During this trip to India I’ve lost track of the number of apps that I’ve used. On reflection, pretty much my first act on emerging from Arrivals was to buy an Airtel – local mobile’ provider – SIM.
So with data safely in hand we have Google Maps, GMail to keep up with business/reservations, GooglePhotos, Facebook, WordPress (Blog), WhatsApp for our little travelling circus plus keeping in touch with the offspring and Granny Pat. Dammit, I even used the device as – hold something solid folks – a phone. Y’know, for like, talking.
In 1994 we traversed the subcontinent armed solely with a copy of The Lonely Planet guide to India.
But in these enlightened times, our evening unfolds thus:
Where are we eating? Let’s have a look on TripAdvisor.in. (Some great overly picky reviews on there BTW.) At the restaurant “How was your dinner?” My dear Mr Patel at the Jaipur Hawk View bar. Fear not sir, I will write a nice review. Thanks for your card and asking me to do it. Yes, I heard you the first time. No, no, I won’t forget. Then, how are we getting home? Abdul Najim has given me his card and we SMS him as we pay the bill (where we could use an app to settle up). He’s then magically waiting outside. (Damn right he is, we pay multiple rates of local punters and I sense we’ve made his financial day/week with our clueless haggling. Although it grates when he enquires “when you are leaving?” and then informs that it’s an appropriate time for a giant tip. 10/10 for chutzpah. Minus several out of ten for rubbing your customers noses in it.)
Our train travel is digital too, albeit slightly less successfully.
Foreigners book travel on Cleartrip and I have an account on IRCTC which we could use to show the ticket inspectors. (Feedback on those apps: once your tickets are issued, they don’t auto update with any train schedule changes, which kinda negates the point of an app right? Might as well carry a paper copy and be done with it.)
And the above are merely a flavour of a (digital) foreigner about town. What of the locals?
A quick Google – obvs – reveals a plethora of “The top X killer apps for the mobile Indian.” Yet instead of considering them technically/functionally, I am struck by what it says about the present/future. In the UK we seem to have fallen for Amazon et al. Yet here the lack of infrastructure blocks adoption of some click-to-physical activities. Such as a nationwide delivery service to usurp the postman. (For now.) I am quietly bewildered with the way in which India has leapfrogged/dispensed with/ignored/bypassed stuff we grapple with in Europe.
Paying for stuff. Why visit the bank or carry cash when you can use an app? You’ll be needing a UPI squire.
Food. Get it delivered via the Zomato app or book a table. Uber your ride.
Landline? Hundreds of millions of people here have ever had one. And never will. They don’t need to use the phone as a telephone either: use it for VoiceOverIP. IE: Calling via the web on WhatsApp/FB Messenger et al.
The “Top 50…” app listings by category includes camera, entertainment, productivity and then a whole bunch of stuff that I’m unsure what they are for… The fact is everyone has a mobile. The tuk-tuk pilot blaring his horn – normal Indian business – as the seemingly prehistoric loping bullock cart ahead baulks us.
There’s something momentarily surreal about the scene as the ‘cart driver in filthy overall, barefoot, red turban skew-if turns and we see that he’s on a call. Probably to his (Indian) stock broker.
What kind of phones can people afford? Smartphones everywhere. Every flavour except iPhone unless you’re a) a tourist or b) showing off your bling/excess disposable income or c) both.
Finally, there’s the ubiquitous, overt and covert selfie culture. The blonde team members were stopped and asked how many times for a photo? In 2012 it turned our son into an 8 year old rock star, it’s even more established now. I am curious to imagine the “holiday snaps” conversation. “Who’s the big bald fellow?” “Oh, just some random white guy.” Then there are all the no-permission selfies a la paparazzi. Annoying, but only as a buttoned up Brit. Indians and their relationship with personal space is, to put it mildly, different.
I feel like a mere amateur with the technology. And that’s coming from a guy who – in a former life – was a technical trainer for the world’s (then) biggest PC manufacturer.
India marches on regardless with us trailing in their wake…
Or am I just, well, old?