How to Distribute Mobile Apps in India?
Much is being written and spoken about need to build up data revenues in Indian telecom. Much solace is sought in the fact that India ranks one of the top 2 fastest growing markets for social networking apps such as Facebook but more important aspects of data apps: service discovery and application distribution are entirely ignored.
Unless mobile App developer companies focus on Service discovery and effective distribution, VAS products business in India will continue to under-perform. Mobile App consumption, usage will remain low, unable to harness 3G and eventually 4G network capabilities fully, generating low-end revenues and negatively impacting sector growth.
Firstly, native apps catering to Indian use and taste should be developed. Only a few minor if any, Apps have actually been built for the Indian consumer. And even if some really cool App ideas did manifest, they were completely lost in the noise of other me-too apps, never discovered or failed to monetize due to distribution challenges.
It is well known how operator-led app stores have fared worldwide and so its dismal performance in Indian markets is no surprise. In fact even a global mandate to create a Wholesale Applications Community from the powerful GSMA fizzled out as the WAC merged into the now bustling product category of API platform firm Apigee. While APIs have been around forever, Web-based APIs have now exploded on the scene as the technology of choice to effectively distribute digital media, content and services. As commerce digitizes rapidly, API management becomes complex and API management platforms find themselves hot commodity attracting risk capital at attractive multiples.
While technology may seamlessly spread globally, consumer behaviour and buying patterns do retain a hue of regional practices. For 'high-context' societies such as India, a mobile App is downloaded more by recommendation from 'someone you know' than by one's own urge to try something new or 'discover an App'. The quite driver behind a 'referenced App' is perhaps no different from what drives choice of college for a teenager or choice of car or other white goods purchased within a household.
Once referenced, the large Indian buyer community (past the early adopter), would like to 'have it set-up' and not necessarily tinker with it till it works. If this logic is true, the average Indian is not a 'Do it Yourself' (DIY) profile but a 'Do it for Me' (DIFM) profile.
This remarkable logic is perhaps what is making mobile applications company Onward Mobility, a runaway success. In what arguably is India's most successful breakaway model at Mobile App distribution, Onward Mobility has merged brick and motor and digital content distribution into an enviable combination.
Onward Mobility successfully brings in a 'human element of App discovery' into the App purchase process by having an in-store sales person actually pursue a potential target client to try out and buy a new mobile App. Up-market smart phone buyers shopping in malls may actually be easily pursued to buy a new mobile App and then of course you could always refer another friend to try it out. Once they have had a great experience, they could always drop in on their next mall-walk, this time with a friend and try out related Apps.
And of course, they would all like to get a little help with configuration and 'set-up'. With in-store sales persons at thousands of locations in India, Onward Mobility claims an $8 App purchase per month per subscriber –impressive, considering the national average of mobile ARPU has been south of $2.5 for some time now.
So is this then the panacea to all Mobile App distribution ills? May not be! While building a large in-store presence will keep Onward busy for now, their strategy could be challenged by lack of presence in tier-2 and tier-3 towns or by others such as Spice Digital who already have their own points of presence.
In any case, a human-assisted App discovery model might just fit the bill for India. This certainly demands a deeper look – else we will keep blaming poor network quality and lack of local content, while brilliant mobile Apps may be drowned in the noise and never get to meet hungry buyers who are looking for more but don't know where to find them.
Read online >>
Sridhar Pai runs Tonse Telecom, a Bengaluru-based telecom research and consulting house that is a research partner to Light Reading India.