This one is going to be a series of posts because I just realized that the outline itself is too long. Well that is also because I have notes of about 8 sessions to share after all. And that’s why each part in this series will be notes and learning from few sessions.
I had gone to attend the Google Developers #SolveForIndia conference here in Mumbai on Sunday, September 16, 2017. I got a chance to attend such an event after a long time. So I was excited and looking forward to this one.
The experience was good. It was not boring at all, like a lot of times such conferences and event tend to become. So let’s not bore you and get to the point. Here’s the list of sessions I attended:
- Welcome Note & Panel Discussion on Solve for India
- Designing for Indian Users
- Building for Billion Framework – Android
- Building for Billion Framework – Web
- Evolution of Identity Framework
- Power your solutions with Firebase
- Building for Google Assistant
- Closing note
#1 Welcome Note & Panel Discussion #SolveForIndia
So what is the Solve for India campaign all about? Good that you asked. Smartphones in general and mobile apps specifically are reaching new and new customers everyday. With every set of customers that are getting added, there are many factors that are going to change how apps and smartphones will have to be designed and developed.
What works for America or any other country for that matter will not work for India. We will have to know the audience we want to serve and build smartphone interfaces and apps to suit their consumption patterns and habits. We have to create apps specifically for the Indian consumers. We have to create the solutions to India’s problems. We have to Solve for India.
How is India different? We are not an English-speaking country. English is not the language of India. English is a foreign language. We have 23 official languages, 122 major languages and 1599 other languages. Those 23 official languages have more than 1 million speakers each and those 122 major languages have more than 10,000 speakers each. English is one of the 23 official languages.
So if I put this in perspective, you are never going to be solving for the whole of India with your app or smartphone interface in English only. Also, this is just the first hurdle in solving for India! Seriously, there are more things that I will share in the first session’s notes.
So summarizing what can you do if you are looking at building an app, product or service for the real Indian consumers:
- Build local language interfaces for getting more users to use your app.
- Don’t just rely on the UI that you can see. Make use of voice based interfaces. Use speech recognition.
- Use language translation / transliteration tools instead of people for translating your app UI and content, because understanding the context of translation is very important.
- You are wrong if you think only Tier I cities like Mumbai, Bangalore, Delhi and others have the purchasing power. Tier II, III, IV, V and VI, they all have purchasing power. The real problem is to become worth their penny. (Most Mercedes and similar cars are in fact sold in cities that are not Tier I, for example Kolhapur & Surat).
- Do not use the UI made for English language in another language. Re-think the UI for every language you want to support. ‘Kids’ category on a shopping app, if directly used could mean to a Hindi speaking users like they can buy Kids from your app. And I’m sure you don’t want that! 😀
- Payment systems can become another barrier. Provide the option for COD. Not everyone will have a Credit or Debit Card. Or even if they do, they might not have enough trust to use them online.
- Allow user to sign up using mobile number and without an email id as well. Not everyone has an email id. But they do have mobile numbers.
- Think of SMS based notifications instead of internet based notifications.
- Indic language support is only available on devices with latest Android OS v6 and above.
- Focus on building an emotional connect. Understand your user and tailor the experience around their usage and not the other way around.
- If you are a developer, make sure you know what Unicode is otherwise if Joel Spolsky catches you, he’ll punish you!
- No. Only English and Hindi are not enough.
- Do not go after adding support for all of the 23 languages at once. Maybe you don’t need them all. Evaluate your target audience. The languages that you need, perfect them one at a time.
- Talk to real people. Validate your idea, UI early on. Ask, listen, and make changes based on user feedback after the app is published.
Some examples of apps that have a good indic language support:
- UC News
- Google Search in local languages
- Panchang (Lunar calendar) apps
- Khabar lahariya
- Gboard – Google Keyboard
#2 Designing for Indian Users
This talk by Faiz Malkani highlighted the factors other than just language that you need to take care of when designing experiences for the Indian users.
- Why is it important to know and understand that the Indian user is different? Remember the Hyundai Santro? You definitely would have seen it or even sat inside it. If in the 90s, Hyundai didn’t research and understand the Indian user, they wouldn’t have realized that India was looking for a replacement for the Maruti 800, and that was the opportunity and problem to solve. They did it and the Santro was a huge success for Hyundai in creating its presence and market share in India, leaving the 800 behind.
- What is the Indian user like?
A smartphone is the first computing device for a lot of people. And most of these devices are low-end devices. Almost 90 to 95% of India is on a Prepaid connection. They pay for their data. Data is like currency for them so they will want to spend it wisely. And that’s why they will not update the app frequently too. Also, in order to use data, the network is not so great. Most of them experience a flaky internet connection and only few have access to WiFi. A majority of India is in fact still on 2G. Most of the Indian users speak just one or two of the many Indian languages.
- Learn from YouTube GO. They understood the challenges and thus did the following. The app shows upfront how much data will be used for downloading a video. Data is more important than quality. It also allows the user to let the download be scheduled for when the phone is connected to WiFi to avoid using up the Indian user’s limited data pack.
- Low end devices mean low memory: Allow your user to install or move application to SD card. Low end devices also mean low color contrast support: use material design patterns for better clearer UI. Low end devices means low battery capacity: make battery optimizations, memory optimization in your apps. Also older Android versions.
- Flaky network connections and sometimes the user will turn off data. Design for offline usage. Test in airplane mode. Even if your app requires data, engage the user when offline. Don’t just show a message saying there is no internet connection so the app won’t work. If you do this, there is a high chance of your app getting uninstalled.
- Positioning your app and Pricing it right. Allow the user to try before buying the app. Localize the content. Use relatable images. Think of what a user would be ready to pay for your app based on how much data the user will be spending to download and get the app running (in case it has to download a few things more before the first run). Make Instant Apps / Progressive Web Apps (PWA) alternatively.
- Test your product with real users, early on and often.
- Further resources:
I’ll continue with my notes in the next post in this series! Subscribe to my blog if you want to get an email when I publish the next post. I don’t like spams too!
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