India and China have clashed over a territory dispute in Ladakh. As a follow-up action, the Indian government has banned 59 Chinese mobile apps in India. BE’s Saptarshi Deb spoke to Abhishek Rungta, Founder & CEO, Indus Net Technologies, about this development and its possible impact on the indigenous app development sector in India.
Q) What would be the impact of the recent banning of Chinese mobile apps on the Indian app economy?
A) It is not news that many apps collect user data to profile them and use the same profiling for various targeting and intelligence. This has been a point of concern globally for many popular products and privacy activists have been continuously voicing their opinion on the matter.
Countries are also becoming aware about their data sovereignty. When we have an adversary who can have access to that data to manipulate our population, action has to be taken. Ideally, we should address privacy and data issues and not be restrictive. However, considering the bullying of the Chinese government, the app ban was brought in action and it was also aimed to give a strong message with a mild dose of economic sanction of sorts. Also, this was a reflection of previous similar Chinese action on other global apps in their own country. Therefore, this is something where the Chinese can never stand strong against Indian actions.
It is not known how seriously our government is going to pursue this ban. If they do, they should continue with the same. If not, it will be a short-lived ban. If this remains a short-lived ban, it will give an opening to many Indian apps. A wave of Indian made apps which were unable to make their place in the consumer social media and utility app section due to the onslaught by global apps - including the Chinese apps – will gain immensely. If this becomes a long-term ban, it can help to create the Indian versions of Baidu, Weibo, WeChat, and TikTok with the already pre-existing large consumer base in India. However, they will continue to face competition from their US and European counterparts. It just reduces competition from one geography. We should not read too much into it.
Q) Do you see India’s indigenous app development and start-up sectors gaining from this recent development?
A) This incident will give them respite from Chinese competition but they still need to compete with apps coming from the US and other European countries. Due to the present nationalistic outcry, enhanced desire to buy Indian apps and a resolve to make the Indian app eco-system stronger from industry players and the government, certain gains can be expected. These gains will be in terms of getting a head start in some cases. It can trigger a mad-rush and remind the creators and consumers that we can have our own products. But at the end of the day, the long-term result will purely be dependent on the execution, design, technology and ability to effectively growth-hack (marketing built into the product) and get the consumers interested.
Q) Some of the recently banned Chinese apps like TikTok and CamScanner were hugely popular? Was it only because of their superior marketing or was enhanced usability also an important factor?
A) We cannot generalise the reasons for the popularity of all apps. Some apps became popular because they came pre-installed with the phones which were manufactured in China. Some became popular because they filled in a void which was left by the western social apps. Despite the triggers, as mentioned above, a product definitely needs superior user experience and growth hack to grow exponentially. There is no marketing apart from word-of-mouth that can give you billions of users without breaking the bank.
Q) How would you rate the usability of apps originating in India as compared to similar apps developed in other countries?
A) Indian apps are improving in leaps and bounds in terms of usability. Some Indian products like ZohoWriter, Cred, INDWealth, PatTM, Stockedge, Ludoking are pretty good for their category. And since the awareness on user experience, attention and habit cycle is developing, Indian products are getting better exponentially. It is just a matter of time.
Q) Your company has been involved in developing various mobile apps for the banking and financial sector. What are the core issues that you have tried to address while developing these apps?
A) The most important issues are to understand and do your best within the limitations of the products and the regulatory framework that these financial institutions offer. Secondly, it is also important to understand user behaviour, commonly used actions and journeys and ensuring that the app enables them instead of becoming a spoiler. Thirdly, we must be open to the possibility of integration with different services within the financial institution and to figure out how a client and institution objective can be best served. It is also important to recognise that there are continuous changes in the industry, and at times, you do not have much time to build and ship a product due to regulatory or competitive pressure. The last issue that needs attention is to ensure security and scalability.
We do extensive research, thought leadership, recommendations, workshops, and prototyping with our partner institutions to keep them ahead of the curve. We have stood behind our partners and have gone beyond our core responsibilities on many occasions. By this, we have not done a favour to them but this is the nature of this business.
Q) The Indian economy is presently in a tight spot. How do you see app-based business models emerging as the ‘new normal’ in the changed economic scenario? Can it be a viable alternative to retrigger economic growth?
A) Yes and no.
Technology can be a major enabler or even a disruptor by bringing in new business models by making big changes in the value chain. Therefore, it has great potential to enable new value propositions which can nudge demand. It can be a value creator by solving the value proposition problem as long as it maintains the unit economics. It is also important to see that it does not go overboard and become a loss-leader.
When I say - no, I mean that only technology cannot revive the economic scenario or be an alternative. It can bring the benefit of digital services in people’s hands but not change the demand situation. Core industries need to produce, solve problems, and create value. Digital services can enable, expand reach, improve the value proposition, and make things more efficient.
At times, in the Indian context, we may feel that digital services can be a ‘solve all’ proposition for the Indian ecosystem, primarily due to massive inefficiencies in the ecosystem. And, we should not be apologetic about it and use it for the economic boost it can offer. The good thing is that the government has become far more ‘switched on’ in terms of digital. In fact, they have become a strong enabler. Therefore, this is a great time.