What Indian smartphone users want: an insight into their digital behaviour

Shipra Bhutada
8 min readMar 19, 2022


“We are our choices” said the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre. Indeed, this quote reflects in all our decisions including our digital choices. Over the last five years, UCC research team has interacted with users in the context of domains like travel, agriculture vehicles and implements, mobile gaming, digital trading, and telecommunication, to name a few. These users live in different cities, towns, and villages in India. We learnt a lot about their digital behaviours, interactions, and how their choices impacted their behaviours, so we wanted to share our synthesised learnings on Indian smartphone users behaviours through this article.

Digital choices are primarily governed by the need for convenience, gratification, and affordability.

We met people from diverse backgrounds — farmers, students, private employees, blue-collar workers, business owners, homemakers, and unemployed people during our studies. When we wanted to understand the main purpose of smartphones, most of the people we met used their mobile phones for entertainment and communication purposes. Using smartphones for informal learning through news and online channels on platforms like YouTube featured high on the users’ list.

Additionally, using the phone for m-commerce and digital payments added to their convenience and preference to be mobile-first gen.

Such is the importance of smartphones that our users from towns and villages invest up to ₹20k to get a phone of their choice!

Entertainment as the most comforting offering

Across all tiers, entertainment is the hottest industry with social media and video streaming platforms leading the way in app usage. The reasons are countless on why people need entertainment. Kids watch cartoons to see their animated friends; students watch TV shows and movies to take a break from their tiring studies; employed adults want an escape from the drudgery of real, everyday life through OTT platforms; unemployed ones want a pastime; old ones want an escape from loneliness, and the list goes on.

Digital entertainment provides comfort and is perceived to relax and reduce stress. According to a study by Robert Kubey and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, people who were watching TV reported feeling relaxed and passive while watching it. But the sense of relaxation ends when the set is turned off, adding to the feelings of passivity and lowered alertness. This feeling transcends to and amplifies in the Internet world. Reading books, playing sports, or engaging in hobbies are some of the activities that relax people’s minds without an off button. These activities also improve the mood after the activity, unlike digital entertainment. But despite these facts, people want digital entertainment. The instant gratification coupled with easy access to content and effective advertising seems to have surpassed the benefits of other effort-intensive activities such as playing sports and reading books.

The positive gratifications from the digital immersion

Individuals enjoy digital immersion akin to reading a book where they transport themselves in the world of the characters they are watching and feel a sense of connectedness with their journeys and experience their emotions — this is also called the flow experience.

Digital entertainment has a strong social gratification angle to it too.

Several users watch online content or play mobile games sitting with their friends or virtually with them. This strong social angle keeps them connected with their inner circle and creates their shared cultural space that induces a sense of belonging as they can talk about the OTT shows, movies, and mobile games. People from tier 2 and 3, towns and villages reflected this social engagement as their regular activity with their friends where they have identified spots such as under a tree (we had a mobile gamer quote “garmi ke dino mein hum khejri [prosopis cineraria] ke peid ke neeche baith kar saath mein phone par game khelte hai”), public spaces, and each other’s homes.

The more the merrier, the cheaper the better

Users prefer to use platforms from which they can reap multiple benefits.

When learning becomes essential to perform tasks deemed critical for people, they bank on their inner circle and the digital world. Videos then become the go-to avenue for learning as they are a convenient and time-efficient way to gather information.

Whether it is to learn more about the specifications of a tractor, how to play a game online, or how to invest digitally, these users prefer watching videos to learn quickly. That these videos also provide a safe, non-judgmental space to learn is another advantage.

YouTube serves multiple purposes such as entertainment, education, guidance, and learning for free whereas Hotstar offers movies, TV shows and cricket (apart from other sports) at an affordable price of ₹399 per year apart from free content and that it can be shared with multiple users makes it a favoured platform. YouTube is equally popular with both rural and urban audiences. Inexpensive data plans, availability of smartphones in low range prices (at least 60% of our users had phones costing under ₹20k), access to content in varied formats, and autonomy to choose what and when to consume have created massive convenience for the users.

The gratification and convenience provided by the entertainment platforms make the users push the limits of their disposable time so that they can continue to be entertained.

According to Global Web Index’s Social Media Trends 2020 report, on average, Indian users spent 2.48 hours on social media. Whether there is a 5-minute break or the end of the day, there is always content that can be accessed.

Another interesting observation was that people from towns and villages watch movies on YouTube more than on any other OTT platform.

A familiar platform that involves no new learning and free content are the major reasons behind this behaviour.

Hundreds of movies are uploaded illegally daily on YouTube. Thus, the effects of convenience and affordability pop up here too.

