Tag Archives: Next Billion Users

How insights from user research help us build for the next billion users

Sitting in her apartment in Mumbai a few years ago, Radha wondered if there were activities nearby for her two-year old son. She had recently moved to the city from a small town about 300 km away in search of better education for her children. Since then, she’d slowly built up a network of acquaintances, mostly from chance meetings traveling up and down the lift. But there was something missing. Back in her hometown, it was easy to ask Shanti Aunty across the way about local dressmakers. And—along with the keys to the family cupboard—she had inherited many business relationships from her mother-in-law; the local baker, the nearby mobile repair shop. But in such a big city, finding answers to simple local questions was more difficult.

A kernel of an insight

This kernel of an insight, gathered by Jeannie Foulsham while studying local search in India in 2014, led to the development of a product we call Neighbourly. Neighbourly is a mobile application that provides people with an easy interface to ask and find answers to neighborhood questions and is available in seven cities in India so far. And we built it in direct response to conversations with users like Radha.

This is just one example of how user experience (UX) research can build an understanding of people’s context, behavior, and comprehension to inform the design of products or services. There are hundreds of researchers across Google who gather insights to inform all of our product offerings. This research is especially key to how we approach products for the next billion users—people coming online for the first time, usually on mobile. To ensure we're living up to Google's mission of universally accessible information, we must deeply understand the similarities and differences in how these people look for and use information in their day to day lives.

Diving deeper to understand the role of technology

In the early days of developing Neighbourly, Muzayun Mukhtar, a UX researcher based in our Bangalore office, would spend hours walking the streets of Delhi, Mumbai, Jaipur and many other smaller cities conducting intercept interviews, stopping people for a conversation to get a glimpse into their lives, their impressions and their relationships. She spent time in small communities called societies, where she learned about the social dynamic between neighbors. For a deeper look at how they lived, Muzayun worked through locals to meet people in their homes for contextual inquiries to see how they solve day-to-day problems. She met people from different stages and walks of life: mothers, homemakers, those new to the community as well as neighborhood lifers. She would then take these insights back to our product teams for incorporation into the product roadmap.


We visited many communities in cities around India during the design and development of Neighbourly, including this society in Mumbai.

Discovering a core user value

As the team iterated on ideas in late 2016, Muzayun met Divya, a mother of two, for an interview at a children’s park in Borivali. Divya told her, "I’ve been struggling to find a good physiotherapist in this area for six months. People in my locality are isolated—so busy. Other than a hi or hello once in a while, we don't reach out. But that wasn't how things were when I was growing up. We used to know each other. We used to help each other.”

Divya’s remarks reinforced some key themes that the team had heard before, and helped crystallize the need that Neighbourly could address. First, people prefer trusted word of mouth to answer local questions. And second, for many people, neighborhoods feel broken; you no longer know your neighbors so word of mouth is less of an option. The team’s challenge was now clear: How can we encourage communities to respond in a caring, helpful way when people have questions? How might we help people find trusted, neighborhood answers?

Delivering thoughtful, usable design

UX research doesn’t stop as products are designed and developed. In the case of Neighbourly, we conducted multiple rounds of iterative usability tests where we showed product designs to participants and gleaned their feedback. This gave designers on the team some key insights that they built into the product. For example, we added a mic button to quickly transcribe questions in the user’s local language, making it easier for people to ask questions as effortlessly as if they were asking a friend. We also added a quick swipe to advance question cards to make the product more fun and lightweight.


Getting feedback on our designs directly from people helped us make changes to meet their needs and increase usability

Learning through immersion

Product team members routinely join UX researchers in the field to ensure  they fully internalizes the needs and context of the people they’re building for, and ground product decisions in real user insights. As Ben Fohner, a product manager on the Neighbourly team, says: “There’s no substitute for sitting down with somebody in their living room and watching them use (or try to use!) the product you’ve built. It’s a combination of incredibly exhilarating when you see an ah-ha moment—and incredibly humbling when something just doesn’t work. Spending time face-to-face with our users was essential in building Neighbourly, and a great source of motivation for the whole team, too.”


