Google offering YouTube videos in offline mode in the Indian market was a masterstroke. It was like touching the nerve of an average Indian user, irrespective of his social or economic status, geographical location, literacy level or age. Surprisingly, for all kinds of mobile users in India, whether in rural or urban areas, young or old, the price elasticity of demand for data usage is quite high, meaning thereby that the amount of data they use is very sensitive to the price they have to pay for it.
A large part of this high price elasticity is psychological as people tend to minimize their monthly expenditure on data plans they buy by resorting to means which are often not quite understandable. After all, a young student switching off his data on his mobile phone when he is watching a movie does not make any sense given that he does not even think twice before spending 500 bucks for a single show in the multiplex and spending another 200 on his popcorn bucket during the interval. But it is also about the extremely high cost of data usage vis-à-vis the hourly wages in India in comparison to many other developing countries that explains this kind of behaviour. A comparison with developed economies, on the other hand, would, in fact, make the price of data usage in India appear prohibitively expensive.
Any app, if it has to be downloaded to make it functional, has to be downloaded online. But, how much data an app will use when it is being downloaded or when it is being used subsequently can put apps in vastly different categories, and make an app more or less attractive to a user who is sensitive about his data bill. The first differentiator is, of course, the app size; a user is generally put off when the app is more than a certain size, and the size will depend on what kind of phone you are using, whether it’s a high-end phone or a cheap handset with cramped memory space. And it’s a reality not worth ignoring by the app developers that a large majority of handsets have low memory space and a user might get put off by an app even of the size more than 8 to 10 MB.
The next differentiator is the data usage when the app is being run for use. There are apps that do not require internet connectivity at this stage or require connectivity for 50% of the time, so that the rest of the time, the application is running on the offline internet. This is a kind of hybrid offline-online ecosystem, but it also means a trade-off has to be made between how much data needs to be stored in the handset’s memory to enable it to work to its full potential in an offline environment.
App developers who are economizing on the app size may be gaining a crucial competitive edge here. And there are companies which are addressing the size issues from a different strategy. Anant Computing Platform, for instance, works on this fundamental idea of enabling development of apps at almost one-tenth size of usual mobile applications, and they run smoothly even offline. They facilitate the development of apps that run perfectly on low memory space phones.
The gen-next phones are most likely going to be offline primarily, and it’s not an overstatement at all when Rajan Anandan, Managing Director, Google India says that “India will be the world’s largest offline internet market” in the context of YouTube becoming available offline in the Indian market.
There is a great potential here for app developers who can harp on the idea of minimizing on the app size and making it as much offline as possible in a largely hybrid environment.