A recent project took me to Northern India, where the national elections are currently underway and the future of the 1.27 billion person country is on people’s minds. Contrary to Western associations with India as a place filled with leading-edge tech engineers, most people in the country are just trying to get by. In 2010, the latest year that data is available, the World Bank estimated that 68.8% of the Indian population lives below the International Poverty Line of $2 per day.
Although most Indians have a limited financial bandwidth, what people spend their discretionary income on is changing. As of 2013, 77% of the population owned a mobile device. Numerous conversations I had with Indians make it clear that the benefits of owning and using a mobile device at this point are similar to what we enjoy in the U.S., including keeping in touch with friends and family, playing music and sending text messages (if they can afford the additional costs).
However, since most people use regular mobile phones rather than smartphones, few have access to the internet and all of its benefits from their phones. This limitation won’t last for long though as in the coming year millions of users in India are expected to upgrade from less-capable feature phones to smartphones. In the last quarter of 2013, Smartphone sales in India increased by 166.8%, making it the world’s fastest growing smartphone market.
Although the market opportunity is immense, the current smartphone price point is simply too high for the typical India to afford. This year, smartphone manufacturing companies like Spice, HTC, Sony, Micromax and Samsung have rolled out lower priced models (12,000 rupees or less, roughly $199 USD) in an effort to gain share in this growing market. As this happens, watch out for changes in the digital consumption habits of people in the lower social-economic class within India – as well as in the rest of the developing world.
As noted in a recent issue of The Hindu, “Indian consumers are already using their [smartphone] mobile devices for purposes such as productivity (making to-do lists, maintaining calendars), utility (paying bills), entertainment (downloading music, checking cricket scores), navigation and staying connected with colleagues and customers (through enterprise services or apps).”
As smartphone penetration increases and these millions of new users start using smartphones in their everyday lives, there are immense opportunities for businesses to create products and services that meet the needs of these new customers. Many will need low-cost mobile applications and services, payment models, social media, music and video entertainment, and information outlets that allow them to leverage all that the web – and their new smartphones – have to offer.