Lessons Learned On App Design For Fast-Growth Markets

Editor’s note: Alan Mamedi is the co-founder and CEO of Truecaller. He is based in Stockholm.

One of the typical mistakes developers make is thinking that because
they’ve had success in one corner of the globe, they should be able to
employ the same strategy to drive adoption elsewhere. The truth of the
matter is apps that are wildly successful in the U.S., Europe and Japan
often fail to gain substantial traction in areas like India, South
America and the Middle East; these problems go well beyond simple
translation issues and lack of cultural understanding.

Something I faced when speaking with our early investors was that
they sometimes could get too obsessive with the Western world and
overlook the high-growth markets – often referred to as the “next
billion markets.” That was a challenge for us, as our growth and data
were pointing to the developing markets, and the VCs were pointing to
the developed markets. It was a difficult choice for us to make, but we
followed where the data pointed. Today it has shown that it was the
right path for us to take in order to grow fast.

If your business is facing similar questions and app success relies
on international expansion, here are a few things to keep in mind if you
want to compete and win over the next billion consumers:

Stop Building Just for “Ferrari Phones”

Mobile app developers usually have a top-of-the-line phone or tablet
like an iPhone 5S or a Galaxy S5. This is the device they use their app
on day-to-day, but it’s not representative of how most of their users
are experiencing their product or service. Lower-end phones are much
more commonplace in fast-growth markets than they are in the U.S. or
Europe. For example, smartphone penetration in India is only 13 percent, compared to 56 percent in the U.S., according to Google’s Our Mobile Planet study.

The takeaway here is that you should not create an app that just
works well for a small percentage of potential customers. This is the
equivalent of automotive designers only focusing on their company’s
top-of-the-line cars, rather than what most of their customers are
driving.

It’s important to pay close attention to the types of devices that
reside in the hands of a majority of our users. Truecaller’s app, for
instance, often runs smoother on low-end Android phones in India and the
Middle East than the operating system itself. Simply maintaining a
quality experience – rather than one that chugs along and takes forever
to start on most phones – can do wonders for audience retention and
repeat usage.

Think Small When it Comes to Design

Bigger doesn’t always mean better. It’s true that phone screens are
getting larger in the U.S. and Europe, though in many countries, smaller
screens still have a powerful hold. According to Google,
85 percent of U.S. smartphone owners have a phone with a large display
(iPhone size or larger) – compare that to Brazil, where just 61 percent
of smartphones have a large screen, or Indonesia, where only half of
smartphones do.

Although it may be tempting for designers to utilize all the extra
screen real estate, this shouldn’t be done at the cost of the user
experience. Designers can be too eager to cram their UI with fancy bells
and whistles, leading to an ugly, awkward layout for those looking at
it through smaller screens.

Much like programming for low-spec phones, accounting for a small
screen size is key to improving the overall customer experience.

Don’t Take Data for Granted

Americans and Europeans love to complain about their cellular data
caps of a few gigabytes a month, but the situation is far worse for
those living in countries where prepaid plans dominate. Prepaid
customers have to be extra conscious of their mobile data when every
extra megabyte means a higher phone bill. In India, as an example, users
often turn off cellular data on their phones to prevent apps from using
it in the background.

This is very much in contrast to the average Western developers who
typically build their apps with the assumption that their users will
have a constant Internet connection, even if the core functionality of
the app doesn’t require one. This is a recipe for poor adoption. In
fact, Google’s data
shows that only 43 percent of Indian smartphone owners use a Wi-Fi
connection for their smartphone at home, while nearly three quarters of
Americans do.

This may sound limiting, but there are ways to use this to your advantage. For example, Bollywood music streaming service Saavn
gives paid subscribers a feature allowing them to save songs on their
phone to play when they don’t have access to data. It’s an effective way
to reach the widest possible group of users while still giving them the
most value from the service.

Seek Out Carrier and Device Partnerships

Only a few years ago, original equipment manufacturers paid license
fees to app developers to develop for their smartphones. But today,
partnering with carriers and OEMs in foreign markets can be a major boon
to all involved. For app developers that don’t have a great deal of
brand recognition outside of their home country, joining up with a
well-known local brand can be an inroad to reaching millions of new
customers. App placement has become real estate developers need to fight
for. With a robust partnership, carriers and OEMs can differentiate
their increasingly commoditized phones and cellular services and your
app gets exposure to users you otherwise might miss out on.

Developers across the spectrum have successfully increased their
worldwide user numbers by working with big local firms. For over a year
in India, Nokia’s low-cost Asha line has featured a dedicated WhatsApp button and a free lifetime WhatsApp subscription. Evernote accelerated its international expansion by offering a year of premium service to Vivo cellular subscribers in Brazil. Bubble Motion
has long partnered with Asian carriers to bring its service to feature
phones, which represent a large majority of its audience. Coordinating
with device makers and operators is essential for maximizing audience
reach in fast-growth markets abroad.

Examples abound of apps becoming more successful by being more
accommodating. WhatsApp didn’t get its colossal user base just by
targeting those with the latest phones. Word Lens,
a translation app recently purchased by Google, owes much of its
popularity to the fact that it does not require an Internet connection,
making it perfect for international travelers. Similarly, VoIP service Rebtel was able to create an entirely new revenue stream by launching a mobile top up service Sendly,
which gained widespread appeal in India by addressing the mobile minute
transfer needs of customers in a country where prepaid mobile plans
dominate.

To fast track your app for success, do not simply pay attention to
making it the most sophisticated app in the category. Rethink your app’s
design for approachability and maximum reach. Most importantly, make
sure you have conducted extensive user testing to identify and work
around major consumer annoyances that can inhibit your app’s growth,
virality, and reach.

IMAGE BY Shutterstock USER Catmando (IMAGE HAS BEEN MODIFIED)

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