India has the fastest growing Internet using population in the world. There are already more Indians on the Internet now, than Americans. This is mostly happening thanks to the smartphone revolution. For many Indians, a smartphone is the first gateway to the Internet.
Despite this heartening development though, the Internet revolution is passing many Indians by simply because of the language barrier. Which is why the Indus OS operating system, developed by its namesake Indian company, is being widely heralded.
All computer programs require an operating system to function, and for mobile phones and tablets, the dominant operating system is Android which has been developed by Google.
Indus OS is one of the first operating system developed to cater to the regional language user. It is an Android fork (or, a version of Android built on native code released by Google) which includes 12 languages besides English. A second version of the Indus OS was released in June this year.
When the company was set up in 2014, it was called Firstouch, and was later re-branded as Indus OS.
"From the beginning, we wanted to build a strong product," Rakesh Deshmukh, CEO and one of the founders of Indus OS, said in an extended conversation with HuffPost India. "We always thought that if the end result is strong, business and money can take care of themselves. We saw that the language problem exists in the Indian market and we wanted to solve it."
He explained that to overcome the language barrier, the company converted the core functions of a smartphone into the local language of the user's choice. "We right now work on 12 languages including Malayalam, Telugu, Tamil, Odia, Assamese, Punjabi, Kannada, Gujarati, Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, and Marathi," Deshmukh said.
Indus OS currently supports almost 40 devices. It has partnered with Micromax, Celkon, and Swipe to keep Indus OS as the default OS on their devices.
If you boot up an Indus OS phone, the most notable feature is the home-screen which displays all icons in Hindi or in one of the other 11 languages of user's choice. This obviously makes all the difference to the native speaker of any of these languages.
The local language extends to functions beyond the home screen. Indus OS has a regional photo gallery, simple and understandable settings menu, contacts, and an easy dialer, all of which are available in the selected language.
The OS also supports a regional language keyboard that, crucially, comes with prediction as well as transliteration. The developers appreciated how important adapting the keyboard was.
"Keyboard is one of the most used features in the smartphone, and most of the users are dependent on that," Deshmukh said. "Being inside the market, we knew what problems Indians face in terms of typing and the language. We have solved these problems to make a great regional keyboard."
Another big barrier to getting people connected is the lack of apps and content on the web in local languages. Indus OS's solution is a local language app store.
"We have our own app store called App Bazaar which hosts tons of regional apps," Deshmukh said. "Right now there are more than 25,000 apps. A lot of them are in English in terms of the content. But then we allow the discovery in the regional language which is lacking in the [Google] Play Store."
The company is working with developers to get regional content on board, and it has tied up with the Department of Electronic and Information Technology (DeitY) to develop better text-to-speech algorithm and content platform.
Indus OS is also partnering with the government to publish more e-governance apps in regional languages. To help developers, the company is developing Software Development Kits (SDKs).
Currently, Indus OS is the most popular Android fork in India with a 5.6 percent share. It has over 4 million users in India, with an impressive half a million being added every month. The company is targeting an ambitious 100 million users over the next three years.
"It is certainly possible" Deshmukh said, speaking of Indis OS's ambitions. "We have a great product and a programming team. And with the growing sales of smartphones we are confident to pull it off."