Mobile applications, often referred to as ‘apps’, are today an inseparable part of many of our lives. Apps to send messages, apps to book cabs, apps to order food. Even this article that you are reading, as a matter of fact, has been typed using an app, and might even be read on an app.
Apps on mobile phones had been around for a while – just ask any Palm, BlackBerry or Nokia user. But they were restricted to a tiny niche and were not really mainstream. What really changed things for them was the arrival of the iPhone in 2007. Or to be more accurate, the eve of the launch of the iPhone 3G in July 2008. The first iPhone might have brought a touchscreen minus a stylus into the mainstream, but it was limited to just the pre-installed apps. A day before the launch of that phone, Apple launched the App Store. And our lives changed.
The App Store was a dedicated store from which users could shop for and download apps on their iPhones – a whole new platform for developers to develop their own apps and publish them, and offer them to millions of people to download. It started out with a very modest 552 apps (of which 135 were free), but within a week of launch, the App Store, had hit a staggering 10 million downloads and in three months, the number reached 100 million. What started off as 500 odd apps had grown tenfold by April 2009 to more than 50,000 apps on the App Store with over 1 billion downloads. With Android joining the smartphone party, with its own Android Market in tow, it was evident by this time that mobile apps were the next big thing in technology.
Not only did users benefit from the App Store, but it also opened up a plethora of opportunities for budding developers to showcase their creativity and solve a large set of problems that consumers were facing. When asked about what drove developers at that time to start making mobile apps, Tanmay Sonawane, one of India’s popular independent iOS developer, said: “The simple fact that you can build something of your own and have thousands of people use it. The process from having an idea, to overcoming challenges and finally seeing it come to life is why I started making apps.”
Launching the App Store also meant that Apple encouraged more and more developers by providing them support through their App Accelerator, which was also quite prominent in India. Google wasn’t lagging either and offered support for app developers working on the Android platform. “Both Apple and Google offered fantastic support to us during the early days; Access to pre-release SDKs, pre-release devices from Google, UX consultations as well as technical support from Apple was all fantastic,” said Rohith Bhat, founder of 99Games, a development firm based out of Udupi, Karnataka.
The mantra was simple. If you develop an app to address a problem you face, chances are that there are a lot of people facing the same problem as you and would be willing to spend a few bucks for a solution. “I can only build good solutions if I face the problem myself and know the ins and out of it,” says Tanmay. The fact that millions of people were online made a successful app a great financial proposition too. Indian developers responded to the challenge and began to make their presence felt on the international scene. And a huge bottleneck in using apps in India – the high cost of data – was removed in 2016, when telecom operator Jio announced its arrival in the country by providing 4G mobile data at remarkably low prices. Millions of Indians now had an Internet-enabled smartphone in their hands, enabling India to catch up with “more” connected nations.
Today, app download size and Internet usage within an app are no longer constraints for usage, and high data usage limits meant that more users are willing to stream content online. Bhat, with an extremely apt analogy, said: “Pre-Jio, consumers used data like perfume; post-Jio, they use it like water!”
A greater number of Indians on the Internet meant that local developers now had the opportunity to focus on India-specific needs and emphasize on localized solutions. While there are multiple services and apps that have emerged for people living in metros and tier-1 and 2 cities, problems of people living in Rural India are still an untapped area, as a result of limited smartphone penetration. That said, the surge in the number of downloads of existing apps and in the number of new apps and services that have arisen post-Jio is a clear indication of the fact that India is one of the biggest markets in the present day world. There is also a thriving app ecosystem within the country in terms of consumption habits.
However, paid apps and services or in-app purchases still have some distance to go as a large chunk of the population still isn’t willing to make purchases online through digital means, either as a habit problem or due to lack of trust in online transactions. Homegrown solutions like UPI or Unified Payment Interface are aiming to fix those issues and apps based on such services are trying to get more people to perform digital transactions by providing incentives.
There is little doubt about the fact that India is taking large strides towards matching global standards in terms of Internet and mobile app usage. It’s a win-win situation for both, the app developers, who stand to gain a significant boost in revenues as well as users whose problems now have ample solutions waiting for them on their phone, just a click away.
It is increasingly an app, app world. And we are (h)appy that it is!