[App Fridays] Is Reliance Jio and its extended universe of apps worth the Prime membership?

3rd Mar 2017
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As the 'telecom wars' start from April 1, which side will you choose? Here is an in-depth look at the Jio universe to help you decide. 

On the morning of February 28, 2017, like many other of its ‘non-paying customers’ across India, I saw a pop-up notification on my phone about Reliance Jio’s new Prime membership. After months of leveraging freebies, it is now time for users to decide if they would continue with Jio.

I've been using Jio on a dual SIM, VoLTE-enabled phone for many months now and have evaluated the overall experience offered. Jio positions itself as the only pure 4G-enabled network in India, with a suite of its own apps. It has claimed that the market value of the content offered is worth Rs 10,000 and Jio customers would be getting access to them for free. But how true is that claim, and is it worth switching to Jio’s Prime subscription? Let us explore in this week’s App Friday.

My Jio

This app functions as an app marketplace where users can get a bird’s eye view of their Jio account, and also install and access Jio’s apps. Users can also track their data usage, available balance, and connect with Jio care for assistance.

Diving into some key apps:

1. Jio4G Voice

Probably the most important app for many Jio users, this lets users make VoLTE-enabled HD voice and video calls to any landline or mobile number. According to the company,

Jio4GVoice also marks the entry of Rich Communication Services (RCS) in India such as rich call, chat and file sharing. Jio4GVoice enhances your non-VoLTE 4G phone with VoLTE capabilities.

Lock-in effect: Very high for non-VoLTE-enabled smartphones

I have a VoLTE enabled phone and found that I didn’t need this app for calls to go through. On the whole, Jio’s network is stable and call drops is a rare occurrence at this stage.

2. JioChat

Lets users experience messaging with stickers, doodle and emoticons, voice and video conferencing. Through the explore feature, which is similar to Snapchat, users can follow about 15 brands like Moneycontrol, Faking news, and consume bite-sized vertical video stories. Under channels, users can also follow official company handles of Jio partners like Coca-Cola India, Shoppers Stop, Pokémon Go, and others to get push notifications from them.

Lock-in effect: Relatively low

While it is well-packaged, JioChat includes certain elements of WhatsApp and Snapchat. For the app to be engaging, users will need more of their personal contacts on the platform. But getting users to migrate from WhatsApp and other country-specific leaders is tough. Jio Chat isn’t sticky enough yet.

3. Jio Music

JioMusic provides ad-free access to HD music (up to 320kbps) and claims to have a catalogue of over one crore songs across multiple genres, and languages (15 currently). Users can also listen to multiple radio stations and curated playlists based on artists, eras, mood, etc. Users can also sync music across devices, play and also access recommendations based on their listening patterns.

Lock-in effect: Relatively high

Jio is at par with players like Gaana and Saavn that have been around for longer, and in-terms of app functionality and music catalogue, ahead of the competition, based on my taste and preferences. Also, while taking an overnight bus ride, I found the audio playback and network connectivity to be excellent. Jio had almost full connectivity, when another network on my phone had very weak signals.

4. Jio Cinema and Jio TV

JioCinema is an on-demand video library with over one lakh hours of content, ranging from movies and TV shows to music videos and movie trailers. Users can either stream on the go or download content and watch offline. The app also lets users schedule their downloads for Jio’s ‘happy hours’ (2-5 AM) when no data charges apply, in-effect from April 1, 2017.

JioTV, another standalone app, lets users stream live TV content across 400 channels, and also view content from the last seven days. The app also has a multilingual user interface across 10 languages, and users can mark channels as favourite or set reminders to watch their programmes.

Lock-in effect: High

Jio is competing with mainstream cable companies and also ‘cord-cutters’, like Netflix and Amazon Prime, which have had a headstart in India. While many existing customers of Netflix and Amazon Prime may not opt for another streaming service, Jio’s focus on Indian content could help it attract the Indian masses.

5. Jio Money

JioMoney is essentially an e-wallet like Paytm, Mobikwik, and other players in the market. It was most recently in the news for tying up with Uber as the second payment partner (after Paytm). Jio said,

Soon, JioMoney will be accepted by thousands of physical stores and shops across India, thus expanding your digital money’s reach.

