Digital India is the flagship program of the Indian government to use the transformatory power of digital technology to empower India and build a knowledge economy.
Launched in 2015, the program hinges on connecting every Indian citizen to e-governance and basic services through the digital medium, providing all information that is needed at one’s fingertips. This is the path to empowerment of each individual.
While the goals are lofty, one needs to take a hard look at the ground reality and ask – to what extent has this program been successful? To what extent have we really created a more inclusive and conducive environment? Have users actually come online because of these initiatives? Or would they have done so anyway?
Also, what have we done to facilitate the ecosystem (app developers, clients, IT, handset manufacturers) to create more inclusive apps?
Let us examine this issue from the perspective of both users and ecosystem.
The User Perspective : How can Digital India be more user centric?
Creating of infrastructure (affordable internet access, smartphones, IT backbone, government websites etc) in my opinion, is never enough. You could create everything, and still have no users! In my view, user centricity and relevance are key to success of digital India, more than access, or affordability.
Let me give an example. When mobile phones started to become popular, everyone bought the best handset they could afford – including the urban and rural poor. They valued all the features that it brought them – like anytime access to music, ability to watch movies on the go, receiving calls from home at anytime during the day. A handset might not have been affordable for many of these people – but they saved and bought one because it added to the quality of life.
Laptops and tablets (and earlier, desktop PCs) were available at reasonable or subsidized prices too, but we never saw an uptake of these devices. The relevance in enhancing the quality of life was not made obvious to people.
In more recent times, I have observed that many people are adopting mobile internet because they want to be on Whatsapp. Students want to be part of college or study groups. Older people want to join Whatsapp Family Groups. It is an easy, economical way to be in touch with people in another city or country and people feel left out if they do not have it. It is relevant to mass India, in a way that Facebook or email is not.
Using these examples, I would like to point out, that Digital India requires not just infrastructure, but the relevant use cases and applications that can motivate adoption of mobile amongst Indian masses and especially rural India.
At Anant, we spend a lot of time trying to build the relevant use cases that will promote greater digital inclusion and motivate the next generation of mobile users to come online. When we set out to design applications, we think of what are the apps that will include and be relevant to everyone.
Here are some examples of the kind of apps that we work on at Anant
Village Panchayat Application – a simple, vernacular mobile application that will work even in the absence of network. At the basic level, it serves as a directory of services, connecting villagers to updates from the Sarpanch, Panchayat, primary health workers and local government. At a more advanced level, we can add access to third parties such as Micro Finance Institutions, educational services, or trading platforms that facilitate transactions
M-Health Application for urban poor – It can provide a facility to locate nearest emergency services such as an ambulance, nearest hospitals. It can also be a way for local NGOs to give updates on schemes such as free blankets, meals or surgery sponsorships. Educational health updates from government health clinics can also be provided.
Hyperlocal Shop Application – The hyperlocal online store may be suffering. But what about the physical stores in your locality who are keen to increase their accessibility to locals? We have gone back to the basics to develop a truly hyperlocal store app, that integrates online and offline ordering abilities. Without mobile network, it functions as a telephone list of local stores who are willing to deliver. With mobile network and GPS, even when you go out shopping, it can alert you to local offers and discounts in the vicinity (eg. When passing a sweetshop you receive a notification that samosas are hot and available for purchase)
At Anant, we believe that these are the type of apps that we believe can make the concept of Digital India a reality. Because our conception and design of these apps starts with the basic question – what will be relevant to the mass Indian? What will really satisfy their needs?
The developer perspective : What will help us to build more user centric apps for digital India
If people in the app development and technology industry are reading this article, they may probably be be thinking, ‘the use cases are fine, but what makes Anant a better choice than any other company to develop apps for Digital India?” The truth is, that there are thousands of Indian app development companies with skill to develop user centric apps. There are also many different local and international solutions when it comes to developing apps for the Indian context. Why Anant? We have the answer?
Choosing your app development platform partner is a crucial decision. It’s pretty much like choosing your laptop operating system. What you get forms the basis and foundation for all future work – and exit barriers are high.
When we founded Anant, we thought through and re-imagined the process of developing an inclusive app. I can say with confidence, that we are the first company that provides a holistic, all-in one solution. Whereas all other companies only address pieces of the problem.
Let’s imagine the case of a state government bureaucrat which wants to develop an e-governance app. He is given 2 choices by the app developer
- Native application : this option is strongly recommended by the developer as it offers a high performance. It is expensive, and does not have many of the advantages of web apps or hybrid apps. Also, it requires you to manage multiple apps for different operating systems and versions – while you just have a single service offering. When X wants to create the app in different language, he has to factor in the services of other companies that offer font rendering and Indian language keyboard. Soon, X feels like he is developing not one, but at least three different apps (and also paying for them)
- Hybrid application : X has a choice to go with hybrid apps when he wants a quick rollout and a reasonable cost. But he is made to feel that it’s a big trade off because it compromises performance of the app. He still needs to use third party companies to provide the language option. He is unhappy with the performance and look of his app.
Also whether X goes with a hybrid or a native app,the user has to download many apps for each department or function, or a single heavy monolithic app . In both cases apps takes lot many space on the users mobile.
The fact is that every user doesn’t require all modules / services of one company . For example NABARD has many stake holders . There are internal users and external users. Again there are many categories of internal as well as external users. Each category of users need different services but under the umbrella of Nabard. Nababrd should also have flexibility of launching of different services to the different category of users at different point of time.
Unfortunately many existing solutions are only piecemeal. Some of them are pure app development platforms but do not let you translate your app into Indian languages. Some are only suited for development of UI and are not app development platforms. There are some vernacular tools that try to convert into Indian languages, but this is an added layer on an existing app development platform. And there are some tools that only ensure that language fonts render correctly.
To me, it makes sense that you should choose a comprehensive, all in one app development solution, rather than a piecemeal solution.
When we conceptualized Anant Computing, we had a vision of designing the ‘one answer’ for the broken ecosystem that hinders digital inclusion. From start to end, how can you start thinking and developing an app for India that is
- One App for one organization with different services for different users
- Performance of Native App and Flexibility of Web app
- Font Renders on all phones, irrespective of font support of OS/Phone
- Inbuilt Onscreen keyboard in all Indian languages
- Is available in every major Indian language
- Light size app
- Has a UI that is suited for mass India
- And all you have to do is code it once, the platform takes care of everything else
Our biggest strength, is that we have conceptualized the development of apps from India from the bottom upwards, and offer an all in one solution to any client. Hence, we are better equipped than any other company, to build your app for a truly inclusive Digital India.
At Anant, we are open to partner with clients, developers and IT companies to pioneer, prototype and develop apps that can open up new doors for digital inclusion. If you have an app or an idea to develop an app for Digital India, write to me and I will be more than happy to work with you towards creating a better future!
Anant Computing is a mobile platform provider with interest and expertise in building apps for inclusive development in India. Apps developed on Anant platform are light, fast, and work in all Indian languages even in low network or offline conditions. Anant is India’s first indigeneously built platform for app development.