About two weeks back, India’s premier financial services app Paytm got kicked out of the Play Store. While the episode didn’t last long as Google reinstated the app within hours, it triggered a widespread call to curb Google’s unabated dominance over the country's app distribution market. That uproar has now reached a point where a local tech startup consortium is exploring the option to launch a Play Store alternative that frees it from Google’s control.
In most international markets, Apple and Google together form a duopoly when it comes to app distribution, but the situation is a bit lopsided in India. Given nearly all smartphones sold in the country run Android, and in turn almost solely rely on the Play Store, Google gets to be a monopoly. Calls for establishing an alternate system have been raised sporadically for quite some time but they heightened after Paytm founder Vijay Shekhar Sharma became so vocal in the wake of his app’s takedown. Google’s recent decision to enforce in-app purchase rules more strictly further stoked the flames.
The founders of dozens of Indian startups — including MakeMyTrip, PolicyBazaar, and Sharechat — have joined Sharma to explore the creation of a formal industry alliance, TechCrunch’s sources told. The group held a meeting on Tuesday, as per ET Tech, to discuss the possibility of a rival app store that would promote the Indian app ecosystem. It even wants the government to oversee and ensure “app neutrality” along the lines of net neutrality guidelines, though no formal communication has been made with the authorities as of yet.
As a matter of fact, India’s Indus OS already maintains an app store that hosts a lot of local apps and even powers Samsung’s Galaxy Store. However, the industry body hasn’t reached out to Samsung-backed Indus OS yet. Indus or not, a separate app store will raise some serious concerns over data security, privacy, transparency, and even government snooping — as many members of the group have also questioned. In the meantime, Google has separately decided to make it easier to use alternative app stores, starting with Android 12, which should help if the consortium’s plans come to fruition.
For reference, Google also leads the Indian UPI payment market with its dedicated Google Pay app, a Paytm arch-rival. The company also joined hands with India’s Reliance Jio quite recently to create Android smartphones that could cost as low as $50 for those switching over from feature phones.