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Indians are flocking to the mobile web—and here is what this new population of users looks like

Reuters/Danish Siddiqui
Not a woman in sight.
By Leo Mirani
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Last month, Google’s top executive in India forecast that Indians would outnumber Americans on the internet by the end of the year. Signs of India’s long-pending explosion in internet users have been visible throughout this year. The smartphone market is growing by over 10% a quarter, according to IDC. India alone signed up more new mobile subscribers in the first quarter of this year than all of Africa did.

Now a new report from Opera Mediaworks, an ad platform for the mobile web, looks into what this new online population looks like. Two things stick out. First, 82% of the unique users Opera sees on its platform are male. Second, fully 60% fall within the 18-24 age group.

What are these young men doing online? Mainly socializing. Social media accounts for half of all mobile traffic in India, according to Opera Mediaworks. That’s well above the global average, which sees a third of traffic dedicated to social. This could very well be a result of the efforts companies such as Facebook and Twitter are putting into emerging markets. For many Indians, Facebook is both a gateway to, and a primary destination on, the web.

Also remarkable is the steady progress made by Android. It now accounts for two out of every five users Opera sees, up from one in five last year. Apple, meanwhile, has raised its share of users from 0.3% of users to 0.4%. (The number of people in India who can afford an iPhone is vanishingly small.) The rest of the handsets are mainly feature phones running Java.

But not for long. Google is muscling its way into India with the launch of AndroidOne, a set of specifications that will make it easier for phone manufacturers to produce high-quality, low-price devices. That’s the theory anyway. Google is holding an event in India on Sept. 15, when it is expected to formally launch the new devices in partnership with local brands.

Meanwhile, India benefits from its tremendous amount of competition. While other markets such as Russia or Latin America have one dominant, domestic smartphone brand, India has three or four. That’s prompted other big producers, like Samsung, to defend their market share by coming up with cheaper, low-end smartphones.

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