App DevelopmentEmerging Tech Prototyping

Google’s Emphasis on the Next Billion Users

I was fortunate enough to attend Google I/O two years in a row now, and based on my experience from last year I knew there were certain talks that I really wanted to attend again this year and one of those talks was about Google’s Next Billion Users.

Next Billion Users is an initiative at Google that places an emphasis on making products specifically with emerging markets in mind. As someone who has family in Pakistan this is something that definitely caught my interest since I have been able to see first hand the difference in how technology is used in developing countries.

With the Next Billion Users, Google placed a huge emphasis on the value of user research in these countries because these users have different use cases than we do here in the U.S. Some key differences include the lack of internet access and data plans, lack of storage on devices, and older devices with smaller screens.

Typically apps and websites are designed and build with the use case of the unlimited data plans or access to wifi and Google says this is not always the case and we should account for other situations, countries, and devices.

“Maybe offline is not an error case but a normative use case.” — Nithya Sambasivan, Senior UX Researcher, Google

This talk highlighted different apps and technology that Google has put out specifically to address needs of users in these emerging markets including Tez, Files Go, and Google Station. Tez is a digital payment app that allows P2P payments using the Unified Payments Interface (UPI). The Tez app has caused a huge surge in the use of UPI transactions due to a cleaner interface, referral offers, and incentives. Files Go is an app that was made to address the problem of users running out of storage on their phones. The app runs through the users phone and makes suggestions on what to delete and is very easy to use.

When doing research in these markets, researchers found that many of these users were not tech savvy enough to go into the file structures and pick what to delete, so this app greatly simplifies the process. The Google team was also surprised to see the adoption of Files Go in Europe, showing that apps can be built for a certain market but also apply to markets in other countries.

Finally, Nithya Sambasivan, Sr. UX Researcher at Google, discussed Google Stations which is an initiative to provide free fast wifi to in developing countries. Google has found that this free wifi is giving thousands of users the ability to come online for the first time ever which is incredible on it’s own.

“Mobile is the gateway to the internet for billions of people now, not the desktop computer.” — Nithya Sambasivan, Senior UX Researcher, Google

It was very cool to see Google’s talk on the Next Billion Users again and see how they did their research in these emerging markets to lead to real products and features for these users. I look forward to seeing where this program goes and Google’s continued emphasis on designing products for all users.

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