On more than one occasion this year, I have heard Ravishankar Prasad, India’s Union Minister for electronics and IT encouraging developers to make apps in India, for India. The Indian government has already blocked thousands of Chinese apps and some have been replaced by Indian equivalents. For instance, TikTok and PUBG are replaced by Mitron and FAU-G respectively. But apps require a marketplace or app store from where they can be downloaded. And there are two prominent (and I dare say, monopolistic) ones at the moment — Google Play Store and Apple App Store. Both take a hefty cut (30% in the case of Google) on each download under a revenue-sharing model.
The other issue is the way regulation is done on these app stores. The system to check clones and copycat apps is far from perfect. A successful app on either of these app stores will soon have a bunch of meet-too apps. And the clones will get millions of downloads, greatly impacting the growth and success of the original app.
What needs to be done?
- Made in India apps need an Indian app store. And the government should make it mandatory for all mobile phone manufacturers to pre-load this app store on phones sold in the Indian market.
2. The Indian app store can charge a reasonable fee for each app that is downloaded (10 – 15%) and this can be collected by the Ministry of Finance.
3. All new apps being uploaded on this Indian app store should go through a rigorous process of validation. First, they need to be scanned for malware. If there are similar apps already existing, then the app’s author needs to be notified. The functionality of the app needs to be checked to prevent redundancy on the app store.
4. Once the apps are approved and appear on the Indian app store, the app developer will then be free to put the same apps on Apple’s App Store and Google Play Store after a period of say, 2 – 6months. That would give the Indian app store some exclusivity.
5. Google and Apple’s app store policies for India need to be scrutinized by the Indian Government. Both need to work closely with the concerned departments whenever there is a revision in policies.
Multiple institutions may need to be involved to make this possible: TRAI, CCI (Competition Commission of India), MeitY, and the Ministry of Finance. But I am confident that a tightly regulated Indian app store will create a level playing field and keep monopolistic players in check.
The Indian app ecosystem that our minister envisions will not come to fruition unless we have fairness and exclusivity, That’s why the Indian government needs to step in now.
AND TWO DAYS LATER….