I don’t know the number of smartphone users (let’s say just Nokia) in India but I am sure that is not so low that it is economically insignificant. I have myself observed hundreds of people carrying a Nokia 6600 or 3230 and have also observed a few carrying an N70. Infact I have an N70 myself which I initially bought so that I could toy/play around with that phone and experient with few symbian applications (that I hopefully can sometime write) but of late have found that it is an extremely usable phone and I decided to use it as a regular phone as well ( Even though at it’s price I would have never bought it as a regular usage phone).Talking about N70 it is an interesting platform in which I can plug so many features which is what is what is impressive about the device but I have my fair shair of complaints in it as well as many of the features dump you when you really need them. But anyway this post is not about N70 or Series 60 etc. It is rather about smartphones and their usage in India and hurdles a user might face and also gaps which need to filled to make it a better experience.
A smartphone is a platform and a platform is another way of saying it is a two way market. Now any market will be a successful one only when there are enough buyers and sellers in it. The interesting thing though about a two market is that the number of sellers and buyers are interdepent on each other and which is what is that leads to a chicken and a egg problem in it. Any platform needs great amount of planning and coordination for it kick off but once it is fully functional then it kind sustains well mostly by itself.
A Windows OS is also platform which did not grow very big in India because that market had too much friction in it. Any application worked out to be very expensive for an average Indian, the cost of software in dollar was converted into rupees and sold as it is. There was no widespread payment mechanisms (credit/debit cards ) available through which payments could happen. So basically products were not findable and those that were findable were not buyable and this lead to creation of now very successful grey markets of Nehru place etc.
Now while looking for application for smartphone sitting here in India I find it extremely difficult to get it in a legitimate way. There are tons of extremely useful application which increase the usefulness of having a smartphone but I find that there is just no way I could get them. The only way I could obtain any application is either a trial version available at Handango or if it is a free to download application. If there is an application which can be used if only it can bought or if its trial version expires then I am kind of stuck. If I wish to buy an application then I have to pay in dollars (a credit card required for that) and also that works out to be 10 – 20 $ for each application. I have absolutely no intention of paying 500 – 1000 Rs for any mobile phone application. If it were about 50 Rs or even if it is Rs 100 then I might go ahead and pay that for some exteremly useful applications and if it were 10 – 20 Rs then I would absolutely pay for every application that I use.
If we have to avoid a grey market for smartphone application then we must take intiatives and create a bazaar for smartphone. We seriously lack a smartphone bazaar just like one is available in the US but this bazaar should be properly tuned to the Indian market realities. It should be sensitive to price points that works in India, should support a payment mechanism which is easy to use and would be very widely usable and acceptable in an Indian scenario, should have mechanism through which products can be findable. I find it surprising very surprising why is that any enterprising entreprenuer has not taken up this interesting market gap and turned it into a business opportunity when all the necessary elements for the solution is available and all it needs is someone to put it all together. The telco’s and the associated parties just won’t do this because it threatens their position.
Just to reiterate what is needed
- A place where users can download an application and pay for it with the least amount of friction.
- A place where one can upload applications to be sold in Indian Rupees ( Developed by Indian Developers and Products sold by US/UK in $)
- A payment mechanism which works for paying small denominations like 50-100 Rs and which is ubiquitous
- A place where conversations can happen and products can become findable.
To provide above it requires someone to build a simple site with very basic features like that of Handango, integrate with payment companies that are in India now like mChek or Paymate that allow you to pay via SMS and do payments of small denominations and then loosely couple this with a forum like allaboutsymbian.com or howardforums.com created specifically for India where people can converse and application can be findable.
Now if you are interested in this and wish take this further then you could complain saying that I have outlined all the easy part and what about the not so easy part of solving the chicken & egg problem. For that you should go figure out a way by yourself to seed the market, either by creating by your own a few compelling applications or go to talk some existing publishers or maybe even speak to handango.