By Julia Love| SAN FRANCISCO
SAN FRANCISCO Alphabet Inc’s Google said on Tuesday it would roll out a mobile YouTube application designed for India, boosting the search company’s presence in a burgeoning market with spotty Internet access.
Since the fall, Google has been conducting extensive tests in India of YouTube Go, which allows users to save videos to watch offline and monitor their data use.
A beta version of the app has been released in the Google Play Store in India, and will be released in other emerging markets later, company executives said in an interview.
Analysts have been forecasting a surge in video consumption in India since Reliance Jio, the telecom unit of Reliance Industries Ltd, upended the industry last year with cheap data plans that have prodded rivals to lower prices.
Silicon Valley has long regarded India, with its population of 1.3 billion people and poor connectivity, as a prime place to test products for emerging markets.
YouTube executives said they sought to build a product for Indian users from the ground up rather than releasing a slimmed-down version of their primary app.
“As we talked to people in the market, they didn’t want something that felt like a stripped down version of YouTube – they wanted the full experience,” said John Harding, vice president of engineering at YouTube.
Due to the frustration of trying to load video at slow Internet speeds, the YouTube team had contemplated showing users a series of images from a video with the audio, like a slideshow. But Indian consumers reacted poorly to the feature.
The final design helps users discover videos that trending in their region while minimizing data usage. Users can preview videos before watching to ensure that is what they want.
While Reliance Jio’s entry has boosted video consumption in India, analyst Neil Shah of Counterpoint Technology Market Research questioned whether YouTube Go would remain popular as cheap data plans become more prevalent.
“The only future I see for YouTube Go is for feature phones or basic phones,” he wrote in an email.
But with 180 million mobile users in India and mobile watch time climbing 400 percent year over year, YouTube has strong momentum in India, Jay Akkad, a product lead at YouTube, said.
(Reporting by Julia Love; Editing by Jonathan Weber and Richard Chang)