Illustration: Sameer Pawar
Ten years ago, SMS was the primary mode of messaging, electric or driverless cars were unheard of, TV was the dominant visual medium and high-speed internet was a distant dream. Today, all that, and more, has changed. You can book a cab, order food and groceries, find a date or complete a bank transaction through various apps without stepping out of your home.
The primary trigger behind these changes is the emergence of new technology. As smartphones become ubiquitous and data charges plummet, accessing technology has never been easier. Companies that have been able to harness the benefits of technology by navigating away from owning physical assets have ratcheted up billion-dollar valuations. Consider that Uber, the world’s largest taxi aggregator, valued at around $120 billion, owns no cars; Airbnb, one of the world’s premier home-sharing platforms, valued at $35 billion, owns no real estate.
In India too, the past decade has seen the rise and fall of many unicorns. Those still standing are the ones that have disrupted the Indian way of life. Take Oyo Rooms for instance. In the words of Aditya Ghosh, CEO of Oyo Rooms, South Asia, it was often a tedious task for him and many other middle-class families to find a decent hotel while travelling, leaving customers at the mercy of the hotel staff to negotiate services and tariff. Today, he claims his company has been able to ensure safe, economic and feature-packed services to customers.
Replete with many more such changes, the past decade has been a redefining one for Indians. Forbes India
analyses some of the key ones.
1. The wealth in health
From super luxury hospitals that boast of yachts for medical treatments, to Fitbit and online portals to order medicines, the changes in health care have been varied. A decade ago, for instance, preventive checkups were a rarity. Today, they have found much acceptance, and payments towards it can be used to claim tax deductions.
On the other hand, life expectancy—from 65.8 years in 2008 to 68.56 years in 2016—has been growing, thanks to affordable medical care that has reached millions. Much of this has been helped by rapid developments in mobile technologies, cloud computing, digital imaging, machine learning, and 3D printing.
Along the way, India has emerged as a hotbed for startups focussed on health care. These include Consure, which focuses on medical devices, Lybrate, which makes it easier to find nearby doctors, and Mitra Biotech, which provides affordable personalised cancer care and drugs.
In the past decade, medical procedures that earlier faced societal taboos have found many takers. In vitro fertilisation (IVF), for instance. According to a report by Allied Market Research, IVF services may reach $829.5 million by 2023 from $256.0 million in 2016. Although infertility has often been attributed to changing lifestyles, the new health order, with affordability and reach, has ensured that it has also brought about a solution.
The Indian government, too, has taken steps to democratise health care by launching an ambitious programme to provide insurance to the poor. Last year, it started a scheme to provide free coverage of up to ₹5 lakh per family per year at any government or empanelled private hospitals.
2. Hail the ride
A decade ago, hailing a ride (autorickshaw or cab) meant long waits on the road, or negotiating the fare. Today, app-based services like Uber and Ola have changed that. While their business in India has been anything but controversy-free (Uber faced backlash when a driver allegedly raped a passenger and Ola had multiple regulatory problems), there is no denying that the two have perhaps changed the taxi industry forever. Ola, Uber’s homegrown rival, is worth $6 billion, attracting investments from global private equity players.
Then, there are the sizeable urban commute service providers such as Shuttl and GoKruze, which offer their fleet of buses for convenient and comfortable travels between homes and offices. Rising pollution levels in the country, coupled with extended hours lost in traffic, has created a potential for such companies. Besides, even as India lays out plans for bullet trains, metro rail services have gained ground in many cities, particularly smaller ones such as Kochi and Jaipur.
3. The screen play
For decades, due to the overzealous fan following for cricket, most of the other sporting disciplines in India were treated like pariahs. It also meant that while TV rights for cricket matches would bring in astounding revenues for the Board of Control for Cricket in India, there would hardly be any takers for other sports.
