Startup trends: China: The “hunt and peck” has given way to the “touch and tap”

I have been spending a lot of time with startups from China the last few months. Reading about them, meeting them and learning from investors, partners and startup entrepreneurs. My intent was to understand what’s happening there that might most likely happen in India in a few years, based on market trends.

Without doubt the area that’s immensely competitive and hotly contested is mobile applications. With a large number of Internet enabled smartphones and a ARPU that’s nearly 2-3 times that of Indian consumers, it is a ripe area for innovation. I had a chance to talk to over 300+ entrepreneurs at GMIC in Bejing.

There are 3 major trends that I found particularly fascinating that I think will have some impact in the Indian ecosystem as well.

1. Messaging. Similar to Indians, the Chinese use a lot of messaging. SMS and text messaging have largely given way to messaging applications like What’s app clones in China. I was surprised to learn that the average Chinese user has a minimum of 4 messaging applications and most have close to 10. That struck me as overkill. Then I looked at my own phone and I was surprised that I had a lot of “inboxes” on my phone. Skype, What’s app, SMS, Lync, Yahoo messenger (to chat with my sis and brother-in-law, who are die-hard Yahoo users), Google talk and finally Facebook messenger.

2. Twists on messaging: There was one app that I saw that only had 2 icons and a Send button. The 2 icons revealed 20 to 30 standard messages but with icons instead of writing. Imagine they are “shortcut icons” to “How are you”? or “I am happy” or “I am late”. That’s it. The entire app was built on top of simple messages represented by icons.

It struck me that the hunt and peck of the laptop / notebook has given way to to the touch and tap of the mobile.

The amazing part of this app was that it supported folks that were not “literate”. Which is a large problem in India, given that only 20% or less of us are multi-lingual.

So an icon for “What’s up” is the same in Gujarati, Hindi, Bhojpuri or Tamil. Language barriers solved. Awesome.

3. Purpose built messaging instead of one size fits all. Tom wrote about unbundling of social networks and I think that’s what’s going to happen to messaging as well. Right now we are all happy with What’s app, but its ripe for disruption. I can imagine a couple just using a I love you messaging app to send sweet nothings to each other in 100 different ways during the day. Or two college buddies swearing at each other all day on their Galli De messaging app, just for fun. There’s another Chinese messaging app that’s just a blank canvas screen for people to message drawings to each other.

I’d love to get your perspective on if you have more than 1 messaging app on your phone and if you’d download and use multiple purpose built messaging apps.

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2 thoughts on “Startup trends: China: The “hunt and peck” has given way to the “touch and tap””

  1. Great Insights. My colleagues & I were recently discussing about an app that allows ‘trash talk’ as it happens in games – kind of similar to the ‘Gaali De’ app mentioned here šŸ™‚

    My thoughts on the language issue:: The need for local language interface cannot be over-emphasized for such services to go mainstream in India. Purely icon based ones would either be a fad or a niche. And it might not be enough if the messaging app alone is in local interface. The whole device (the OS) needs to be in local interface. I feel sad & guilty every time I see an English-illiterate Korean/ Japanese/ Chinese using a computer / mobile phone so easily while people in our country struggle.

    The biggest reason for lack of PC adoption IMO is the non-availability of native OS support of Windows for a long long time (not sure if there is a Hindi version of MS Windows even now). While there has been other factors like affordability that affected PC adoption, no such thing exists for phones (even Smartphones). So if the mainstream Indian public do not use their (smart)phones for anything beyond voice & occasional texting, there is nothing else to blame.

    We need multiple efforts to get Android in several Indian languages. One of those efforts is sure to produce a good version with proper translation and so on (without writing the English string in the local language alphabets or with words that are not in daily use). Robosoft had released a Hindi version of Android about an year or so back. I do not think it took off. Nor have I heard of other such attempts. We see local language messaging apps like PlusTxt, Quillpad and local language IMEs like Sparsh but they remain only to people who know English but want to communicate in other languages also, not for people who do not know English.

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