India’s regional diversity, particularly its many languages, presents a unique challenge to smartphone makers. English is the predominant language of smartphone operating systems. This immediately reduces access to digitisation for millions of Indian who are not familiar with the language. Phones that have language translation are at best passable and do a limited job in affording the many opportunities smartphones represent. Thus, Indus OS – a smartphone operating system accessible in 12 Indian regional languages is a digital dream come true for millions of Indians.
They are finalists at the Manthan Awards 2016 and Rakesh Deshmukh, Co-founder and CEO talks to Networked India about Indus OS’ journey, what a regional language smartphone experience means to Indians who cannot fully grasp English and their plans to go across the Indian Ocean to other emerging markets with their unique product.
Networked India (NI): Tell us about the thought process behind creating Indus OS – the world’s first regional language smartphone OS. What are its stand out features?
Rakesh Deshmukh (RD): India’s #2, Indus OS is addressing the emerging market’s biggest challenge – to develop technology to cater to the economic, social and regional diversity. In its mission, Indus OS is using a smartphone as a medium to connect the digital world with the masses. Indus OS is the World’s First Regional Operating System specially made for emerging market users. With simplification, content & innovation at the core of its product philosophy, Indus OS is addressing the low smartphone adoption, content consumption and linguistic challenges of emerging markets. The OS currently supports English & 12 regional languages spoken by over 95% of the Indian population.
It has been founded by Rakesh Deshmukh, Akash Dongre and Sudhir Bangarambandi, three IITians, who met in IIT Bombay. Their inspiration to develop Indus OS lies in a market need; to develop a digital ecosystem for users from the emerging markets to help them break the English language barrier. Less than 10% of the Indian population considers English as their first, second or third language. It is well researched that the next 300 million users who will use a smartphone for the first time in the next 3 years will be native language speakers. India’s smartphone penetration is currently just about 24% and to have the entire country and other emerging markets realise their true smartphone market potential, it is imperative for brands to provide them the entire smartphone experience in their own regional language to ease the learning curve & increase adoption.
Following are some of Indus OS’ product features that have helped us build a competitive product differentiation in the market:
- Indus Swipe – Translate & Transliterate text between English & a regional language
- Word & Matra prediction (to capture vowel sounds) in regional languages
- Indus Reader – OS integrated offline text-to-speech in regional languages developed by a consortium of Indus OS, the Government of India’s MeitY, TDIL & Indian Institute of Technology, Madras
- Hybrid Keyboard™ – Type in a regional language using the English keyboard
- Indus Messaging – Free text messaging between Indus OS users
- Indus Dialer – Dialer integrated Balance tracking, analytics & one touch recharge feature specifically created for more than 90% of the mobile subscribers in India who are prepaid users
- Simpler & intuitive UI for regional language users & first time smartphone users
- Patented Regional keyboards in natural order of alphabets for intuitive typing
- App Bazaar – Regional app marketplace in 12 languages
- Integrated carrier billing for apps payment without credit card
- No email address required to download apps.
The operating system is available in English & 12 Indian languages – Malayalam, Telugu, Tamil, Odiya, Assamese, Punjabi, Kannada, Gujarati, Hindi, Bengali, Marathi, Urdu.
NI: How challenging was it to get the Matra predictions of Indian languages? What kind of technology did you deploy to do so?
RD: Matra prediction is one of our patented features. It is something that we have created from scratch, we did not have a ready blueprint to implement this in our Indus OS keyboard. With Matra prediction we suggest vowel sounds & half letter variations in regional languages which makes way for faster and an intuitive typing. Indus OS has on board a team of 12 Ph.D. linguists dedicated to each language that the OS supports and they have helped us build a word corpus of over 300,000 in every language. The biggest challenge was to understand the occurrence frequency of every matra (vowel sound) after every consonant. Indus OS’ Matra prediction is able to accurately suggest vowel sounds in the order of maximum usage.
NI: Indus OS currently, supports 12 Indian languages. What are your plans to cover the rest?
RD: During the pilot testing phase, Indus OS supported only Gujarati. The OS was enhanced to support 10 languages during its launch phase. In its latest upgrade, Indus OS 2.0 supports 12 languages including Assamese and Urdu for the first-time ever. Like any other technology product, innovation and evolution is part of the process. Our focus with Indus OS, is to provide a better deeper language experience to users as opposed to the limited language experience that most other brands provide which in most cases is only for the menu text. As of now the 12 languages that Indus OS 2.0 version supports is spoken by over 95% of the Indian population and our aim is to enhance the user’s experience for these 12 languages.
NI: Give us some background on the founders of Indus OS.
RD: The three founders, each of whom come with their own unique brand of charm and technological prowess, have an in-depth understanding of the industry nuances.
Rakesh Deshmukh, Co-Founder & CEO of the company, is the impetus behind the company’s growth; he has been primarily responsible for spearheading Indus OS into the stage of rapid global expansion. With his blend of technical and business acumen, he has been the ideal person to drive this aspect of Indus OS’ journey. Combined with his people skills, he is known to bring sound strategy to the table.
