An Inquiry Into The Impact Of India’s App Economy

With close to a billion mobile subscribers in India, around three-quarters of the population have access to a mobile phone. Mobiles are arguably the most ubiquitous modern technology in some developing countries, more people have access to a mobile phone than to a bank account, electricity or even clean water. In India mobile communications have been the most visible manifestation of the extraordinary digital accomplishments seen in the past decade— from providing basic access to education and health related information to making cash payments to crowd sourcing- the growing list firmly establishes us as a ‘mobile first’ economy. Legacy communications systems i.e. fixed line access have been virtually supplanted by mobile systems in India and in the rest of the developing world, as opposed to being supplemented by them in richer countries. Not surprisingly therefore many mobile innovations—such as multi-SIM card phones, low-value recharges and mobile payments— have acquired the soubriquet of ‘reverse innovation’, having taken root in developing economies and spreading from there. Our work shows that new mobile applications that are embedded in local realities have a much better chance of success in addressing development challenges compared to applications transplanted from elsewhere. In particular, locally developed applications are much more likely to address existential concerns such as digital literacy and affordability, among others