The past decade has changed that. Many sports leagues, including soccer, kabaddi and badminton league have found staggering popularity and viewership in recent times. For instance, the 2018 Pro Kabaddi league recorded a total of 1,188 million impressions across 75 matches, according to the Broadcast Audience Research Council. Similarly, the Indian Super League, launched in 2014, has evolved from being a two-month event to stretching over six months, with most matches on weekends. Cricket, though, remains the biggest moneyspinner in Indian sports, as the Indian Premier League, in its 12th edition now, clocked in 345 million viewers in just the first two weeks.
Then, there is the changing mode of viewership. A decade ago, set-top boxes were not as common as they are today. However, The Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Amendment Act, 2011 had mandated a complete shift from analogue cable TV to digital addressable system. The process was completed on March 31, 2017, making set-top boxes common across households. But the set-top box now faces a new threat in Netflix, Amazon Firesticks and Apple TV. According to consultancy EY, the number of Indians who paid for any content in 2018 increased from 7.5 million in 2017 to 12-15 million in 2018. The digital subscription market grew by 262 percent to ₹1,420 crore, of which most were video subscriptions.
4. Click banking
A decade ago, banking in India meant waiting in long queues to encash cheques or deposit cash. But technology has ensured that transactions can now be done with a swipe on the cellphone screem from anywhere in the world. While debit cards were only slowly gaining ground in India a decade ago, the fintech industry has seen tremendous growth, with startups ranging from Paytm to PolicyBazaar changing the way money changes hands. According to Yes Bank, the transaction value of the fintech sector was estimated to be $33 billion in 2016 and is forecast to reach $73 billion in 2020 growing at a five-year compounded annual growth rate of 22 percent.
The Indian government, too, has pushed for financial inclusion, launching the Jan Dhan Yojana that is estimated to have added 33 crore accounts to the banking system. It has also revamped the National Payments Corporation of India, set up in 2008, for operating retail payments and settlement systems, and soon after its move to demonetise high-value currency notes in November 2016, the government launched an app, Bhim, for mobile payments.
5. Travel well
India’s travel and tourism industry has undergone significant changes in the past decade. In 2009, India’s biggest airlines were Jet Airways and Kingfisher, along with Air India. Today, Jet Airways and Kingfisher have shut shop, and the government is looking to sell off a debt-ridden Air India. Now, the low-cost carriers rule the Indian skies with IndiGo controlling over 40 percent of the domestic market.
The rise and growth of online travel agencies too have redefined travel for Indians, with steep discounts across hotels and flights. Hotel stays too have changed, as budget chains such as Oyo and Lemon Tree offer more choice. Oyo is the largest hotel operator, with a valuation of $5 billion.
The past decade has also been witness to many luxury brands flocking to India. Back in 2009, Zara had not even set up its first shop (its first shop was opened in New Delhi in 2010). Since then, a number of luxury fashion brands, from Zara to H&M and Gap, have been setting up stores across the country, particularly in tier II and III cities, as incomes rise. Today H&M has 39 stores, having added 12 last year in tier II cities, while Zara has about 20, including in Surat, Pune and Mohali.
6. Reaching out
WhatsApp, which was launched a decade ago, has taken India by storm, allowing for faster communication. Today, the app has over 200 million active users in India. This has also meant the slow demise of SMS services and STD calls, as over-the-top services such as video calls and voice calls become popular.
The WhatsApp revolution has been facilitated by a steady growth in smartphone sales. India has over 400 million smartphone users, which is expected to grow to 800 million by 2022. A decade ago, Nokia still ruled the Indian mobile phone market, with Apple yet to make inroads. Today, however, India is the world’s second-largest smartphone market after China, and global smartphone makers have been making a beeline to launch their phones in India.
“A decade ago, our interactions with our phones went up four to five times,” says Tarun Pathak, associate director at Counterpoint Research. “When we had feature phones we would make voice calls, and usage would have been about an hour. Now content and data have taken over. And we will move towards gesture and voice controls.”
