Internet giant Google’s search for next billion users in markets like India is picking up pace. The latest in a series of apps launched by the company is an app called Datally, that gives users control over the mobile data they consume and also helps them find public Wi-Fi sources.
The app, which went live on the Play Store today, lets you view the amount of data consumed by other apps on the phone and also lets you turn on or off data usage within those apps.
“In next billion users market, people are data constrained in many ways… people will buy data and worry about how much is left, how much is used,” Peeyush Ranjan, the vice president of engineering for Next Billion Users initiative at Google, told FactorDaily in an interview on Tuesday.
Ranjan, 43, has just joined back Google to head engineering for the Next Billion Initiative after a stint as Flipkart’s chief technology officer in 2015.
The name Datally, is a play on De Talli – Hindi for High Five. The idea is to target data conscious users in countries like India, the Philippines, and Nigeria.
The case for the app is simple: A gigabyte of data would cost you about $2 or under Rs 140 a month or even less in India. But a majority of Indians consider this expensive and use data sparingly. Which is why free public wifi is a big hit in the country and people turn off their data packs when not in use.
To be sure, smartphones already have inbuilt data controls for apps. The new app, however, gives users more control over the data consumed by their devices. It can shut off data completely or for a specific app. While you are on another app, a bubble shows you how much data the app is consuming and user can toggle data usage there as well.
The app also scans for public wi-fi near a user and displays them. After using the wi-fi, users can rate the experience so that it becomes useful for other users.
The app was tested for the last 3-4 months in the Philippines and nearly “half a million users,” have saved about 30% of mobile data, says Ranjan. Google is experimenting with ‘data backs’ there — a concept like cashback; only here, users are paid back in data. App makers will be able to give rewards to users in the form of data.
To launch this feature in India, Google will have to create a marketplace where app makers can work with telecom service providers and give users data rewards. These negotiations typically take long. It will also have to navigate the thorny issue of net neutrality.
“It’s not in the launched product and there is no plan for it to come anywhere in the shape it is right now,” said Ranjan.
The new app comes close at the heels of two other apps– a payment app called Tez and a file management app called Files Go— launched by the Internet giant in India in the last 3 months under its Next Billion Users initiative. Google also launched YouTube offline and YouTube Go, the video streaming site’s attempt to reach data-starved Indians; and Google Station, that offers free Wi-Fi at Indian railway stations. It has also heavily localised Search, Maps, Android and AdWords.
Google already has seven products which have more than a billion users already. This includes Chrome, Maps, Youtube, Search, Play and Android. But the company believes that the next billion users will come from solving problems for users in countries like India.
The Mountain View-headquartered company has identified the lack of access to internet and web products as one of the major problems it needs to solve in markets like India to grow. “Since broadband internet is hardly available to the larger population of India, the consumption of data and content is extremely limited to either just music or offline video or audiovisual data through SD cards,” says Osama Manzar, the founder of Digital Empowerment Foundation, a Delhi based non-profit that works for digital inclusion of marginalised communities.
Google’s new products aim to solve the access problem. “If you solve these problems, you can take these solutions and apply them worldwide,” said Ranjan who used to head Google’s India engineering in 2010. The company has already done this for Youtube and Maps where it launched offline features in India and took them to markets like the US and Europe.
“There is, in my view, a Silicon Valley blindspot. That is why with things like Next Billion Users initiative at Google, we are building technology which we know is meant for these markets. When we solve it, it brings those technologies to the world,” says Ranjan, who graduated from IIT Kharagpur in 1995 before heading to the US for further studies.
How will the Indian consumer internet market shape up in the future? “One can’t predict what will happen in the market. But as people get access to information, their quality of life goes up. On top of that access, needs like entertainment, education are taken care of,” Ranjan said. Companies such as Coursera and Udacity say their biggest user base is in India.
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Disclosure: FactorDaily is owned by SourceCode Media, which counts Accel Partners, Blume Ventures and Vijay Shekhar Sharma among its investors. Accel Partners is an early investor in Flipkart. Vijay Shekhar Sharma is the founder of Paytm. None of FactorDaily’s investors have any influence on its reporting about India’s technology and startup ecosystem.