Mobile applications generate large amount of revenue for the App-publishers, whether it is WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Gmail, Paytm or TikTok, and are what make your phones and tablets smart, in terms of functionality and features. Most of the Apps used in India today, are created and managed by foreign companies, majorly from the West and more recently from China. With more than 800 million smartphone users in India today, we are helping the app publishers generate substantial revenues. India is one of TikTok’s rapidly growing markets, which accounts for 30 perc ent of its 2 billion downloads worldwide. Indian companies have so far failed to make a headway with their Apps and engage significant users to compete with foreign publishers.
The situation was somewhat similar in China about ten years back, when Apps developed in USA and Europe had caught the imagination of the world. At some point in time, the Chinese Government simply banned usage of many of these Apps in the country. For example, Whats App is blocked in China today. The ban helped Chinese homegrown companies emerge and build quality Apps, which leveraged the large Chinese mobile userbase to become as successful as several US products.
Chinese apps like WeChat benefited the most after one of its last foreign competitors exited the market. Similarly, all Google Apps, including Google Maps, are banned in China and this enabled Baidu (popular search engine) to come up with similar Apps. Same is the story with Alipay and Qqube, replacing Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. They are heavily funded by Chinese venture funds like Alibaba Group and these App companies now have values comparable to that of their Western counterparts. In recent times, several of these Chinese Apps have also made considerable inroads in India.
Can this ban of Chinese Apps be an opportunity for Indian Start-ups to create quality indigenous Apps to leverage the Indian market and expand globally someday? Yes, it is an opportunity, but certainly not easy.
Indian youth certainly have some technology capabilities to develop such Apps, and many work on such products for tech giants like Facebook and Google. The skill set necessary for such work is continuously expanding in the country. Yesterday, IIT Madras launched an online BSc degree in data sciences open to all higher secondary graduates. This is likely to produce large number of high- quality application developers. Such programmes will further strengthen these capabilities.
Mobile Apps, however, require more than technology to succeed. The Apps that become popular are designed to immediately capture the imagination of their target users, with their look and feel, built keeping in mind the design aesthetic, user interface and innovative features. At the same time, they continuously innovate, design and redesign, adding new features, to reflect the habits of each region’s users and engage their users further. It requires a well-funded team of highly talented people. The Apps also need enough financial muscle to flood the market. All these are challenges for a Start-up.
Notwithstanding these challenges, today the Start-up community in India has enough energy and maturity to take up the task head-on. The opportunity has been there, now further strengthened by this ban, and it is up to them to stand-up and succeed.
It requires hard work, continuously learning from one’s failures and to stand up against all odds. But that is the definition of a Start-up. Fortunately, the Start-up ecosystem in India is quite vast today, with room for one or the other to succeed. We look forward to the day when Indian Apps are used on our mobile phones, as the preferred choice.
Ashok Jhunjhunwala and Tamaswati Ghosh, IIT Madras Incubation Cell
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