BHIM app, launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi with much fanfare on Friday, has turned out to be a super-hit among Indians. Four days after its launch, the app is already the top app in the Google Play store. It has beaten the mighty Jio app and WhatsApp. More importantly, not only the app has been downloaded by millions of people, but it has received thousands of comments and ratings, showing the people are actually interacting with it. All of that is a good news, and deserving, because BHIM is a very good app in terms of design, ease of use and functionality. The problem, however, is that it is not handling its popularity with a grace and finesse that is expected of an app supposed to be India’s top app for cashless transactions.
BHIM, although slick, is facing too many teething problems, and that is just sad because it is an app with so much promise and potential. But as millions of people rush to download and use it, the infrastructure powering the app is already reeling. It all started on Saturday. When people tried to set up their UPI account to use BHIM, they repeatedly got errors. Sometimes, the phone wouldn’t connect to the servers. On some other occasions, the message authentication failed. The whole set up process was a hit and miss. In five attempts, one or two worked. Three or four times it failed.
Although, not deterred with the error messages a lot of tech savvy people did manage to set up the BHIM app on their phones. It also helped that the app has a very straight forward and simple set-up process.
However, the problems were not only with the fussy set-up. They also continued with the transactions. I made two transactions to test the app on Saturday. Those two transactions are still pending, nearly 48 hours after they were made. Although, one of my colleagues in the office had a better experience. Out of the four transactions he made, all but one went through. That one however, ended with a failure message.
The problem has been acknowledged by the BHIM makers on the official Twitter account. The account — @NPCI_BHIM — noted:
Bad first impression?
I don’t want to knock down BHIM over some teething problems. This is a really good app when it works and if it is also secure — we will know about this in a few weeks — it is a great step towards a cashless economy. But I also want to highlight that this is not a very smooth launch for a very important app. In India, the infrastructure that powers apps and web services is always a challenge because of rush that these services face from the burgeoning masses of the country. But this is also a rush that is anticipated. When the government is launching an app like BHIM, it should take into account the challenges it will face with it.
It is also very important that BHIM works smoothly because this is not a chat app. There is a saying in the world of technology that “ship first, fix later”. This is crucial because if you delay your service, your competitors will move ahead of you. Unfortunately, this is not a great idea to apply this adage to an app like BHIM, which is about money.
As I said, this is not a chat app. If your message doesn’t get delivered to a friend, that is alright. But if the money that you have transferred to a restaurant at the end of your meal doesn’t reach the destination, it becomes a major hassle. At the same time, people are fussy about the money. A failed transaction is not something that you want to see on the phone when you are trying to transfer Rs 5,000 to buy essential medicines.
With an app like BHIM it is not only about the simplicity but also trust. The first impressions matter in this. If the app lets down a consumer, even for once and she sees the fate of her money hanging in balance, she may not use the app ever again. And that will be a pity because BHIM is the kind of app, or at least looks like one, that ought to be very popular because it really solves a lot of pain points that we currently associate with cashless transactions.