One of the keys to succeeding in India is to understand the realities on the ground, and one of these is poor internet connectivity in large parts of the country. Despite the rise in smartphone usage, most users are on 2G networks with low bandwidth. For instance, I have a 3G plan but I hardly get 3G on my phone.
Indian messaging app Hike – 90 percent of whose users are in India – has kept this in mind. It has been constantly innovating with India-specific features to differentiate the messaging app from global rival WhatsApp.
A new feature announced yesterday takes this to a new level. Hike Direct, as it is called, allows users to chat and share photos or even larger files without being connected to the internet – provided they are within 100 meters of one another. What’s more, it’s using a superfast 40 mbps connection. And there are no data charges either because it’s direct and bypasses telecom networks.
Wifi Direct technology
The feature is built on wifi Direct technology that helps establish peer-to-peer connections between smartphones. Once the user chooses the Hike Direct option for a chat, the app pairs automatically with the other phone within a 100-meter radius. The latest version of Hike, available for free on Google’s Play Store, supports this feature. Hike Direct will be available for iOS and Windows next year, says a statement from the company.
This will "redefine messaging," says Kavin Mittal, founder and CEO of Hike.
Made in India
Last year, Hike had introduced another India-first feature for messaging. It converts chat messages to SMS automatically if the recipient is not connected to the internet, either because she’s in an area without internet coverage or because she uses a feature phone. An SMS reply too gets converted to a chat message, so that a chat can carry on between a smartphone and a feature phone.
The ability to transfer files in any format up to 100MB in size is another feature that’s popular in India, where many small traders and businesses use chat apps to cut their communication costs. "The uptake of our new features prove that the market wants more than what has trickled down from the West," says Mittal.
The company says it crossed 70 million registered users last month, but it’s still second to WhatsApp, which is used by 56 percent of internet users in India, according to the latest data.
Hike’s internet-free chat is designed to tip the balance in favor of the local messenger.
A Google app when the internet sucks
Hike is not the only one trying to figure out what works best for apps in India’s internet conditions.
Yesterday, Google India launched an experimental app which will help users in Delhi get travel directions even when internet connectivity is poor. It features timetable information for Delhi Metro trains and buses and directions between bus stops and metro train routes offline. So even when there’s no internet connection, users can still access the information.
This new app is going to reside within Google Maps and is called the Delhi Public Transport App. "Once the app is downloaded, it uses no data for directions’ queries or timetables, even if the phone is online. A small amount of data is used for news alerts (if online, roughly 1 KB each, about once a day) and user-optional feedback (up to 100 KB per feedback report)," an official statement from Google India notes.
Google is betting that a good chunk of daily commuters in Delhi – around 2.6 million people travel by Delhi metro trains – will use the app and also give feedback to the Google maps team.
And here’s the fun part: you absolutely don’t need a Google Play Store account to get this Google app. If one of your friends has it, she can "Hike" or "WhatsApp" you the app by clicking on the "share" button.
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