Indus' Android-based OS races to become second most popular in India

How this homegrown outfit has done so could offer some vital lessons to global giants like Samsung or Apple.
Written by Rajiv Rao, Contributing Writer

Most articles trumpeting Indus' epic feat of becoming the second most popular OS in India after Android either don't understand operating systems or deliberately obfuscate the fact that it is nothing but an optimized Android OS.

That said, this homegrown company, originally known as Firstouch, has achieved something remarkable by tweaking Android in such a manner as to grab a 5.6 percent market share in just under a year, outstripping Chinese juggernaut Xiaomi's MIUI OS (thrid at 4.1 percent), Cyanogen (fourth at 2.8 percent), Apple's iOS (fifth at 2.5 percent) and easily beating offerings from behemoths Microsoft and Samsung (Tizen), both seventh at 0.3 percent.

According to Counterpoint Research, the first quarter of this financial year saw 1.4 million Indus OS devices sold out of 24.8 million smartphones, adding close to half a million OS phone activations every month and growing at an enviable 150 percent clip.

However, the real story in Indus' remarkable rise is how it has done so. It decided from the get-go to cannily train its sights on an oft-ignored chunk of the population -- the next 300 million users in small towns and villages who are native language speakers and who in a few years will be holding a smartphone in their hands for the first time. This is a mammoth task considering the hundreds of languages and thousands of dialects that exist, a potential nightmare from a product marketing perspective.

Somehow, Indus -- which has attracted investments from the Omidyar Network as well as ecommerce biggie Snapdeal's investors -- has been able to cater to some of this vast crowd and is available in 12 Indian languages. Its ecosystem is thoroughly regional, with patented keyboards that are able to translate local language messages into English with the ease of a left swipe, while a right swipe leads to a transliteration.

Indus' local app store called "App Bazaar" has become a raging success and soon may turn out to be the most heavily-trafficked app store in the world if it continues adding users at its current, scorching pace. It has allowed users from the length and breadth of the country to download their native languages without having to go through cumbersome routines such as plugging in email IDs or using a credit card -- a godsend if you reside in the hinterland without any of these accoutrements.

Its CEO has said that over a staggering 90 percent of Indus OS users have accessed App Bazaar and over 75 percent of its users do so on a monthly basis, no doubt attracted to the 25,000 regional language apps in its store.

Apple, Samsung are you listening?

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