July , 2020
Making Indian apps a popular choice
11:04 am

Aritra Mitra

On June 29, 2020, the Government of India banned 59 apps of Chinese origin citing security issues. The digital strike was the government’s policy to retaliate with the Chinese government in the wake of the military clash that took place in the Galwan valley and took the lives of 20 Indian soldiers. According to several experts, India's decision to ban Chinese apps seems to be an effective way to impose costs on China for its actions and inhibit its ability to access information from inside the country.

Available data state that India has been the fastest growing app market in the world. Chinese apps have a huge penetration in the Indian market. Media sources state that the list of Chinese apps in 2020 has been growing popular in India and holds a share of 39% to 40% in the Indian app market. With more than 300 million Indians using smartphones, popular Chinese apps in India have been ruling the market significantly over the years. Now, with the banning of these Chinese apps, it is being speculated that it will provide a break for Indian app developers.  

Golden opportunity for Indian developers

Speaking on how this opportunity can be utilised by the Indian app developers, Hitesh Agarwal, Director, Tech Exactly, told BE, “The main popularity behind the Chinese applications was that they were visual communication (VC) archives. So, huge amount of money was involved in their distribution and marketing. Earlier, for the Indian companies, to raise that kind of money and to give returns to the VC was possible but very difficult.”

He pointed out to the different mindset of the Indian people, where a company running in loss is looked at with a negative outlook. However, various Chinese companies run in huge losses but have large user bases as they invest huge amounts in marketing and distribution. Now, with these Chinese apps banned, people are definitely going to look for alternatives. A lot of alternatives have already come in the app store and they are quite good in terms of user experience. Additionally, the Indian developers understand the Indian markets better than the Chinese. The challenges of distribution will also be sorted because with the banning of the Chinese apps, investments will flow in for the Indian products.

Experts are of the opinion that rapid innovations are taking place in the Indian app market and trending apps like ShareChat, Roposo, JioMeet and others are products of such innovations. Traditional well-established companies like Airtel are also now conducting operations via mobile apps.


Various alternatives are coming up after the ban of these Chinese apps. Chingari is one such app that is posed as an alternative to the popular Chinese app, Tik Tok. In an interaction with PTI, Sumit Ghosh, Chingari’s co-founder and Chief of Product said, “We have been witnessing massive growth for the last three weeks which has accelerated further after the government’s ban. We already have over 1.1 crore downloads and 70 lakh users every day on our platform.” Ghosh further informed that though the company currently has a team of 20 people but the growth rate of the company will push them for an aggressive expansion policy.

Alternatives have been pitched for other Chinese apps as well. The famous UC Browser that came pre-installed on several smartphones is owned by the Chinese Alibaba Group. The app has been accused of several privacy and security issues in the past and the Citizen Lab even published a detailed study that showed the vast security vulnerabilities and privacy gaps within the app. While UC Browser released a new version in an attempt to fix these issues, a lot of them are still not fixed. The two best alternatives to UC Web Browser by Indian developers are Epic Web Browser and JioBrowser. The Epic Web Browser is developed by a Bangalore based company called Hidden Reflex. SHAREit, a file transfer Chinese application, is also accused of various security threats. ShareALL can be a viable Indian alternative for it.

Why are the Chinese and American apps more popular?

Now, questions may be asked regarding the huge popularity of these Chinese apps. A software executive told BE, “There is no inclination of people towards Chinese apps in particular. There are certain factors with the help of which certain apps have been able to capture the market share.” He stated that some apps came earlier than others and as a result was able to capture more market space. User-friendliness and advertisements are also important factors behind the popularity of these apps. The executive stated, “Certain apps are more user friendly as compared to others. For example, we have Whatsapp, Hike and WeChat. The reason why both Hike and WeChat failed to gain significance can be attributed to the user- friendly interface (UI) in WhatsApp and the number of users already available in the app. SHAREit started off with zero advertisements, which the users prefer.”

One thing also has to be noted that despite the presence of the Indian apps which can act as alternatives for the banned Chinese apps, several American apps are also pitched as their viable substitutions. For instance, Instagram is being cited as Tik Tok’s replacement and is much more popular than the Indian counterpart Mitron or other Indian apps. Similarly, Microsoft Lens is being recommended as a replacement for CamScanner, WhatsApp is being recommended as a replacement for WeChat and Google Files Go is being recommended instead of SHAREit.

Agarwal said, “The US is predominantly the trend setter in the digital domain. We are not at a stage where we set the trend for India and the world and so we are influenced by our western thought leaders. American apps dominate our app market though in many cases, the Indian products are better than the American versions.”

He believes that the Indian apps are at par with global apps and have everything in terms of user friendliness and all other requirements needed to please a user. However, it is because of the marketing strategies of the Chinese and American apps that they are dominating the market. Agarwal cited the example of ShareChat which is made for Indian regional languages and it becomes difficult for the Chinese and the American companies to develop something like this as it needs to have a lot of understanding about the Indian population.

According to a report published in The Times of India, the US has extended full support for India in its banning of Chinese apps. The report stated, “At least two bills are pending in the US Congress to ban federal government officials from using TikTok on their cell phones, reflecting such a sentiment can gain momentum in the US after India’s decision.” However, experts feel that the American support for India’s move is not totally devoid of self-interests. Firstly, a threat to security and privacy is a much-discussed issue in the US as well. Also, the banning of Chinese apps may help American apps to increase their foothold in the Indian market.

Challenges and prospects

The current situation provides the opportunity to ensure the development of enough Indian applications so that the Indian app market can be self-supporting. The software executive stated, “The most important aspect of all of this would be the harmony between the developers and consumers. We can request the consumers to try out the applications developed in India, but if we look at the long-term picture, we must address the concerns of the consumers. The switch from Whatsapp to Hike will be difficult given the huge customer base existing for Whatsapp. However, we need to provide additional benefits and features in Hike so that the migration is swift. And that is how an indigenous app economy can be developed without any external support.”

There are several challenges involved with the process as well. According to industry insiders, in app development, a lot of attention to details is required which necessitates excellent quality of skillsets. Hence, skillset is going to be the primary challenge in rolling out an app that can gain popularity in India. Agarwal stated, “There are policies which are in place for a start-up conducive environment and if the government understands the new mind-set about software product development, then it will be much easier for the Indian developers to flourish. Traditionally, we have been into IT services for years but there has not been an Indian product which is used globally.”

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