Jio will be accepted across Fresh, Reliance Jewels, and other Reliance retail businesses, and other stores. One other key focus area seems to be loyalty points, which is highlighted in the app.

Lock-in effect: Too early to state

6. Jio Newspaper, Jio Mags and Jio Express News

Digital content consumption is on the rise and Jio seems to be going after this sector with three different apps-

JioNewsPaper: It offers national, regional and international newspapers across 10 languages. Users have the option of favouriting a publication, and its latest edition will be auto-downloaded as soon as it is available.

Two other interesting features include,

  • Search: Lets users find articles they are looking for within the newspaper.
  • Save & Enrich: Clip and save articles for future viewing. Copy, underline, highlight news articles for future reference.

JioMags: Serves as a digital bookshelf where users browse and read magazines on their tablet or smartphones. Like other Jio apps, users can download magazines for offline reading and also personalise magazines with annotations and bookmarks.

Jio Xpress News: As the name suggests, this app is positioned as a lite version, taking up lesser space and mainly focused on quick updates, like breaking news, ball-by-ball cricket scores, and live Sensex updates. Users can also access content from about 500 newspapers, news channels, magazines, and websites from India and across the world.

Lock-in effect: Very high

While Jio Newspaper and Xpress News have competitors in aggregators like DailyHunt and InShorts, Jio’s apps stand out because of the sheer volume of content they offer and their optimised reading experience.

JioMags too stands apart for the sheer volume of content on offer, and an ad-free reading experience. Magzter and Zinio could be considered as competitors in this space.

7. Jio Security

In essence, it is an anti-virus app provided by Jio, in collaboration with Norton Mobile Insights. It identifies dangerous websites and scans downloaded apps, app updates, and SD memory cards to detect and eliminate threats.

Also in case a phone is lost or stolen, Jio Security lets users send a text to a device that sets off a 'scream' alarm. Users can also attempt to remotely lock and locate their phone through a web browser—and also erase their data, if necessary.

Lock-in effect: Very high

Jio currently offers a combination of premium anti-virus and phone locator for free, which can also be used to secure upto 10 devices that are not necessarily on the Jio network.

While the above six could be considered Jio’s main apps, the network offers a few others that complete its suite. In brief, they are:

8. JioSwitch

A data transfer application that lets users transfer data across smartphones and devices across Android, iOS and Windows. Most users would find this similar to SHAREit and Xender.

Lock-in effect: Relatively low

Most users generally send documents over WhatsApp currently, while many use Google Drive or Dropbox for larger files.

9. JioCloud

Lets users store and organise their photos, videos and documents in one place. Jio Cloud currently offers 5GB of storage, while Google Drive offers about 15GB of cloud storage.

Lock-in effect: Relatively low

Would you live in Jio’s world?

With a suite of apps, ranging for a wide variety of use cases, Jio’s ambition seems to be overall dominance of the App Store and Play Store. For a brief period of time after Jio was launched, eight of the top 10 apps on Google Play were Jio apps.

Jio also has its own smartphone brand, Lyf, and going forward it could likely have many or all of its apps pre-installed on these devices, further increasing their lock-in effects, and making it harder for users to switch to other services.

Jio has claimed that it would offer content worth Rs 10,000 free along with its annual Prime plan. But with some rough back-of-the-napkin calculations and approximations I found that the estimated value is around Rs 14,914, based on apps from other competitors and market data.

(Napkin for representative purposes only. Actual approximations were done on a spreadsheet. You can access it here)

My Jio experience so far has been good and I plan to continue on the network and sign up for a Jio Prime membership. Some of my personal highlights:

  1. More conversations: Almost all my outgoing calls are now through Jio and the audio quality is almost always great. I leverage it for work commitments, and it has helped me save up on my phone bills.
  2. Music streaming: While I don’t stream video content much, I have been leveraging Jio Music extensively and have found their catalogue and recommendations to be good. From only playing offline content while away from a Wi-Fi network earlier to now streaming music non-stop irrespective of location, my music streaming habits have changed drastically.
  3. 4G data: Data speeds are great and I have turned my phone into a hotspot on many occasions to help me finish a report or send a quick file from my laptop.

However, I don’t want to put all my eggs in one basket though and hence will still continue with my other service provider too, just in case there are unforeseen changes.

Dear reader, which telecom player are you betting your money on? Do share in the comments section

Website- Jio

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