Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The App-Web Struggle on Mobile

It is extremely hard to say anything about the industry which is so dynamic and developing as the mobile internet industry, but here are my two cents on the same written from an Indian product professional’s view-point

Mobile is the new laptop
Mobile apps are the norm these day, every company has launched its apps for the three popular platforms and sometimes more. And why not, the next wave of growth will come via mobile. More people are accessing internet on mobile compared to just a year back, with a 50% growth in Rural mobile Web users. Mobile internet is the best way to reach the tier II and III markets, where dedicated broadband connection are not available.

Recently, my dad was visiting us from my hometown. I was surprised to see his internet usage, he was accessing information on stock market, making plans for our trips reading up on wiki on his phone Internet — the phone being Nokia 6389 and internet being the 2G plan at 96Rs a month. What I m trying to say here is that yes, mobile is the new future, it is the way to crack the next level of markets, but in what form? Indian Industry has taken the route of apps for now following the world trends, while a major portion of the people they are trying to target are not using them. The fabled mobile growth in India is not coming from iPhones and Samsung S5 and S6, it is coming from the Moto E/G, Lava, Karbonn and Micromax. IDC has said that the sub-200 dollar category in smartphones contributed to about 78% growth in mobile devices in 2013-14, strongly pointing that the growth in the Indian smartphone market still remains constrained towards the low-end of the spectrum. A more recent new story reported a drop in the sales in premium smart-phone segments.

Misguided Effort
These low cost smart phones are going to define the market in India. But these phones do not have the capability to install hundreds of apps and function, there is simply not enough internal memory. For example take the example of Moto E, the latest hot-selling phone in Indian market. It has an internal memory of 4GB, of which only about 50% is available for apps. Free internal-memory is also needed for OTA updates and OS updates. With lower memory available, these phones become extremely slow and unresponsive, resulting in mass app uninstalls by the users. Have you ever removed apps from your phones, I bet the criteria is, following are the 5 apps I don’t use much, let me remove the three here which take the maximum memory. The uninstall rates for apps are already upwards of 60%. This is a lot of wastage for marketeers who spend money to get every install.

But the blow to apps does not just come from the constraints in memory, it also comes from the mobile web. The processing power available in phones is constantly increasing and so is the ubiquity of Internet. This, although is a good news for app makers, also levels the field for mobile-web. Most apps need data connection to perform any meaningful work as they access central data-bases for information. If the data-connection is a needed for apps to function, users can just access the same information off the internet.

Prophecies Abound
 India is a different market, it has always needed a bit of imagination to solve the unique issues that come up here. But these problems here can and may come up in any price-sensitive developing market. The companies and App makers will also need a to get more creative to handle these issues. Maybe the apps can evolve as a gateway to the service, a kind of wrapper to the web-app which customizes the experience for each user, and will also give developers the flexibility of an app. It would combine the goodness of a traditional app, with the lightness and speed of mobile web. Going forward, it is not difficult to imagine a single gateway for all apps a person is subscribed to. The gateway which stores users personal settings, which customizes the experience exactly how he wants, while giving access to all the applications he need without consuming memory on his device.

With all this said, there are lot more aspects to this discussion. Things like privacy, software reacting first or hardware become cheaper before that are other.
Moreover, there are use-cases where apps will continue to be more effective such as frequent transaction type interactions. All these will come into play to define where the things finally more.

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