Mention the word “apps” and people will conjure up images of programs that run on Android phones or the iOS platform powering Apple products. However, this year, quite a bit of effort went into developing apps for feature phones.

Most people do not write about feature phones, but Mr Virat Khutal, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of TwistMobile, a company that makes mobile apps, said: “Many people choose platforms based on what is written in newspapers and Android and iOS are usually in the news. But there is a huge audience that is looking for content on feature phones and not getting it.”

This category, he said, includes everybody from the chai wallah to college students, who can only afford phones that cost around Rs 3,000-5,000. Mr Khutal said that in recent times, his monetisation has gone up from $100 a day (though apps are sold in India, carriers bill only in dollars) to around $1,000 a day from July onwards. Most feature phones run on a mobile version of the Java operating system called JavaME (Mobile Edition), also referred to as J2ME (Java 2 Mobile Edition).

Helping developers

While J2ME apps can run on most feature phones, Mr Khutal said that a lot depends on Java Service Request (JSR) implementations. “Nokia is better than Samsung and others in JSR,” he said.

Nokia, well-known for offering a plethora of feature phones, is naturally helping developers to push their apps. TwistMobile currently gets around 85 per cent of its revenues from the Nokia Store, while Nextwave, another company which also makes mobile apps, said that they have got 12 million of their total of 15 million downloads in the last 12 months from Nokia's Ovi Store.

Commenting on why he invests in J2ME apps, Mr Rajendran P.R, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Nextwave, said, “The installed base is humongous.” He said that a lot of users who download these apps have Nokia or Samsung feature phones. His company makes J2ME apps that are free, but have embedded ads that are downloaded over the mobile's Internet connection, and this helps the company make money. “We started doing this only in late November and we are getting $500 a day,” he said.

And if figures released by IDC are any indication, the trend of J2ME apps is bound to continue. While smartphones shipped to India grew by 21.74 per cent in the quarter ended September 2011 compared with the quarter ended June 2011, the real numbers grew from only 2.3 million to 2.8 million.

However, feature phone shipments went up from 39.7 million to 44.2 million, and while this is up by a comparatively smaller 11.33 per cent, developers are enthused by the fact that the requirement for content for these users represents good business for them in the future.

Mobile market

IDC expects the market for mobiles in India to reach 184.4 million units in calendar 2011 and this figure is expected to touch 301 million by calendar year 2015, of which smartphones will account for 77.5 million units, a figure lower than 26 per cent — this means that over 74 per cent of mobiles sold in India by 2015 will be feature phones, not smartphones.

Mr Deepak Kumar, Research Director - Telecommunication, IDC, India, said, “If you look at the market, feature phones are going to be there. This means that a lot of the app development will need to happen for the feature phone, which will be a Java phone. I don't think Java will lose its relevance.” But while this may be true, developers are shifting to lower gear when it comes to J2ME and concentrating more on operating systems like iOS and Android.

Mr Tarun Kumar, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Archmobile, said that he has a staff of 30-35 developers, and 80 per cent are currently working on the iOS platform — this, despite the fact that Archmobile has over 20 million downloads from the Ovi store.

“For iOS, you need to develop high quality games. We have been doing R&D on iOS for over a year and we are going to launch four new games by the March 2012 quarter.” He said that many J2ME users didn't want to pay for apps, so developers had to make money from ads, which doesn't cover the costs for a high end game.

(This article was published on December 26, 2011)
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