Tech

India’s government may foster home-grown mobile OS

India’s minister of state for Electronics and IT Rajeev Chandrasekhar has revealed the nation’s government intends to develop a policy that will encourage development of an “indigenous mobile operating system”.

Speaking at the launch of a policy vision for Indian tech manufacturing, Chandrasekhar said India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology believes the market could benefit from an alternative to Android and iOS and could “even create a new handset operating system” to improve competition, according to the Press Trust of India.

“We are talking to people. We are looking at a policy for that,” Chandrasekhar told local media, adding that start-ups and academia are being considered as likely sources of talent and expertise to build the OS.

“If there is some real capability then we will be very much interested in developing that area because that will create an alternative to iOS and Android which then an Indian brand can grow,” he added.

The minister offered no timeframe for a decision on whether to proceed with the policy, nor the level of assistance India’s government might provide.

Nor did he say much to suggest he knows that past attempts to create alternative mobile operating systems, or national operating systems, have cratered.

Even Microsoft, famously, failed to make an impact with Windows Phone despite throwing billions at the OS and acquiring Nokia to ensure supply of handsets to run it. Mozilla’s Firefox OS was discontinued after efforts to crack India’s mobile market with low-cost devices failed. The Linux Foundation’s Tizen hasn’t found a lot of love.

China’s government has promoted Kylin – a Linux distribution – as a fine OS for locals, but it has not won much market share. Russia’s Astra Linux is widely used by the nation’s military, but is unloved elsewhere.

India is fiercely patriotic, actively promotes use of local products, and has a market of sufficient size that key developers could see a locally developed OS as worthy of their time and attention. The government could also conceivably make use of the OS a condition of the subsidies it’s providing to attract manufacturers to its shores.

Yet the nation already has an indigenous OS of a sort – the special cut of Android that Google developed with local carrier partner Jio Platforms.

Jio reported its results last week and revealed it has 410 million subscribers, all of whom will be steered towards handsets running its custom Android.

Chandrasekhar’s brief remarks did not address how a local OS might combat the likes of Jio, nor what India would do differently to Microsoft, Mozilla, China, and Russia, to make its effort a success. Nor did his remarks address how funding an alternative to iOS or Android would help India to attract investment from Apple, nor that Google might not be keen on the nation funding a rival just a year after the search and ads giant pledged a $10 billion digitalization fund to help India modernise.

The report he was launching, India’s new vision document [PDF], calls for the nation’s electronics manufacturing industry to generate value of $300 billion a year by the year 2026, but suggests significant reform will be required to reach that goal. ®


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