GLOBAL: Recent forays by the tech giants into software to improve the experience of lower end devices indicate that they are not focused just on the upper end of the market in their pursuit of growth.

Earlier this week, Microsoft announced the rollout of an updated Skype app optimised for devices running older or less powerful versions of its OS. This iteration of the video-conferencing app will be “lighter on both disk and memory consumption”, with better video, audio, and “increased performance in challenging network conditions”.

Optimising for lower specs reflects a broader shift indicated last week by Google’s release of Android Oreo (Go Edition) – ‘Android Go’. Compared to the loud MWC launches of a new flagship Samsung phone, the release of this software was remarkably quiet.

The operating system is designed for inexpensive, less powerful handsets, such as those debuted at MWC from ZTE, General Mobile, Micromax, Lava, and Alcatel – none of which number among the global smartphone superbrands. It is also designed to function with poor connectivity.

Such handsets are significantly cheaper than this year’s flagships, coming in at under $100 dollars on average. To cater to this market, Google has designed an operating system that runs on phones with less than 1GB of RAM, and which takes up less of the phone’s space with its own code and that of its apps.

Among other clever features, it has adopted key elements popular in the Indian market. For instance, it gives quick access to Gifs, particularly the ‘Good Morning!’ Gifs that have become popular in India.

While Google had tried to create a slimmed down version of its smartphone software before, the signals from Microsoft and, before that, Facebook, which launched its Facebook Messenger Lite app in India in July 2017, indicate that the growth focus is in developing markets.

Though Apple has not made similar moves yet, CEO Tim Cook told investors last year that he was “very, very bullish and very, very optimistic about India”. Android currently dominates the Indian smartphone market.

Pricing in Indian telecoms has had a significant impact on use, where dominance of mobile rather than desktop has meant that India’s path diverges quite significantly from the west. Reliance Jio and others have engaged in a price war that with enticing deals on 3G and 4G connectivity, cutting the number of people using 2G internet

Speaking to the Wall Street Journal, Sandeep Kataria, chief commercial officer at Vodafone India explained that “The way the journey seems to start today is with social messaging, YouTube and entertainment apps”, rather than email or social media. “Five years ago it was the other way around.”

The rapidly developing Indian market could hold more lessons for developed economies. Declining growth in new smartphone shipments suggests not only that the developed market is saturating but that people are holding onto their phones for longer which then become slower as updated apps make greater demands on them.

Brands will need to acknowledge this, and, like the tech giants, understand that more and more people will require and value a slimmed-down experience.

Sourced from Microsoft, Engadget, The Verge, Wall Street Journal, Quartz, Statista; additional content by WARC staff