App developers and entrepreneurs in India have started demanding a national app store alternative to Google Play, which has so far dominated the app ecosystem in the country. The call for an alternative started shortly after Google announced a 30 percent fee for the apps that are there on Google Play but are not using Google’s billing system. The latest move comes just less than a couple of weeks after Google briefly pulled mobile wallet app Paytm from the Play store for violating the platform’s rules for content. Google has reportedly also called out Zomato and Swiggy for the same reason as Paytm.
Paytm co-founder and CEO Vijay Shekhar Sharma is leading a team of app developers and entrepreneurs to bring an Indian alternative to Google Play.
The move to build an alternative to Google Play decided after Google announced that it would enforce the existing rule of taking a 30 percent cut from in-app purchases made via the Play store for all listed apps. The company mentioned in a blog post released earlier this week that nearly 97 percent of app developers already use Google Play’s billing system.
“India needs a local app store long term else 30 percent tax will eat up most businesses, is anyone trying to build one?” tweeted Harshil Mathur, CEO of payments gateway RazorPay.
Nonetheless, the decision to bring an Indian app store alternative to Google Play is not just limited to help app developers retain their revenues from in-app purchases. It is also to get an independent platform specifically to support local apps, Vishal Gondal, founder of healthcare platform GOQii, told Gadgets 360 over the phone.
In addition to the initial model sketched by the entrepreneurs’ team led by Sharma of Paytm, the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) has sought a meeting with its member startup founders to understand and resolve their concerns around Google Play and the app ecosystem in the country.
Sudden removal of apps pushed the demand
Paytm was amongst the key Indian apps that were recently pulled from Google Play. That raised eyebrows among a few startup founders in the country. Google provided clarity on the issue by saying it had imposed the ban not for offering cashbacks and vouchers. However, the Android maker had also pulled various smaller Indian apps in the recent past.
Doosra, an app that is designed to deal with spam calls by offering a virtual mobile number, was one such app that was pulled from Google Play just a week after its formal launch that took place on September 15. Serial entrepreneur and founder of the Doosra app, Aditya Vuchi, told Gadgets 360 that it took 48 hours for the team to convince the Google Play store team to bring back the app.
“It was related to a specific functionality around secure call-back that existed for about 11 releases [in the past], but the app got pulled without any notice,” Vuchi said.
The Doosra developers moved to alternatives including the Samsung App Store to temporarily resolve the loss due to the removal from Google Play. However, Vuchi stated that it impacted the startup’s business.
“This kind of unilateral decisioning puts any business at risk,” he told Gadgets 360. “You look at it from us as a business owner to somebody as an investor.”
Vuchi also underlined that the team didn’t make any changes to the Doorsa app and just provided some clarification about the call-back feature that resulted in the ban initially.
Aside from Doosra, apps including Swiggy and Zomato also recently received notices from Google for not complying with its Play store policies. The move was essentially to restrict gamification through the apps that are available as the two leading food aggregators in the country.
Sources close to the development told Gadgets 360 that Swiggy had to pause the gamification feature on its app and was in talks with Google on the matter. However, the Bengaluru-based company didn’t provide a comment on the matter. Zomato, on the other hand, called Google’s notice “unfair” in a public statement.
“We believe that the notice is unfair, but we are a small company and have already realigned our business strategy to comply with Google’s guidelines. We will be replacing Zomato Premier League with a more exciting programme by this weekend,” a Zomato spokesperson said in the statement.
The practice of sending notices to app developers to comply with Google Play’s policies is in place for quite some time. However, Indian entrepreneurs now believe that an Indian alternative would help retain the user base in case of a ban from Google Play.
“Today, a foreign company can decide on its own whatever rules they want to play, and stop access of millions of customers to a very important service,” Gondal of GOQii said.
Alternative at a cost of reach?
App developers are considering that a local app store could help provide better regional requirements. According to the data shared by Google, consumer spend on apps and games created by Indian developers “doubled year to date,” when compared to the same period last year. Indian developers also saw an year-over-year growth of more than 80 percent in the consumer spend from users outside of India.
Experts also believe that building a successful alternative to Google Play isn’t that easy — considering Google’s scale and user base in the country.
“It is a mammoth task to replicate any significant success because of the existing stickiness factor which was created through a huge existing installed base and well-developed stakeholders ecosystem,” said Pavel Naiya, Devices and Ecosystem, Counterpoint Research. “Google and Apple have a strong enterprise ecosystem which also plays a key role in the development of its platform.”
Having said that, many Indian developers who target local consumers seem to be fine with the contraction in their reach and revenues.
“Companies, with only India as a market won’t need to worry with additional global compliances before they actually go beyond India and need to abide by them,” said Pulkit Sharma, co-founder and CEO of curated news app Khabri.
Vuchi of the Doosra app is also optimistic that the scale for alternative solutions would pick up steam once their adoption in the country would grow.
Existing alternatives already in place
Although there is a sudden growth in the demand for an alternative to Google Play, the market already has some alternatives. In fact, companies including Samsung, Vivo, and Xiaomi already have their native app stores alongside Google Play on their smartphones. Google also recently announced that it would make it easier for users to switch to alternative app stores with the release of Android 12 next year. There’s also a Mobile Seva Appstore run by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), with over 1,000 government apps and 8.5 crore downloads in India.
In addition to the foreign alternatives to Google Play and the MeitY-run Mobile Seva Appstore, Noida-based Indus OS has been operating its India’s largest indigenous app store available in multiple local languages that it calls the App Bazaar.
Rakesh Deshmukh, co-founder and CEO, Indus OS, told Gadgets 360 that the App Bazaar, which is also powering the Samsung Galaxy App Store in the country, delivered more than 100 crore app installs in the last one year and has over 10 crores users till date. He also specified that around four lakh apps have been published on the app store so far and those included various Indian apps such as Voot, Ludo King, Myntra, and Paytm as well as international titles including Amazon, Disney+ Hotstar, Spotify, and WhatsApp, among various others.
Deshmukh stated that unlike Google Play that takes a cut for in-app purchases and is making it mandatory for all app developers listing their apps on the platform to go with the native billing system, it doesn’t enforce them to use any particular payment mechanism.
“Our business model is ad driven,” he said. “So, there are certain placements within our store for which we ask if developers want to use those placements, we charge them.”
He also noted that similar to Google Play that offers security-focussed features such as Play Protect, the App Bazaar ensures user security and safety.
However, the Indus OS solution hasn’t yet been considered as the ultimate option by the app developers and entrepreneurs demanding an Indian alternative to Google Play.
Disclosure: Paytm’s parent company One97 is an investor in Gadgets 360.
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