Will the Mobile replace the PC in India?

India is in the midst of a mobile revolution. Every month India signs up 8.5 million new mobile users. No wonder all foreign telcos are drooling.

It is safe to assume every internet-PC user has a mobile. About 31 million mobile users are accessing the internet from their handset. These days you get to hear about the 4th Screen, i.e. the mobile replacing the PC. (Mobiles are referred to as the 4th Screen after the Silver Screen, TV, and PC) I have never believed in that theory. I believe they will co-exist and there is a need for both devices to access the internet.

I was glad to read Rajesh Jain‘s thoughts in The Economist,

Rajesh Jain is a true believer in India’s wireless revolution. A Mumbai entrepreneur with fingers in a string of technology start-ups, he cannot contain his enthusiasm for the Apple iPhone he bought in America and “hacked” so that it works in India. But Mr Jain does not believe even the smartest of phones can entirely replace the computer. He envisages a future in which city-folk will have two screens in their life. A smart-phone will provide one of them. And for millions of people, he hopes, his netPC will provide the other.

In 2003 Mr Jain teamed up with Professor Ashok Jhunjhunwala, of the Indian Institute of Technology in Chennai (formerly Madras), to build the netPC. With a third investor, they founded a company, Novatium, that launched the device in Delhi in September. Users buy the box for 1,999 rupees. (A monitor is 3,000 extra.) It runs on a modest chip-set transplanted from a mobile phone. Users switch it on like a TV, and pay 399 rupees a month to gain access to software maintained on a central server.

Mr Jain has tried to learn from the success of mobile telephony. His device is cheap and simple. Indeed, when it was piloted among Chennai families, its simplicity was a bigger draw than its economy. PC veterans can find it hard to appreciate how complicated and intimidating computers have become, he says, accosting naifs with spyware, pop-ups, requests to update this or register that. Prolixity is not alien to India; simplicity should not be either.

Accessing the internet from your mobile is ideal when the data you have to chew and digest is small. I cannot imagine someone searching and analyzing research reports on the mobile. Mobile internet is ideal to get news updates, cricket scores (that way you don’t pay those exorbitant fee to the telcos), weather updates, TV schedule (you could plan on the way home what is that you want to watch on the idiot box).

Oneindia has gone a step further to popularize languages on its mobile portal. Check out Oneindia.mobi. Since the growth in the mobile user base is also from Tier-II cities it makes sense to have something for that section of mobile subscribers. There are few hurdles with respect to fonts on the mobile handsets but it will eventually get resolved. We faced the same problem with fonts on PCs 7 years ago, as the demand increased Unicode became more popular and it works on most platforms today. Same phenomenon will be seen on mobile handsets too.

However there are applications that will do very well on the mobile, for e.g. ‘mobile payment’. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the number of m-payments surpassing payments made from PCs in the coming years as various businesses in India like restaurants, movie theaters, airlines are expected to accept payments from mobiles.

Again, I feel we need both mediums (3rd and 4th Screens) to grow in India.


  1. “very much like the idea of the 4th screen, it’s all about attention these days and about co-existence of available media formats.
    As a fact, there is a German communication scientist named Riepl who formulated a law which postulates that new media never completely replace older ones. Rather some form of co-existence develops which also incorporates new usage patterns that the new media may have introduced.

    btw.: i think there is a mobility revolution going on in Germany also, although on a very different level/scale/magnitude than in India. The saturation levels and infrastructural density is much higher here so the potential for growth is somewhat limited…”

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