IIT Madras’ BharOS comes with empty ambitions. It still can’t beat Google’s Indian market

LLast week India’s IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw unveiled a new operating system called BharatOS or BharOS. The announcement came amid India’s Competition Commission fining Google Rs 1,337 crore for allegedly monopolizing business practices regarding Android, the operating system used in most smartphones in the country.

Despite Narendra Modi government’s loud claims that BharOS is changing the software landscape and the dawn of Atmanirbhar technology – BharOS is unlikely to have a tangible impact.

BharOS is Android

The interesting part is that BharOS is Android. Google offers Android for free as part of the Android Open Source Project (ASOP). BharOS is based on ASOP developed by Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras. ASOP does not grant access to Google cloud services and applications. Access to apps such as YouTube, Google Maps, Chrome, Search, Google Pay and, most importantly, Play Store is only granted when a manufacturer agrees with Google to preload these apps and make them the system by default.

On BharOS, which is an Android fork, there will be access to certain Google services, according to the government. Vaishnaw said work has started to localize the app ecosystem so that there is a dedicated app store. He also talks about a new chipset architecture that piggybacks on the ARM (Advanced RISC Machine) and RISC-V architecture.

With BharOS, one can access a private App Store and third-party manufacturers will be able to use it on their phones instead of developing their Android skin on top of what Google offers. It will receive over-the-air updates and have fewer preloaded apps called bloatware, which reduces storage. The government also claims that it will offer better privacy than Android.

At present, BhartOS is introduced for institutional use – government entities and IIT Madras staff and students can use it. However, no manufacturer sells a phone with this operating system.

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Why BharOS?

There are two truths here. First, Google apps are the most desirable – people want access to Play Store, Google Drive, YouTube, Gmail, Google Search, and Google Docs. Secondly, it is also true that these apps are also not open source. Through these applications, Google can collect data and also earn money through advertisements. At the heart of Google’s business model is the fact that it is the largest advertising company in the world.

Google has been criticized around the world for its monopolistic practices. In the United States, the Department of Justice is also studying ways to break up Google, in particular its advertising business.

Many local app developers have complained that Google’s practices stifle competition. MapmyIndia and Indus OS, which provides the Indus App Bazaar, have been strong critics of Google. MapmyIndia has been around for years and its product is perhaps better than Google Maps in some ways, especially for India. But because Google Maps is the default mapping software on Android, MapmyIndia’s services don’t get a fair shout. Indus OS is similar – it has an organized app store, but it can’t dare to compete with the mighty Google Play Store.

On top of that, developers want to use their payment gateways. They also want to pay less commission to the powerful Google which reserves the right to erase their existence on the network by not leaving their application in its store.

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A tectonic shift in mobile computing?

The status quo is unlikely to change as BharOS is based on Android, which uses the Linux kernel. The open source elements of Android become less appetizing without the tailwind of Google Mobile Services.

The biggest challenge will be mobilizing an app ecosystem that caters to the Indian market. Meta apps including Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, services like YouTube, Google Maps, Google Drive, Google Search, Google Pay and apps like Google Docs and Chrome, these are all apps that Indians have come to love. accustomed.

When Donald Trump’s government banned the use of Huawei equipment in 2019, the Chinese company’s smartphone business, which was for a short time the largest in the world, plummeted. Even going back to 2012, when Apple removed default Google Maps from iOS and launched Apple Maps, it changed almost nothing for iPhone users.

Amazon’s ill-fated Fire Phone, which had the Amazon Appstore curated, was also torpedoed by the ubiquity of Google apps. Microsoft also had to make its Surface Duo with Android – the software giant even partnered with Google for the same.

And India is a Google market. Things are very unlikely to change.

An additional challenge is developing apps for a certain specification of a device, as the Android ecosystem is already quite fragmented.

And after?

So far, all forks of Android have come with poorer user experience and security features. Ultimately, the core development of Android is done by its creator – when one removes the umbilical cord by going the ASOP route. Nor are we enjoying the benefits of Google’s constant and rapid pace of development.

Are the researchers at IIT Madras better equipped to offer an operating system with great ambitions? Unlikely. They don’t have the resources or the know-how and the ecosystem – in terms of software and hardware – to band together in this business.

Basically, this is another bugle call to Atmanirbhar Bharat now that we are talking about building semiconductor fabs in India and looking to eat away at China’s share of the global manufacturing ecosystem, thanks to geopolitics and Covid.

It is also a way to protect India from potential geopolitical threats in the future that could decouple the country from the global app economy.

Sahil Mohan Gupta is a Delhi-based technology journalist. He tweets @DigitallyBones. Views are personal.

(Edited by Humra Laeeq)