Vernacular Mobile Applications on the cusp of explosion in India

Vernacular applications is a large market in India and it is at the cusp of explosion. With more affordability compounded by an above 5% GDP growth, it is estimated that a large part of  India’s population will be using a smart phone as their first computing device very soon. This is being aided by technology advancements and lower price points buoyed by expected strengthening of INR currency in the coming two years.

India is one of the countries where Smartphone user population is growing every day. However, language is a critical barrier to digital inclusion in a country like India, where millions do not speak English, the global language of mobile apps. It also makes the country a perfect market for applications that are accessible in vernacular languages. IAMAI January 2013 report revealed the fact that there are 45 million users in India, who access content in local language. A total of about the 64 percent population (24.3 million users out of the total 38 million) of the rural internet users prefer internet in their vernacular language. In case of 84 million urban users, a total of 25 percent users’ access or browse net in local languages and it constitutes of about 20.9 million people. More and more companies are creating applications in regional languages to meet the needs of the bourgeoning mobile user base in India, which is shifting away from the English speaking elite. Input tools in 22 Indian languages are already available and increases the intensity of usage.

ÂApart from entertainment, news is the other big category for local language apps. The other part will be speech conversion to different vernaculars. Hypothetically, you are a Hindi speaking person from North India who lands in Tamil Nadu, south India whose lingua Franca is Tamil. If you are in a crisis, you could call up an Emergency helpline and ask for help in Hindi. The mobile app will translate your speech into Tamil and receive the reply in Tamil, which is then translated to you in Hindi in a matter of seconds.  Some researchers are working on this. Social marketing in vernacular is the other app. Coming to think of it, the political parties could have used vernacular apps available in the market to get reach and concurrence on their manifesto through social marketing in vernaculars.  As users and usage intensity increases we will have online advertising from FMCG companies on vernacular apps. With video content growing as spectrum availability increases, search in vernacular for video and entertainment will be on the rise.  eGov and mCommerce can adapt themselves to usage of vernaculars. The possibilities seem endless.

At its best, the Indian scenario could be described as a demand driven market, stemming from the fact that Smartphones and Androids are proliferating into its 800 million mobile user base. The researchers are busy developing different vernacular voice technology apps for Androids and smartphones, targeted at rural India and the visually challenged among others. With Microsoft also joining the bandwagon, the scene will heat up further. Apps are propelling the Mobile Internet Ecosystem forward with each of our physical and digital interactions getting ‘app-ified’. India is ushering this wave with apps emerging as one of the biggest forms of entertainment on mobile. It is no surprise then that India is on the top spot globally in terms of app downloads from Ovi store and at third position (ahead of Japan) in terms of app downloads from Android Play. While mobile app consumption is now a proven success story, an emerging offshoot of this trend is the regionalisation of mobile apps. Increasingly, there is a latent need to meet the requirements of the burgeoning mobile user base in India, which is no longer just limited to the English-speaking populace. TRAI estimates state that out of over 860 million mobile phone subscriptions, only 125 million Indians list English as their language of communication. India’s cultural nuances suggest a strong potential for mobile apps to be rendered in multi-lingual flavours. Additionally, out of 45 million Indians that use local language applications on the internet, 64% are rural users and 25% are urban users, suggesting that there is awareness and proclivity across various demographics to use regional content on the internet. Further, there is a conducive ecosystem that is moulding the future in favour of this trend. On one hand, there have been positive precedents set by global technology majors such as Google and Microsoft who are spreading their services towards capturing regional markets in India by providing local language support. On the other hand, the availability of regional language enabled devices is being strengthened by highly discounted data usage packs.

Estimates suggest that over 45 million mobile internet users in India are already consuming regional content. The prominent domains for regional apps in India are instant messaging, gaming and entertainment, utility based apps and newspapers, each of which has seen considerable effort in terms of design, development and delivery.  Newspapers on the other hand, have taken the lead in this regard with successful examples of mobile publishers such as Dainik Bhaskar, Punjab Kesari, Vaartha, Jagran amongst others. These are positive indicators that the demand for regionalised content is rising exponentially suggesting the potential that other regional mobile content owners must begin to strongly consider.

In a nutshell, vernacular mobile apps are currently on the cusp of explosion in India owing to a captive audience base triggering this demand. The trend bodes well for regional content owners to use this opportunity and leverage their audiences through mobile advertising and monetisation options.



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