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Thursday, 20 November 2014

Catering to the first time smartphone user

The recently released Ericsson Mobility Report tells us that 800 million new smartphone connections will be added in 2014, taking the total number of smartphone connections worldwide to 2.7 billion. While this is a substantial figure, it is still a small number compared to the nearly 5 billion feature phones. More and more people especially in Asian and African markets will be switching to their first smartphone in the next two years, and it's important to understand who they are, what they are looking for and how we can cater to them better. What do we know, or what can we infer about the first time smartphone user in India?

1) They will prefer larger screen devices
It's not a co-incidence that Apple and Google have joined the bandwagon of manufacturers making plus-sized devices. India, like many other emerging markets, will largely be a 'mobile only' and not just 'mobile first' internet market. When the mobile is the sole device for internet access, users value the larger screen. Phablets vary in size from 5.5 to 7 inches and APAC markets including India are the biggest destination for these devices.

2) They will be older
Young people are always the first to latch onto smartphones (and all things new and improved). We will see a wave of users (late majority and late adopters) taking to smartphones, and most of them will be older. Look at your own surroundings - chances are that your elderly parents or grandparents have now finally and apprehensively agreed to upgrade, given that no decent feature phones are really available any more. The older users will also prefer the larger screens, but will also require additional education and handholding to navigate the world of the internet.

3) They will look for vernacular language applications
The first time smartphone user is more likely to be comfortable in a vernacular language, rather than in English. In fact, the absence of vernacular content itself might have delayed them from accessing the internet. Now, the sheer convenience of mobile, as a medium of communication, social networking and m-commerce will trigger adoption. However, the language barrier will remain and needs to be handled sensitively through multi-lingual interfaces, voice-based menus and UIs which employ culturally relevant graphics. 

4) They will need help with apps
Browsing is easy, but navigating the app based internet is not. While applications are simple and easy to use once they are downloaded, the challenge is still how to search and find the apps that you want. Which is why, in an ironic role reversal, apps need to advertise on television to popularise themselves, and people download apps based on word of mouth and recommendations from 'experts' around them. The first time smartphone user may be a prime target for your app, but how will you help him discover it? Even pre-loaded apps may not be a solution as many people do not use what already comes installed on their phones. We must expect that new users will browse the internet, as much as they use apps, so maybe your mobile web presence will help them to identify and access your apps.

5) They will chat
WhatsApp has been one of the first applications that first time smartphone users demand or look for. Even more than Facebook, Whatsapp is a thriving group-based community where colleagues, school/college/B-school alumni and friends hang out, share and gossip. Chat applications which cater to linguistic requirements and facilitate sharing will benefit hugely. Think of WeChat and other OTT messaging applications which let you send flowers, book and pay for cabs and much more, without leaving the chat room.

The smartphone revolution is real and not notional any more. It's happening around us, and it's time we started thinking about how we plan to cater to it.