First amongst Equals- What the UCWeb Flipkart move spells

Indian startup unicorn Flipkart recently announced that it will offer Flipkart Lite to users on UC Browser. The announcement coming as it did after a lot of debate, was a tacit admission that going app only was not a sound business strategy. While a native application may have its relevance in the overall digital ecosystem, a mobile website is an important tool for business and cannot be overlooked. Flipkart partnering with UC Browser will help them tap the larger untapped users in the ecosystem even as it saves the overall cost of acquisition that an app only strategy will have brought on its balance sheet.  A large percentage of Indian users are experiencing their first internet use online, about two million users are only key pad literate. Mobile browsing is an essential facilitator and for new users coming online an integrated browser specially one with rich content gives users the both comfort and an immersive experience.

Why is a mobile website important and what does it offer that an application does not:

  • Instant information: Mobile website offers instant access to the user and saves the cost of customer acquisition, which may have been prohibitive in an app eco system. 
  • Compatibility: The information on a mobile web site is device agnostic and a single mobile website can reach users across many different types of mobile devices, whereas with applications the business has to invest in developing a separate version for each type of device. Further, a mobile website URLs are easily integrated within other mobile technologies such as SMS, QR Codes and near field communication (NFC).
  • Instant upgrades: A mobile website is much more dynamic than an app in terms of pure flexibility to update content. If you want to change the design or content of a mobile website you simply publish the edit once and the changes are immediately visible.
  • Findabilityand Shareability: Mobile websites can be found easily and they can be shared between users and publishers. The pages are displayed in search results and listed in industry-specific directories, making it easy for qualified visitors to find you. The best part is that a handset user visiting regular web site can be automatically sent to your mobile site when they are on a handheld (using device-detection).
  • Reach and Life: Mobile web sites have broader reach and long life as they are accessible across platforms and available on regular searches, where as an application if its not unique or useful (or both) will have a limited life on users phone. In a market like India where a generation of users has grown up using Mobile handsets to surf internet and access information, this is mobile equivalent of McKenna’s gold.

The Indian mobile ecosystem is at an inflection stage at the moment. Consider the statistics, Indian Tele-density recently crossed 1 billion users. The number of smartphones users in this 1 Billion is around 100 million, which means that around 900 million mobile service users still use basic handsets. The fixedline connections are on a decline and traffic is mobile, with most users owning more than one connection.

The Mobile internet usage stands at 306 million currently, on a tele-density of 1 billion people that’s around 30 per cent of population.However, India still remains one of the fastest growing internet market in the world. The number of internet users is expected to reach 500 million by 2017, out of which 400 million will access it through their mobile phones.

Put simply, as many as 70 per cent of Indian mobile phone users access internet through technologies like Wireless Application Protocol (WAP). An IDC study points that India saw sales of 100 million smartphone units in 2015 recording the fastest growth across the globe. Which means that,WAP usage is not a long term phenomenon, but by any yardstick it will be a fair to say that India is at least two decades away from becoming a smart phone nation. Till that happens, WAP site or mobile website serves as first interaction point for a business like Flipkart to reach out to over 800 million users who still don’t own a smartphone. And from daily needs, including, clothing, electronics, stationary, gadgets, tools, appliances and accessories and upwardly mobile and connected India browses for information and choices over the web.

Role Of A Browser

Now that we have established that WAP is the gateway to web for a majority of Indian mobile phone users. Lets’ also explain the significant role of a browser in this ecosystem of making choices and saving time and money.

It is no secret that every browser uses data compression to offer better browsing experience. Everybody does it with varying degree of efficiency. But when data is at a premium and browser compression becomes a critical factor in determining the surfing experience, the simple logic is better the compression, better the speeds of downloads.

Browser services use a host of measures to do this, from archiving, using cloud servers to creating smaller packets of metadata.A look at theStatcounter statistics for India tells us the logic behind Flipkart’s move. UC Browser is India’s most used mobile browser. It is rapidly gaining popularity across the Asian subcontinent and although the user numbers aren’t available for their browser service, a cursory look at their home page tells us why the browser is gaining consumers’ attention.

Better compression technology and a successful content aggregation model of business ensures that it has become one of India’s favorite browsers.

And Finally

A mobile web strategy therefore made a lot of business sense for Flipkart. Budget phones still dominate the mobile phone ecosystem in India. These devices have limited capacities, in terms of memory and the user is usually unwilling to accommodate more than 2-3 applications as they consume memory. A large proportion of handset owners are trying mobile shopping for the first time and need to be guided. The browser value proposition therefore lies in the loyal user community that a browser weaves for Flipkart with the content that it offers. A win-win partnership for both.

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