Archive for the ‘Affordable computing’ Category
At ContentSutra‘s mixer last night (Thanks Rafat for organizing it!), I had a rare moment of sudden realization. The mixer was expectedly dominated by media and content big shots and there was a healthy debate on mobile v/s internet as the most relevant medium for distributing content. Number of mobile phones outdo number of PCs in India by an order of magnitude. Just as somebody was talking how PC growth hasn’t been as explosive in India compared to rest of the world, I was reminded of the tag line of Tata Indicom’s latest ad-campaign – aadmi phone leta hai tarakki karne ke liye – A man buys a phone to get ahead in life. Now to most of us, that might seem rather silly. I mean you dont buy phone to get ahead in life or career. You buy it to keep in touch. Well, guess what? You (and yours truly) are wrong. A plumber buys a phone (and Viren from Star TV gave this example) because it lets him keep in touch with potential clients while on the road. A small time trader buys a cell phone because it helps him take orders 24/7. The taxi driver keeps a cell phone so he doesn’t need to keep parked at the taxi stand all the time waiting for the next call.
See the pattern? For all these people, their investment in a mobile phone pays for itself several times over. It helps them in getting ahead. In making money. Full marks to Tata Indicom for hitting the nail on the head – aadmi phone leta hai tarakki karne ke liye! Now, in the Indian context, try to phrase that sentence for the PC – A man buys a PC to….? I am afraid I have not (yet) figured out how to complete that sentence. The fact is that the PC is just not that compelling to the average Indian. It doesn’t make doing business easier, requires electricity to work (which rules out a large number of rural households), is expensive, is harder to use than a mobile phone and requires you to be conversant in English (local language software is still rare).
PCs have been around in India since the 80s. Mobile phones arrived just 10 years back. Its a no-brainer that the PC is a non-starter in India. Its the wrong form factor for the Indian consumer. It serves a niche customer base of upper middle class Indians. It will never be a mass market device like the cell phone is. I had that realization last night . For a software guy (me) that is a wee bit worrisome. But its a also an oppurtunity. Think how the PC can help the average Indian get ahead in life. How does the small business owner use it and improve productivity? Why will a plumber or a farmer or the local grocery store owner want to use it? Answer that right and you have hit the jackpot!
The past month and a half has been the busiest I have ever been. I think I have been working 16 hours a day, 6.5 days a week. Cant remember when I have been this busy before! Hopefully, the work load should ease off a bit next month and I should get more time to blog about what I have been working on But for now its the sleep-work-eat-sleep cycle for me!
What is the busiest you have ever been?
In my previous post, I had listed the obstacles in developing software for the domestic market. Where there are big obstacles, there is a bigger opportunity. India is the 4th largest economy in the world. The Indian economy is growing at more than 6% and there is a growing middle class with greater purchasing power than ever. India is adding 2 million mobile connections each month so there is a clear willingness and even eagerness to embrace technology.
Some innovative solutions have been proposed for the hurdles I mentioned previously. For example, Rajesh Jain has proposed a networked comuting device which would access software residing on a central server. This would take care of piracy concerns and also lower the cost of owning a computer (since the access device will require minimum computing power)
Bringing computing power to the masses is only one half of the equation. But harnessing that power for providing useful applications is even more critical. People are willing to shell out Rs 5000+ for a cellphone and another few hundered a month for rent. Why? Because the utility of a cellphone is obvious. Selling a PC is much harder today. What would your mom use a PC for? Word, Powerpoint or Photoshop dont interest her. But what about a Tivo like application which records her favorite shows on the computer? That might catch her eye. Or a simple electronic medical records software suited for Indian needs might sell a PC to a doctor. A tutoring software might make the PC attractive to teachers.
Clearly there is a whole lot of software and applications just waiting to be written. The question is when will it get written and who will write it.
Since India has the second largest pool of programmers in the world, it is not surprising that a large share of world’s software development happens here. However, even with such an abundance of technical manpower, the domestic market is woefully under served. There are hardly any software packages written primarily for the Indian end user. Companies like Microsoft are attempting to cater to the Indian market by localizing Office and Windows. But that is more of an after thought. Word wasn’t developed with the Indian customer in mind. It is intriguing that there are very few Indian software companies that create domestic software packages. The reasons for this, while obvious, are worth listing:
1. Huge margins in outsourced projects: Serving clients in US and Europe is much more profitable than serving the domestic market. The margins are very high and there is so much business available right now, that Indian software companies can choose to ignore the domestic market.
2. Piracy: Piracy is rampant in India. Microsoft or Adobe can still make profits because majority of their sales happen in relatively low piracy zones like US. However, if a software package was developed only for the Indian market, piracy will kill it no time.
3. Low computer penetration: The target market for domestic software is very small.
4. Even lower broadband penetration: Many interesting applications (voice, video on demand etc) require broadband and always connected computers. Broadband costs are still high and computers are not always on or always connected.
Rediff is reporting that Hathway Cable will soon be offering 512kbps for Rs 250/month (2400 Mbps limit per month. This will actually make dial up more expensive than broadband since local phone calls in India are not free.