India already has an app store for governance-centric apps, which can be scaled up to begin with, said one of the officials cited above. In addition, there is a need to also introduce policies requiring handset manufacturers to preload alternative app stores alongside popular offerings like Google Play, the sources said.
Weighing in on the issue, union minister for electronics and IT Ravi Shankar Prasad said in a post on Twitter that he is happy to receive notable suggestions from Indian app developers on how to encourage the ecosystem. “Encouraging Indian app developers is vital to create an #AatmanirbharBharat app ecosystem,” he tweeted on Thursday.
“Encouraging Indian app developers is vital to create an #AatmanirbharBharat app ecosystem.”
The Indian government “is not averse to the idea” of launching its own app store, officials said. The existing digital store for government apps, developed by the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (CDAC), hosts a slew of applications such as e-governance app Umang, health app Aarogya Setu and storage app DigiLocker.
Won’t be Easy, say Experts:
Payment app Paytm is among the few private sector apps to feature on the store.
“Building an app store is like building a shopping mall and the government can very well facilitate it,” one of the officials said while acknowledging that for an indigenous app store to successfully take on Google and Apple’s dominance, it has to be “as good” and “robust”.
ET reported on Thursday that a number of technology entrepreneurs are joining hands to petition the government seeking support to create an overarching Indian digital app ecosystem. The demand has been spurred by Google’s announcement on Monday that it would enforce a 30% commission on in-app purchases.
Global experts are of the view that India is well placed to break the dominance of global technology giants in its digital app ecosystem. “The (digital) industry doesn’t need the government’s help in this, they (developers and entrepreneurs) can just crowdsource it and keep a minimal charge of 2% to run the platform. Nobody will then need to pay 30% to Apple and Google,” said Vivek Wadhwa, an American technology entrepreneur and academic.
“ If it (local app store) is scaled up globally after being initially successful in India, developers around the world will be happy to be on an alternative platform where they don’t have to shell out a hefty 30%,” he added.
Government officials said the issue (of overseas tech giants dominating India’s digital app sector) emerges from the fact that Google’s Android operating system has a “98% market share” in the smartphone segment in India whereas it’s much lower in other countries including the US. “The problem of monopoly is very acute,” said the person, adding that Google receives user and usage data about other apps listed on its Play Store and, also competes with them through its own offerings.
“This may be unfair trade practice which builds a strong case for having an alternative app store,” officials told ET.
However, industry experts said building an Indian app store will be anything but easy since companies like Google and Apple provide several readymade tools to developers to build their apps. And they spend billions of dollars to screen out malware and security bugs every year.
“It is easy for developers to use their (Google) libraries because alternatives are very hard. They are also tightly linked to other services such as maps, authentication, location,” said Anand Venkatanarayanan of technology community platform HasGeek who reckons that “building an alternative app store can be easy but getting a platform for trusted distribution is very challenging”. Particularly as this will involve ensuring that a listed app is not a Trojan or malware and is from a genuine software developer or organisation.
“Even for Google, this is not a solved problem and creating this trust for users is hard. Any attempt to say that it is doable at scale by a government-run app store must be taken with a lot of scepticism,” he said.
Officials, on their part, said it is good that it is the industry, which is planning to approach the government to launch an app store. “If the government had done it on its own initiative, allegations of user privacy and data sharing would be raised.”