As the Digital India initiative gains momentum, there is a growing interest in developing more inclusive mobile applications. First time internet users will themselves discover and use the most popular applications like Whatsapp, Facebook, ShareIt etc. But how can we develop apps that are actually tailored to the needs of these users? Here are 5 facts that every Indian mobile app developer should have at their fingertips;

1)      40% of Indian internet users do not know English

Out of approximately 350 million internet users in India, 150 million are vernacular users. As the base of internet users continues to expand, especially in small towns and rural India, the number of vernacular users is growing at 47%.

Google is already gearing up to cater to the growing base of Non-English internet users, by providing search and Indic keyboard in 11 different Indian languages. Incidentally, Hindi content is the most in demand – 50% of vernacular users are Hindi.

Implication for app developers – to ignore language options in your app, could restrict your download and usage base. Try to always cater to local languages, at least the ones spoken in your key markets

2)      70% of Indian Internet users use 2G networks

It’s the 4G era, and even the Uber cab driver will tell you that he has a ‘4G’ phone but in reality, most Indians have not upgraded – even in 2020, 30% of Indians will still be on slower 2G networks. Price has a big role to play in this. As operators try to keep their 3G and 4G pricing competitive through price cuts, they also slash the 2G rates, allowing newer mobile internet users to enter the category. Meanwhile 3G connectivity continues to be poor too, leading 48% of respondents in a 2015 survey conducted by Ericson, to state that they saw no difference between 3G and 2G networks.

Implication for app developers – the need of the hour is to build apps that are 2G/3G capable and yet 4G ready. Your apps need to be intelligently optimized to work smoothly under the best and worst network conditions

3)      Offline apps are the way to go

The internet is not ‘always on’ in India. Most people (even young people) switch off data at regular intervals to save it – in class, on the move, at nights etc. Hence in India, we have the novel concept of
‘offline apps’ – mobile apps which can work both online and offline. The concept has really caught up in financial inclusion, where banks like DCB and Kotak Mahindra have introduced mobile apps that work both online and offline. Using missed call or encrypted SMS at the back end, such apps facilitate a range of transactions, from checking balance to making payment or transferring money – all while the customer is without access to a mobile connection.

 

Implication for app developers – When creating your app UX, you need to ensure that at least the vital features of the app are all accessible even offline.

  4)      Data is expensive in India, relative to our earning

We are used to hearing (and indeed it’s a facts) that call and data rates in India are amongst the cheapest in the world. However, this is not strictly true. The data rates are cheap, relative to other countries, but expensive in relation to our earnings. This chart from JANA says it all.

In a post entitled The Data Trap, the JANA blog points out that at India’s hourly minimum wage of 20 cents/Rs.13, it would take 17 hours of labor to pay for 500 MB of data. Hopefully, mobile data prices are continuously falling (and minimum wages are rising). Still, these two sources point to the extent of challenge in getting people online – and keeping them online for sustained period of time.

Implication for app developers – Your app needs to conserve the customer’s precious data at every stage. Your app needs to be light, updates need to be small sized and the amount of data used in fetching information from online needs to be optimized.

5)      The world’s third largest smartphone market, is still predominantly a feature phone market

India is expected to buy 139 million smartphones in 2016, yet feature phones will account for more than half of the market, according to data from analytics firm IDC. Feature phones continue to remain relevant to many users, who are still able to access basic internet services from such phones.

Interestingly, at the same time, the mid-priced smartphone segment (Rs.10,000-15,000) is growing, accounting for 22% of smartphone shipments according to data from CyberMedia Research. This is because customer’s expectations from smartphones in terms of processor speed, storage, display etc. are increasing and at the same time, they are more discerning and not just seeking the cheapest phone.

Implication for app developers – Cross platform apps are still the need of the hour. Feature phones cannot be ignored if you are reaching for the heart of the Indian market, and these users also deserve a smartphone-like app experience.

In the light of these points, India is one of the most challenging markets for an application developer to work in today. But as with all challenges, the rewards for success are also proportionately higher. The app developer who can straddle the peculiar constraints and contradictions that characterize the Indian market, also has a huge opportunity waiting ahead!

At Anant, we are open to partner with MFIs and NGOs to pioneer, prototype and develop apps that can open up new doors for financial inclusion. If you have an app or an idea to develop an app for financial inclusion, write to me and I will be more than happy to partner towards creating a better future!