BharOS, the new Indian OS for smartphones, doesn’t really know what it wants to be. While it will probably appeal to government entities and enterprises, there will be very little interest from consumers who have long since sold their digital souls to Google.
BharOS is a new OS based on Android that has been developed by a government-backed start-up (JandK Operations) that is being touted as India’s answer to Android. In reality, it is nothing of the kind.
Furthermore, the way that this OS will be managed indicates that its creators have not really decided whether this is a super secure OS or an attempt to go after the consumer digital ecosystem in India.
BharOS needs Google Play to win consumers
For example, the best way to make Android secure is to lock it down completely with no installations or updates beyond those made at the factory being permitted. However, BharOS will focus on rapid OTA updates and will ship with nothing set by default. Users will be allowed to decide what to use for each of the Digital Life services where they live their digital lives. These apps will be provided by organisation-specific Private App Store Services (PASS) which have been curated and vetted to ensure that they are both secure and private.
PASS appears to be an enterprise or government service where the entity issues devices to its employees who then install the apps that they need for the work that they do. It does not sound like anything that will remotely appeal to users in India, although a recent ruling will mean that Google will allow forked versions of Android to be built in India.
Hence in theory it is possible that we will see the Google Play Store appear on BharOS. But in practice, I suspect it is unlikely. In order for the Google Play Store to run properly, it needs all sorts of extensions not present in the base Android OS that form part of Google Mobile Services.
Furthermore, app developers expect these extensions to be present on Android devices, which means that apps not specifically designed for BharOS that are installed may not work properly.
Users want services, not devices
The demands of users are also not going to help the case for BharOS, as Google has India in an iron grip when it comes to the digital ecosystem.
Six or seven years ago, Indian users were demanding Android devices, but with the increase in penetration and use of Google services on Android, this has changed. Now users demand Google services and if a device does not have them, it is very unlikely that users will buy it.
This is very similar to what happened to Huawei when it was no longer able to install the Google Ecosystem on its devices. Despite fantastic hardware at a good price, its share still fell off a cliff.
Hence, I think that the only real chance that BharOS has is to become a secure and completely controllable OS that is used by government or companies to ensure the security and integrity of their services and data networks.
Too late to challenge Google
Entities will also be able to ensure what is and what isn’t installed on their devices, which will further increase BharOS’s appeal in the government and enterprise segment. However, this means that volumes will be low, as I suspect that this will go nowhere with the consumer. This is because it is already much too late – Google has already conquered this market, and users will not move unless they can take Google with them.
Shots at the Indian consumer digital ecosystem have already been taken a couple of times. Realistically, only Jio Platforms has any chance of success with the consumer. This strategy involves using Meta Platforms’ and Google’s capital to increase penetration using Google and Facebook services, but to then offer other services alongside them that Google and Facebook don’t offer to entice usage, differentiation and revenues for Jio Platforms.
Hence, I think BharOS will disappear into the world of enterprise software. I don’t expect to hear very much about it from here on. I do not see any threat on the horizon to Google’s dominance in India, and should its share price continue to be hit with ChatGPT speculation, I would look to pick some up.