Tech giant Google is developing a suite of apps for consumers in under-served markets who have limited or no internet skills, as it seeks to expand its services beyond the first three billion people in the world who already go online.

The company has established a 300-strong design team called Next Billion Users (NBU), whose remit is to build products with understandable icons and language that work on basic devices in regions where data limits can be an issue too.

According to a report from the United Nations’ International Telecommunication Union, almost half (46%) of the world’s population did not use the internet in 2019 and a similar proportion of people don’t possess basic computer skills, such as how to copy a file or send an email attachment.

“There’s a very different set of people coming online from the first three billion people that already had a desktop or laptop, so we had to rethink at Google how we build products,” said Josh Woodward, director of product management at Google.

“We talk about building products for people in Mumbai, not Mountain View,” he added, in comments reported by the Wall Street Journal.

A photography app called Camera Go, which is available only on some basic Nokia and Wiko devices, is one example of the NBU’s work.

Launched in March this year, it joins a range of other products, including Gallery Go, which enables users to search and edit their photos, and Assistant Go, a basic form of voice- and text-assistant.

In all cases, the interface and user experience were redesigned for people who may not be familiar with typical app layouts, icons or operating methods. Google calls the process “upboarding”, which seeks to provide more explanation for inexperienced consumers.

Tracey Lindsay Chan, a senior user experience researcher at Google, explained that many designs wrongly assume users are familiar with digital symbols that are well-known in the US and Europe. “That’s not helpful for someone who is dealing with learning how to use their first smartphone,” she said.

Commenting on Google’s initiative, Dr William Gribbons of Bentley University in Massachusetts, said Google is getting ready to capitalise the revenue potential of the next billion internet users.

“It is all market-driven at the end of the day,” he said. “But Google does deserve recognition for making a significantly greater investment in deep cultural learning than most.”

Sourced from Wall Street Journal