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India: The Next Great Mobile Frontier

When asked why he robbed banks, bandit Willie Sutton replied, “That’s where the money is.”

Mobile India

His words became the basis of Sutton’s Law in medicine: When making a decision, first consider the obvious.

If your business involves mobile or apps for mobile, to borrow from Sutton, the obvious strategy is to go where the mobile devices are. Increasingly, that’s India.

India is second only to China in the number of mobile phone users — more than 867 million. That’s far ahead of the United States, which is in third place. And, although computer penetration is low, Indians will buy some six million tablets this year. Recognizing the potential, Apple is making a major phone and tablet push in India, hoping to take away some of Android’s 91 percent market share.

Apple is looking enviously at these numbers: India is the top-ranking country across app stores. It’s the No. 1 consumer of apps from Nokia and Mobango and the No. 3 consumer of apps from Google Play. And it has the second largest Android user group in the world.


A Mobile-Friendly Environment

There are reasons this market is vibrant. According to the W3C India, the country is one of the world’s fastest-growing telecommunications markets due to a favorable regulatory environment, large expenditures for network expansion, and reductions in tariffs and the cost of mobile phones.

As the expansion of mobile Internet usage continues, it will increasingly reach a less educated and non-English-speaking population, so the organization is working on standards and other strategies to make mobile accessible to this segment of the population.


Successful Apps in India

The three most dominant categories of apps in India are instant messaging, gaming and entertainment, and online newspapers. Among the most successful apps are WhatsApp (communication), Cricket T20 Fever (game scores and information), Indian Rail Info (transportation information), Saavn (music), Book My Show (convenience and information), ICICI Bank (facilities), and Times Jobs (job hunting).

Examining key trends shows that Indians are like any other audience: They want technology that solves their problems quickly. They are constantly looking for ways to simplify their lives, and any app that can instantly provide useful information or make daily tasks easier will be well-received.

The ICICI bank app, for instance, simplifies the deposit and withdrawal process. The user need not go to a branch and stand in line for a long time, which is typical given India’s slower pace of working. A task that would normally take an hour can be completed with the app in less than a minute.


The Market’s Complicated Demographics

Here’s what we know about mobile users in India: Over 59 percent of the country’s population has a mobile phone, and the majority of those users are young. Thirty-six percent of Indian mobile users are in the 18-29 age group, while only 17 percent fall in the 30-49 age bracket.

If you want to enter this market, keep in mind that most of the phones employ English in their operating systems. However, only a tenth of the population uses English as its primary language, and India has 22 official languages. This is obviously one of the market’s major hurdles.

According to ZDNet, some 45 million Indians use local language applications on their phones. Nevertheless, because of the lack of apps in their native languages, the vast majority of Indians are limited to using their mobile phones for voice calls only.


More Challenges in the Market

India is the next frontier for mobile app developers, but those hoping to penetrate this market will need to address several issues:

  • Limited screen sizes
  • A mobile keyboard that supports Indian languages
  • Use of audio and symbols to accommodate illiterate or semi-literate users
  • Non-standardized translations for simple words and actions
  • Availability of Indic fonts on the device

These are manageable problems, and waiting until they go away is not an effective strategy. Apple knows what it’s doing with its investment in India. The advantage will go to the first movers in this region because the Indian population is eager to enter the fully mobile age.

Waiting for perfection was the strategy followed by Bell Labs, which invented cell phone technology in 1946. It never prospered in that market, however, because it kept waiting until the technology was perfect. Mobile developers cannot afford to make the same mistake — India won’t wait.

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