Product teams join in for research, building intuition and grounding decisions in real insights.

Putting it all together

Neighbourly is one product among many, developed to address a specific need. However, we’ve often found instances where addressing local needs can grow to have global impact. For example, Files Go, an app that helps you free up space on your phone, was built from insights gathered primarily in India and Brazil, but it’s resonated with audiences globally.

Google aims to build products that improve the lives of as many people as possible. And from the initial insight to the finishing pixel, UX research helps product teams stay connected to the pulse of the user. By staying focused on the needs, behaviors and concerns of the people for whom we’re developing our products, we can more effectively build for everyone.

Google for India: Building services for every Indian, in their language

India has the second largest population of internet users in the world—and it’s only getting bigger. Around 40 million new users come online in India every year, and not just from metropolitan centers, but increasingly from rural areas as well. And they’re no longer predominantly men: in the next three years, we expect 45 percent of internet users in India to be women. This rush of new users online has greatly transformed the Indian economy and culture, from the rise of local startups to the growing use of e-commerce, digital payments, ride sharing, and online video by people from Jammu to Thiruvananthapuram.

Sometimes technology can help in extraordinary circumstances. India has gone online to rally behind the victims of the Kerala and Karnataka floods. Our Crisis Response team turned on SOS alerts on Google Search in English and Malayalam, and activated Person Finder to help people search for family and friends. Locations of flood relief resources like shelters are being shared on Google Maps. Outside of the tech support, Google.org and Googlers are contributing over $1 million to support relief and recovery efforts. And others can also donate to Kerala flood relief on Tez.

Technology is a key tool in crises, but it’s also critical for supporting India’s ongoing national momentum. In this spirit, we made announcements at this year’s Google for India event, towards three goals: making the internet work for more Indians, making our products more relevant to Indians, and taking the best of India to the rest of the world.

Making the internet work for more Indians

The first internet users in India consumed English-language content on their PCs, and later, their high-end smartphones. Today, however, there is a generation of internet users with completely different needs—where their first and only internet experience is via a touchscreen and not a keyboard. We have a responsibility to make sure that our products work well for every one of these users.

The first step is to provide more high-quality internet access. Google Station is partnering Andhra Pradesh State FiberNet Limited to cover over 12,000 villages, towns and cities in the state of Andhra Pradesh, potentially reaching 10 million people. This will provide high-quality internet access to areas that have never been connected before, from hospitals to villages.

The second is to help improve the smartphone experience in India. Our Indian hardware partners on Android such as Micromax, Lava, Nokia and Transsion are creating Android (Go edition) phones at prices within reach of more Indians. Early next month Samsung will continue that momentum with the launch of its first ever Android (Go edition) device, the J2 Core.

Many of India’s new internet users favor listening and speaking over reading text. That’s why we’re launching a new feature in Google Go that lets you listen to webpages. Powered by natural language processing and speech synthesis AI, this technology can read billions of webpages smoothly in a natural sounding voice. It supports 28 languages, including Hindi, Bengali, Malayalam, Marathi and Tamil—even on 2G connections.

Making our products more relevant to Indians

The majority of internet users in India today are Indian language users, and this number is expected to reach 500 million in the next two years. Smartphones are not useful unless they work in people’s primary language and provide access to great content in their native tongues.

To that goal, we are working with Indian language publishers to bring more relevant content online. Right now, the amount of online content in Indian languages is only 1 percent of what's available in English. So we’ve started a project called Navlekhā, a word derived from Sanskrit meaning “a new way to write.” This project comprises a tool that uses AI to render any PDF containing Indian language content into editable text, making it easy for print publishers to create mobile-friendly web content. It also provides Indian language publishers with free web hosting with AdSense support, so they can immediately start monetizing their content. Publishers will also receive training and support, and a branded .page domain for the first three years. Navlekhā has already started onboarding publishers from Delhi, and we aim to welcome many more from other regions in September. Sign up for the program at g.co/navlekha.

