In India, this was the year when the smartphone really caught on. Partly because prices dipped, and party owing to the app frenzy that persuaded users to discard their old feature phones and go ‘smart’.

As far as Internet usage goes, for the first time ever, the number of mobile Internet users surpassed desktop Internet users. Despite the digital divide, India, with increasing 2G/3G penetration and Wi-Fi in cities, did not entirely buck this trend. In fact, a Google survey indicated that the number of users accessing the Internet through mobile phones in India surpassed numbers in the U.S.

The app space saw rapid growth, and of course, Android with its Free and Open app ecosystem, by far led the pack. The focus appeared to be around Internet telephony and cloud services, not to mention a plethora of multimedia and productivity suites. Though paid apps are yet to make inroads here, we compile a list of segments in which the app ecosystem thrived in the year that was.

Internet telephony

SMS turned 20 in 2012. But this was also the year that services and apps such as Internet chat came along. Among these successful apps is WhatsApp.

Up until now, Internet telephony was not a big success, primarily because it required users to be identified not by their phone numbers but different identities created on the service provider platform — best example being Skype, where users are required to have a Skype account.

WhatsApp, however, once installed on a smartphone, accesses the phone book and allows users to message, send files and multimedia to any other user who has WhatsApp installed using the phone number. The experience of using phone numbers to send messages, even to international numbers with no caps on the number of messages or worries of rentals or tariffs — barring, of course, the common data charges for Internet use — had the young user hooked. Viber took messaging using the Internet to the next level, that is, to make calls. It too uses phone numbers, but transports traffic on to the Internet — Voice over Internet Protocol.

Users can make free local or international calls, and of high quality too with 3G networks. Indian subscribers might have to wait for some more time for the 3G subscriptions to become more affordable to tip off the local call charges. But on Wi-Fi networks, it works way better. Performance-wise, however, Viber still has some way to go, especially in providing a stable experience.

Cloud

The promise of the cloud — of take your data wherever you go — appeared to find its real mobility link with smartphones and tablets.

This year, Dropbox, the most popular cloud storage service, and Google Drive released their mobile apps. The Google Drive app also allows users to view, create and edit documents and spreadsheets on their mobile app. Another interesting and popular offering in this segment is Evernote, rated by Google as one of 2012’s top apps. It is a comprehensive organiser with reminders of tasks and ability to jot notes as text and images. The feature enhancement brought by Evernote simply is the integration of cloud. Evernote allows users to create notes and push it to the free Cloud account it provides.

Entertainment

Rovio’s Angry Birds, despite new releases, Space and Star Wars, seems to have lost a bit of steam in 2012. The Indiana Jones-style explorer defeating “demonic monkeys” in Temple Run, finally arrived on the Android platform in 2012, and was lapped up eagerly by gaming enthusiasts. As the year draws to a close, Temple Run tops the gaming charts.

Another chart-topper is Instagram. Though weeks after acquiring it, Facebook messed up the large picture a bit (with its proposed dubious licensing terms, which drew some flak this month), with its unique use of digital filters to edit photographs and easy sharing it is still among the most widely used apps.

New technology apps such as QR code readers and Google Goggles also remained popular. In India, in the last few months, we have seen more marketers using QR codes at window displays or advertisements and hoardings.

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