View from India: Silver lining for app developers

In Covid times when many organisations have shrunk in size with dwindling employee strength, mobile app developers in India are preparing for a new innings.

In an effort to promote app developers nationally, Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi has introduced an App Innovation Challenge. The announcement, which was made earlier this month, will roll out in two tracks, aimed at tech entrepreneurs and the start-up community.

In Track 1, the best user-friendly citizen apps will be identified and scaled up for international standards. In the second track, the Government of India (GoI) will zero in on companies and entrepreneur-start-ups to build apps at a national level. This, in a nutshell, is the Digital Indian AatmaNirbhar Bharat App Innovation Challenge. A collaborative project, it has been launched by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) in partnership with the Atal Innovation Mission and Niti Aayog, a think tank floated by GoI.

To break the Challenge into further details, Track 1 comprises eight categories such as Office Productivity and Work from Home, Social Networking, E-Learning, Entertainment, Health and Wellness, Business including Agritech and Fintech, News and Games. The apps will provide services in these sectors, which the PM pointed out, is what will make the country self-reliant or AatmaNirbhar.

The second of its kind is oriented to encourage new developers, nurture them and give them the required support in terms of incubation, prototyping and access to the market. So basically the existing apps are being promoted just as the new ones are encouraged. Both tracks are envisioned to strengthen the mobile ecosystem in the country.

Sharing his thoughts, PM Modi tweeted, “Today there is immense enthusiasm among the tech and start-up community to create world class Made in India Apps. To facilitate their ideas and products @GoI_MeitY and @AIMtoInnovate are launching the Aatmanirbhar Bharat App Innovation Challenge.”

A jury comprising professionals from the private sector and academia will evaluate the selection process. Innovators can participate in the challenge and submit their entries by 18 July to the MyGov platform.

Describing the effort as "Aatmanirbhar App Ecosystem," the prime minister wrote on LinkedIn: “Can we think of making traditional Indian games more popular via apps? Can we develop apps with targeted and smart access to the right age group for learning, gaming? Can we develop gaming apps for people in rehabilitation or getting counselling to help them in their journey?” Many such issues can be resolved through technology.

The app challenge comes in the wake of GoI’s decision to ban 59 Chinese apps. Statistics indicate that in India nearly 300 million people are on Facebook, about 400 million are on WhatsApp and the now banned Chinese app TikTok has a community of 200 million users. Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat have a couple of million users each.

Against this backdrop, the thrust is on native apps. The vision could be a springboard for Indian app developers. Already a few home-grown apps have a firm footing. For instance, Chingari has a user base which is over the one crore (10 million) mark. This multi-language app allows users to chat with friends. What is interesting is that the videos that are uploaded and viewed fetch points for the content creator, which can be redeemed for money.

As a video-photo app, Roposo gives a feel of television browsing. Media reports indicate that it has been downloaded over 55 million times. Another native app that has caught on with about 60 million users is ShareChat. This is a content sharing app whose highlight is that it is in 15 vernaculars.

When the Make in India apps are positioned for the Indian user, they should attract investments, besides generating employment.

App developers could focus on data security, file transfers and speed. Besides offering monetary incentives at various levels, the apps need to create buzz and win the confidence of users for whom privacy matters most. As a rule of thumb, apps that have vernacular options connect with the user on grounds of comfort and familiarity.

Smartphones can be used for entertainment, managing official works and socialising. Simply put, it’s “On demand everything.” Let’s hope these forthcoming apps latch on to the requirement and connect to the demand pie.

There could be some excitement in this rather glum air, as the upcoming Indian apps will hopefully create an economic disruption.

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