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BW Businessworld

Get Smarter In 2011

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It turns out we can't get enough of the products and technologies that made 2010 quite a year for innovation. No prizes for guessing that we're going to hear the same buzzwords in 2011 and beyond. Go ahead and plug your ears if you think phones are just for making calls, tablets are a waste of time or social media is a mindless addiction. There's no stopping trends set in motion. They are phenomenal, long-playing and still unfolding, and all the more amazing because they followed a painful global downturn.

It's not easy to pick one important trend as many depend on one another. But if I were to still isolate one for India, it would be the fact of teledensity surging to 60 per cent, much of it from mobile devices. With mobile firms in a race to offer value to the consumer, there's much to choose from. The best part is people from small towns and rural areas are readily able to afford cellphones and are wasting no time buying them. The mobile revolution that began 15 years ago is still as much of a revolution in India.

Today, people can also connect to the Web "smartly" in ways that actually impact their everyday lives. The Android system is resulting in the democratisation of the smartphone, which crossed 5 per cent of installed subscriber base and 10 per cent of mobile phone sales last year, and will probably be 10-12 per cent of installed base, touching 100 million by the end of 2011. The challenge for telcos remains how to bump up revenues considering that prepaid users make up over 90 per cent of the almost 700 million mobile users here.

Another trend is an increasing familiarity with services beyond voice, especially SMS. At least half the mobile population is familiar with SMS alerts, which are getting more significant in small towns and rural areas. There are rural-oriented services such as Nokia's LiveTools. And there's increasing interest in mobile email. Email support and services, all alternatives to the gold standard of BlackBerry, will take off in a big way, led by Nokia's Ovi Mail. App stores, which took off in a big way globally, have begun to interest users in India, too, and in 2011, we're sure to see this trend increasing — partly thanks to Android phones, but also because BlackBerry, Microsoft, Nokia and Samsung also have app stores.

With 3G having started in India, we should expect to see a lot of innovation around 3G-based services, aiming at the lower segments of the pyramid, offering voice and multimedia services at low prices.

Social networking is another landscape-changing trend. India is among the top 10 countries in number of users on Facebook with 17,288,900 users, according to Facebook statistics online. While that may make you wonder what's so revolutionary about people playing FarmVille and updating status-es, look at what Indian firms do with marketing campaigns, brand building and customer service on the platform. LinkedIn, for whom India is the second-largest member base globally, also has seen amazing growth in the past year with Indians getting very active on its Company Pages, Groups and Q&A sections. Content sharing networks such as SlideShare and Quora have also shown the serious side of social. As for Twitter, we know no news bulletin goes without a mention of it anymore. 2011 should see businesses going beyond flailing in the dark, and experimenting to more practical and measurable activities. We're clearly putting social media to good use. The increasing number of social media consultants will tell you that.

And what of products? The annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and then Macworld in San Francisco will showcase a slew of drool-worthy gadgets, including 83 tablets, says one report. Tablets may make inroads in India in 2011. A lot depends on Apple's plans and when it decides to turn its attention to this side of the planet. People, of course, bring iPads in from Singapore or the US. BlackBerry, Toshiba and others will probably bring tablets to India. And there's the OlivePad. Tablets for the masses is a far cry from happening yet, but certainly tech-hungry Indians will have a range of form factors between smartphones and 10-inch tablets to choose from, and netbooks and e-readers to muddle them some more. The tablet scenario will be fun to watch.

Then there are some trends that aren't. 3D television and 3D everything. Despite expensive television sets and mobiles going 3D, the technology isn't anywhere near mass market ready yet, unless you have more money than sense. But take heart, it will be a gamer's year, a bookworm's year, and we will live and work more in the cloud.
The author is editorial director at Mindworks Global Media Services.

[email protected], @malabhargava on Twitter

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 17-01-2011)