According to Naveen Tewari, founder and CEO of the InMobi Group, the aim is “to create a new consumption category for Glance by using AI to beautify and personalize the lock screens of mobiles and even televisions, making them more engaging”.

SoftBank Group Corp-backed InMobi, which became India’s first unicorn or a startup valued at $1 billion or more in 2011, is a mobile ads platform. 

Glance, which became a unicorn in December 2020, offers a smart lock screen platform for Android-based smartphones. Tewari, who refers to the lock screens as “surfaces”, is “aiming to build a ‘surface economy’ by promoting consumption of the internet in a very different way”, which he describes as ‘app-less’ consumption”. This does not mean bypassing apps but “simply enabling a very different way of getting the consumer to the app they want to use, with the help of Glance’s app-less layer,” Tewari said in an interview.

Glance, he points out, is already being used by developers,  publishers, and brands to connect to consumers and grow their businesses. 

“It (Glance) is now using AI to help the phone interact with all the apps out there and get the content you desire, thus converting surfaces such as lock screens and home screens in the phone into a consumption platform,” he adds. 

Glance users, thus, don’t have to unlock their screens and go to the Play Store, or the App Store, to download an app, and “app icons on the home screen will be replaced by content on the surfaces as the first touch point for publishers”. 

Tewari also expects brands to connect with consumers “not exclusively through in-app ads but also through brand narratives on these surfaces”. 

He also believes that commerce using Glance “will not just be catalogue-based and “add-to-cart” experiences but users will discover products they would love to buy on these surfaces and also do window shopping”.

This involves transforming the power of the lock screen with AI, not just to personalize but also to transform the presentation layer. 

For instance, he explains, “If there is a news item on IPL (Indian Premier League), it could come be presented to me in a different way from some other person.” 

“Similarly, a shirt could be presented differently to me than for someone else. This is because you can train the phone’s surface (the screen) with the help of AI in a way that is not possible without Glance,” says Tewari.

Tewari’s bullishness stems from the fact that of the 3.5 million apps, “we use only 10-12 apps, and it is humanly not possible for you to go beyond 250 apps in your life. Therefore, we are not accessing the internet in its true sense”. 

Glance currently has about 300 million users on Android, and the company is targeting one billion global users by end of 2025. Of these, about 235 million are from India. The next large market is Indonesia, followed by Latin America, Japan, and Southeast Asia. 

“By 2025 end, most of our revenue will come from global markets,” say Tewari. These users are not just using the phone for calls but also consuming news, sports, entertainment, or doing activities like playing games, shopping, etc. “So, a variety of things are happening on the surface (mobile screen),” says Tewari, who now wants these journeys to “happen via surfaces” so that he can grow his business.

About InMobi and Glance

Both InMobi and Glance are privately held companies, and incorporated in Singapore. InMobi revenue stood at $281 million and a profit of $42 million, as per their filing with the Accounting Corporate and Regulatory Authority (ACRA), Singapore. Glance’s FY23 revenue (fiscal year ended March 31, 2023), stood at about $40 million, growing 78% over the previous fiscal year, according to ACRA. 

Income from advertising comprised about 76% of its total operating revenue even as shopping and games hosting were other revenue drivers for Glance in the said period.

Roposo, owned by Glance, is an entertainment-driven e-commerce platform. Glance acquired Indian gaming company Gambit Sports in March 2022. In January, Glance announced that Nostra (which was operated by Gambit) has more than 75 million monthly active users in online gaming through the Glance lock screen, “making it India and Southeast Asia’s largest mobile gaming platform”. 

Nostra aims to reach 200 million monthly active users globally by expanding to new device surfaces and global markets by end of this year. And this is the synergy that Tewari underscores–that consumers today shift from one device to another and browse multiple platforms to arrive at a purchase decision, compelling advertisers to explore a unified, seamless customer journey across devices and channels. 

“We are on Samsung TVs too, and Glance users will soon be able to seamlessly shift from phones to TVs, just as you do with Netflix,” says Tewari.

Glance has already tied up with “about 450 million handset makers across the globe, and is helping them participate in the digital economy with the help of our surfaces”.  It has a revenue-sharing agreement with the handset makers, and “they co-own the platform”, says Tewari. 

Partnerships, too, are helping grow the Group’s business. For instance, InMobi and Microsoft have been partners since July 2018 and in 2019, InMobi added the Microsoft Advertising products and solutions to its offerings in India.

Integrating lockscreen at the OS level

The Group is in the process of developing large language models (LLMs), too, that will interact with the Glance users but Tewari decline to give details, saying “This is a work in progress”. Glance, according to a person close to the development, has been working with smartphone manufacturers, brands and telcos (carriers) to “integrate the Glance lock screen software at the OS (operating source) level with partners like Qualcomm”. The person who did not wish to be named, pointed out that Glance showcased its Generative AI (GenAI) capabilities at the Qualcomm India Developer Conference in Hyderabad this April.

“Imagine a new Android phone user personalizing their lock screen with uploaded photos. The phone’s AI processes these images to create avatar variations reflecting different moods and fashion styles. The user selects favorites, and each power-up displays a new avatar. On the lock screen, a “Buy” button allows direct access to a brand’s catalog without unlocking the phone. After choosing an item, tapping “Pay” unlocks the phone for completing the purchase,” the person added.

But there are challenges

For one, users need to be “educated” about Glance as an option. Second, Glance is an “opt-in” service. Third, users can uninstall Glance if they perceive it as a nuisance. 

According to Glance’s chief marketing officer, Bikash Chowdhury, around 95% of users opt in and 30-40% of users opt out of Glance in about 120 days. 

“So, around 60% of users stay with us and continue to use the product. If you contrast this with the app world, less than 10% would stick around after 30 days or so,” Chowdhury adds. 

Fourth, Glance is only available on Android phones. Tewari says he is working on getting Glance on iOS too, but this may not be easy since Apple rival Google is an investor in Glance. Its other investors are Jio Platforms and Mithril Capital.

There is another challenge. The mobile advertising market is projected to grow from $269.93 billion in 2024 to $663.09 billion by 2032, according to Market Research Future. 

Major companies in this space include Facebook, Google, US-based Applovin Corp., China-based Avazu Inc., and Singapore-based Inmobi Pte. Ltd., according to the market research firm. 

The advertising includes video advertising, in-game advertising, and in-app advertising. However, in-app advertising are more likely to be clicked on and converted than other types of mobile advertisements, according to Market Research Future. 

Tewari, thus, has his work cut out in cajoling users to switch from apps to Glance.