A closer look at Hike Total that aims to make Digital India a reality
Hike is offering phones that let you message your friends, read news and check your daily horoscope without needing the mobile internet. Let’s dive deeper into Hike’s Total platform.
India's instant messaging platform Hike, which competes with WhatsApp and Paytm, is also taking a shot at "bridging digital divide" in India, but in a unique manner. The company earlier this year introduced a fork of Android operating system called "Total" that allows users to send messages, make payments and read news among other things without needing internet data.
Hike has partnered with Indian handset companies such as Intex and telecom operators such as Airtel to sell these phones under ₹2,000. For instance, Intex Aqua Lions N1 with Hike Total and Airtel is available at an effective price of ₹1,649.
In theory, the idea seems as disruptive as it seemed with Reliance Jio's 4G feature phone that came with unique features such as a voice-enabled browser. Let's dive deeper on what Hike Total is, and how it works.
How Hike Total works?
Hike Total is essentially an Android fork which is aimed at providing basic web browsing experience without the necessity of mobile internet. The service is based on a technology that Hike calls Universal Transfer Protocol (UTP) which is based on USSD (Unstructured Supplementary Service Data), a communication standard that allows communication with the mobile network operator's computers.
USSD messages, which have been around for many years, can enable text-based real-time communication and used for purposes such as menu-based information services. Hike's UTP builds on the existing technology to incorporate in its Android fork. The company describes UTP as "supercharged" version of the USSD protocol.
Using Hike Total apps
We tried out the Hike Total on Intex's Aqua Lions N1 smartphone. The device comes with a bunch of Total-enabled applications such as Hike Messaging, Hike Wallet, Cricket, Recharge, News, Data Packs, Rail Info, and Horoscope. All these apps are marked with a star icon, and that's how you know an application is Total-enabled. These are light weight applications which are less than 1MB and can be disabled if one chooses to.
True to Hike's claims, these apps work without mobile data but there are certain limitations as well. For instance, messaging feature works only with Hike Messenger to another Hike Messenger. While you can send and receive unlimited text messages, you cannot have the same offline support for photo exchanges. Hike will alert you to buy data pack in order to download the image. Fortunately, Hike is allowing users to buy small sachets of data packs, starting as low as Re 1 to get some data. It's also offering ₹60 on completing KYC for Hike Wallet.
We also tried out other applications such as Cricket which was able to provide real-time cricket updates. Rail Info is another useful app where you can check your PNR status as well.
The success of Hike Total highly depends upon a good hardware, the way it worked out for Reliance Jio with JioPhone. Intex Aqua Lions N1 is an entry-level smartphone. It's a compact phone with a 4-inch display with 480x800 pixels resolution. It runs on Android 7.1.1 Nougat and is powered by a MediaTek chipset with 1GB of RAM. It comes with 8GB of built-in storage. The smartphone has a 2-megapixel rear camera and 0.3-megapixel selfie camera.
Sporting a plastic body, Intex Aqua Lions N1 feels exactly like an entry-level smartphone. It's a little bit slow while battery drains out relatively sooner than expected. While it's far better than what entry-level phones used to be a couple of years ago, it has a lot of scope of improvement, in terms of overall user experience.
One of the ways to provide internet-enabled handsets to masses is to offer an ultra low-cost feature phone with LTE connectivity such as Reliance JioPhone. Reliance Jio's bet on the smart feature segment has already paid off. Jio grabbed 26% of feature phone market share in Q4, 2017, according to a Counterpoint Research data. The next wave of LTE growth is expected to be driven by these 4G feature phones.
But some don't see 4G feature phones as a long-term solution to the problem. Another tried and test model is offering low-cost 4G smartphones with free bundled data plans, just like Airtel's. Already, a number of Indian smartphone companies have come on-board with Airtel's "Mera Pehla 4G smartphone" campaign.
Google is also experimenting with an Android Go platform, which has lightweight Android version with lightweight Google apps, optimised for Indian slower network and low-end phones.
Several tech companies have experimented with a concept, only to abandon it altogether later. Hike Total is a noble initiative and can actually drive the efforts to bring those billions online. The challenge, however, is adding more useful services and more importantly support from the developer community. For Hike to succeed, it will require better hardware that can match the experience available on the modern budget smartphones. Addition of more vernacular languages can also be highly useful.smartphones.
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