Developers, entrepreneurs want an Indian app store, but challenges abound

Although experts and businessmen believe that Indian firms require an indigenous app store to break the duopoly of Google and Apple, scale and trust stand in the way.

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Many developers and entrepreneurs have been yearning for desi alternatives to the long-established Google Play store and App Store (Apple) owing to the growing dominance of the US tech giants.

The issue was particularly highlighted when recently Google Play announced a policy revision asking app developers to give a 30% cut to the company for in-app purchases. Also, according to the policy, the developers are not allowed to incorporate an off-app billing system for any paid service whatsoever. 

These steps have irked tech developers, entrepreneurs and Indian startups. Several entrepreneurs have even been vocal about it and called for a national app store to retain the customer base even when their app gets banned on the other platforms. 

Harshil Mathur, CEO and co-founder, RazorPay, tweeted:

Kunal Shah, founder of CRED and co-founder of Freecharge, tweeted:

Vishal Gondal, founder and CEO of healthcare platform, GOQii told Gadgets 360:

Today, a foreign company can decide on its own whatever rules they want to play and stop access of millions of customers to a very important service.

Google’s policy changes, which were to be enforced worldwide from September 2021 (for existing apps), have now been postponed to April 2022 for the Indian market.

The policy revision was revealed just a few days after Google Play Store banned Paytm, one of India’s leading digital payment application, for allegedly violating its anti-gambling policies. Not only this. A few days later, food delivery unicorns Zomato and Swiggy were sent warnings for their cashback campaigns during Indian Premier League, which is ideally expected to help food businesses garner more customers.

Even Apple does not allow developers to sell any paid service through a third party. In fact, Apple does not allow its users to even download apps on their devices from anywhere but the App Store. 

Experts believe that India is in a good position to implement and scale a national digital app ecosystem, with some alternatives already in-place.

In fact, much before all hell broke loose, a Noida-based startup called Indus OS started working on a homegrown app ecosystem. Rakesh Deshmukh, CEO and co-founder of Indus OS, Indus App Bazaar has been operational as an alternative to the foreign app stores for about seven years now and has managed to publish 4 lakh apps on the platform while garnering a user base of 10 crores to date. The company has partnered with 12 OEMs in India including Samsung, Micromax, Karbonn, etc.

On this platform, developers can self-publish their apps for free and unlike Google, which mandates native billing system, here there are no rules for the payment mechanism. 

The business model of the company is ad-driven. Developers can run various campaigns on the platform and these campaigns are run on a cost per install, cost per registration and cost per transaction models,” said Deshmukh.

On October 5, Paytm also launched a mini app store for Indian developers and businesses who can run the custom-based application on the platform without having the users to install the apps explicitly. The mini app store is still in its beta phase and has already acquired 300 service-based apps. 

Paytm launches mini app store to help Indian developers against google

Challenges to sustain an indigenous app store

It is important to understand that building an alternative is one thing, and scaling it up to Google and Apple’s standard is a completely different feat. The true test will be surviving and co-existing with the tech giants in this predominated infrastructure. To this, Deshmukh stated:

One of the major challenges will be the user and developer preference. Google Play Store currently has 97% of the market share in India. Therefore, it becomes the first preference for developers in distributing the apps. It has existed in this arena for a long time. Hence, the scale is huge. Shifting the userbase, thereby developers, is a difficult task.

Another major challenge local app stores will face will be building trust among users owing to security disparities. Shubhamangala Sunil, CEO, GOCYBEX, a cybersecurity solutions firm, told The Electronics, “One of the major challenges is that we do not have a standard body or a committee to authorise the applications and then put it across to the end users. As for the end users, say one day a customer gets a malware attack by installing an application, there will be nobody to take accountability for it.”

It is important that the government establishes a standard cybersecurity body to test the level of service, quality and security features of applications before publishing them on a national app store, added Sunil. 

She also recommended a monitoring body at the state and central level to keep an eye on the internet traffic to be able to trap any potential threats.

The dream of a holistic local app infrastructure is anything but easy. But since India is home to some of the most brilliant developers and entrepreneurs, and this is can serve as a great opportunity for the government, industry and academia to move towards a more “Aatmanirbhar Bharat”. 

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