Charvi Bulyan, four, can navigate her mother’s smart phone to not only find her favourite games but also download new ones. This leaves her father, Manjeet, a tad uncomfortable. “The phone might be affecting her social interactions. Till some time back she would enjoy playing with other children. But now she tries to get away from them, so she can play games on the mobile,” he says.
Manjeet, a Nokia user, is in a shrinking minority. Most of the others are happy to surrender themselves to the mobile phone. Its uses are many – it can be your timepiece, calendar, calculator, navigator, reminder device, notepad, source of music and camera all rolled into one. As 22-year-old Hardeep Kaur, project manager at a Gurgaon-based IT company, puts it: “My day begins and ends with my mobile.”
You will find many Hardeep Kaurs anywhere you go, if you took your eyes off your phone – there is a good chance you are reading this on your mobile -- and looked around. What do you see? People peering into their phones while travelling in trains, cars, autorikshaws, strolling in shopping malls, having a meal with family or friends (it’s common to find everyone around a table looking at the phones, not at one another), at tea shops, while crossing the road, and, of course, at work. A large number of those phones are smartphones, with large touch screens and internet.
The part about the internet is especially significant. Unlike many countries in the West, such as the US, and far east, such as Japan, most Indians are embracing the internet on the mobile, not PC. The country has 371 million mobile internet users; the first six months of this year added 65 million, says Internet & Mobile Association of India.
“The phone alarm wakes me in the morning,” continues Kaur, “after which I spend some time texting or calling people or checking WhatsApp. Then I go for a run, during which I listen to music on my iPhone. Through the day at work the phone is indispensable. And then at night I am again chatting, playing games or surfing the Internet on my phone.”
Surveys say India now has more smartphone owners – 220 million -- than the United States. Other surveys say people tend to get depressed if they do not get to see their phone for some time. When they are on the phone, they live in it: working, shopping, calling a cab, looking for directions, socialising, reading, laughing, crying, falling in love, and breaking up.
“My mobile has an eight-megapixel camera. I don’t own a separate camera,” says Kolkata-based techie Arijit Nag, who social media posts are often of photos taken on his mobile.
There are other uses, of course. Probal Banerjee, 65, uses his smart phone for phone-banking and paying his household bills. Ananay Batra, 18, finds hissmartphone a huge help in his studies. “There is an app called meritnation. It connects one with teachers and helps discuss answers,” he says.
Meritnation is one among thousands of apps that help you do a variety of things from using a bank account to getting a guy to come home to make your old shoes look new.
Not that websites are dying. Apps are great because they provide dedicated customers, but they also occupy space and memory on the phone. The ‘uninstall rate’ for apps is as high as 90%, according to Gurgaon-based mobile analytics platform Uninstall.IO.
“We cannot afford to lose the consumers on Google search,” says Varun Khaitan, co-founder of Urban Clap, which provides all kinds of handymen at home. To online furniture seller Urban Ladder, the expanse of a PC website is critical. Says its co-founder Ashish Goel: “A five-inch screen won’t throw up the required impact of a large sofa set or a double bed.”
For some services, such as hailing a cab, there is nothing like an app. But app or website, there is no getting away from your mobile phone, and no denying that ours is a smartphone nation.