India and Apps

Published by MBA Skool Team, Published on June 27, 2013

This Article won the first prize in the Article Writing Contest June 2013

Unless you've been living in a cave for the last five years or so (and trust us, it's hard to find one without a Wi-fi hotspot anymore), you're probably aware of the mobile app revolution. You might not like it - date nights are never going to be the same again with the love of your life swiping away on her touchscreen under the table - but you know it's happening.

Why you need to care

More Indians have a mobile phone than access to a toilet. Quite apart from indicating just how normal it is for your hopelessly technology-addicted friend to message you from the loo, that statement has some exciting implications for the marketer. Smartphones aren't toys for the rich; they're everywhere. Mobile apps have become a viable platform to promote your products and their ability to reach a consumer at any moment of the day or night is unparalleled. Understanding the way people use apps can lead to some pretty big insights and help you address your customer's needs better.

Stats that stagger

The mobile apps market was worth Rs. 1800 crore in 2012. To put that in perspective, that's one rupee spent on a mobile app for every eight rupees spent on soap. And it's growing at a tremendous pace. Forecasts say that this figure will reach Rs. 5000 crore by 2015. That's an astonishing yearly growth rate of 40% (CAGR). In fact, India has the third fastest app market in the world, next only to the US and Europe. That shouldn't be surprising really, considering our population, and the fact that 84% of smartphone users in India have downloaded an app.

A study by Nokia ( found that 77% of smartphone users have up to 30 apps installed on their handset. The average user spends 52 minutes a day using mobile apps. That's about half an English movie, every day.

So what's driving this tidal wave of app use? Well, as it turns out, companies are. The free and open source Android operating system has taken India by storm, making capable smartphones under Rs. 5000 a possibility. Google's ubiquitous OS has an overwhelming 62% share in the Indian smartphone market, dwarfing the next biggest player (Nokia's all-but-forsaken Symbian OS) at 21%. Telecom firms are also playing their part. With improving technology and a corresponding decline in the cost of mobile internet (such as 30-day GPRS packs for under Rs. 100), mobile apps are becoming more and more accessible, and people are increasingly being swayed by the power that apps can unleash on the unassuming (not really) device in their pockets.

Playing Sam Spade

So what exactly does India do on its smartphones? Given the numbers above, our curiosity was naturally piqued, and along with our own team of intrepid researchers from the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade (New Delhi), we set about trying to answer that very question and to make sense of the frenetic world of apps. We started by visiting app stores and online discussion forums to get a preliminary feel of the various categories of mobile apps and how people felt about them. Based on this initial understanding, we surveyed, interviewed and held focus group discussions with a total of 95 users from a variety of professions and demographics about their app usage, frequency of app use, types of apps used, perceptions about apps and more. What follows are some of our key findings.

What’s hot

Based on responses during our interviews and focus group discussions, we identified eleven distinct categories of apps (listed in the infographic at the end of this article) that people tend to have installed. Messaging and social networking apps seem to reign supreme when it comes to popularity and frequency of use, cutting across demographic lines.

Whatsapp (incidentally, the most downloaded app on the Google Play Store) made its presence felt on a whopping 84% of phones. Viber and WeChat, both messaging apps that offer functionality similar to Whatsapp, also seem to be gaining followers. About 80% said they had Facebook's mobile app installed, which is unsurprising as it comes pre-installed on most handsets today.

Offering an app for on-the-go reading seems to be working out for newspapers and magazines as these apps were the third most popular category. Here, at least, The Times of India seems to have beaten The Hindu hands down (quite possibly because the Hindu released its official Android app just two days ago at the time of writing. Okay, we admit it; we’re unabashed Hindu fans). People who wanted a more neutral perspective liked Pulse, an app that offers a customised mash-up of your favourite news sources.

The proliferation of mobile games appears to have awakened the casual Indian gamer as these followed closely in fourth place. The inexplicable appeal of slicing virtual pineapples with a flashy blade merits mention here; Fruit Ninja was among the most popular mobile pastimes, even managing to come close to that eternal battle between avian velocity and porcine perseverance - Angry Birds.

Multimedia apps were next in popularity, followed by two rather surprising categories - productivity and travel/local apps. This is key because it indicates that users are starting to consider their phones to be more than entertainment and communication devices. They're using their devices to organise their lives with to-do lists and calendars. The popularity of travel and local apps means that smartphones are beginning to enter the offline lives of people. More people are starting to use their phones to find places to visit, get directions and review products before buying them.

Shopping, sports and health/fitness apps brought up the rear with a minority also experimenting with apps related to their professions such as medical dictionaries and artistic tools.

We also found that while the majority of smartphone users had not yet paid for an app, most people would not mind paying a nominal amount for it. Among users who had paid for an app, the app in question was most often a game. Scepticism related to making payments through a mobile app (for in-app purchases and shopping apps) seems to be declining as consumers are gradually getting comfortable with the idea of using their phones as wallets.

The six kinds of app users

Based on observation during interviews and in-depth discussions, we divided mobile app users into six psychographic segments:

Productivity Freaks: These people value efficiency and seek it in everything they do. They are driven and ambitious and tend to be working professionals and entrepreneurs. They generally have a popular messaging app or two, a few informational apps and a host of productivity-related apps installed. This group feels the need to access their information from anywhere, so they use cloud storage.

Savers: Savers are always on the lookout for a bargain. They're generally students with an eye for detail. They usually have several messaging and VoIP apps installed and generally do not use paid apps.

Experimenters: This group is fond of trying out new experiences, and likes to be considered thought-leaders. The apps on an experimenter's phone run the gamut from messaging to weather to obscure keypads.

Socialisers: These folk love to stay connected and have well-knit groups of friends and family members. They are defined by their relationships, and they use apps for most social networking platforms, photo-sharing, file-sharing and so on.

Savants: This type of person keeps abreast of the latest happenings and is generally well read and argumentative. In addition to the common messaging apps, savants also have a number of news and magazine apps as well as a good e-book reader installed.

Pleasure Seekers: This last group consists of people who use their phones as entertainment devices. They tend to be social movie-goers and have a special place in their hearts and memory cards for multimedia apps and games.

We have some more interesting findings, but in the interest of brevity and visual splendour, we decided to prepare a neat little infographic for you.

(Click on the infographic to open the HQ Version)

In conclusion

Apps are big and getting bigger. There can be no more doubt that they'll grab a significant share of a consumer's mind in the years to come. The intelligent marketer would use this fact to his advantage, either releasing new apps tailored to his target segment or finding ways to reach his customer through existing ones. In either case, it will be necessary to gain a deep understanding of how different types of consumers interact with and perceive apps and their functionality. We hope this article has managed to scratch the surface in that regard.

The Article has been authored by Aneev Davis and Akhila Kakani, IIFT.

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