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‘We are going after the next 300 million smartphone users in India’

Armed with a solid plan and a bunch of useful services, here's how Indus, a startup from India plans to increase smartphone usage among non-English speaking users.

Indus OS claims to be the world’s first regional operating system for mobile phones. It’s an Android fork, and an interface that supports 23 Indian languages. According to Indus, 10 million devices are powered with its OS. But Indus is ambitious and is going after the next 300 million smartphone users. It has over-simplified the app interfaces for these users to enable them to do things like booking a cab, through SMS messages in regional languages.

Digital Creed met Sudhir Bangarambandi, CTO & Co-Founder, Indus to find out about the technology and services on this platform.

DC: What are the primary goals and the core focus for Indus OS? What is your business model?

Sudhir Bangarambandi, CTO & Co-Founder, Indus
Sudhir Bangarambandi, CTO & Co-Founder, Indus

Sudhir: We have been focussed on getting the next set of users on to smartphones. These are the vernacular and regional users. We are going after the next 300 million phone users.

We are a startup and we began operations in 2015. That was when the first device with Indus OS hit the market. We work with mobile manufacturers and our OS (Elite) goes along with the phone. At present, we have partnered with 10 Indian OEMs. But we have also begun working with Chinese OEMs like Gionee.

Our core focus is to enable the end-consumer; they are not well-versed with digital — the smartphone is perhaps the first digital or Internet access device for them.

DC: What’s inhibiting people from using a smartphone? What is the opportunity that you see here? 

Sudhir: Our users don’t understand the complexity of a smartphone. They use it mainly to make a call. For others, it is a status symbol rather than a utility device.

What’s inhibiting people? One is language. The way a smartphone communicates is not so simple; it is not intuitive for that kind of audience. Today’s smartphone is designed for the educated and tech savvy person.

We have users across India but we are primarily targeting the tier-2 and tier-3 markets. Right now, 70 percent of our users are from tier-1 and tier-2.

DC: How many languages does Indus OS support? What are the USPs of this product?

Sudhir: We support 23 Indian languages that cover 95 percent of the Indian population.

There are three pillars on which we ride on. One is the entire language piece. We help the user to translate messages in real-time. They can input messages in their own languages.

The second pillar is the UX, which is toned down; we have simplified it.

Indus OS is a fork of Andriod (a modified version).

The third pillar is content. We provide a lot of vernacular content, in a simplified manner. For instance, we have 400,000 plus apps which are localised and easy to discover.

DC: How does the cloud tie into this? 

Sudhir: We have been on the cloud right from the beginning, when our first device launched in 2015.

Today we have 10 million plus devices in the market powered by Indus OS. And all of this runs off the AWS cloud. Cloud has enabled us to scale from a small number to millions of devices.

We have a full-fledged market place (App Bazaar) for our apps on the cloud.

Apart from that we run niche technologies, like our translation engine, off the cloud.

DC: What are the other services that you run on the cloud?

Sudhir: We have a daily news service in all the vernacular languages. And we are taking a platform approach. Our users will not go and look for news. They are not accustomed to search — so we have to push content to them. We have multiple products where we push full-fledged services. For instance, booking a cab is a routine thing for all of us. But unless it is greatly simplified for this set of users, they will not go and book a cab using an app. So, we enable them to book a cab using an SMS application. We partnered with OLA for this very recently. There are many other examples.

So, we put the entire app experience in your messaging. When you open your messaging app you get a conversational bot UI that detects your location and asks you where you are, and where do you want to head to. It will then book an (OLA) cab for you. And this is done using a preferred regional language.

We want to turn this into a platform to enable people to easily discover and use these services. So we just simplify the whole process of finding, downloading and installing an app.

DC: How would a person, say a farmer, in a tier 3 city benefit?

These users do not know how to read and interpret the information in their apps.

We have been working with a company called farmArt, which allows farmers to rent out farming equipment to other farmers. They help us reach out to a different and niche audience. We help them in the discovery of the farmArt app.

DC: Which specific AWS technologies has Indus OS leveraged to address business challenges? Please provide some examples.

Sudhir: We need a powerful backend to serve all these users. And we have chosen the AWS platform to do all that — translation, providing our news content, or serving our apps.

We use a variety of AWS technologies from simple EC2 compute & S3 storage to Amazon DynamoDB & Redshift for databases. As a startup, it’s extremely important for us to easily scale up and scale down our compute capacities to suit our changing business strategies and scaling user base. All of this while keeping our costs low.

AWS provides auto-scaling of EC2 instances for this purpose. So, we have deployed all our user facing compute machines under auto-scaling whereby compute instances are automatically spawned during peak loads while bringing down the number of instances during off-peak hours. All this without any human intervention. This ensures high availability of the services we offer our users while keeping our costs low. In addition, we spawn mostly spot instances from AWS which further bring down the costs.

DC: How do you leverage machine learning models to provide intelligent features in your product offering?

Sudhir: An extremely useful feature we provide for our users is our Smart Balance wherein prepaid users get to see their current balance right while making calls. We leverage ML trained models to extract the balance information right on the user’s device. Not just the balance, our users also get to see what each call has cost them and where they are spending their talk time. This has made our users a lot more efficient and helped save costs for them, thus making our offering more valuable.

DC: What are your future plans? How will you leverage all the new AWS services for those plans?

Sudhir: We are primarily on AWS for all our backend infra needs. Down the line we will continue to leverage more of AWS services to power our backends. We are currently making Indus OS the go-to platform for India wherein more and more services can be easily consumed by our users. AWS has off late started offering more services under their machine learning umbrella, whether it be Amazon Sagemaker or their P2 machines for deep learning. We are exploring quite a few of those services and evaluating how we can leverage them for better service discovery for our users.

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Brian Pereira

Brian Pereira is an Indian journalist based in Mumbai. He has 25 years of technology journalism experience, and he's well known in the Indian IT industry. He is the former Editor of CHIP and InformationWeek magazines in India and has written technology articles for India's leading newspapers groups such as The Times of India and Indian Express Newspapers. Brian also writes on Aviation, startups and covers topics directed at small and medium businesses. He also has event experience and once put together the conference program for CeBIT and INTEROP events in India. Email: brian9p@gmail.com Twitter: @brian9p Linkedin: https://in.linkedin.com/in/pereirabrian

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