Mobile expert Werner Egipsy Souza, is a keen enthusiast when it comes to mobile technology and how it can improve the quality of life for people living in India. From his experiences Souza tells On Device Research about the impact the mobile device has already had on people lives in India.
The need to be entertained
The mobile phone has had the largest impact on the Indian market more than any other invention (including the toilet) ever, except maybe for the television.
Maybe it's because throughout history, two things which come naturally to India, and have been with us right from the Mahabharat, is the need to communicate and be entertained, whether in song, art, dance, or theatre.
It's telling then, that the oldest television channel in India, Doordarshan, has had the most viewers, for their music programmes.
Perhaps, that might also explain which India is one of the largest consumers of caller ringback tones (monthly subscription of INR 30, i.e. 34 pennies), where a caller is typically greeted with a ringtone of the user's choice.
Also, the first thing which any Indian does, on buying a phone, is load it with music. Hence, our ringtones are usually the loudest and noisiest, as the new Airtel F1 advertisement would show, where Nico Rosberg's phone rings with a loud noisy Hindi Airtel jingle, and an Indian girl is screaming her lungs out proclaiming her undying love, while Michael Shumacher and the rest of the team look on in disbelief.
That also means that we Indians are noisy and loud, hence it's not uncommon to be in public transport, and suddenly be assailed by a loud Hindi song, blaring from a phone made by an Indian OEM like Micromax or Lava. The users of the smartphones, such as the Nokia N8 or the HTC One, will prefer to quietly listen to their music through their earphones. Usage of earphones, to a large extent, is visible in cities such as Mumbai, where the need for privacy is higher.
Mobile makes transportation easier
India, is also a land of languages. A typical Indian would need to know at least five languages to comfortably commute across India. This means that most public transport terminals, such as bus or trains, have announcements and schedules, in the local state language. This therefore, has led to a proliferation of applications for transport, such as Google's transit or Nokia's Transport application, which will give you the bus numbers for the location defined by you. For the train, there is a great Android application called Indian Rail with over a million downloads which conveys the relevant schedule and ticket status.
For the bus schedule, mobile4mumbai provides bus schedules as well as auto rickshaw fares, across Mumbai, Bangalore and Pune. Interestingly, the application doesn't use either text (SMS) or mobile internet (GPRS).
In the rural belt, mobile usage is spurred on by the fact that mobile internet is far more reliable and in some cases faster, than the broadband landline connection, especially along the coast. Here, users of Facebook, would use a computer just for registration, and then browse Facebook using their GBP 50 Nokia handset.
How retail companies use mobile
In the retail space, currently FMCG majors such as Hindustan Unilever, use enterprise mobile software on platforms such as Android and Windows Mobile, to provide cloud based Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) services. The sales officer enters the retail location, enters the inventory quantities for each retail outlet, and synchronises this data with the main company server immediately, compared to previous systems where each sales officer would text their regional manager, who would then collate the data and then text his Chief Executive Officer.
GIS further enhances this data, enabling the entire Indian geography to come alive in a visual interface, where performing and non performing sectors are visually identified.
The impact on health and education
The future of mobile, for most Indians, is more of an ability to get urban services in rural areas, since there is a huge gap in awareness which the mobile has the ability to bridge. The major gap today, is in health, where there is no standard with regards to typical charges for various operations, resulting in cheaper and better health services in the urban area, versus extremely poor and badly managed expensive services in the rural areas.
Another major gap is in the education sector, where students in the rural areas (specifically state border villages) , lack the level of extracurricular all round education, such as dramatics and basic social skills, which are present in the urban areas.
Knowledge sharing face to face vs the Internet
Privacy is an interesting conundrum in India, best elucidated by Jim Corbett in Maneaters of Kumaon
When strangers meet in India and wish to glean information on any particular subject from each other, it is customary to refrain from broaching the subject that has brought them together whether accidentally or of set purpose until the very last moment, and to fill up the interval by finding out everything concerning each other's domestic and private affairs.
For instance, whether married and if so the number and sex of children and their ages; if not married, why not; occupation and amount of pay, and so on. Questions that would in any other part of the world earn one a thick ear are in India asked so artlessly and universally that no one who has lived among the people dreams of taking offence at them.
Hence, while our dress and matter of speech in real life, is typically conservative and diplomatic, we approach the online space with a level of candour, which might seem embarrassing to an European, where almost everything is uploaded to Facebook, without actually ensuring that all content has privacy filters to ensure that only the right eyes see. This leads, to an excessive instances of cyberbullying, resulting in India featuring third on a global listing.
SMSBlocker is one application, which was created to prevent this invasion of privacy. Users are similarly using applications like Kaspersky on their phone to prevent spam. Sadly, though, cyberbullying in its entirety, has yet to be fully understood and handled.
Dominance of Nokia
Nokia is still the market leader in India, with 21.8% market share. Nokia is also the most trusted brand in India proving that perception is reality, at least in India. The perception is still that Nokia makes the most sturdy phones, and has the largest service network in India.
Nokia's influence on India's content market, can be noticed through their ambassadors Priyanka Chopra, who recently launched her album on Ovi Music, and Shah Rukh Khan who heavily promoted Nokia's community video site Nokia Channel Me.
With regards to Maps, the main applications used are Nokia maps and Google maps. The fact that Nokia's maps are on-board, means that the data usage and dependence on the mobile network is a lot less. Nokia has also provided the Check-in feature which being community based, is already giving Foursquare a run for its content.
For the farmer, the mobile is one way they try to reduce heavy crop losses due to deficient monsoon rains, through mobile based(mostly text) advisory services provided by Iffco Kisan Sanchar, Nokia Life Tools, and Reuters Market Light, covering an estimated 32 million subscribers.
Note, that for many users, the mobile phone is their only internet device. Hence, backup options like Nokia Ovi Sync, and bluetooth data synchronisation is heavily used. But mobile doesn't mean accessories, hence bluetooth transfer is still a tool frequently used, especially to pass along an interesting song or video. Indians love to share content, hence more ways to share, the merrier.