We’re seeing major changes in global app store ecosystems and the OS markets.
Everyone in the world is gradually understanding the value of choice and innovation and the importance of alternatives in the market.
To delve deeper into the topic of the feasibility of building a native OS for India, we had a conversation on Twitter Spaces with Kanika Arora (Senior Officer Growth at Times Internet), Tushar Mehta (Tech Journalist), Aditya Kshirsagar (Product Evangelist), and Rohit Utmani (Head of Product at Indus OS).
We ask, is an Indian OS possible? Is it challenging? Let’s find out!
Indian OS – An Exciting Idea but a Challenging Process
Rajiv Chandrashekhar, the Junior IT minister spoke about the need for an Indian OS. But the requirements for building an Indian OS and the research and development needed for it might be a challenge for us.
Aditya Kshirsagar said, “It might be a challenge for us to create a platform which is mobile friendly that can work with multiple OEMs and has the leverage or the privilege that Google does. It’s very difficult. It’s as good as having your own semiconductor business.”
Tushar Mehta, added, “The biggest opportunity that an Indian OS presents is localization. Specifically keeping in mind the Indian audience. The requirement for apps is the biggest challenge for building an OS.” Without the availability of apps or the tools needed by the user to function on the OS, we cannot shift a user to it.
Beating the already existing dominance of Android in the Indian market is one of the biggest hurdles in building an Indian OS from scratch.
Smartphone Ecosystem Changing and Indus OS’s Attempt at an OS
Indus OS has already attempted to create an OS and realized that it might not be the most viable option.
The smartphone ecosystem started off between 2010 and 2012. By 2014-15 there was a significant user base of 400-500 billion and these were users who were going to enter the internet experience for the first time.
Around that time most Micromax phones under Rs 10,000 (available in 25 phone models) were powered by the Indus OS and it controlled 5.6 % of the OS market. Indus OS was present on 1.4 million of the 24.8 million Android OS sporting smartphones that were sold in the first quarter, according to the report by firstpost.com.
As a result of consolidation Xiaomi, Samsung, BBK, etc. took over the market with a 40%+ market share and it became difficult for an Indian OS to compete.
But even though the OS didn’t work out we did realize that there is a market for localized content in India.
“There’s a significant demand in the Indian consumers where they do feel that we need a tailored solution which helps us do better digital adoption of services and commerce content,” Rohit Utmani added.
Aditya shared the example of how consumers drifted from what was once the popular BlackBerry phones to the iPhone which disrupted the entire smartphone industry.
He stated, ”What the iPhone technically did was a change. We also had a Blackberry OS which was doing really well. People were still very new to QWERTYs and everyone wanted to be on BB messenger. The entire user experience and how people interacted with their devices was as if the devices became an extension of you. This made everyone want to have an iPhone. The device already knew what we wanted to do. It had the internet and everything else you needed just on that one mobile platform and you were connected to the world.”
OS or App Store?
“There are certain sectors which are significantly much better suited for disruption as compared to the overall OS space in general. And that disruption is probably in the space of finding relevant applications, finding relevant content, and engaging users with some sort of commerce-based service. That is what exactly Indus App Bazaar is doing right now,” Rohit said.
Instead of solving a very, very large problem, Indus App Bazaar is trying to break the problem down. We want to separate the pieces, try to dissect them, and try to create a category where problems can be solved. We are attempting to answer the much harder question.
Localization, The Main Forefront
Tushar said, “An Indian OS will have to promote localization, inspiring app developers to develop apps in Indic languages they are familiar with. App development will be the key to the adoption of Indian OS as it is also the biggest challenge.”
The Inmobi’s marketing Handbook for 2022, says that internet penetration in rural India is just about 32%. An Indianised OS that promotes regional languages can lead people from all regions to abandon their feature phones and instead switch to smartphones.
Rohit added, “User experience of the smartphone is not only partly related to localization, but it’s way more extensive in nature. It starts with localization, then enters into the content section, then matures into the commerce section. So that’s like a gradual trajectory towards which you basically take any consumer from probably a very basic category to a more advanced consumer who’s basically doing a lot of digital services online as well.”