Akash Dongre, Co-Founder & CPO of the company, spearheads the products at Indus OS. His role has been in conceptualizing, selecting, and driving the evolution of the product division. A mobile technology ninja, he has rich skill sets in the ideation, strategy and delivery of mobile devices, customized OS, applications and software solutions. Apart from work, he is known to be a travel freak, adventure driven half marathoner, a biker and a foodie.
Sudhir Bangarambandi, Co-Founder & CTO of the company, is the architect behind the design and development of the technology at Indus OS. Dubbed the creator of technology at Indus OS, he comes with strong, overall technical understanding. Together, they created Indus OS and have brought it to the position it is at today.
NI: Recount the kind of response you received initially when you launched a pilot in Gujarat.
RD: The pilot product only supported Gujarati language, therefore the Saurashtra region was chosen as the preferred location for the launch. We sold five thousand phones of our own branded devices, with our own operating system, to test out whether the consumer will buy this kind of technology in the market. We also captured the mobile numbers of people who bought the devices, and called them up to check their response. All the customers said, “We bought the device because of its language capability.”
We also took feedback from the retailer who came back to us exclaiming “this has never happened in the history of his 35 years of retail experience”. The response was overwhelming with people specifically requesting for these handsets. One retailer told us that on day one he had sold 4 smartphones with Indus OS, whereas based on his experience, it takes almost fifteen days to sell one unit of any new brand that is launched in this state. He was happy that Indus OS was making a big difference, because people are coming in and asking about the phone. That was a big checkpoint for us that we are going in the right direction.
NI: Where do you see the maximum usage of regional language on smartphones – content consumption, communication, and media – anywhere else?
RD: Indus OS is built to create a regional language digital ecosystem that provides the user with the power to explore the entire smartphone experience from communication to media in their own regional language.
Within the OS is its own regional language app marketplace – App Bazaar, a key value proposition for regional language speakers. It offers easy access to 35000+ applications in the chosen Indian language – including global applications like WhatsApp and Facebook. The usage of regional language is maximum on media, messaging & browser features.
Indian smartphone brands clearly understand the value of regional language OS for mobile devices and were quick to adopt Indus’ OS. What, if any, were the push backs you encountered from global brands like Samsung, Xiaomi, iPhone and others?
RD: Initially, to get Indian brands on board took some convincing. Although, this is true for any new technology. Once the potential is unlocked by few, it quickly catches on. In our case, we had the opportunity to work with Micromax, India’s #2 smartphone brand, as our first partner. Today, Indus OS is available across all the major Indian brands like Micromax, Intex, Celkon, Swipe and Karbonn Mobiles. India is a critical smartphone market, and as proven by our track record, regional operating system is the need of the hour.
NI: The Indus OS has a lot of potential in enabling smartphone users in other emerging countries as noticed in Bangladesh where you are making inroads or even Middle East and Africa. Please comment.
RD: Yes, Indus OS has the potential to enable smartphone users globally. In fact, our product is tailor-made for the non-English speaking population from the emerging markets. 1.12 billion people, which represents the non-English speaking Indian population is the immediate addressable opportunity that Indus OS has in the domestic market. Following is opportunity that we have in a few other countries from emerging markets; Bangladesh (128.4 million), Sri Lanka (10.65 million), Indonesia (228.6 million) & Myanmar (50.6 million).
NI: You recently secured funding from Omidyar Network. What are the future growth plans for Indus?
RD: Indus OS has raised $5 million in Series A funding led by Omidyar Network and is also angel funded by Hari Padmanabhan a serial entrepreneur, Mayank Singhal from Temasek Holdings, Kunal Bahl and Rohit Bansal from Snapdeal, Amit Gupta and Naveen Tiwari from Inmobi and Pranay Chulet from Quikr among others.
The future trajectory holds promise for Indus OS with exploration of partnerships with more brands on the cards, continue the sustained growth of our users in the country, and in developing and collaborating with Government of India & app developers alike to truly realise our dream of empowering users with a digital smartphone ecosystem of their choice in their language.
Indus OS has won several awards already and now it is a finalist at the Manthan Awards. What do these accolades mean to the founders and to the team at Indus OS?
RD: Yes, Indus OS is already a proud winner of some of the most sought after industry awards including the Economic Times’ Innovation in developing an OEM product award, Business World’s Young Entrepreneur Award & the Best Digital Startup of the year award by Drivers of Digital. Along with the above, Indus OS has also been recognized as TiE50 Silicon Valley’s Top Startup in the world & Nasscom’s Emerge50 – League of top 10 startups.
Each accolade earned along every step of our journey is a testimony to our efforts and belief in the product. The Manthan Awards is also one such award, and Indus OS along with other members of the consortium; Government of India’s MeitY, TDIL & IIT Madras feel fortunate to have been recognized for our contribution in empowering users with a regional operating system.