Opportunities in Smartphone race to the bottom – Design two speed, Lite and Regular mobile apps 4

We are generally fascinated by stories of advances in hi-tech, and how technology is changing lives. Those of us living in the West, or even in Metro cities in developing nations take access to high-speed mobile access and even Wifi for granted. Forget 3G or 4G, consumers already want 5G to enable them to live life on the go. (ref “What 5G means for you”)

While many of us will continually upgrade to latest smartphones, tablets and digital devices to experience the best that new technologies and gadgets can offer, the vast majority of consumers across the globe cannot afford smartphones and data plans, and many who do start with minimalist smartphones.

Until recently, there was little attention being paid to opportunities at the bottom-of-the-pyramid. This may be about to change as large technology firms including Microsoft, Google, Apple, Facebook and others have sensed an opportunity in serving first-time smartphone owners. These strategic moves by tech-heavyweights are also being closely monitored by entrepreneurs and startups eager to carve out niche in serving customers with low-end, low-bandwidth smartphones.

Video: Introducing Skype Lite for India

  • Skype Lite : Microsoft launched a new version of the video and voice-calling app, designed specifically for the Indian market. Announced during the recent visit by Indian born CEO Satya Nadella, the download weighs in at 13MB, and the app is designed to work better on 2G or unstable connections, making it more reliable in many parts of India.
  • Facebook Lite: Facebook announced a new Android app called Facebook Lite, which is a version that  Facebook built from scratch to work smoothly with poor data connections and low-end phones. According to Facebook, “It’s an app for the entire world, namely developing countries where data connectivity is hard to come by.” Facebook Lite is under 1MB, and after installing can take up 3 or 4 MB. Regular Facebook app, on the other hand consumes over 190 MB storage.
  • Google’s lite Mobile Search – “You’ll get all the info you need in a simpler format that’s beautiful and easy to use. Best of all: there’s nothing new to download or update — the lighter version will kick in automatically when needed!”


What is a Low-end, lite bandwidth smartphone customer experience?

Low-end smartphones generally have lower specs and can operate with lower or limited wireless bandwidth (3G or lower), and may have the following attributes

  • Single-core processor
  • Med-res display (LCD/TFT) smaller than four inches
  • No HD video capture
  • Not 4G capable
  • Less than or about 512 MB of RAM
  • Older versions of Operating System

In many markets where demand low-end smartphones are growing, network connections are spotty and unreliable. In emerging markets, data plans also continue to be expensive, and are generally not bundled with voice plans. In these markets, consumers prefer to pre-pay for data and voice rather than sign up for more expensive post-paid plans.  Consumers also prefer to buy cheaper phones outright and the wireless companies generally don’t subsidize phones and devices.

Consumers in South Asia and parts of Africa are beginning their digital journey with their first bare-minimum smartphones. A recent report of “Budget Smartphones in India” advices

“If you are buying a smartphone in India, chances are you are buying something in the budget mobile range and there is huge catalogue to choose from. These budget mobile which are able to perform at par with entry level flagship devices. So, we put together our list of the top budget smartphone in India for February 2017 across various brands. Our Top 10 list gives best options for buyers wanting a smartphone available in a budget. These phones offer the best possible value in terms of specs, features and build quality.”


What does this mean to corporate planners and Enterprise Architects?

Large, multinational companies operating across the globe strive to standardize hardware, applications and platforms that can enable consistent experience for employees and ease of enabling data and integration. While selecting mobile-Apps for use across geographies, they need to factor in two-speed apps that operate in regular mode in mature markets and in Lite mode in developing regions. For instance, if the enterprise chooses MS Skype as the corporate IM standard, they will have to

  • Enable and support regular and Lite versions of the App
  • Design for some auto-detection of geography to change the software mode when an employee travels from a “Lite” to “regular” region or the other way around

Google’s Eric Schmidt highlights this opportunity in a recent interview (link) “The 5 Billion People Without Smartphones ‘Are Just Like Us’. Today there are roughly a billion people on smartphones, roughly 2 billion connected to the Internet, roughly 6 billion on mobile phones. As those phones get upgraded to this world, they’ll participate as well. Now, they’re not going to be waking up to sophisticated alarms and special screens, but the impact on them is even greater than the impact on us.”

Endnote: Software companies have realized the need for customizing Apps for emerging markets. Mobile Apps designed for high-end smartphones that require strong and steady bandwidth don’t work well – or don’t work at all.

Other articles and references:

  • Facebook targets 2G data users with ‘Lite’ mobile appEconomic Times
  • Google Launches Streamlined Lite Version Of Mobile Search Interface For Slower Connections –  SearchEngineLand
  • Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella launches products made in India for IndiaTimes of India

Guest post by Mohan K 

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