What’s Indus OS?

Indus OS is India’s homegrown operating system which is a forked version of Android, developed for the regional languages users in the country. Touted as the world’s first regional OS, the platform supports 12 major Indian languages at the moment. But don’t Android itself and all the forked versions of it, MIUI, Touchwiz included come with regional languages support already?

Well, they do, but it’s sort of a mixed bag. Unlike stock Android and other custom Android skins with support for Indian languages, in Indus OS, menu items, icon texts, et al too appear in the chosen regional language. Also, since it is targeted at first time smartphone users, the UI is smart and intuitive.

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Launched in 2014, initially as Firstouch, Indus OS arrived on the scene in when it raised $5 million in Series A funding round in January 2015 and in mid-2015 when domestic smartphone maker, Micromax, partnered with the company and announced few smartphones powered by Indus OS instead of stock Android like it had done always.

According to Counterpoint Research, Indus OS is now India’s second-most popular smartphone platform with a 6.3 percent market share, behind Android, while being ahead of Xiaomi’s MIUI and Cyanogen, as well as iOS. The number is expected to increase thanks to a deal that will see local giant Intex sell smartphones powered by its operating system.

Intex has a 10% market share in India’s smartphone market, and the partership is expected to boost Indus’ coverage of India’s mobile landscape. Prior to this, Indus OS had struck deals with other local brands such as Micromax, Karbonn, Celkon and Swipe but not Lava.

It’s no secret that brands from all over the world have their eyes set on India, which is one of the few regions to buck the global trend of slowing phone sales. Smartphone sales are seeing a 23% year on year rise in India when it’s slowing down elsewhere in the world, and as market penetration increases, English based UI elements translated into regional languages might not be enough, especially in a country with as diverse a language landscape as India with over 22 official languages, 150 languages with a sizable speaking population, and 1652 mother tongues

Research states, next 300 million Indian smartphone users in the coming three years will be regional language users. Indus OS pivots towards that demand from the next wave of smartphone users of a local alternative that speaks their language, literally. It is designed for vernacular users who will be using smartphones for the very first time, and have resisted the switch due to the language barrier.

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So far, Indus OS has support for 12 of the 22 officially recognized languages – English, Hindi, Marathi, Punjabi, Gujarati, Kannada, Bengali, Urdu, Telugu, Malayalam, Odia, Tamil, and Assamese.

The custom Android launcher, dialer and messaging app ensure that a first time user is not intimidated with a complex user interface or with UI elements in mixed languages. The messaging app packs in a handy ‘swype to translate’ as well as a ‘swipe to transliterate’ feature.

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The OS also comes with a regional language keyboard that provides predictions as well as transliteration, but apart from the added benefits, there is no skinning and everything else is just stock Android which is a win win for the consumers. There’s also built-in Text-To-Speech and live translation allowing users to listen to text in a message received or on a webpage in a different language. It also aids the illiterate with limited reading ability.

The OS also has it’s own App store called App Bazaar which has  over 30,000 apps including all the popular apps like Facebook and Whatsapp. The speciality? It lets users download apps without needing to sign-in with an email ID or Google account. Of course, it is Android though, so you can still headover to the Playstore and download apps to your heart’s content, but the App Bazaar even shows the app listings in regional languages. This proves the extensive focus on lingual convenience that the OS intends to offer.

The big difference however, that sets it in a better position than the Google Playstore, is that the App Bazaar supports carrier billing, allowing users to download paid apps and games via their mobile balance (pre-paid) or get billed for it (post-paid). It is a known fact that India is a major cash economy and not even half of the working, educated middle class owns a credit, or debit card.

In an interview with TechCrunch, Rakesh Deshmukh, one of the founders of Indus OS shared their plans to cover all Indian languages over a period of time and be available in other geographies too. “Our goal is to get OEMs to sign up. Now we want to go ahead and work with Chinese and international brands.” The company is also developing a Software Development Kit (SDK) for developers to get on board Indus OS, and put their apps on the App Bazaar.

The signs indicate that the coming years should only see Indus OS grow further, not just in India but the subcontinent, especially if the company manages to strike deals with Chinese OEMs, which happen to be quite popular in India.

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