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Chinese far ahead of Indians in internet use

world Updated: Mar 17, 2017 22:12 IST
Yashwant Raj

The Chinese have consistently reported rates of internet and smartphone use that are at least triple that of Indians, according to Pew Research Centre.(HT File photo)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi might be as cyber-savvy as President Xi Jinping, specially in their use of social media, swipe for swipe, but his country and people continue to trail far behind China in internet use, almost three times less.

At least 71% Chinese either use the internet occasionally or own a smartphone compared to only 21% Indian, according to a new study published on Thursday by Pew Research Centre, which has been tracking internet use by the two Asian rivals since 2013.

Defining “internet use” as occasional use of the internet or owning smartphone, Pew said “the Chinese have consistently reported rates of internet and smartphone use that are at least triple that of Indians”.

And it found that trend unchanged in a study ending 2016.

The study showed the gap mirrored the “broad economic trajectories” of the two countries. China, wealthier of the two by gross domestic product per capita, surfed more.

The number of Chinese making between $10.01 and $20 jumped from 3% to 18% from 2001 to 2011. Over the same period, Indians making that much grew from 1% to 3%. And the China’s GDP was over five times of India, said Pew.

More Chinese bought more smartphone thus. Nearly 7 in 10 (68%) of them owned one in 2016, compared to 2 in 5 (18%) Indians. That gap narrows substantially for basic mobile phones — 98% Chinese own at least one, to 72% for Indians.

This could be one of the reasons why Apple tends to view India as not among its top-line countries when rolling out their new devices — iPhone7 and 7plus was launched in China on September 9, 2016 along with the US, Japan and others.

It missed the second launch on September 23 as well, which included Monaco, Poland, Qatar, Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Slovakia and plenty of others. India’s turn came on October 7, for a solo launch and Apple didn’t explain, of course.

China and India, reported Pew, also had a wide gap in social media usage. Six in 10 Chinese told the surveyors they used social media, compared to only 14% Indians, which was caused almost solely by low access to internet.

They tended to use more social media if they had more access — two-third Indians with net access used social media, so there you are. But even in this race, the Chinese were ahead — 84% with net access used social media.

How about the cost of a smartphone? Or internet access rates? Speed? Would social media platforms in Indian languages help? Would Twitter-like sites or Facebook in Hindi or Assamese or Telugu or Bengali help?

The Chinese have their own hugely popular Sina Weibo, a mix of Twitter and Facebook in Chinese with 282 million active monthly users jabbing away at their devices in 2016, to Twitter’s 310 million and Facebook’s 1.86 billion.

Who knows. But this Pew study is a story of opportunity that has stubbornly refused to go away since the research centre began tracking the two Asian giants in a war of clicks, taps and swipes in 2013.