Aditya shared the example of Xiaomi and how it built its community. “When you are able to engage with content and applications in your own language, your engagement goes up, which means your attention is captured,” he added.
Indus App Bazaar has clearly seen that the lifetime value of a user who’s coming through is higher when he/she consumes content in their language than what a normal experience would be.
Times Internet Benefits Through Localization
Kanika Arora said, “Times Internet hosts 18 applications on Indus App Bazaar and it has seen tremendous growth when it comes to localized content and it gives them a better response than mainstream app stores.”
Tushar added, “some of the apps by Times Internet including MX Takatak, see a phenomenal growth in terms of the content that is being produced by non-urban creators.”
Kanika Arora also mentioned that A/B Testing brought them to the conclusion that the non-urban communities also wanted to consume the same content as the urban users but they couldn’t as it wasn’t available in their local language. With the help of localization, they saw a growth of 1 million DAUs on MX Player.
Challenges Ahead of Building an Indian OS
Aditya said, “I think one of the main challenges for the audience in India was innovation. But unfortunately, nobody did the innovation. Today we have reached a saturation point even with the players that we have right now. Yes, it does bring a good opportunity for any player wanting to differentiate themselves to bring what Indus OS did over 7 years ago.”
He went on to say “Even if an Indian entrepreneur starts an Indian operating system and is going to distribute it for free to everyone, unless and until we can put it on a hardware device, all software innovation is essentially moot. Null and void.”.
This clearly explains the need for OEMs in the smartphone market to come forward and agree to have the new Indian OS preinstalled on their phones.
Rakesh, the CEO of Indus OS said, “that the biggest challenge is the error message or security warning that pops up whenever one tries to install a third-party app store.” Mainstream app stores still don’t allow third-party app stores to be freely downloaded even if they pose no harmful threats.
“Content also needs to be created which can assist people from Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities,” Kanika Arora said. “Metros may have a lot of options but down there people are still understanding what it is to have the Internet”.
Customizable platforms need to be created which allow more freedom and choice for users.
Aditya Kshirsagar added, “If I were to buy a TVS bike tomorrow which is at around 3 lakhs, it is the same engine that comes in a 3.75 lakh or 3.60 lakh BMW. I can buy a Tata Nexon or a Tata Harrier and it will have the same platform that is arranged over”.
“The main difference is that they have customized these platforms again. These vehicles are also platforms. The RR 310 GS engine is a 40-year-old platform, so creating a platform might be an uphill task, but these platforms that are already existing are putting up barriers to innovation and one of the biggest ones is not allowing software players to freely distribute.”
“It’s so ironic that a system made for distribution of applications is being choked at the source by these platforms,” he said finally.
Government Intervention and the Private Sector
Aditya Kshirsagar said, ”I would expect all the policymakers to not be protectionist about this, but at least give it a gander like what can we realistically achieve? Is there parity in the app store business? That is something that is achievable today and for brands or applications and developers.”
India is missing a billion-dollar opportunity in the app store business especially as the next half a billion people come online. Just having this opportunity relegated to two players and OEMs is a huge loss that we need to look into.
Tushar Mehta spoke about the Digital Markets Act in Europe. “The DMA will eventually go into force in October of this year. This will force major players, to give users the choice of which search engine and which app store they want to use right at the beginning of their experience with a smartphone or any other device for that matter.”
“We certainly need this kind of intervention from the Indian Government taking the user’s choice as paramount and not let them dictate the user for their own material benefits,” he added.
The private sector can also benefit from incentivizing the right talent. No commissions on hosting apps and giving free AWS credits to developers. We need other players to make such moves to foster more talent and innovation.
It’s time that other players behave in a civilized manner so that innovation is not stifled. There is a billion-dollar opportunity in-app distribution and that’s why the government should support more players in coming into the market.
There should be a fair play opportunity in any space and we need that in the app store ecosystem as well. We need that free-market space here as well.
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