I was in New Delhi, India for the last couple of weeks visiting family. The trip has also been an interesting experience looking at how people use mobile phones here. Here are some observations.
Most folks in India are on Android, though I did see more iPhones than I thought I would. The Android devices are those I have never seen before. Pictured below are my parents’ and brother’s phone. The one on the left is from a company called CoolPad, the middle is a Xiaomi Mi 4i and the one on the right is an Asus. All of these are ₹10,000 to ₹15,000, which translates to around $150 to $225. And they work really well. I am particularly impressed by the Xiaomi which has a very nice UI language and generally performs pretty well (why can Xiaomi do such a good job at UI and the much bigger Samsung cannot is a mystery to me)
Also, I didn’t see many phablets, though I did see a bunch of cheap and really small Android phones.
Almost everyone in India seems to be on WhatsApp (unsurprisingly the #1 free app in India), and are on numerous WhatsApp groups that range from family groups to local neighborhood communities. WhatsApp has surprisingly few features compared to other messaging apps and yet, even though there may be other apps with features (specific to commerce for example), WhatsApp is where all the commerce happens.
ShareIt, a file transfer tool by Lenovo, is the #2 free app on the store beating even Facebook which is at #3. Guess file transfer between phones is a big thing here.
Another thing I was surprised to notice was that people were pretty open to accepting calls from unknown numbers (I mostly let those go to voicemail and I know most of my American friends do as well). This also makes Truecaller a pretty essential app here.
I actually like the Truecaller experience, which opens a small overlay every time a call comes in with information on the caller. As of this writing, Truecaller is #7 free app on the Google Play Store in India.
Pre-Paid plans and Missed Calls
Unlike the US where almost everyone is on unlimited calls, people here still have plans with limited number of minutes. A lot of communication happens by just missed calls, whether its just signaling (“Send me a missed call when you have reached so-and-so place”) or with a second call from a land-line by the receiver of the missed call (incoming calls are free). Even ads on TV and radio mention phone numbers that you give a missed call to and they’ll call back with more information.
(While the idea of the missed call seems weird, it reminds me of the Yo app. Both allow a very simple message to be interpreted in a variety of ways)
People also add minutes to their plans using scratch cards, which also apparently make great give aways at events.
Phone: The original Conversational Commerce app
The term conversational commerce has been getting pretty popular lately as companies build AI and Natural Language based systems where you would be able to talk to different services (like Uber) as opposed to using an app. The original version of that is how services are still used in India. Almost every service like groceries, food delivery etc is a phone call away and most people I met prefer to just call rather than deal with an app or a website. Apps like Whatsapp will also soon allow you to call a merchant from right inside the app which seems to be how folks prefer to do business in India.
I met a few entrepreneurs at a local event in Delhi and it was interesting to see their challenges. Some are familiar, like general lack of engagement with apps in a very crowded app market. Others seem more unique to India, like a general unwillingness to pay for digital services for lack of trust or low perceived value for the services. Poorer connectivity is also an issue and quite a few apps (like Google Transit for example) give you options to download the data for offline usability.
An interesting point that came up in the conversation is the growing need for localization in apps. While a fair bit of the country speaks English, as mobile devices become more accessible to even the remotest part of India, support for regional languages is becoming more and more important.