Choice of language and method to communicate are defined based on the context.

We learnt that people increasingly use Hinglish in their communication and when writing any texts in informal spaces, they use the Anglo-Saxon script. Across locations, there is a sharp rise and comfort in mixing languages in communication — spoken and written word. Communication context often also helps decide the language of choice. For instance, in formal settings, regardless of one’s prowess in the language, users try to communicate in English — even if it is using just words and phrases, not complete sentences. With their peers and inner circle, choosing the language of comfort becomes a convenient way of communicating — Hindi or their first language. Using audio recorded messages to send long pieces of information also has become a convenient and easy way to communicate rather than typing. At UCC, the topic of language fascinates us endlessly, and we will continue to uncover and learn more about this and share our learnings.

Affordability beats quality among the basic users while quality beats affordability for premium users.

Ashok Kumar(28), a painter in Alwar, Rajasthan recently bought Vivo S1 Pro costing ₹18k. He has installed a handful of apps that he uses for communication, social media, video sharing, digital payments, and a couple of gaming apps too. For Ashok, his phone is a tool for happiness. On his favourite app Facebook, he chats with his old friends and watches videos, which according to him, gives positive thoughts. His taste in movies has grown beyond Bollywood and reached South India. He shares his phone with his family and friends. His wife and kids use Facebook and watch short videos on his phone. His entire inner circle gets the benefit of the digital experience.

Ashok Kumar is the first one in the family to get a smartphone. His smartphone is the only source of digital communication in his entire family. His family approach drives his want for quality. While he spent a large amount to buy his smartphone, he does not want to spend more on premium services. He only wants to fulfil his basic needs and desires. He sees no need to use any paid apps. He watches free movies on YouTube and Hotstar, and that serves his purpose. Sustained affordability then becomes his preference and the plethora of choices makes it easier for Ashok to not loosen his purse strings.

Santosh Singh Adhikari (25), a student studying MA (History) in Delhi NCR uses an iPhone 7 which he bought two years ago for ₹26k. He does not share his phone with anyone else and the factors of privacy and quality have driven him to buy an iPhone. He is not much into social media and uses his phone mainly for entertainment. He has a premium version on YouTube on which he watches educational videos and listens to meditational frequencies. He also uses Hotstar and Amazon Prime for movies and Spotify, Jio Saavn, and Gaana for music.

Santosh’s wants are quite different from Ashok’s needs. Santosh looks for convenience and quality. He uses YouTube premium so that he can conveniently watch content without ads and Amazon Prime and Hotstar for quality content. Santosh uses more apps when compared to Ashok as well.

Smartphone users in small locations tend to have fewer apps than users in tier 1 and 2 cities. This behaviour is prevalent as tier 1 and 2 users are more exposed to several apps and display a lower sense of loyalty whereas, in smaller locations, people trust the WoM more rather than experimenting with several apps.

In the digital payments and m-commerce sector, trust, ease of use, and fast services are critical factors when choosing a product or service.

While more tier 1 cities users choose Paytm, PhonePe and Google Pay are preferred in smaller cities and villages. Paytm’s user base catapulted from 140 million in October 2016 to 270 million in November 2017, and demonetization could have been a reason for this growth in the user base. On the other hand, the pace of digitisation of payments was slower in lower tiers and villages. By that time, the competition got rigorous with Google’s Tez and the Flipkart-backed PhonePe. The trust factor from the brands of Google and Flipkart made its way into towns and villages. Amazon ensured deeper reach in smaller locations through tie-up with India Post.

To sum it up

American entrepreneur Aaron Levie introduced the concept of “convenience economy” to describe the trend of Uber-like businesses which place convenience at its core. Aaron Levie in 2014 said, “The last 100+ years of economics taught us that price drives demand. Now we’re learning that convenience drives it even more’’. His vision of a boom for convenience economy has already happened, and the users have become habituated to convenience.

While users experience positive gratifications from digital immersion, it is highly likely that they can tip towards the negative motivations such as loneliness, addiction and anxiety too.

Affordability due to intense competition leading to a myriad of choices has further encouraged the user to indulge in at least interacting with several apps and then deciding which ones to stick with based on their experience of using it.

Convenience, gratification, and affordability: the core motivators for the Indian smartphone users.

At UCC, we specialise in Global User Research by placing human connect at the heart of the business. Our insightful, bold, and honest research practice enables the creation of meaningful strategies, products, services and user experiences.

Interested in collaborating with us? Email us at shipra@userconnectconsultancy.com and let us know your research needs.



Shipra Bhutada

Shipra is the Founder & User Research Director at User Connect Consultancy.