Optimizing for the Next Billion Users

One billion smartphones will be sold in India in the next five years, new market research shows. More broadly across emerging markets, smartphone adoption is predicted to outpace bank accounts by the end of the year, opening up an increasingly clear opportunity for more multifaceted financial services. However, a range of technical constraints still hold some users back. Here are three ways to optimize for a more inclusive future.

1. Optimize for network variances

Not all networks are equal – and it is important to design services that account for this variance in quality. Last year, for example, 2G networks represented 83% of all connections in India, while in Brazil 2G networks represented only 32% of connections. To put this in perspective, downloading a moderately sized app can take more than 30 minutes on a 2G network.

Slow network conditions are of course more prevalent in rural areas. A satellite map of India that overlays average connection speeds from Facebook shows this divide between rural and urban areas. This network breakdown plays out more broadly around the world. Globally, while 3G is estimated to cover 89% of the world’s urban population last year, it only covered 29% of the global rural population, according to the ITU. In the end, smartphone offerings need to better cater to these different network constraints, not only across emerging markets but also between rural and urban areas.

Source: Facebook's "State of Connectivity Report 2015"

For example, Opera Mini is a mobile browser that allow users to account for different network conditions by switching on optimization modes, including a high data-savings mode and an extreme data-savings mode. Compared to other mobile browsers in India, Opera Mini is reportedly able to use on average 89% less data and 14% less battery. This has helped fuel its adoption by more than 300 million active users, with the majority coming from emerging markets.

2. Optimize for localized discovery

Traditional app stores will not reach all users. Many would benefit from more localized avenues for app discovery.

The below chart shows the rapid drop-off of download success rates as the size of an app increases, based on data from mobile users in China. This drop-off rate is likely steeper in other countries with more data-sensitive users.

Source: Chart from Lightspeed "Unbundling Mobile App for Emerging Markets" based on mobile users in China in 2014.

This in part has caused app discovery to go offline. An explosion of person-to-person (P2P) sharing apps that don’t use data and often use Bluetooth to transfer apps has enabled this. Apps such as SHAREit have reached over 400 million users, and Zapya has more than 300 million users.

Translation into local languages can also be a powerful way to activate new users in emerging markets. In 2014, when Facebook translated its interface into Swahili for users in Tanzania that previously had been only offered in English, the adoption rate of monthly active users over the course of the year almost doubled.

Indus OS’ App Bazar is a rapidly developing example of a localized app marketplace optimized for mobile-first realities. It offers 12 different local languages for users in India, requires phone numbers rather than emails, and uses mobile carrier billing rather than credit cards. It reportedly has become the “fastest growing regional app marketplace.”

3. Optimize for a range of devices

Mobile experiences that are only built for one type of smartphone device are leaving behind huge swaths of users. In the last two years, the number of Android devices on the market has more than doubled from 11,868 devices in 2013 to over 24,000 distinct Android devices in 2015. This fragmentation of Android devices, as seen below in the visual, has wide ranging implications in terms of screen size, memory, computing power, and battery life.

Data and visual from OpenSignal’s “Android Fragmentation 2015 Report” Data and visual from OpenSignal’s “Android Fragmentation 2015 Report”

Source: Data and visual from OpenSignal's "Android Fragmentation 2015 Report"

Facebook lite is a version of Facebook launched last year focused on optimizing for a range of low-end Android phones and poor network conditions. In nine months, the app has reached more than 100 million monthly active users.

Smartphones can provide a window into the digital world for the next billion users but only if we pay attention to their current reality. Punit Soni, the chief product officer at Flipkart, a leader in India’s e-commerce sector, did just that last year, delivering packages and meeting with the company's users. Afterward he observed:

“It was a revelation to look at the phones… These small, dusty, scratched up devices hold the key to the entire world for these folks. We have to figure out how to ensure a great experience on these phones, even if there is bad network, low memory and small battery life.”

For more resources, examples and information on optimizing for the next billion users, please see the following presentation:



18 May 2016 Submitted by Eric Tyler (not verified)

Hi Ashwin, thanks for reading and the question. At the end of the blog post, there is a presentation with more information including in the slide notes a handful of links and technical resources that might be helpful to your mobile development team. Feel free to follow up with specific areas that you're looking into!

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