Indian Govt Tech Disaster in the Making

The hype about BharOS does not make sense because it is just a fork of AOSP without Google apps. However, it's fate hasn't been sealed yet.

Today, Android and iOS dominate the mobile operating system space. Since both these operating systems are developed by companies based in the US, the Indian government recognised the significance of having a locally developed operating system and has accordingly emphasised its development. With the emergence of BharOS, it appears that India has successfully met this objective.

BharOS has been developed by JandK Operations Private Limited, an Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras-incubated firm. IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw also tested the OS.

However, this is not the first time an indigenous operating system has been launched with much fanfare. In 2013, IndusOS, a mobile operating system for smartphones and tablets developed by Indus OS Private Limited, was launched with much enthusiasm. However, it is now defunct. 

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This discontinuation of IndusOS raises legitimate concerns about the sustainability and long-term success of similar projects, such as BharOS. 

How different is BharOS from Android?

BharOS has been developed on the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) and the software can be installed on commercial off-the-shelf handsets. 

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It has no default app, giving users more control over the permissions that apps have on their devices. In addition, it provides users the freedom to select and only install apps that they trust, allowing them to control which apps have access to certain features or data on their devices.

BharOS offers Native Over The Air (NOTA) updates which imply that they can be downloaded automatically and installed on the device without the user needing to initiate the process manually. 

“This ensures that the device is always running the latest operating system version, including the latest security patches and bug fixes. With NDA, PASS, and NOTA, BharOS ensures that Indian mobile phones are trustworthy,” Prof. V. Kamakoti, Director, IIT Madras, said while addressing a presser.

According to the press release, it will also benefit 100 crore Indian mobile phone users which could, in turn, mean that the OS is being developed for the use of the masses.

But, is it really indigenous?

BharOS has been heavily promoted on social media as an indigenous operating system which will take on the likes of Android and iOS. Several government leaders have praised IIT Madras and the developers of the app, with many calling it the next revolutionary innovation coming out of India after UPI.

However, not everyone is impressed. Developing an operating system on AOSP is not enough to call BharOS indigenous. A Twitter user pointed out that the hype about BharOS just does not make sense because it is just a fork of Android Open Source Project (AOSP) without Google apps. Forking means taking an existing source like AOSP and building on top of it. 

The argument being made is that since Google still maintains Android, it is not appropriate to promote it as a truly indigenous technology. Furthermore, it might be deemed misleading to showcase it as a means of promoting domestic technology development and reducing dependence on imported technology.

Chinese phone makers such as Xiaomi, Oppo and Vivo have developed their own operating systems based on AOSP.

Lessons from IndusOS

For now, setting the argument of BharOS’ indigenousness aside, let’s see if it can scale as an operating system. Today, Android dominates India’s smartphone operating system space, with 97% of India’s 620 million smartphones running on it. 

For another operating system to carve a niche amidst the Android and iOS duopoly is a very arduous task. Previously, IndusOS attempted to achieve a similar goal as BharOS’ current, or planned, efforts. 

For BharOS to be used by millions of Indians, it needs to be pre-installed on smartphones that citizens buy. IndusOS tried something similar. In 2015, IndusOS partnered with Micromax, a leading Indian phone maker of the time and the Gurugram-based company agreed to release IndusOS on their smartphones. 

In fact, IndusOS partnered with a host of other manufacturers such as Intex, Karbonn, and China-based Itel Mobile, among several others. Even though they were successful for a while in the beginning, the strategy did not work for IndusOS then and for BharOS to be widely used, it also needs to follow a similar strategy now. 

However, the contemporary Indian smartphone market is heavily dominated by Chinese players like Xiaomi, Vivo and Oppo, and they have successfully decimated several Indian brands mentioned above. 

With the market being dominated by Chinese vendors, the question that arises is, will these Chinese phone makers adopt BharOS? Unlikely.

However, reports do suggest that the developers are in talks with OEMs to launch phones with BharOS in the future. But the only way BharOS could scale is if the government mandates them; like last year, reports suggested that the GoI could mandate phone makers to make their handsets NavIC compatible, India’s own navigation system.

Currently, BharOS is in its early stages and its scalability appears to be a significant challenge. Nevertheless, it could potentially find use within government departments due to its emphasis on privacy and security.

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by Vijayalakshmi Anandan

The Deep Learning Curve is a technology-based podcast hosted by Vijayalakshmi Anandan - Video Presenter and Podcaster at Analytics India Magazine. This podcast is the narrator's journey of curiosity and discovery in the world of technology.

Pritam Bordoloi
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