We’re also expanding the number of languages supported in our existing apps and services. The Search feed will now display your favourite news from both English and Hindi sources, using AI that learns which types of stories you like best. On the Google Assistant, we’re adding Marathi (with seven more Indian languages coming soon) and even more Indian apps—like Where Is My Train, Airtel, and Hello English—making them available through the convenience of voice control.

We’re creating more locally relevant experiences for Indians as well. Google Maps Go now brings turn-by-turn navigation functionality, while incorporating a brand new home screen with handy shortcuts. Google Maps will now also deliver better guidance to public transport riders, informing them of upcoming stops and sending alerts when it’s time to get off. And thanks to our new partnership with RedBus—India's largest inter-city bus ticketing service—more than 20,000 inter-city bus routes in 1,500 cities will be added to Google Maps.

Taking the best of India to the rest of the world

Since launching our India-first payments app Tez last September, over 22 million people and businesses have used Tez to make over 750 million transactions that are collectively worth over $30 billion annually. We believe that many of the innovations and features we have pioneered with Tez will work in other countries. To take Tez beyond India, we will be unifying all of Google’s payment offerings globally. As a first step, Tez will now be called Google Pay.

Other than the name, the app is staying the same with all the great features and functions you enjoy. Sending a gift with a Happy Birthday spark, or paying a merchant directly from your bank account with no fees is as quick and easy as ever. In the coming weeks, we’ll be making Google Pay even more useful by increasing the number of places you can use it in, expanding services for merchants, and working with banks to provide instant loans to Google Pay users.

These are just a few things we’re working on to make sure that Indians have a great experience online, no matter what phone they’re on or what language they speak. We thank all the Indians who watch and upload videos on YouTube, navigate on Google Maps, use Google Pay, and Search for the information they need. By working hard to make your experience better, we’re also building better products for the world.

Make Google read it

We launched Google Go last year as a lightweight, faster way to search the web on devices which may have less space or less reliable internet connections. Today, millions of people around the world use Google Go to learn, stay informed, and explore the web more easily than ever before.

Despite the rapid growth of audio and video content online, the web is still predominantly made up of lengthy, text-based pages which aren’t always easy to read on the go. So it's not surprising we’ve received consistent requests for Google Go to make it more convenient to access web content.

Today, we’re launching a new feature which will let everyone using Google Go’s browser listen to webpages out loud. Powered by natural language processing and speech synthesis AI, this technology can read aloud billions of webpages in 28 languages smoothly, and in a natural sounding voice, even on 2G connections. It also uses minimal cellular data. This technology relies on AI to determine which parts of a page to read, and which to leave out, so you only listen to what is important.

Make Google read it

Using this technology, consuming long-form text becomes as easy as watching TV or listening to the radio. It’s also helpful for multitasking, like following a recipe while cooking a meal, listening to articles while exercising, or catching up on news on your commute.

People using Google Go come from many different backgrounds, and some might want extra tools to help read and pronounce new words—for example those with visual or reading impairments, people studying a foreign language, or those less comfortable reading long text. Today’s update makes it easier for anyone to access the richness of the web. For those learning new languages, each word is highlighted as it is read, allowing you to follow along and helping accelerate your learning.

In the future, we’d like to bring the ability to listen to webpages to more Google products. Long term, we hope this is just one way we can use AI to make accessing the web easier for everyone.

Don’t run out of data: Two new ways Datally can help

Everyone runs out of data sometimes. These moments sting—which is why we built Datally to help. And today, we’re releasing two new features to help you tame your data.

Emergency bank

Emergency bank saves some of your data so you have it protected for later—just in case you need it. Enter your balance and how much data you’d like to save for emergencies, and Datally will automatically block your apps from using data once you reach your emergency data allowance. You decide when and how to use your emergency bank data—for example, to send that urgent message or schedule a ride home.

Bedtime mode

Check your data balance before bed, then check again when you wake up. It should be the same, shouldn’t it? Too often, apps drain your data overnight. Bedtime mode turns off all of your phone’s data usage at night. Choose your bedtime and wake up time, and Datally makes sure your data isn’t draining while you’re dozing.

