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Airtel's India's first mobile app centre- A case for Open Apps - Did they miss a trick or two here!

Airtel in India launched a massive advertising campaign today for their India's first Mobile Application centre today. It has been in a soft launch mode for some time( 4 months) and Airtel claims there have been over 13 million downloads, over 71,000 apps and compatibility of these apps with over 780 devices.

Airtel is looking at this  App centre as a huge value-addition to their current customers.

How do consumers benefit?

  • If am an Airtel subscriber, I can download a host of applications from the app centre for a price.
  • If am new subscriber, may be some of  the apps look so interesting that I may want to prefer them over competitors if I need a new mobile connection.

The questions really for me are as follows for a mobile phone service provider w.r.t to Mobile Apps:

  1. Do Apps for a mobile service provider increase stickiness?  Am not so sure as yet with these applications. If for example, Airtel had an App which constantly analyzed mobile tariffs based on  current usage and recommended the right tariff & savings, it would be far more subscriber-centric and valuable. This can lead to better retention, higher usage and lower churn. Also, not to mention strong word-of-mouth that it would generate. 
  2. Is it just a buzz or is it truly differentiating given that fact that many consumers are still not GPRS/WAP savvy in India.  The jury is still out on this. Sure there will be a select few who could be interested but adoption is quite critical for widespread success of mobile apps.
  3. What about non-Airtel subscribers? I am a not an Airtel subscriber. I tried to download the app and it denied the download . Would it not be far more beneficial for Airtel to have "Open Apps" compatible with any device. This can in fact become a "valuable lead"  for them as I could use it my Nokia or LG or Samsung or Blackerry Phone and also serve as a strong branding & communication platform. This is new world of mobile marketing. The key really here is that they lost my lead once the download was denied.

I am strong advocate of Open- Apps especially for Mobile Phone service provides and even device providers. The walled gardens need to break down. In fact, opengardens one of the top 10 mobile blogs do believe this trend is coming soon.

Imagine what OPEN-APPS, could have done to Airtel:

  1. Why 13 million, what about the rest of the 100-200 million subscribers who are looking for an app to support their mobile lifestyle? Airtel automatically becomes a mobile service provider of choice - a preferred brand.
  2. Imagine the millions of device owners who could have an Airtel App - It is a great branding and customer marketing/advertising opportunity that is waiting to be tapped.
  3. Imagine the mind-market leadership that Airtel could gain out of this. It's quite incredible.