Mobile, Startups

Outlook 2015: Mobile Apps in India V/S China and US

Mobile Apps IndiaThree things that have become essential for daily life in India are English, mobile phones and Internet. Mobile Internet is not only a commodity but a lifestyle, it changed the way people communicate (Whatsapp), travel (Uber), order food (Zomato), stay (AirBnB), date (Tinder), study (Udacity), shop (Flipkart), protect their privacy (Leomaster) etc.

Every business is connected with the consumer through Internet. It will be interesting to look at the comparison between India, China & US in reference to mobile internet market.

MAU (Monthly Active users) from Chinese mobile apps of Q1 2015 v/s Monthly downloads from India and US in October 2015

  1. IM (Instant Messaging)

Across the markets of India, US and China, IM tops the chart in terms of both the monthly downloads data and Monthly Active Users. In China, Wechat and QQ (used mostly by teenagers) hold a monopoly with 1 billion plus MAUs and downloads. The Chinese Twitter (Weibo) has 94 million MAUs, which makes them the third most popular app after Wechat and QQ. Not only this, but MOMO, a Chinese Flirting IM has almost 55 million MAUs and also they have listed themselves in NASDAQ last year.

However, the Indian IM market shows a deep diversification with multiple IMs in different segments. IM is a strategic product for Internet companies, which has been showcased by Whatsapp and Tencent by building a large user interface in China. Considering the nascent stage of mobile Internet in India, there is still potential for a new entrant.

image (10)

As we know, Wechat and Line failed miserably, millions of dollars were wasted on marketing. It is the signification of the logic that mobile apps carry cultural attributes, not simply a technological product. Something that works here may not works there. Hike is a good attempt while Jio chat is also showing high trends.

Interestingly, in US market, people are more open to trying new products. Instagram and Snapchat have now joined the top four IM players with Facebook Messenger and Whatsapp being the top two. Some new IMs have also shown traction, like IMO and True Messenger from Sweden.

  1. Video Apps

In both China and US, video apps category are positioned at number 2, whereas in India, it is on top 10. There might be a couple of reasons for it.

  1. Internet download speed is the slowest among the countries we surveyed below. Metric is a combined download speed with mix of WiFi+2.5G+3G+4G. Similarly, among Wi-Fi+2.5G+3/4G, the share of WiFi is only 16% compared to over 60% from 2G.
  2. The number of video content providers is low at this moment. The cost of cloud hosting of video content and the CDN cost are astronomically high. One might need the more data for the dedicated line and terabytes of cloud storage and a lap sum CDN cost for user to download video.
  3. The ‘License Raj’.  Unlike China, since the beginning, there is no free video content in India due to the strong adherence to the intellectual property rights; no bootstrapped entrepreneur can attempt to challenge any media mammoth by pirating their videos. This is one of the reasons that is limiting the growth of video market
  4. The monetization challenge- big brands shy away from using online videos as their primary marketing platform owing to the fact that the number of viewers are less as compared to TV.

Suggestions: It is a chicken and egg situation; video for sure will be the top necessity on the Internet, the advertisers will finally choose this platform and advertise, as with the advent of internet speed and hardware of smartphone, user will choose to watch videos with their mobiles on the way to company, in the toilet. Let us wait and see which deep pocket investor will come forward to pour money in this segment, and when

  1. eCommerce

This trend is universal with interesting insights to share.

In the last ten years, China has become more stable, since the consolidations have happened already; the bad experiences can be avoided by India startups. US, however, did show some advanced techniques for India to mimic.

Taobao has become an all-in-one platform with its huge user base , is lucky to be competitive with their differentiation. JD was initially an appliance and electronic item B2C seller. They have also built a significant logistic system which facilitates same day deliveries within city and the other day intercity. JD has become an alternative eCommerce platform for Chinese consumers who prefer quicker delivery and verified authentic products. is another online outlet. They have listed themselves on NASDAQ and seem to reach the ceiling after a rapid growth in stock price in the last few quarters. is a cosmetics platform, whereas Beibei is a platform for mothers to shop products for children. 

For women, eCommerce is a lifestyle. It is a reactive responsive behavior like what they do with makeup everyday.

Remember there are hundreds or thousands of companies have attempted to become something in china’s ecommerce market have failed with the investor’s money and entrepreneur’s efforts goes in vain. Reason being that in eCommerce it follows the equation:

Customer Life Value (CLV) should be greater than Customer Acquisition Cost. 

