The bigger challenge is mobilizing the app ecosystem that caters to the Indian market. Meta apps, YouTube, Google Maps, Drive, Search are what we are used to.
Indian Institute of Technology, IIT Madras has developed a Made in India mobile operating system that meets security requirements. As a contribution to ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’, ‘BharOS’ can benefit 100 million Indian mobile phone users. IIT Madras held a press conference today on January 19 to announce the Indian Mobile Operating System. “BharOS Service” is currently provided to organizations that have strict privacy and security requirements, where users handle sensitive information requiring confidential communication. The OS is developed by JandK Operations Private Limited (JandKops), which was incubated by the IIT Madras Pravartak Technologies Foundation.
Last week, India’s IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw unveiled a new operating system called BharatOS or BharOS. The announcement came in the backdrop of the Competition Commission of India fining Google Rs 1,337 crore for allegedly monopolizing business practices related to Android, the operating system used in most smartphones in the country.
Despite the Narendra Modi government’s bombastic claims about BharOS changing the software landscape and the dawn of Atmanirbhar technology – BharOS is unlikely to have a tangible impact.
BharOS is Android
Interestingly, BharOS is Android. Google provides Android for free as part of the Android Open Source Project (ASOP). BharOS is based on ASOP developed by Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras. ASOP does not grant access to Google cloud services and applications. Access to applications such as YouTube, Google Maps, Chrome, Search, Google Pay, and most importantly, the Play Store, is granted only if the manufacturer agrees with Google to pre-load these applications and set them as default.
Some Google services will be accessible on BharOS, which is a fork of Android, according to the government. Vaishnaw said work has begun to localize the app ecosystem so that there is a dedicated app store. It also talks about a new chipset architecture that uses ARM (Advanced RISC Machine) architecture and RISC-V.
With BharOS, a private App Store can be accessed, and third-party manufacturers will be able to use it on their phones instead of developing their Android skin beyond what Google offers. It will receive over-the-air updates and have fewer pre-installed apps, which are referred to as bloatware, which reduces storage. The government also claims it will provide better privacy than Android.
Right now, BhartOS is rolled out for institutional use – government entities and IIT Madras staff and students can use it. However, no manufacturer sells a phone with this operating system.
There are two truths here. First, Google apps are the most requested – people want access to the Play Store, Google Drive, YouTube, Gmail, Google Search and Google Docs. Second, it is also true that these applications are also not open source. Through these applications, Google can collect data and also earn money through advertisements. At the heart of Google’s business model is the fact that it is the largest advertising company in the world.
Google is criticized worldwide for its monopolistic practices. In the United States, the Justice Department is also looking for ways to break up Google, particularly its advertising business.
Many local app developers have complained that Google’s practices stifle competition. MapmyIndia and Indus OS, which provide the Indus App Bazaar, are staunch critics of Google. MapmyIndia has been around for years and its product is perhaps better than Google Maps in some ways, especially for India. But with Google Maps being the default mapping software on Android, MapmyIndia’s services don’t get a fair shout. Indus OS is similar – it has a managed app store but cannot dare to compete with the mighty Google Play Store.
In addition, developers want to use their payment gateways. They also want to pay less commission to the mighty Google, which reserves the right to erase their existence from the grid by not letting their app into its store.
A Tectonic Shift in Mobile Computing?
The status quo is unlikely to change as BharOS is based on Android, which uses a Linux kernel. Android’s open-source elements are less and less appealing without the accompaniment of Google’s mobile services.
The bigger challenge will be mobilizing an application ecosystem to suit the Indian market. Meta apps including Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, services like YouTube, Google Maps, Google Drive, Google Search, Google Pay and apps like Google Docs and Chrome are all apps that Indians have become accustomed to.
When Donald Trump’s administration banned the use of Huawei devices in 2019, the Chinese company’s smartphone business, which was briefly the world’s largest, completely declined. Even going back to 2012, when Apple removed Google Maps as the default from iOS and launched Apple Maps, hardly anything has changed for iPhone users.
Amazon’s ill-fated Fire Phone, which had a managed Amazon Appstore, was also torpedoed by Google’s ubiquitous apps. Microsoft also had to build its Surface Duo with Android – the software giant even joined hands with Google for the same.
And India is Google’s market. It is highly unlikely that things will change.
Another challenge is developing apps for a certain device specification, as the Android ecosystem is already quite fragmented.
What will be next?
So far, all Android forks have come with worse user experience and security features. At the end of the day, the main development of Android is done by its creator – when one removes the umbilical cord and chooses the ASOP path. One also doesn’t get the benefits of Google’s constant and fast pace of development.
Are the scientists at IIT Madras better equipped to deliver an operating system that comes with big ambitions? Unlikely. They have neither the resources nor the know-how and the ecosystem – in terms of software and hardware – to come together in this effort.
Basically, this is another clarion call towards Atmanirbhar Bharat now that we are talking about building semiconductor factories in India and trying to eat China’s share of the global manufacturing ecosystem thanks to geopolitics and Covid.
It is also a way to protect India from potential geopolitical threats in the future that could separate the country from the global app economy.