What Is A Good Mobile Strategy For India?

As the previous post focused on an overview of the scenario for banking applications for Indian banks on Android, I thought it would be a good idea to have a follow-up post on what is a good mobile strategy for your products. Products built also for Mobile Internet in India goes back a very long way. Rediff had a mobile website in 2000 which was marked up in WML. Those days, more than a mobile phone it was a PDA that was the target device and it was a requirement from a product hygiene that led the well-funded companies down that path.

By 2005 the focus had changed drastically from building WAP-enabled websites to leveraging the SMS-based revenue streams. A lot of money and effort was spent on getting ‘on-deck’ with the operators, which was followed by the era of the short-code. Then came the age of the backend service providers such as July Systems who would transform your data into a mobile-friendly format and handle the presentation of it as a managed service. And now we find ourselves in the app era where content and service apps targetting iOS and Android (Blackberry, Symbian and WP being after thoughts) are being released by companies on a regular basis.

For decision makers in the industry this is a very confusing time since there are multiple strategies that could be deployed:

  1. Only web: Ignore mobile and all facets of it due to cost and operational complexities. There are zero cost workarounds possible if you are on WordPress by using plugins that will accomplish this for you. On custom platforms you can use a mobile-friendly template and hope that it renders decently across most devices, or at least devices that are less than 4-5 years old.
  2. Web + SMS: Considering the mess created by TRAI regarding bulk messaging, this is still an evolving scenario, but it is feasible to have an SMS-based operation with a managed service longer short code for a reasonable amount of money.
  3. Web + SMS + Mobile web: This is (2) augmented with a dedicated mobile website, or a main website that detects a mobile device and serves the right format for pages.
  4. Web + SMS + Mobile Web + app: This is (3) augmented with apps that are built for various mobile platforms.
  5. Web + Mobile Web + app: This is a strategy that seems to be picking up a lot these days, with a variant of Web + app.

There is no hard and fast rule that will help you decide which is the best route to pick. There are significant cost and operational complexities that are involved in adding a new target platform. Even with a managed, outsourced service the support needs to be provided to supply the right data, which is just one part of the entire integration puzzle.

Key Metrics:

  1. Cost: Of deployment, maintenance and growth.
  2. Audience: Size, geography, demographic.
  3. Platform: Size, geography, demographic.
  4. Monetization: Ads, subscriptions (current and projected)

Most operations don’t have a good handle on the four key metrics before they jump into the mobile rabbit hole. Of the available strategies (4) is the most expensive and worst in terms of integration issues. Even though apps are the in-thing to do, the costs for development of an application is quite high and in India you have to support the application on at least three platforms to reach out to a demographic who can be monetized a bit better. The NDTV application in Android Market has about half a million as an install base, but most of that came as a result of the app being featured in the marketplace and installs have fallen off a cliff ever since.

A good rule of thumb to use is to not go with apps for content-only websites, unless you can either support a significantly different/superior user experience or if you have content that is accessible only under a subscription. Non-aggregated content apps always stand the risk of being crowded on in the app screens and eventually decay without repeat usage. It is better to stick to having a mobile-friendly website in this case and only switch to an app if you see the demand for it or you have services that work well with an application. You also have to take into consideration that bandwidth is an issue here, even when it is available over 3G.

Service-oriented businesses are better off with a focus on applications primarily because monetization is already built into most online services. For instance, should a Flipkart decide to eventually support e-books, a fully functional (better than the wrapper around the mobile website approach they currently have) application will allow them to ease into that segment. Same is the case with ticketing services. These businesses also have a greater opportunity in providing unique user experiences around their services compared to content-only players.

For smaller shops, mobile applications are best left alone at the moment. There is simply not enough size/support in the market to justify the cost and effort. It is much easier to clean up the mark-up and have a website that presents a reasonably degraded and functional website to mobile browsers.