• Turian Labs

What do the Next Billion Users want?

Abhay Sen

Illustrative image for Next Billion Users

India has seen a rapid increase in the number of smartphone users from 21% (of total mobile phone users using a smartphone) in 2014 to nearly 40% in 2019 (i.e. 374 million that nearly equals the population of entire North America). Digital shift has contributed greatly towards converging communication, media, and technology. Mobile itself has become an essential asset towards empowering individuals. Over a few past months, the focus of several UX research projects at Turian Labs has been around mobile data management, internet search behaviour, mobile entertainment consumption, online shopping experiences and digital advertisements for the Next Billion Users (a term made popular by Google referring to the first time users of internet in India). VP of the Next billion Users Team, Google, Caeser Sengupta says; “Future of internet lies with the Next billion users”. They are known for mobile-only mindset and demand localized content. Here are some essential learnings from the mind of these Next Billion Users.

1. Mobile only mindset: Most of these next billion users have never used a PC and may never use one. They don’t think of the internet as something accessible with a mouse and a keyboard. A computer is a smartphone, and it also doubles up as a television, a wallet, a classroom, a portal for government services and also a digital advisor. Their expectations on how mobile apps should work are completely different. Google Pay app (digital wallet/online payment platform), for example, is focused around ‘people and conversations’ rather than the financial features, to reflect familiarities with chat apps. In future, all global apps should be speaking the inclusive language of people who grew up on mobile phones rather than PCs.

2. Living ‘here and now’: These users appreciate natural interactions with a digital device that can hear, see and understand—for example, asking “Do I need to take an umbrella out today?” rather than typing “Mumbai weather forecast.”

Since Google Assistant was launched on the Reliance JIO Phones (feature phones) in December 2017, usage of the Google Assistant in India grew six times over the first four weeks of 2018. This was not just due to many semi-literate or illiterate users, but also due to the fact that typing was difficult for people who never grew up with a computer keyboard.

3. Imminent tsunami of the local languages: It is estimated that more than 54% of the web-content is in English. Hindi, the 5th language in terms of global speakers, is not even in the top 30 languages for web-content. And in countries like India, the generation coming online now is more comfortable in their native language than in English, and so the language can be a big hurdle in expanding internet access.

Even though English remains as an aspirational language in India, to chat or to keep up with friends (not family) or even society, this new wave of consumers prefers not to have to learn English to use the internet. One user said, “I want to chat on mobile in English because my friends also do, but, I can understand better in Hindi (local language) and like to consume content in that way. But when Hindi words become too pure/literal then I cannot understand. So, I prefer Hinglish content (a mix of Hindi and English)”.

The next billion users expect more content, in their native languages. And videos are turning out to be the medium where they create and enjoy consuming this content. Anyone can turn on a camera, share stories in their own tongue, and find huge audiences online.

According to Economic Times, India is the fastest growing market in APAC for YouTube, with the platform getting 245 million users on YouTube per month and 90% users are accessing YouTube from mobile. Out of this, 60% of the growth is coming from non-metros. It could be said that demand for local content will reverse the language imbalance, leading to the internet being more inclusive of the entire world’s language diversity.

4. Data consumption & network continuity anxiety - We all are aware of the surge of ‘LITE’ versions of Apps being released with their main App. They function the same way as their main counterpart. It is just that they consume lesser space and are specifically task oriented. What if now there is a mode that lets you switch from LITE and back to normal mode on the web search. In one such rapid-proto trial of such an app, a user expressed, “This mode is so great! You know, this could bring a wave in the telecom industry?. It won’t matter if I have Vodafone, JIO or BSNL (different phone companies in India), I can just use this mode to combat bad signal/excess data usage while searching!”

5. Predictive features empower women: Sounds strange! A few predictive features in the phone OS for search & navigation, are building confidence amongst NBU women by eliminating the dependence of family/friends/neighbours.

It was such an elevating conversation when a 25 years old housewife from Mumbai, who initially expressed that, “I am scared of navigating on my phone, because my husband tells me I cannot ever use a phone properly”. Later on, when she used a navigation app proto that had a few predictive suggestive features, she felt that it made independent and empowered. The smile and words expressed by her were breathtaking, she said, “This is (pointing at the predictive suggestion feature) so good. I do not need to ask anybody for help now. I can go back home and proudly use the phone myself, especially this app! It helps me to know what to do next!”

We believe it is our responsibility to carry the flambeau of the emerging technology to the NBU and in that process start believing that it is not that they are becoming more like us, but we are becoming more like them in appreciation of technology.