For this reason, marketplaces like Alibaba and Flipkart tend to do better than vertical eCommerce portals. Nonetheless, Women-fashion, baby products, cosmetics and lifestyle, are the best categories when it comes to vertical eCommerce.

eCommerce in the US has a new star- ContexLogic. As its name suggests, this company has a few eCommerce platforms like Wish, and Wish Local, Geek and Mama, whose collectively combined downloads are more than that of Amazon. They make recommendations based on AI and machine learning. Another area eCommerce firms should work on.

  1. Photography apps.

Yet another ‘made in China’ but popular in world example.

In China, there are mainly four or five of such apps. They collectively own 82 million MAU whereas in the US and India, such as apps remain top 3 with a number of them being photo editor, photo frame, photo collage, photo frame etc.

  1. Browsers.

Such an app holds more popularity India and China than in US. A browser has two distinct features, which appeals to the Indian users.

  1. It compress the data in the browser’s server, which saves the data for users for swift the internet surfing
  2. It provides a navigation page, which aggregates the vertical content for users where user get an all-in-one interface for all they want namely- music, video, news, shopping, cricket etc.

Browsers India data

In this arena, UC Browser has established a strong foothold since it was one of the first movers. Their “Surf it fast, Surf it all” positioning has made them famous. With the acquisition by Alibaba, it’s having an even stronger back end and support. It is the most popular browser in India.

Opera versus UC; the gap is broadening day by day. UC has a tie up with and is going into the untapped rural market.  UC’s success shows a down to earth attitude by the Chinese mobile Internet companies, whereas US counterparts would prefer more innovation and stay in cloud. Like O2O, US Internet Company doesn’t recognize its importance, while BAT in China have poured billions of dollars, fully engaged in competing for.

Looking forward, browser will be a significant product. The domain would see more serious players. Apart from UC, there will be three to four local players to share the market. Eagerly looking forward to see it happening.

  1. Security apps

image (12)For all the tools, mobile security is the one that has a technology barrier. Even in China, the total MAU for the security apps is 178 million. The demand for security apps has been generated by 360 security with their TV advertisements.

There is enough reason to believe that the demand for security apps is inflated with advertisement. Entrepreneurs should be conscious in entering into this segment.

  1. Affiliate Apps

These are the unique, indigenous, low technology but high adoption apps which request users to try other apps for accumulating points to exchange for talk time.

Such apps collectively had 6 million downloads in month of October in India. Increasingly, a lot of Internet companies have started to try this way of monetization.

Such apps have features like:

  1. Self promotion. They go viral with recommendations by friends.
  2. Since the listed apps are paid app installs, these apps can generate revenue after paying the users.

As Peter Drucker once quoted, “no one can avoid the temptation of discounts and free”, likewise, no one should avoid the opportunity of acquiring users at a low cost, especially when it is done without effort.

  1. Locker and Caller Apps

Locker app include screen locker, app lock, photo and video vault, caller apps etc. These apps neither have a strong demand in US nor in China. It might be due to cultural disparities and usage scenario. Their popularity show appetite for privacy in India. There is a company called Leomaster that has become popular with more than 100 million users till date, worldwide, with most of them based out of India.

  1. Digital Wallets

Digital WalletsFor every entrepreneur, one of the most significant considerations is to build a business that is profitable. Digital Wallet companies are making money, because their business revolves around transactions itself. Alibaba owned Ant financial’s valuation which surpassed Xiaomi’s $45 billion to become one of the most valuable unlisted Chinese tech companies today. Ant financial owns the behemoth Zhi Fu Bao , the Chinese dominant digital wallet with 112,549,000 monthly active users. In India, Paytm seems to be on track. It is worthy to note that several companies like Didi (Chinese Uber) with $15.8 billion valuation might eventually turn digital wallets into a “bank” for monetization, means they will make users to deposit monthly, and utilize the short parked money for generating more money.

  1. Music Apps

Music is among the top three content based apps chased on the internet. However, it has its own limitations. The biggest one being, its inability to accommodate advertisements. It is extremely difficult to show ads on music. When people listen music, they don’t look at the screen. So, only way left for music apps will be to have a value added approach. Hardly anyone subscribes music in India. Mostly, people download music from pirated sites for free. Therefore, charge for the better quality music and keep it free only for the basic.  

image (9)

Music is huge market, according to a research, 83% of young Indians feel that music is a very important part of their lives. 90% of young Indians prefer listening to Bollywood music and 99% of young Indians use their mobile phones to listen to music

Looks like this market can’t be played by small fish.  In China, Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent all have their music apps, though they monetize from their other lines of business. For them this is a intermediary for ad hoc the huge users to somewhere of their property where monetizing users is easy. Or simply a brand building process to let user appreciate.

