For two years running now, India has been the centre of the Android app ecosystem. Lured by data plans and smartphones that keep getting cheaper, hundreds of millions of Indians, many online for the first time, are glued to their screens.

In 2018, Indians downloaded around 18 billion Android apps from Google’s Play Store, according to app analytics firm App Annie’s The State of Mobile 2019 report, up 165% over a two-year period. It’s not slowing down anytime soon either, with the current 430 million smartphone users making up less than 40% of the total number of mobile subscribers in the country.

India has been the world’s number 1 Android market for two years and the foreseeable future – excluding China, which does not allow Google’s official Play Store for Android apps to operate (Android apps downloaded in the country are via third-party stores).

But Naveen Tewari, 41, the co-founder and CEO of InMobi, a mobile advertising company headquartered out of Bengaluru, sees things in a different light.

“Apps are a problem, like Yahoo from 1998. In essence, they’re just ‘links’ to web pages. And while millions of them might exist, most of us use just two ‘pages’ of apps on our phones, of which 5-10 we use frequently,” he says.

Coming from the CEO of a company built around mobile advertising, including within apps, what he says is borderline heresy. Or is it?

The average Android-using Indian has close to 70 apps installed, of which she uses roughly half. Which is why there is often a huge variation between an app’s downloads versus its daily or weekly usage.

Take TikTok, the video app that’s currently sweeping through Indian smartphones like a virus. According to mobile analytics company Sensor Tower, over 250 million Indians have installed the app on their smartphones to date. But the number that uses it on a monthly basis (or monthly active users, MAU) is just around a fifth of that at around 52 million. And those who use TikTok daily (daily active users, DAU) are even fewer, at 22 million.

Which makes what’s about to follow quite surprising.

“In February, we crossed 26 million DAUs. And by the end of 2019, we will be somewhere between 75-100 million,” says Tewari.

By “we”, Tewari is referring to Glance, InMobi’s massive new bet on moving up the mobile food chain. Glance is an Android lockscreen service that today comes pre-installed on devices made by Samsung, Xiaomi, Vivo and Gionee. These together form close to 65% of all new smartphones sold in India.

Glance is surprising and contrarian because:

  1. With 26 million users, it isn’t even an app
  2. Which means it bypasses Google’s Play Store entirely
  3. In an age of user-generated content, none of its content is user-generated
  4. Lastly, Glance is a B2C (business to consumer) product built by a B2B ad-tech company, which says it will not run ads on it.


Rohin Dharmakumar

Rohin is co-founder and CEO at The Ken. He holds an MBA from the Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta and an engineering degree in Computer Sciences from the R.V.C.E., Bangalore.

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