It’s no secret that global smartphone usage is on the rise. In 2015, TechCrunch predicted that in five years there would be 6.1 billion smartphone users, overtaking the number of basic fixed phone subscriptions.
The mania for the newest phone may be leveling off in mature markets like the U.S. and Europe, but in emerging areas, things are just getting started. In 2014, Central and South America were among the largest markets for new smartphones worldwide, with more than 109 million phones sold in the region. In 2015, India surpassed the U.S. to become the world's second-largest market after China, with 220 million users.
As smartphones continue to become available to more and more people around the world, app developers can — and should — position their products to appeal to an increasingly global audience. Billions of new users will be signing up for data plans by 2020, and Asia Pacific, the Middle East, and Africa will account for 80% of those subscriptions.
So how can developers increase the likelihood that their app will be a hit on a global scale?
Incorporate Culturally-Specific Features
From a logistical point of view, the varying language, cultural, and geographic differences between emerging markets around the world are what make them so challenging for app developers to break into. While English may be commonly spoken in international business communities, there are thousands of languages and dialects spoken around the globe that an internet or app user might prefer to use on their personal smartphone. App developers who pay attention to the linguistic needs of the markets they enter will have set themselves up for success before they even start designing their app.
Additionally, cultural habits that determine or impact how groups of people will use their smartphones shouldn’t be ignored. While email might be the most common method of business communication in the U.S., WhatsApp, WeChat, Path, and QQ are just some of the apps preferred for business communication in Indonesia and China.
Consumers also tend to prefer apps tailored to their cultural specifications, even if the app would be considered a “copycat” of an American version. This might explain why Snow is so much more popular in Korea than Snapchat is; the app incorporates culturally-relevant features, and is effectively tailored to an Asian audience.
Build an App for Utility
As mentioned above, India is already the second largest smartphone market after China, and its base of 220 million is only expected to grow. According to Investopedia, utility apps were the second-most downloaded category of app in India, Brazil, and Indonesia in 2015, indicating that the future of app success (especially in undeveloped markets) lies with those that help consumers efficiently access affordable goods via digital payment interfaces.
This is especially true in markets where budget smartphones are popular. These devices, while less expensive, don’t offer enough memory or battery life to support the functionality their users expect. Utility apps that conserve battery life, block viruses, and optimize phone speed programs — capabilities that come standard with smartphones — are sure to find success in markets where budget phones are popular.
Take the Maximalist Approach
In the U.S. market, simple may be better, but in other parts of the world, smartphone users are looking for the app that can do it all.
In China, for example, Alibaba, Baidu, and Tencent (China’s three major internet companies) have competed to create a single app with as many features as possible. Paul Mozur explains that this might be attributed to the fact that the country skipped over the personal computer and credit card era, diving headfirst into smartphones. Already, more people in China use their phones to “pay their bills, order services, watch videos, and find dates than anywhere else in the world.”
The app WeChat, launched in 2011 by Tencent, epitomizes this concept perfectly. The app is “Whatsapp, Twitter, Facebook, Paypal, Shazam, Viber, and Uber, all combined,” writes Manya Koetse. Similarly, Alibaba’s Taobao app crams features like grocery shopping, online gaming, and coupon and deal hunting together.
This maximalist approach isn’t reserved to China exclusively. Nimbuzz, the Netherlands company now based in New Delhi, has an app that enables users to make phone calls, instant message, play games, share files, and network, all for free. KakaoTalk does the same thing for South Korea, while Japan has LINE. These days, when international smartphone users download an app, it’s not for simplicity of use or design — it’s for multifunctionality.
So is the extra research and positioning worth it, you might wonder? As mature markets continue to stagnate, the answer may ultimately be “yes.” As Saad Munir writes, Australia and the U.S. have already “become extremely saturated and are increasingly expensive to operate in. Yet, countries like China and India are filled with financial opportunity.”
Are you ready to #makeanapp for the global marketplace? Get started building your worldwide brand with AppMakr today.
(Imaage Credit: Pabak Sarkar/Flickr)
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