Datally’s mission is to help you never run out of data. You can use Emergency bank and Bedtime mode starting today.

Google for Thailand—unlocking digital opportunity for all Thais

People search the web billions of times a day to find useful information. Sometimes they find truly extraordinary things. Aum, a 24 year-old man from Thailand ran away from home when he was seven. He spent the next 16 years looking for his family, a search made more difficult by his inability to read or write. When voice search in Thai became possible, he realized that he could search the internet by speaking instead of typing. He was finally reunited with his family last year and now helps other lost Thai children find their families.

In the seven years since Google opened its office in Bangkok, many other Thais have started using the internet to empower themselves. We’re humbled to have supported some of these online journeys, whether by enabling Thai small businesses to go global, helping promising Thai startups to scale or making it easier for people to type in Thai. Today at our “Google for Thailand” event, we announced more initiatives to enable even more Thai people and businesses to make the most out of the internet.

Google Station

Millions of Thais still lack a reliable and affordable internet connection. To improve access to the web, we are bringing Google Station, our high-speed public Wi-Fi program, to Thailand in partnership with CAT Telecom. Thais can get online with Google Station in 10 venues across Bangkok and two provinces—Phichit and Loei. We’ll expand Google Station to other parts of Thailand in the coming months so that more Thais are able to get online for free with a high-speed, reliable connection.

Academy Bangkok - A Google Space

Thailand’s digital economy is booming and needs talent. Under the Google Ignite program, we’ve been helping Thai companies find the right talent, actively connecting them with bright Thai graduates. We send graduates that are hired on an intensive Google-run two month digital skills training program to prepare them for their careers. We are dramatically scaling up this initiative and our long-term commitment to Thailand by building the Academy Bangkok in True Digital Park. Once our academy is open, we can accommodate cohorts of up to 200 students at a time. We also plan to run other programs in the facility in areas including developer skills and cloud computing.


To support Thailand’s vibrant YouTube community and nurture its future stars, we’re re-launching the YouTube Pop-Up Space in Bangkok this November. With access to state-of-the-art production facilities, creators will have a space to learn, connect and make more high quality videos. Global training programs like YouTube NextUp and Creators for Change will also be offered. And we’re not forgetting the people viewing this great content. In partnership with AIS, we are launching unlimited YouTube Go data packs in Thailand.

YT Space Bangkok

Thai creators will have access to the best production facilities at the YouTube Pop-Up Space.

Google Maps Motorbike Mode

There are 20 million motorbike owners in Thailand and anyone who rides a motorbike knows that they move at different speeds to the rest of the traffic. But until today, Google Maps gave bikers in Thailand the same directions as car drivers. Our new motorbike mode in Google Maps is designed to offer directions tailored to the needs of motorbikes and scooters, including shortcuts and narrow roads that only motorbikes can travel on as well as more accurate travel times.

Motorbike mode maps

Motorbike mode plans routes in Google Maps factoring in the shortcuts that can be taken by motorbikes.

Google My Business

Although more Thais are going online, only about 13 percent of Thai small and medium sized businesses have websites, missing out on a rapidly growing local market. We are partnering Siam Commercial Bank to make it easier than ever for Thai businesses to get on Google My Business. Business owners that aren’t so sure about how to get their free business listing on Google can now be guided through the process at any Siam Commercial Bank branch.

Today’s announcements are just the latest in a long-term commitment to make sure everyone can benefit from the internet in Thailand, whether they’re a first-time internet user or a small business owner. We hope that these initiatives help make life easier, more convenient and more meaningful for Thais.

Offline translations are now a lot better thanks to on-device AI

Just about two years ago we introduced neural machine translation (NMT) to Google Translate, significantly improving accuracy of our online translations. Today, we’re bringing NMT technology offline—on device. This means that the technology will run in the Google Translate apps directly on your Android or iOS device, so that you can get high-quality translations even when you don't have access to an internet connection.

