While the government has been talking about Make-in-India, the best representation of the programme comes in the form of India’s first regional operating system (OS), Indus. Launched by a Mumbai-based start-up which had raised $5 million in Series A funding in January this year, Indus recently achieved a new feat of replacing Apple iOS as the second-highest OS on mobile phones in India.
What is Indus OS?
Indus is India’s first regional language OS. It runs on an Android-based platform to provide content and services in English and 12 Indian languages—Malayalam, Telugu, Tamil, Odia, Assamese, Punjabi, Kannada, Gujarati, Hindi, Urdu, Bengali and Marathi.
What is so special about Indus?
While the market is dominated by English based OS, a majority of the population doesn’t speak English. Estimates suggest that only 10% of people in India understand English, thus a regional language OS can make smartphones more user-friendly. Also, Indus provides an upgrade for such mobile phone users who were restricted to basic feature phones—which were only ones to have local language support—by not just giving people access to messages and calls, but also a whole range of services in local languages.
The USP of Indus is the patented keyboard and user interface (UI) available in regional languages. But more than the UI, Indus has the potential to open up a revenue stream for app developers by providing apps from its own store called App Bazaar, which offers famous apps like Skype, Viber and Subway Surfer in regional languages. The OS provides for translation, transliteration and an all-in-one keyboard, but unlike many apps on Google and Apple that can do all this, it can also render word prediction and auto-correction for Indian languages, along with a feature to allow free text messaging between Indus OS users, much like what Apple does with its iMessage. One of the enticing features of the OS is the text-to-speech software, where the phone would read you the text in your own language. While most English mobile OS users have this facility available in their phones, not many companies have come close to developing it for Indian languages. It can pave the way for Indian language based navigation and speech-to-text apps.
Who’s supporting Indus?
While Indus was quick to achieve the second spot in the Indian OS market, it has only got a single phone maker in its kitty. For now, Micromax appears to be the biggest supporter of the software. The company recently launched its new phone, the Unite, which comes pre-installed with Indus OS. The target for Indus until now has been low-segment phones, but with the OS finding market amongst mid-segment users as well, it may soon tie up with players to provide support in the mid-segment range.
Who are its competitors?
Although the OS has established a dominant position in the market with over 3 million users in nine months, it will still have to compete with the likes of Samsung and Xiaomi who are releasing new OS products equipped with myriad features in the low-price segment to woo smartphone buyers in rural India and tier-3 towns.
What are the challenges?
In order to grow, Indus will have to expand its presence by tying up with more Chinese phones and other mobile makers to capture a bigger share of the market. Moreover, it will have to innovate constantly to provide a more simplified UI than its competitors. While it has an advantage for now, given apps are the central feature of a smartphone and with most of the apps like Google and others starting to offer services in Indian languages, it might not be able to maintain that for long. Earlier this year, Google and YouTube had launched Hindi and other language support for its browser and search options.
How fast can others catch up?
While Indus certainly provides a made-in-India experience, with most companies considering India to be the next big play, they might be inclined to launch their OS with local language support. For now, Indus has the home field advantage, but whether it reaches its target of 100 million users in the next three years will depend on its marketing strategy and cash flows. With big players—the likes of Samsung, Apple, etc—willing to spend big bucks to capture the Indian market, they may be willing to re-optimise their OS for Indian languages as they do in case of Chinese, French or German. Indus may face more competition in the coming months.