The Next Billion Users

In 2003, 700million people were connected to the internet (10% of the world's population). In the next 10years (2013), this number grew to almost 3Billion (40% of the world's population). The initial growth was mostly from developed countries. (Link)

From 2000 to 2019, Africa's internet penetration has grown a whopping 10,815%. North America has a growth of just 276%. The US and other developed countries have reached penetration saturation with around 90% of their population on the internet (Link). The fact is clear; A huge percentage of the Next Billion users will be poor, live below $2 daily and will be mobile only.

This raises huge concerns for people building products and expanding into these regions;

The Next Billion will have the worst devices.

In Africa, 83% of mobile subscribers use Android. Only 10% use iOS. In Asia, the same story plays with 83% of users on Android and 13% iOS (Link). Good luck building an iOS app first.

A huge percentage of the devices are second hand, under $50 with less than 2GB RAM, cracked screens and low batteries due to the inconsistent power supply.

Google has recently developed a lighter version of Android called Android Go. The device is aimed at developing countries, providing them with all the features in a full-fledged Android device but suited for the challenges in their locality. These devices are often of lower spec and sell for as low as $50 (Link).

In Asia, 1 in every 3 mobile users (33%) run out of space every day. And when they're pressed to delete apps, which do you think they'll delete first? A 2MB or 44MB app? (Link)

Slowest Internet Connection.

In 2015, 1GB cost 12.5% of the average African's monthly salary (Link). Today data is cheaper, but cost is still high at about 8%. Data is money for people in these regions. They choose wisely, what app is worth their data. They hardly download updates.

As a matter of fact, only 7.8% of Android users in Africa are on Pie (Android 9, released March 2018), while 19% are still on Marshmellow (Android 6, released Oct 2005) (Link).

As a Nigerian, it's common to see people share apps, music, and videos through Xender rather than getting them on Youtube or the Play store. The Next Billion Users have the habit of doing most things offline. In fact, they spend most of their mobile time offline. When they encounter Wifi, which is almost never, they download things they would love to see later.

Things are different in an offline-first region. In the course of minimizing data usage, they turn on airplane mode or switch off their data connection. Designing for these people mean taking offline as a condition rather than an error state.

What would they be doing on the internet?

Pretty much what everyone in the US does. Search(Google), Video (Youtube), and Socials (Facebook). These three services are in the top 5 most visited sites In a lot of NBUs countries like Brazil, India,Indonesia, Nigeria, and South Africa. News sites are also commonly found and in some African countries like Nigeria and Kenya, betting sites are in the top 5 most visited sites.

A huge percentage of the NBUs are young adults who prioritize Social, Information, and Entertainment.

Building for the Next Billion.

I've learned a few things by immersing myself in research on the NBUs and while I'm learning more, I stand on the shoulders of giants and believe most of these findings are close to the truth.

Mobile Only.

Most of these users will never own a desktop computer. They'll never understand the mental model of folders, mouse, and windows. For a lot of them, mobile will be their first and only computer. The earliest internet users needed to understand how computers work, the next billion are expected to own and use devices without being computer literate.

A large percentage of them don't have higher education and might barely know how to read. Interfaces for products have to be as intuitive as possible. Appropriate labels describing what they do and the information architecture designed for people who know nothing about how computers work.

Multiple Languages.

Nigeria is home to over 525 native languages. While speaking the English language is seen as an aspiration, the NBUs are comfortable with their native languages.

Take for example; Hindi is the 4th most spoken language in terms of global speakers, but isn't in the top 30 languages for web content. (Link)

You can hardly design an interface that is natural without speaking a natural language. While Google Translate is doing a great job making content accessible to them, solutions built from the ground up to have to incorporate language APIs.

Localized content.

Most of the technology solution that exists today solve problems faced by developed countries. Bringing those solutions to developing countries will hardly work. Problems of connectivity and information are huge in these areas and a way to solve them is to build products from scratch to solve problems in these regions.

PWAs.

With storage space as a problem for the Next Billion, they use only a few mobile apps. There's a little chance your app will be one of them. Even if it is, it can't be for long (Don't be romantic. You app is never as important as you imagine).

A progressive app allows users to get value from your app without necessarily installing it. They can go to a URL and get things done without sacrificing their precious files. There's lot PWAs can help you achieve in emerging markets.

Behind PWAs, is the concept of Progressive Enhancement. This means providing the best experiences with features supported by the users Device, Ability, and Network while enhancing the experience for users with the best of all Devices etc. The goal is for nothing to break as a result of the users Device, Network or Abilities.

Building with a baseline.

If your site is fast on 2G connection in India, it'll blaze the dust in the US. I've never heard a person say an app is too fast. By building with these constraints in mind, we provide enormously delightful experiences for everyone.

There's a very thin line between ability and disability. Your users in the US can't be on 5G all the time, and if you build for the disabled, you're making the world a better place.