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4 April 2019

RJio acquires overhyped chatbot Haptik

A handful of excitable Indian technology news outlets picked up on rumors concerning MNO Reliance Jio buying conversational AI platform Haptik Infotech earlier this week – which was quickly whipped up into a frenzy about how RJio is coming after the lunches of Amazon and Google in the high-stakes voice market. The initial rumored price tag was pegged at a laughable $2.9 million – days later though the acquisition of Haptik by Reliance Jio was confirmed in a $102.3 million deal for 87% of the company.

Our honest opinion is that if Reliance Jio wants to take the Indian voice market by the scruff of the neck to prevent the US technology titans gaining a significant foothold, then it will need to spend substantially more than $102.3 million. Without disrespect to Haptik’s product line, the company simply cannot claim to be “the world’s largest conversational AI platform” at that valuation.

And while Haptik might indeed have vast reach, boasting 10 million+ devices, Faultline Online Reporter is unconvinced that the Haptik AI is anything groundbreaking at all and that its underlying technology is anything more than an overhyped chatbot. Reliance Jio must look elsewhere for something more innovative and smart home-focused if competing with Amazon and Google is a realistic goal. Although, given the minimal price tag doing the rounds, Haptik could perhaps form one piece of a much larger puzzle.

That said, RJio has been investing hard and fast into fiber network infrastructure to support its connected home business ambitions. Last year it acquired two cable operators, Hathway and Den Network, which are active in the direct-to-home (DTH) TV market, threatening the DTH sector with the same disruption it has unleashed in mobile.

Jio GigaFiber is an ambitious project in a market like India where fixed infrastructure is limited and expensive, in sharp contrast to the mobile market. We’re talking about some 85 million cable TV homes compared to approximately 400 million smartphone users (from roughly 750 million mobile subscribers). Midway through last year, RJio showcased its fledgling smart home portfolio, comprising of a home router and internet-connected set top which we understand is built by a combination of Kaon Media and Samindo Electronics, alongside a voice-activated remote control. It was also demoing a lineup of connected lights and a range of sensors.

That means RJio already has its own voice capabilities although expanding this beyond the TV ecosystem to power a comprehensive smart home experience seems to be the next frontier. Of course, Amazon Echo and Google Home compatibility are part and parcel of RJio’s smart home plans, which we feel is a more sensible strategy than trying to compete directly in the smart speaker space, although the operator has showcased its own prototype smart speaker. Reliance Jio was due to launch its smart home offering commercially during the first quarter of 2019, but clearly plans have been pushed back.

First impressions are that Haptik’s chatbot platform looks more accustomed to dealing with an irate customer or placing a calendar marker than making impromptu intelligent decisions based on vast amounts of data sets made up of deep individual user metrics. It focuses more on customer engagement at the smartphone level, processing customer support requests and operating a live chat system – claiming to have processed over 1 billion interactions.

Reliance Jio’s director Akash Ambani said, “We believe voice interactivity will be the primary mode of interaction for Digital India. We are delighted to announce this partnership and look forward to working with the experienced team of Haptik in realizing this vision for offering greater connectivity and rich communication experiences to the billion+ Indian consumers.”