[App Friday] AstroTalk hits the mark when it comes to functionality with something for everyone

This week for App Friday, we take a look at AstroTalk, which offers astrology consultations. Whether you’re a believer, a sceptic, or an all-out ‘nullifidian’, it’s a fun pastime.
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Whether you’re camp ‘celestial science’, or camp ‘pseudo science’, there’s no ignoring that astrology has staged a huge comeback in India, thanks to digitisation. Astrology, palmistry, and kundli stalls that once used to dot the streets of main shopping hubs had gradually been pushed to the interiors, but, thanks to online platforms, they don’t dwell in the shadows anymore.

In fact, astrology startups in India have caught venture capital attention, and money in astrotech startups has been pouring in from all sorts of investors.

And while it’s true that the pandemic was a trigger event that led to more users flocking to astrotech apps such as AstroBuddy, Ganesha Speaks, Astrosage, etc, for consultations, astrology in India, especially, has been almost a ritualistic practice that starts at birth.

The digitisation of astrology has definitely made it more accessible for millennials, xennials, and Gen-Zers who are used to doing more things online than offline, and even more so when it comes to services that don’t necessarily require one’s physical presence.

Transparent pricing, affordable costs, a choice selection of the “kind” of astrology service — there are many, including tarot reading, palmistry, face reading, Vedic astrology, etc — and the fact that it’s online has democratised astrology.

AstroTalk, the app we’ve reviewed today, told YourStory earlier that majority of the platform’s users are between the ages of 18 to 45, and not just from Tier-I or Tier-II cities. At one point, the startup said it was doing Rs 14 lakh in business every day, thanks to the uncertainty brought on by the pandemic.

Whether you believe astrology works or not, its business model definitely does.

We tried and tested AstroTalk this week — and surprisingly realised it’s among the few astrotech apps on the iOS platform today, at least with operations in India and with features beyond just AI/ML-based consultations.

AstroTalk's landing page

The app has 50 lakh+ installs on the Google Play Store, and a 5/5 star rating. On the Apple App Store, it has a 4.6/5 star rating. Worth noting here that AstroTalk ranks number 10 on Apple App Store’s ‘lifestyle’ list in India.

Sage mode, on!

To be honest, the app’s UI/UX is nothing to write home about — it’s functional, not too cluttered, and decent. It’s what you’d call “practical”, and considering the fact that once users have had their questions answered on the app, they won’t come back to it too often (i.e. repeat customers are few), it just works.

Logging in to the app requires your name, date of birth, and cell phone number — so data collection isn’t too extensive — which is a bit of a vexation as we’ll see later on.

There are several things you can do on the app:

  • Consult directly with an astrologer of your liking — you ask them questions about life, career, business, marriage, wealth and property, legal cases, etc. This option starts at Rs 5 per minute for a text chat, and can increase as per the astrologer’s demands.
  • View your birth chart (kundli) for free.
  • Compare birth charts for marriage prospects.
  • Shop at the platform’s “Astromall” — this includes doing digital, group poojas (starts at Rs 501), having someone chat spells for love or wealth for you (starts at Rs 999), consult for evil eye removal, do reiki healing, buy gemstone and healing oils, engage in ‘face reading’, etc.
  • Watch ‘lives’ of astrologers consult with people on the app.
  • View your daily horoscope, which tells you your lucky colours, number, time, and even food for the day (mine was radish, and I vehemently hate it).

What I really appreciated about the app, right off the cuff, was the “free”, tab which lets you do a myriad of things without spending a dime. You can buy starter packs if you want more insight and information, but still, free is good.

There’s also a nifty ‘planet tracker’ that notifies you when planets start having an effect on you — though I am yet to realise the full implication of this.

Our experience

As someone who has never given much thought to ‘celestial science’, except as something that exists, my experience of using the app was fascinating.

First-time users get five minutes of free consultation with an astrologer. You can browse through available astrologers’ profiles — their years of experience, reviews left by other users, their specialisations, etc. before you pick one.

However, there’s no way to really corroborate what the service providers on the app claim, in terms of expertise or how long they’ve been practising. It is still unclear how the platform vets its astrologers because the app doesn’t explain it.

Once you select your astrologer, you’re required to fill out a whole bunch of details, including your birth date, time of birth, city of birth, etc — and while it’s not a big thing, you have to keep doing this every single time you take a consult, or even fill out the form to access your free birth chart — which was quite annoying.

The app should make provisions for users to create and store their profiles, which would optimise the process, as well as offer the option to create a new one in case they want to consult on behalf of someone else.

The consultation itself was quite nice — the responses were prompt, and I didn’t feel like the astrologer I was talking to was trying to waste as much time as possible so I don’t get to ask follow up questions. In the end, you get to share the report with friends and family too.

The ‘live’ feature, which is basically like an Instagram Live, has astrologers taking questions in real-time. Some of them ask to be paid — they call it ‘energy exchange’ — while others do for free (mostly yes or no-type questions).

You can send them “gifts” such as a Rs 5 heart, or a Rs 21 flower, too, which are basically fees so they respond to your questions over others’.

The conversations were entertaining and definitely another avenue to spend/waste time on — but there was some joy to be found in the fact that there were others in the same boat as you, at times. Also, the social aspect of astrology was definitely interesting.

The birth chart option throws up a number of screens with drawings but doesn’t come with any explanation. To understand it, you need to buy a consult with an astrologer — an option I did not try.

The ‘Astromall’ offerings were quite interesting — from e-poojas and spell castings to palm and face readings, and gemstone consultations. The reviews were mostly on the positive side, and all of these options offered a direct, personal consultation with an astrologer or the facilitator too.

I really appreciated the “Feedback to the CEO office” option right on the landing page. Not many apps have the temerity to do that so obviously, and it indicated, to me at least, that the people behind the app take feedback seriously.

Also, there are plenty of options on the Live feed as well as the personal consultation chat windows to report abuse — quite pertinent since these apps are usually where you discuss your problems, issues, and vulnerabilities. However, unlike mental health-based chat apps that always assure you, quite conspicuously that too, of confidentiality, AstroTalk doesn’t.

What concerns me — someone who swears by cognitive behavioural therapy — is apps like AstroTalk and AstroBuddy taking on a “life coaching” role, essentially replacing psychologists and even financial experts. On the Live feed, I saw many examples of astrologers giving financial advice as well as life counselling, such as using a particular “gemstone” for “sad feelings of lost love”.

That demarcation between suggestive services and actual, psychological counselling or financial advisory seemed very blurry — although, a Washington Post story from 2019 did allude obliquely that tools like these are just another form of self-care. “Amidst the millennial self-care set, astrology is back,” the publication remarked.

Financial advice on the app definitely needs to be taken with a huge bucket of salt — I tuned in to a male astrologer telling someone it’s a good time to invest in gold versus mutual funds because planetary alignments said so.

All in all, AstroTalk is a good app in terms of the breadth of services it offers. It truly strives to cater to everyone at not only various price points but also if one is not willing to or is unable to pay.

The interface is smooth, and there’s something for everyone there. It has the potential to set one on a path of reflection, self-understanding, and positive thinking.

Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta

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