The new entrants to the world wide web are usually relegated to suffer a dumbed down limited version of the internet thanks to hurdles in access, affordability or language barriers. But we have been getting this bit wrong. The next billion users will need a very different internet because they have never been exposed to the world of desktop or laptops and are more comfortable with video than text. This will be the challenge for companies like Google and Facebook who will now need to get more people online in geographies like India and Indonesia to increase their own user base.
Caesar Sengupta, Google’s vice-president for product management and the ‘next billion’, says that while the term next billion has existed in the industry for a while, Google started a formal effort to this end only about 18 months back. “In terms of computer history, we are at a point of very interesting transition where users are moving from desktops and laptops to smartphones. You and I started using a desktop and laptop, but all the new uses are coming online from mobile phones. We see all our future growth come in from users on mobile phones,” says Sengupta. He should know, for Google already has seven products with a billion users.
Google has been noticing that new users have unique set of behaviours and characteristics. “They will be from countries like India, Indonesia, Nigeria and Brazil, they will be young, they are all on smartphones, they are generally not exposed to laptops and desktops, they are generally on slightly constrained devices in terms of specs, they are on constrained networks, they have relatively less disposable income so they way they think of data and buying services and content will be different,” explains Sengupta, adding how the focus is on building the right products and services for these users.
These users will be clearly different, and their expectations will be different not just from the constraints of the device, but also the fact that this a computer that is in their pocket all the time wherever they are. “So the way they think about computing is changing because of the different dynamics of the smartphone in their pocket and part of it reflected in our products like YouTube Go. We start thinking about how to take videos offline, but when we spoke to these users we realised there is actually an opportunity to create an experiences that is catered and specifically tailored for these users. You are seeing this across a number of our products,” says Sengupta, who was in New Delhi recently for the Google for India programme.
Having grown in India, he’s against companies saying this is for the west and this is for India. “In our definition of when we are building products for India, we think it has to be customised experience for these users. It is really about building the right kind of product for the right types of users and their needs.”
In fact, a lot of stuff that Google made for the Indian market and its conditions are now doing well globally. For instance, Maps Offline, Chrome Offline and YouTube Offline were all global products developed for India first. “We will see a lot of this kind of innovation because Indian users are so extreme mobile-only-users that it will force us to build the right kind of feature sets for them.”
The other big push that is coming from Google in bringing down the language barrier. Already, Google Voice works very well in Hindi and users only have to spell out what they want and not bother to type. Also, given the importance India holds for Mountain View, a lot of new features like smart replies and knowledge graph-based search results will be rolled out in India soon.
In fact, new products like Allo and Duo have become as or more, popular in India as in the US. With Duo, a simple video calling app based on phone numbers, Google seems to have kept the Indian use-case in mind and the interface is as simple as possible. Your mom can now call your sister in the US with a simple tap and no other settings to bother about. That might just work.