Thanks to Amazon, now anyone in India can have ‘Internet’

Bullish on India.
Bullish on India.
Image: Reuters/Abhishek N. Chinnappa
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E-commerce giant Amazon is going all out to get Indians to access the Internet—and its own website.

The Seattle-headquartered company has launched ‘Internet’, a data-light mobile web browser for Android phones that promises to be “extra small,” allowing for ample storage space on phones. The app also promises data privacy at a time when concerns over companies collecting consumer usage data are on the rise.

India now has the second-largest internet user base in the world, thanks to the availability of cheap smartphones and mobile data services. However, Amazon contends that a low-data consuming browser will allow users to get more internet access for the same cost.

“The Amazon Internet app is designed for Android smartphone users in India. It offers a small application size so users have storage for their favorite videos, music, and other apps, and it requests few permissions to maintain the user’s privacy,” an Amazon India spokesperson told Quartz. “Specifically, it is a lightweight, webview-based mobile browser, offering increased bandwidth savings, a small application size and reduced page load times,” Amazon said.

Amazon’s browser also provides “news, cricket, and entertainment from top sources right on the home page,” and will support ads, according to the app description on the Google Play Store.

The launch of the new service comes just as Amazon is pushing hard to reach more Indians, and is trying to beat Flipkart, particularly in non-metro cities where the home-grown e-tailer has a stronghold. “It is for tier-2 markets where internet speeds are lower. My sense is that increasingly they are seeing a lot of the (customers in) tier-2 and tier-3 are getting into the online retail bandwagon, possibly they are targeting that market,” Yugal Joshi, vice-president of Texas-based consulting and research firm Everest Group, told Quartz.

The two e-commerce companies have been jostling for pole position in India’s retail market for nearly five years now, with both pouring billions of dollars to innovate and win market share. In recent weeks, there have been reports that Amazon and Walmart, the biggest retailer in the world by sales, are fighting for a majority stake in Flipkart.

However, industry experts are surprised over Amazon’s choice of launching a web browser in a market that already has multiple data-light browsers such as the UCBrowser, which is popular in India. A more obvious move would have been to launch a data-light version of their brand app, similar to what Facebook did with its Facebook Lite or Messenger Lite apps.

“But will it be meaningful in metros and cities? I don’t know what the use is for that. I’m really surprised and confused that why would somebody launch a browser because browser is a way to consume any web application. It has to be some kind of Amazon-related app rather than a plain Jane browser,” Joshi said.