since its founding, the centre of India’s ₹6,000 crore (~$720 million) fireworks industry is tackling labour and regulatory challenges as it tries to outgrow the ‘polluter’ tag.
Feet to the fire: The Supreme Court has already banned all fireworks except ‘green’ crackers this Diwali. The offending ingredient: barium nitrate, which provides the oxygen needed for a firework to burn. Manufacturers say barium nitrate is unfairly banned and that alternatives are costlier and not as efficient. Getting around the ban is unlikely given high air pollution this year; in Delhi alone, the industry expects to lose ₹450 crore (~$54 million).
Still searching: Sivakasi has hope, still. Manufacturers are embracing automation to get over labour shortages and inventing new crackers to attract customers. Older firms are trying to crack the export market and even dabbling in defence manufacturing.
Sridhar Vembu Ki Ram Kahani
Is India’s richest self-made woman’s $4 billion wealth really her brother’s? That’s what a California court has heard in a divorce suit of Sridhar Vembu, CEO of Zoho Corporation—the Saas company famous for serving global clients from Tamil Nadu’s countryside—and his wife Pramila Srinivasan.
Pramila has alleged that he had parked nearly half of his ownership of Zoho with his sister Radha Vembu, a Zoho director, whom Hurun India ranked India’s richest “self-made woman”, ahead of Nykaa’s Falguni Nayyar. Her net worth was primarily the value of her 47.8% stake in Zoho. Sridhar owns just 5% of the company while his brother Sekar holds 35.2%.
Pramila’s star witness is Sridhar’s uncle Ram Srinivasan, who has testified that Radha confessed to him that she was merely holding the stake for her brother. Sridhar says it is fiction created by his uncle.
The Future Is Screenless
Or so Humane hopes. The company—backed by OpenAI’s Sam Altman—has launched the AI Pin. Humane describes the screenless, standalone wearable as one that harnesses “AI for the post-smartphone era of mobile computing”.
The AI Pin captured the spotlight in April, when co-founder Imran Chaudhri demoed the ‘disappearing computer’ at TED Talks. At the time, Chaudhri answered a call on stage in a novel way: the device, equipped with a laser projector, displayed the call information on his palm.
The AI Pin, shipped with “battery boosters” and a proprietary OS named Cosmos, will cost $699 buuuut also come with a $24 monthly subscription fee. This subscription includes a phone number, cloud storage, and “unlimited queries” of AI models by OpenAI and Microsoft.
Foldable phone sales are growing, Google’s Pixel 8 line platforms AI like never before, phone chips are becoming bleeding-edge, and Apple wants to run AI on-device. But beyond these developments, the smartphone form factor hasn’t changed. The argument that we’ve reached peak innovation isn’t unfounded: the last great revolution in the industry was in 2007, when Apple launched the iPhone and made touchscreen technology mainstream.
The possibility that the AI Pin heralds a new era in device design also has much to do with screen fatigue. It’s a problem so acute that governments are worried and younger generations are buying dumb phones.
🎧 Will smartphones go extinct? Also in today’s episode: India’s firecracker capital of Sivakasi hopes for a fresh start. Listen to The Signal Daily on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music, Google Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts.
Disney’s Prep And Promises
Disney is busy. It posted better than expected results and added seven million Disney+ subscribers. It appointed a new CFO ahead of a battle for board seats. CEO Bob Iger promised to make streaming profitable by next year-end; he has a $7.5 billion annual cost efficiency plan and will combine Disney+ with Hulu. Also: Disney still wants a foot in the door in India even as it zeroes in on a buyer for Disney-Star.
Debt doubts: Meanwhile, Hollywood’s most-hated CEO David Zaslav is in trouble. Hurt by slowing ad spends and the Hollywood strikes, Warner Bros. Discovery won’t hit its debt reduction targets for next year. It also lost 700,000 streaming subscribers this past quarter.
Victory: This week, the Hollywood’s actors’ guild successfully negotiated a deal with studios. But there’s cautious optimism: studios’ profits will erode, prompting budget cuts, fewer projects, and dwindling work opportunities.
Talking To A Brick Wall
It’s official: minors’ online well-being and safety aren’t a priority for Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg. A damning 102-page complaint in the Massachusetts v. Meta trial, now unredacted, reveals that Zuck ignored executives’ years-long concerns over the company’s approach to protecting users, particularly teens.
The top brass that requested Zuck to boost safety practices include Instagram chief Adam Mosseri; Nick Clegg, president of global affairs; Pratiti Raychoudhury, VP of research; Margaret Gould Stewart, former VP of product design and responsible innovation; and Instagram’s former head of policy, Karina Newton.
In one instance, Zuck cancelled a meeting to discuss a ban on camera filters that mimic plastic surgery and instead vetoed the proposal at the last minute. Alongside CFO Susan Li, he rebuffed requests to increase well-being funding and staffing. Instead, Meta would go on to cut hundreds of positions across its trust and safety teams to observe a year of efficiency.
Improper sale? Dabur group’s Burmans want market regulator Sebi to investigate Religare Enterprises chairperson Rashmi Saluja’s sale of her personal holding in the company. The Burmans have launched a hostile takeover of Religare.
Done in: SoftBank posted a $6.2 billion loss in the July-September quarter after WeWork’s bankruptcy spoiled its numbers.
Refund bonanza: Cash-strapped telco Vodafone Idea got an unexpected windfall when the Bombay High Court ordered the income tax department to return ₹1,128 crore (~$135 million) to the company for not processing its tax claim in time.
New home: The Maharashtra government will acquire Air India’s iconic 23-storey tower beside the Mumbai bay for ₹1,601 crore (~$192 million). It will house several government departments.
It’s the door: The Lok Sabha Ethics Committee (LSEC) has reportedly recommended expulsion of Parliament member Mahua Moitra, allegedly for accepting cash for asking questions in Parliament. LSEC has never before recommended an MP’s expulsion.
Plane garage: Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd will set up a maintenance, repair and overhaul hub in Nashik for Airbus’ A320 family of craft. Airbus will provide HAL with tools and expert consultation.
Bug strike: Hacker group Lockbit reportedly attacked the US unit of the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, the world’s biggest bank, with ransomware.
THE DAILY DIGIT
The number of Indian developers on GitHub, up by 3.5 million in 2023. India’s developer community is set to overtake the US’ in 2027 in size. (The Indian Express)
’Tis the season: Diwali has gone international and how. Businesses in the US have added it to Q4’s holy quadrilateral of Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Kwanzaa. Major American retailers like Walmart, TJ Maxx have added dedicated Diwali sections with paraphernalia like Hindu idols, diyas, lanterns, etc. For some retailers in the UK, Diwali sales account for 30% of all their holiday revenue. The rise of crazy rich Indians in these countries and their growing political influence is bringing about this change. Go desis!
New island, who dis?: A new island has emerged in Japan, courtesy undersea volcanic eruptions. Per Japan’s Meteorological Agency, the island rose from the sea off the coast of Japanese island, Iwo Jima, in the Pacific Ocean. Researchers report that the magma had been building under the water for some time now and it finally erupted on October 30. For now, the island is engulfed in volcanic ash and has been added to the Ogasawara Island chains. Basically, another island for China to claim. 🙃
Space+: The latest entrant to the streaming craze is Nasa. Yup, you read that right. The agency is launching its own space streaming service called NASA+ (zero marks for ingenuity). The service is free of cost, has no ads, and promises ‘family friendly’ content. Early users are loving its series, Space Out, which features incredible shots of planets with chill music in the background. The series has been tagged as “NASA and Chill” by the agency, and we can’t help but hear it in Kaveri Amma’s voice.