Recently, we were approached by mobile Internet department of a major Pakistani telecom player. They were looking for developers which could develop targeted apps for Pakistani users. The reason behind is simple; 3G is just around the corner, sooner or later, telcos will have to launch 3G services, and as a matter of fact, they will not spend money on old and out-dated 3G technology, the licenses on offer include 4G spectrum and we will see service offerings of HSDPA and LTE. These services are known for fast Internet speed, nothing else. You don’t need 3G or 4G for sending SMS or making a phone call. This essentially means that telcos will be spending huge infrastructure money on making high speed Internet accessible for everyone. This also means that primary return on investment will come when users will be actively involved in using data intensive applications and always on – will have a true meaning, watching Youtube videos while riding your school bus will go mainstream!
We are primarily focused on International market of course as our parent company is in UK and most of our apps are iOS based and targeted towards US or European customer base but again we took a chance and spent our month of Ramadan in developing a religious content app with the intention to validate Pakistani apps market. There are few interesting stats we collected on the way. I will list them down here first:
- As anybody would guess, Android is the key player here and 70% to 80% smartphones here belong to Android.
- The explosion of Android belongs to local (read Chinese) players, such as QMobile, Samsung is on 2nd or maybe even at 3rd place now.
- Unofficial statement from QMobile says that they now sell 150,000 Android smartphones a month while market sources say that this number is around 50,000. This is a single brand number and is huge in both cases!
- There are a few local apps developed by local indie developers (you can easily guess that they are indie by looking at icons or content of the apps). Download numbers of such few apps are in literally millions, regardless of their quality.
- Compared to iOS, Android users are quick to download and subsequently uninstall the app provided if they don’t like it. A major reason of that was memory issue, prior to QMobile, the key smartphone in this market was Samsung Galaxy Y with only 50Mb of free memory, that means you can blow your entire memory in 10-15 apps and can’t download the likes of Facebook app which on average take 32Mb space. However, with advanced phones, this issue is now going away and you can forget about this in 6 months from now.
- Another issue is of Android version number which is now going away as well, most phones now run on 4.0 and above.
- There is a huge Pakistani diaspora, they need same local apps in some cases, they are always connected, mostly using Samsung S3 or S4 and because they reside in Saudi Arabia, UAE, UK and USA, you can make better money by serving banner ads to them.
- Our app is on 31st spot in Audio and Music category with average 200 installs per day which implies that 20th ranked in Top Free is attracting at least 3000-5000 installs per day.
- As per my own estimation, we won’t take 2016 to replace feature phone market with smartphones, we will do it much earlier. Most of Nokia N series and E series users will go on Android as soon as next year.
There is obviously a problem of Monetzation here (which is why we don’t see much investment in this sector), however there are few options now available. We are using AdMob, luckily our Islamic religious content is also valid in India and let’s say if it take 1000 Indian banner impressions to make $1 then with Pakistani banner impressions you will need at least 2000 users to make same amount of money.
Keeping all these stats in perspective and looking at our own success, I looked at Top Free Charts on Google Play store; the easiest way to enter in a market is to look at trends of that market, what people are downloading? is the very first and most important question to ask. Google Play store works on IP and if you are in Pakistan, you will automatically see Top Charts of Pakistan or you will need to use proxy with a Pakistani IP to see these charts (maybe use distimo or appannie for same purpose?)
There is only one trend to spot. Yes, there is a Quran Android app, a dictionary app, local maps app, songs app but as you scroll down, you start spotting what’s in majority here, Sex! .. Slightly disturbing but I am old enough to know the cause of it. It was same in Pre-Facebook (or should I say Pre-Orkut) era. There was no Youtube, no websites to download songs, mIRC and MSN were primary source of communication and rest was the same as you see in Google Play store today. Today, all of us are broadband users (no need to dial a line with noisy modem just to get 2Kb of speed), we have better access to education, many of us now watch US television drama seasons, many of us watch movies and biographies of Steve Jobs, people from Plan9 present their startup accelerator in every university of Punjab, there is a TiE cup happening with a top prize of 1 million Pakistani Rupee, so, why our apps market which is expanding at a rate of at least 200,000 local customers per month, is living in dark ages of 1999 and 2000?
There is a very simple answer to above question: Lack of local apps! Majority new users are first time smartphone users, they certainly need to know more productive use of their phones. We need to find ideas (which are in abundance, there is an app for nothing in Pakistan’s case) and then work to develop them. At this moment, in my experience, you don’t need to go all out and spend 6 months on developing something, just make a 3 activity app, upload it, see the traction, if organic downloads are more than 100 a day, bingo! Go for updates. Ideally, this number should be 200 a day as that is where it will start making sense and you will be able to spend money on a designer and a few rupee on marketing, continue doing this and in the process you will see a big enough idea and big enough user base to capitalize on!