The rise in mobile connectivity, however, has its challenges, particularly with fake news. While it has brought celebrities closer to people through updates on social media platforms, in the day and age of superfast news, fact checks are often written off. During the current general elections, the Election Commission, for the first time, rolled out social media guidelines to curb the spread of fake news and misinformation.
7. Auto drive
Last month, China-based MG Motors unveiled its new vehicle, the Hector, in India. The highlight of the car, the company said, was the role of technology in ensuring a connected drive. From voice commands to over-the-air updates and emergency response system, MG is gearing up to change the way Indians drive. Hyundai, too, is launching its new vehicle with connected services that will work with voice commands.
Over the past decade, vehicles in India have also seen a radical change in styles and offerings. If small cars were the toast of the town then, today it is SUVs. From infotainment systems that could only use CD players, today, car playlists can be provided by Apple Car play and Android Auto, ensuring connectivity even while driving.
The entry of global automakers such as Volkswagen, Volvo and MG Motors in the past decade has meant that Indians are now spoilt for choice. A decade ago, Hero Motors and Honda were in a partnership, Maruti Suzuki 800 was still being produced, and Tata Nano was turning eyes. Today, both iconic vehicles have shut shop, while Hero and Honda have parted ways.
Then, there is a growing demand for automatic vehicles in India. Unlike a decade ago, many buyers today opt for automatic variants to drive through congested city traffic. India’s market for automatic vehicles has almost doubled in the past two years and accounts for 10 to 12 percent of the overall passenger vehicle market in FY2018.
The automobile industry is also revving up about sustainability, with Indian carmakers like Tata and Mahindra launching electric vehicles. The government is procuring 10,000 of such cars for its use.
8. Swipe for love
India’s smartphone market has also changed the concept of traditional relationships. Tinder and Bumble, two of the biggest mobile-based dating platforms have taken many by storm. With a swipe, users can decide whom they want to talk to and meet, a rarity a decade ago. While it is generally men who flock in more significant numbers to these apps compared to women (according to dating app Woo’s survey of 20,000 urban Indians, only 26 percent of users are female) there cannot be any denying that apps have changed the rules of relationships.
This also means a huge business opportunity for many startups such as Truly Madly, and Delta, India’s first homegrown mobile dating app for the LGBTQ community.
9. Eating out of an app
Today, some of India’s biggest unicorns are involved in letting customers shop and eat with a click.
Apps like Zomato and Swiggy are betting big on food delivery and restaurant discovery, with varied options like super-fast delivery at the touch of a button. Unlike a decade ago, when ordering food meant making multiple phone calls, today users have the option of reading reviews and suggestions before placing orders from a restaurant.
While food delivery has transformed, shopping for groceries too has been redefined. From Grofers to Amazon Now and Big Basket, you can order from the comfort of your home, often at a much cheaper cost than from brick-and-mortar retailers. According to HSBC Global Research, India sees between 70 million and 75 million orders per month, of which between 75 and 80 percent are carried out by Zomato and Swiggy.
However, the biggest change in the past decade has been the rise of ecommerce. From Flipkart to Snapdeal and Amazon, Indians have been flocking to the internet to make a significant number of their purchases. India’s ecommerce market will touch $84 billion in 2021 from $24 billion in 2017, according to Deloitte.
10. Learning on tablets
A decade ago, Byju Raveendran was only beginning to make videos of his tutorials, before founding an edutech company in 2011. Today, the company is billed as a unicorn. Byju’s, along with a host of other online education companies, has been ensuring a better quality of education by using technology, making them available on smartphones and tablets, and taking over the role of a private tutor.
The online certification market, too, has been witnessing a significant disruption, as companies look for skilled labour. India’s online education market is poised to grow to $1.96 billion and 9.6 million users by 2021, says consultancy firm KPMG.
“Ten years ago, a degree meant a job,” says Aurobindo Saxena, who heads education practice at Technopak Advisors. “Today, you need skills, and one needs to constantly update their line of work. Technology has made world-class content much easier to access and in the process, has changed the basic module of a degree.”