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Developers speak about ‘Make In India’ future for apps industry

For as long as we netizens could scroll, swipe and tap between the library of apps on our phones and tablets, there was the prevalent belief that, with the power of the Internet in our palm, we were all-knowing. But lately, as the relationship between politics and technology go hand in hand, consumers have come to realise they themselves could be the product, and they should start questioning the journey of these apps, from conception to fruition.

Those who have the power to help change this conversation for the better are developers; those who can craft the apps upon which we rely — be it for mindless entertainment or quotidian must-do’s.

In the 2010s, the world watched as some of China’s most trending and profitable names in tech set up shop in India, offering lucrative opportunities for not just business but also social networking and creativity. But as political conflicts heated up at the Line of Actual Control at the Indo-China Border, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, on June 29, made the decision to call for 59 Chinese-associated apps to be banned from India and its territories.

Cons and pros

For some time, there have been prevalent fears about how these apps collected data.

Though posted two months ago, redditor u/bangarlol’s sub-Reddit on TikTok has gone viral this week. The user claims to have “reverse-engineered the app,” and “feels confident in stating that I have a very strong understanding for how the app operates (or at least operated as of a few months ago). TikTok is a data collection service that is thinly-veiled as a social network. If there is an API (Application Programming Interface) to get information on you, your contacts, or your device... well, they’re using it.”

That said, TikTok has sustained most of the damage publicly, having managed to tap into content creation markets in Tier-2 and Tier-3 cities.

The ByteDance-owned platform, along with livestream app BIGO Live, followed the Government order and withdrew itself from Google Play Store and App Store. Access to their browser sites has been barricaded. And, within 12 hours, apps such as, Woovly, Rizzle, HiPi by Zee5, Public and other home-grown short video platforms saw more sign-ups.

A woman in Bengaluru uses her smartphone

A woman in Bengaluru uses her smartphone   | Photo Credit: Manjunath Kiran / AFP

For example, WeChat’s India-made equivalent ShareChat has seen more than 15 million downloads since the ban was imposed.

As the tweets and opinions swell, netizens from different walks of life have a universal question: what happens now?

Post the ban order, teams at these companies and their creators have remained quiet until more updates come from the Government. It is a time of uncertainty for the technology industry in India but there are people — mainly developers and investors — who look at this order with optimism. Many have long felt that the technology and innovation side of ‘Make In India’ had been put off for far too long.

Eager alternatives

Hyderabad-based app developer at Microsoft Abhinav Mukherjee says, “There has been a vacuum for a long time in the utility app space too, and now Indian developers have to jump at the chance to fill it. App developers should not just think about versions of these apps but also how to build upon these ideas. There may be some startups coming up with more modern versions of these utility apps.”

It is also worth pointing out that users are not too fussed about utility apps for quick, no-brainer tasks such as scanning a PDF or converting an image, as long as the app abides by its claimed privacy policy.

Vindhya C, a product manager consultant and chief of staff for product and growth at Clarisights, Bengaluru, penned a blog post to her official website on June 30, aptly titled ‘How to build an Indian TikTok — A product perspective.’ Vindhya offers a few tips for developers who are now rushing to either create or promote Made-in-India short video apps. She advises, “You can copy the app as is, but there is so much more, especially in consumer apps. It is a beautiful amalgamation of product and content working very well together. From day one, that is what you need to focus on.”

So what about creators? Abhinav elaborates that users on content-based apps will face some difficulty as they may have to start over, adding “The appeal of utility apps and app suites [like CamScanner and Cache Cleaner] is always there because they are functional. There are apps like this in our own market [such as Zoho Doc Scanner, CamScanner’s equivalent], but they need to be updated to keep up with the times.” On the note of privacy, Abhinav agrees that this is the time India app developers can reframe privacy policies.

What if...

In April 2019, TikTok had been removed from App Store and PlayStore as directed by Madras High Court, owing to inappropriate content — but after two days, it was lifted.

Vindhya concludes, “I feel that these apps will strategically do something and come back[;] either register an LLP elsewhere and operate as non-Chinese apps, move the data centres or package as an Indian app and launch, and they are not dead, yet.”

Abhinav, who agrees with Vindhya, adds, “Most of the decision-making is top-down, so we do not know what happens behind the scenes. We have to be realistic because new apps require big teams, capital and time. There are also big conglomerates like Apple and Mahindra that offer opportunities for Indian developers to create homegrown apps and softwares with their financial aid. But we’ll see how the next few weeks pan out!”

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Printable version | Jul 24, 2021 5:05:35 AM |

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