The neural system translates whole sentences at a time, rather than piece by piece. It uses broader context to help determine the most relevant translation, which it then rearranges and adjusts to sound more like a real person speaking with proper grammar. This makes translated paragraphs and articles a lot smoother and easier to read.

Offline translations can be useful when traveling to other countries without a local data plan, if you don’t have access to internet, or if you just don’t want to use cellular data. And since each language set is just 35-45MB, they won’t take too much storage space on your phone when you download them.

Comparison between phrase based translation and online/offline NMT

A comparison between our current phrase-based machine translation (PBMT), new offline neural machine translation (on-device), and online neural machine translation

To try NMT offline translations, go to your Translate app on Android or iOS. If you’ve used offline translations before, you’ll see a banner on your home screen which will take you to the right place to update your offline files. If not, go to your offline translation settings and tap the arrow next to the language name to download the package for that language. Now you’ll be ready to translate text whether you’re online or not. 

Google Translate offline NMT

We're rolling out this update in 59 languages over the next few days, so get out there and connect to the world around you!

No laughing matter: Files Go introduces Bad Joke Detector

Files Go has been helping millions of people around the world free up space on their phone by removing junk files, old apps and forwarded chat media—such as the famous “good morning” memes from India. However, in our most recent research we noticed that there was something else taking up a lot of phone memory. It turns out people are also receiving a lot of very bad jokes from friends and family, leading to lots of daily frustration.

Today we’re proud to introduce the Bad Joke Detector. Using a custom-built deep neural network, Files Go can scan your smartphone for jokes with your permission, identify the bad ones and delete all of them with a single tap, freeing up space for more important things—like better jokes!

Bad Joke Detector - Files Go

We hope this new feature will bring pun back into your life. Give it a try at g.co/getfilesgo.

A smarter search for files on your phone with Files Go

We built Files Go to help Android users free up space, find files quickly and share them offline with people nearby. Today, based on feedback we’ve heard over the last three months, we’re introducing three more features to the app to make it even more useful:

  • File search: You should be able to search for files on your phone just like you search the internet. Files Go is now bringing Google’s expertise at search—including instant results, search history, autocomplete and filters—to file management. Now, when you open the Files tab, you can tap the search icon and find all of your files on your phone in a split second. And best of all, it works offline.
  • Show the location of duplicates: From the start, Files Go has made it easy to free up space by removing duplicate files, but people have told us that they’d like to see where these files are located on the phone before they get deleted. So now when Files Go suggests duplicate files for removal, you can long press on the thumbnail, tap the “i” icon and see the location of the file.
  • Remove backed up photos and videos: Files Go now works seamlessly with Google Photos. Once your photos and videos are safely backed up in Google Photos, Files Go can detect that and prompt you to delete those files so you free up more space.

We’re excited for you to try these new features, and if you have any thoughts, please leave us feedback in the app.

Google Station brings better, faster Wi-Fi to more people in Mexico

Over the last decade, mobile connectivity has gotten much better—and our data consumption has skyrocketed accordingly. We used to send texts and check webpages on our phones; now we scroll through hundreds of photos and watch high-quality videos.

In Mexico, the third highest Internet penetration country in Latin America, most people access the web through mobile. But even as data plans are more affordable than ever, people are always looking for ways to enjoy the web without using up their data. And access to information is still a challenge for many.

To bring better Internet access to people in Mexico, we’re working with Internet service provider Sitwifi to convert their existing hotspots to Google Station, our high-speed public Wi-Fi platform that gives partners an easy set of tools to roll out Wi-Fi hotspots in public places. Starting today, Google Station will be available in 60+ high-traffic venues across Mexico City and nationwide, including airports, shopping malls and public transit stations. We plan to reach 100+ locations before the end of the year. 

google station in mexico

Mexico is the first country in Latin America to launch Google Station, and the third country globally, after India and Indonesia. Google Station can be found in Mexico City and 44 more cities in the country, so if you’re near one of the locations, go watch a high-quality video (or maybe save some YouTube offline for later)!

To learn more, see station.google.com.

