analysis The government of India has reportedly teamed up with academia and startups to create its own mobile operating system dubbed IndOS, in the name of competition.
local port business standard He disclosed the initiative, quoting a senior government official as saying “India is one of the largest mobile markets in the world. Our goal is to create a secure Indian mobile operating system that can also create options and competition for Android dominance in the Indian market.”
Since then, government sources have been silent about the plan. Perhaps because the plan is not very detailed or serious, as the Government of India certainly understands two important things about the operating system market.
One is that no recent attempt to create a new private or public operating system has been successful. Even Microsoft’s impressive Windows Phone is dead, though Redmond actually put billions of dollars behind the operating system and buying Nokia to ensure mobile availability. Mozilla’s Firefox OS fails. Samsung’s Tizen has been ported to smartwatches and TVs.
China’s attempts to develop its own desktop Linux stalled, in part because users continued to buy Windows because it ran the software they wanted.
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Huawei built its HarmonyOS out of necessity. It uses a lot of code from Android and can run Android apps – because that’s what the market wants. There is little evidence of developer enthusiasm for the original HarmonyOS apps.
Which brings me to the second reason why India knows its homegrown OS has very poor prospects: developers and hardware manufacturers won’t care about it. They are tired of OS diversity from decades ago.
The people who make gadgets and write apps to run them won’t bother supporting a new operating system unless they pay for it. Even then, both groups will ensure that minimal efforts are required to operate or accommodate the new construction.
India also has no leverage over device makers, which it is trying to lure to its shores. The promise is that investing in local customers will result in facilities that are also capable of serving customers abroad. The nation is betting its plan will be attractive to manufacturers who learned a hard lesson in risk management when they put all their eggs in the China basket.
The government can insist that these manufacturers pre-install their own operating system on some devices, and quickly reply that plenty of other countries are happy to host new electronics factories.
Having invested so much political capital — and a few billion dollars — creating the beginnings of a world-class manufacturing ecosystem, India thus cannot force manufacturers to help it fight Big Tech’s monopolies.
She has to do it herself, and she’s not afraid to do it. The nation has embroiled Google in numerous antitrust actions, brought Facebook and Twitter on tiptoe with onerous content moderation regulations, forced clouds to slash through firewall records for indications of vehicular attacks, and challenged e-tail giants with commerce National Electronic Scheme.
But Big Tech keeps falling behind. The Asia Internet Coalition, Big Tech’s regional lobbying group, recently launched a strong rhetoric [PDF] arguing that India’s Digital Personal Data Protection Bill and Competition Amendment Bill would harm the country’s stated goal of improving the adoption and diffusion of digital technology. Google vigorously fights antitrust litigation in the courts and the court of public opinion.
on the other side …
India may already be working on a national operating system.
It has a proven track record of creating digital public goods – particularly the widely used Unified Payments Interface (UPI). The country’s enthusiasm for homegrown technology will make it popular as a concept, and possibly spark a response from big tech companies.
But if India is serious, big tech will fight back. That could mean less money pouring in for things like tech training and local cloud data centers, or fewer photo ops for Prime Minister Narendra Modi alongside expat Indian tech executives.
It could also mean less collaboration on initiatives such as preloading Indian government apps into Android — an initiative taken because India understands that delivering government digital services needs Android and its overall ecosystem.
So letting news of a local OS leak might be a trick. If anything more than that, history suggests that big tech companies have nothing to fear from IndOS, and India has a lot to lose. ®