If content is monopolized, the content producer can build his or her own platform, channel, tools, and hardware and transform the landscape again. That is also the reason for the upstream integration becomes the necessity in the mobile industry. While apparently India mobile market has not reach that stage.

  1. English

English has become such an important thing, without which a decent job can’t be even dreamed of. Without English and mobile and Internet, life is incomplete in India.

image (16)

The immediate opportunity for mobile Internet will be for the 1 billion people who don’t have English as their first languge. English learning, dictionary service, testing prep, translator, tutoring, those are good direction go. This market will be one of the fastest growing segment in leveraging with the smartphone speaker, camera, screen and internet or the convenience, immediacy and so on, a perfect combination of technology and life. A list of them just shows the seriousness and to satisfy your curiosity    

  1. News

India is on rise; the transformation that mobile Internet carriers is to eradicate information asymmetry, hence news apps should be on high demand.

Few directions for India news startups

  1. Recommendation with personalization, the challenge remain with the script which create difficulty for machine learning
  2. Multiple language, with diverse language used in India, English only will be a limitation to reach broader audience
  3. News that carrying on entertaining value will be on high demand, like Bollywood gossips

News should be a low hanging fruit for India startup to access; we will see more burgeoning in this domain.

  1. O2O (Offline to online)

O2O concept was born in US and gets flourished in China and thereafter in India. The funny part is that when Meituan made a road show in US, it failed. As investors there does not seem to be convince by the crazy cash burning exercise in china. That comes from the difference between US and China, India .

  1. In US, retail are more branded, scaled, organized, you will see only Starbucks as the means of Coffee, where in china and India, there is x,y,z, a number of them
  2. In China and India, if gas station makes money, then there will be four more c gas station, US per se may have convenience store, or fast car service opened nearby. It means there is significant amount of same but different shops for use to select
  3.  America’s business environment is established, no one would want to have a   new shop and a coffee or even a donut, as it won’t be accepted. The below graph shows the download with regards to the famous brand.  
  4. China and India are on the contrary, they at the early stage of retail and economic uplift. There is still a need of few offline to online platform to connect consumers with the business.  Here with a graph for the O2O for food, O2O for groceries, O2O for doctors, O2O for rooms.

image (14)O2O business exists in the environment of India and China but doesn’t guarantee the success for everyone. In fact, eventually only few can survive after consolidation, the ecommerce rationale holds true here as well, they won’t be a platform only for food ordering. Users cannot have different apps for different purpose. That doesn’t make sense. The shark will not allow the small players on the market; they will consolidate the market one day. Again the investor’s money and entrepreneurs’ endeavour will go in vain again.


  1. Tools apps are still an easy bite for the entrepreneurs, among those, browsers, photography, security, affiliate are good direction to work on. But mobile startup opportunity leaves you an opportunity to be in, but it doesn’t not provide a proper exit for you. You can use investor’s money to start, and you should end up with charge on user or monetize your user, but such a scenario is really difficult. Tools application better to be localized with the real daily needs to be fulfilled, take for example of flashlight in US, it secured 3.6 million download per month, you may feel, what! America is a dark country? In reality, those flashlight are localized with SOS blink and more amber light to shine more further when outdoor, yes, outdoor usage is what unique in US. Hence a localized tools app is a real innovation.  

  3. eCommerce & O2O are the two segments where entrepreneurs should have a extra caution before venture. These markets are for crocodile, like what Max Ma used to call Alibaba as Yangtze crocodile in comparison with the Shark eBay. And please avoid the known mistakes, how about an idea of building an eCommerce portal for men, come on! Men are not the type of recurring buying users; a belt can be used couple of years.

  5. Content production or Content recommendation is the golden egg.  We shall realize that content is the ultimate thing that users are looking for on the Internet, service shall be fulfilled offline, product will be used in person. Only content can be consumed online.

Looking at the India mobile app landscape. It is still at nascent beginning with the primitive infrastructure and just-opened economy. With the lessons and experience from Chinese market and US’s innovation and technology, the mobile market in India is just incredible. More to expect!

Disclaimer: This is a guest post. The statements, opinions and data contained in these publications are solely those of the individual authors and contributors and not of iamwire and the editor(s).

Image Source

Have content to share? Share with us for review