In 2013, India became the third biggest market of smartphone users with 117 million smartphone subscribers, behind only China and the US. It was then anticipated the smartphone users market will grow by 45 per cent in the next year.
The number of smartphones grew 54 per cent during 2014, reaching 140 million.
As India was moving towards mobile-Internet revolution, Rakesh Deshmukh, Akash Dongre and Sudhir Bangarambandi were keenly reading various aspects of the market.
They observed that the country which has been sitting at the cusp of new-age technology revolution has a long missing link. The trio found users’ behaviour in India is not monolith but differ from region to region and is also enormously unique from other parts of the world.
In findings, they observed that only 10 per cent of the current population in India consider English as its first, second or the third language. Hence, to make India truly digital, it was imperative to provide technology to Indians in the language of their choice.
In 2014, the trio came up with a solution called Indus OS, the world’s first regional operating system which was built on Android and designed for first time Internet users.
Indus OS is available in 25 Indian languages such as Assamese, Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Malayalam, Marathi, Oriya, Punjabi, Telugu, Tamil, Urdu, Nepali, Bodo, Dogri, Sanskrit, Konkani, Maithili, Sindhi, Kashmiri, Manipuri, Kashmiri, Santili, Arabic and English, spoken by more than 95 per cent of the Indian population.
The OS currently has a user base of over 10 Million across 100 plus smartphone models.
“We have 8 smartphone brand partnerships and over 100 smartphone models are powered by Indus OS from popular brands such as Micromax, Intex, Karbonn, itel, Celkon and Swipe. itel is our first International smartphone brand partner,” said Rakesh Deshmukh, Co-founder and CEO, Indus OS.
Indus OS philosophy: Keep it simple
The company believes there is a need for ground-up innovation that is simple and has been created specifically for real Bharat.
“Simplicity is at the core of our product philosophy and we have simplified phone’s system applications such as the dialer, messaging, contacts and settings, among others for the Indian mobile users helping them move from feature phones to smartphones and ease their learning curve,” said Deshmukh.
He added that company’s focus has always been to create technology specifically for Indians. It aims to power over 1 billion people to be smartphone users and part of the digital ecosystem.
Besides providing OS in regional languages, Indus OS app marketplace, App Bazaar allows users to download apps without the need of logging in via an email ID. It also has integrated carrier billing which facilitates download of paid apps without a credit card.
Moat: Providing content via brand accounts
One of the biggest challenges for the Indian market is the discovery of content and services. As emails are the default digital ID for users in developed nations and are mandatory to download apps from most app marketplaces.
However, in a country like India the email address penetration is extremely low (around 30 per cent), users usually fail to access services and download apps.
“With brand accounts, which are integrated within the default system applications of the OS such as SMS/Messenger, dialer and homescreen/launcher, users can avail India’s top content and services without downloading any app. It is a major step forward to aid India’s content and service discovery challenge,” said Deshmukh.
In August this year, cab aggregator Ola announced a partnership with Indus OS, as part of which it became the first company to launch a ‘brand account’ on the Indus OS platform. With this, the ride-hailing experience is available in English and 12 regional languages for its users.
He added that the brand accounts on the Indus OS platform aspire to power the digital requirements of users via a contextual and seamless interface. It’s designed to reduce battery and data consumption, while also making the experience intuitive.
Brand partnership: A key driver in company’s success
In the past one year, the Indian mobile ecosystem has undergone a drastic change with Xiaomi (MIUI) possessing the largest market share (around 24 per cent, jointly with Samsung, according to IDC). Other Chinese smartphone makers such as Vivo and Oppo, which have their own operating systems, followed the market leaders in smartphone market share.
In this fast-changing market, where Chinese players managed to capture the top positions, Indus OS saw relevance in brand partnership with Chinese brands.
Indus OS signed its first international/Chinese brand partnership in November last year with itel Mobile (a Chinese brand). Through the partnership with Indus OS, itel Mobile is looking at introducing software differentiation in the Indian smartphone market, something which it believes to hold the key to success.
“Partnering with the Chinese brands was one of our top priorities, thus we opened an office in China earlier this year to work towards this goal,” said Deshmukh.
The company is also in talks with other major Chinese and international smartphone brands for such partnerships.
He, however, added that as for the Indian OEM partners, the company will continue to work closely with them for software differentiation and making unique products for the Indian market.
Is Indianized Google a challenge for Indus OS?
Google, which has also introduced features such as voice search in eight Indian languages, Indic keyboard and others, is also planning to capture the entire demography of the country. The development poses challenges to the local developer.
However, Deshmukh denies any such threat or challenge from Android.
“We don’t see this move as a potential market challenge. Indus OS is built on the opensource Android platform. Android will continue to release newer versions of its OS while we continue to innovate on our product portfolio. With every new major Android release, we come out with our own version of the custom ROM. Thus, any advancements in Android will only help us make a better product for India.”
For Indus OS, language technology remains the bedrock of every India-centric innovation. The company, which supports English and 24 Indian languages, has more than 65 per cent of users who use language features.
It also claims to have more than 90 million App downloads from its app marketplace, App Bazaar, which is also available in 12 languages.
Indus OS to become default platform for content & services
The company which has so far raised $9 million from Omidyar Network, Ventureast, JSW Ventures and others, plans to focus on further product development and user acquisition through international OEM partnerships.
“In terms of product development, we will continue to work on building the preferred smartphone platform for India in 25 languages. We will especially focus on expanding the OS integrated Brand Accounts, giving the Indian users a new way to discover internet content and services,” explained Deshmukh.
Indus OS aims to expand its brand account partners to more than 100 over the next year and accelerate the adoption of internet services in India. “We intend to become India’s default platform for content and services.”