India: state of the mobile app business
Cellstrat hosted Mobile App Conclave 2011 in Bangalore today. The agenda was not published ahead of time so those of us that showed up were pleasantly surprised to see a quality lineup. Excellent keynotes by Pratapa Bernard of Vodafone, Sridhar Ranganathan of InMobi and Sunny Rao of Nuance were punctuated by interesting panel discussions which brought together the leading lights of the Indian mobilility scene. Some of my takeaways follow.
- Nokia+Symbian: India still has a large installed base of smart/feature phones consuming data. Although the death-knell for Symbian may have been sounded, for the foreseeable future, mobile apps in India cannot ignore it.
- Apple: Although iPhones and iPads get a lot more ink and attention, the reality is that a negligible fraction of the userbase is on iOS.
- Blackberry, Java, Android: all these platforms are significant but Android is growing fastest
Browsers vs. Apps:
- Where Apps win: Usability is the *sole* driver of adoption, not technology enhancements (e.g. screen size, USB ports, 3G network, etc.). Apps are better suited to deliver optimal experiences. Browser experiences continue to suffer from lack of usability just like the failed promise of WAP’s first run 10+ years ago. Apps can support next generation user-interfaces including local language speech, pre-integration between multiple apps (e.g. linking Yelp reviews to Google Maps and FourSquare).
- Where Apps lose: Lack of stickiness plagues apps; most downloaded apps are seldom used after a few attempts. Major publishers favor the control that a mobile site offers, especially when it comes to ad-supported revenue models.
- Appstores aren’t working for India focused apps: the Apple appstore is the only one that has figured out how to get developers paid but unfortunately very few Indian users exist on their platform. Android/Nokia/Microsoft need to get their act together.
- Development skills are scarce: those that are available are working on outsourced app development projects for the US market. This makes them hard to hire for apps focused on India where app revenues are likely to be much lower.
- Mobile payments are caught up in a regulatory quagmire.
Despite all the challenges, a number of interesting companies are betting their future on the development of the app world, both locally in India and globally. Some of my more memorable conversations today:
- Telibrahma: Apps that use “augmented reality” to enhance the effectiveness of traditional advertising media
- TrackEveryCoin: Personal finance management
- Infosys Flypp: a white-labeled AppStore platform
- July Systems: mobility middleware for media businesses and enterprises
- Guruji: a mobile ad network serving (over 1.5B impressions a month)
- InMobi: claims to be the largest independent mobile ad network (over 40B impressions a month)