The next billion users are the future of the internet

In the late 1990s, I moved from Delhi to Stanford for a master’s degree in computer science. Getting off the plane in San Francisco, I was ecstatic about the amazing computing power, lightning-fast internet and easy access to knowledge available at an American university. Back home, most people across Asia could only get online at an internet café or over dial-up modems, and internet speeds weren’t great. Computing power was still a luxury.

Today more than 3 billion people, more than half of them in Asia, own smartphones—devices many times more powerful than those top-of-the-line workstations at Stanford I was so excited to use. But despite this huge shift, many of us in the tech industry often find ourselves stuck in a previous way of thinking, where we assume that “computing” is something that starts with the privileged few in places like Silicon Valley and trickles down slowly to everyone else.

This isn’t just an old idea, but one that has become completely wrong.

The future of the internet is in the hands of the next billion users—the latest generation of internet users to come online on smartphones in places like Brazil, China, India, Indonesia and Nigeria. As time goes on, the average internet user will be more like these “next billion users” than the first billion who started on PCs. That means we need to look not at Silicon Valley or London but to places like Sao Paulo, Bangalore, Shanghai, Jakarta and Lagos to truly understand where the internet is going.

The next billion users are already changing the internet in three key ways: a mobile-only mindset, an instinct for ubiquitous computing, and a demand for localized content.

First, let’s start with the mobile-only mindset. Most of the next billion users have never used a PC and may never use one. They don’t think of the internet as something you access with a mouse and a keyboard. A computer is not a terminal where you type in queries. A computer is a smartphone, and it also doubles up as a television, a wallet, a classroom, and a portal for government services. Their expectations on how mobile apps should work is also completely different. When building our India-first, mobile payment app Tez, for example, we focused the app around “people and conversations” rather than the financial features, to reflect familiarities with chat apps. All successful global apps in the future will need to speak the universal design language of people who grew up on mobile phones rather than PCs.

This brings me to the second point: ubiquitous computing. This means having natural interactions with a computer that can hear, see and understand—for example, asking “Do I need an umbrella today in Delhi?” rather than typing “Delhi weather forecast.”

Because the breakthroughs that make ubiquitous computing possible rely on cutting-edge work in artificial intelligence, we tend to think that advances will start in the most prosperous parts of the world and expand from there. But we’ve found with the Google Assistant, for example, that the next billion users adopt cutting-edge technology astonishingly quickly. Since we launched the Google Assistant on the first feature phone in December, the Reliance JioPhones, usage of the Assistant in India has grown six times over the past four weeks. This isn’t just due to many semi-literate or illiterate users, but also the fact that typing is difficult for people who never grew up with a computer keyboard. The next billion users will be the first to truly embrace ubiquitous computing, expecting apps to work in a natural way rather than having to learn all the artificial commands that we did on PCs.

Which brings me to the third way the internet is changing: local languages. There are estimates that web content is more than 50 percent English. Hindi, the #4 language in terms of global speakers, is not even in the top 30 languages for web content. And in countries like India, the generation coming online now is more comfortable in their native language than in English, and so language can be a big blocker to expanding internet access.

You should not have to learn English to use the internet. The next billion users expect more content in their languages. And video is turning out to be the medium where they create and enjoy this content. Anyone can turn on a camera, share stories in their own tongue, and find huge audiences online. YouTube has seen an explosion of non-English content, such as the Telugu film channel TeluguOne, with 1.8 billion views. Going forward, we believe the demand for local content will reverse the language imbalance, leading to an internet more inclusive of the entire world’s language diversity.

At Google, we build technology with these three insights in mind—and we find that they don’t just help the next billion users, but the first billion as well. For example, the Google Maps team built Maps Offline for motorists in India who could not afford the data for navigation while they drive, but now the feature is used across the world, from commuters going through lots of tunnels to tourists visiting a new country.

For a long time, we talked of a “responsibility” to make our technology work for the next billion users. But as the internet follows their lead, serving people in India, Indonesia, Brazil and Nigeria has become necessary for companies that want to stay at the cutting edge of consumer innovation, and the future. The next billion users are not becoming more like us. We are becoming more like them.