India might be the world’s fastest growing smartphone market but one of the biggest problems that many users face is that the user interface of most smartphones is English. With 300 million installed user base, majority of the next phase of smartphone users are unlikely to be comfortable with English. Google says that Hindi content consumption, for instance, has increased five times when compared to English content in India, and even local language search queries have increased 10 times over the last 18 months alone. While Android itself now supports a few regional languages via localized keyboards, it does not do a great job with having the entire interface in those languages. That’s where Mumbai-based Indus OS steps in.
Indus OS is already running on over 30 smartphones and claims to have an installed base larger than Apple’s iOS in India. According Counterpoint Research, Indus OS runs on 6.3 percent of total smartphones shipped in India during Q1 2016. With this market share, the homegrown operating system is not only the second-most popular smartphone platform, but also has more installs than Xiaomi’s MIUI (which takes the third spot), and Apple’s iOS (which takes the fourth spot). With more than four million users in just 12 months, Indus OS has also overtaken Microsoft’s Windows OS (whose marketshare is less than one percent) and Samsung’s homebrew Tizen OS.
The company was initially setup in 2014 and was called Firstouch. In January 2015, the company raised $5 million in Series A funding round, and also rebranded to Indus OS. The list of angel investors include names such as Quikr founder Pranay Chulet, Snapdeal co-founders Rohit Bansal and Kunal Bahl, to name a few. Indus OS, which is basically a forked Android OS, is made in India, keeping Indian users in mind. Touted as world’s first regional operating system, Indus OS is based on Android 5.0 Lollipop, and it is designed for regional users who will be using smartphones for the very first time. Due to language barriers, most feature phone users, especially the ones in small villages and towns don’t want to switch to smartphones. This is exactly the target audience of Indus OS. The company wants to make the transition easier for users speaking vernacular languages.
Which devices run on Indus OS?
Indus OS initially partnered Micromax, and the operating system currently runs on the company’s more than 30 smartphones. These include the likes of Canvas Selfie 2, Canvas Spark 2 Plus, Bolt, Canvas Fire 4G, Canvas Unite 3, Canvas Juice 2, Canvas Unite 4 Pro and Canvas Fire 4G among others. Other than Micromax, Indus OS also recently partnered Celkon, Swipe and Karbonn to have the operating system pre-installed on their smartphones. It is interesting to note that Swipe had also tried its hands with Freedom OS, but now switched to Indus OS.
Indus OS – Supported Languages
The main focus of Indus OS is to overcome the language barrier and so far, it supports 12 regional languages. These include English, Hindi, Marathi, Punjabi, Gujarati, Kannada, Bengali, Urdu, Telugu, Malayalam, Odia, Tamil and Assamese. During the initial setup, you will have to choose the primary language (which can be English) and your mother tongue from one of the 12 supported languages.
You can easily swap between languages anytime you want from Indus settings menu. Unlike stock Android and other custom UIs with Indian language support, the menu screen, icons text and even the widgets appear in regional language, which is great to make users feel at home.
Indus OS – User Interface
I’ve been using the Micromax Canvas Unite 4 Pro running on Indus OS 2.0 for over three weeks and here are my first impressions. Being targeted at first time smartphone users, it’s not just about the language support; the interface has to be easily understandable too. And Indus OS has done a good job in smartly designing it. Just like Apple’s iOS, Lenovo’s Vibe UI and Xiaomi’s MIUI, the Indus OS too does not have an app drawer.
All the installed apps and widgets appear on the home screens. The company has included its customized Indus Messaging app, customized launcher and dialer, Indus keyboard with regional language support along with a couple of UI changes, whereas rest is pretty much stock Android. Now, let’s go ahead and look at Indus OS features.
Indus OS – App Bazaar
To use Google’s Play Store for downloading apps, you need to have a Google account. Also, to purchase paid apps and games, you’ll need a credit card. But keeping Indian users in mind, that are mostly first-time smartphone buyers, Indus OS has included its own app store called ‘App Bazaar.’ Essentially, the App Bazaar allows you to download apps without having to sign-in using email IDs.
It has more than 30,000 apps across six different categories – including games, entertainment, devotional, tools, music and videos, tools and kids zone. Also, when regional language is selected, the app name and description appears in that language, making it easier for users to understand on what the app does. I was scouting for apps, and a handful of top apps such as Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and Hike Messenger; and games such as Subway Surfers, Hill Climb Racing, Candy Crush, Cut the Rope and more are available. Of course, for more apps and games, there is Google Play store too, but you will have to sign-in with Google account to access them.
What’s more? App Bazaar also supports carrier billing for downloading paid games and apps. This means, you will no longer need a credit card to purchase paid games and apps. The cost of apps that you purchase will either be debited from your prepaid balance or will be billed to your postpaid account. There are just a handful of India centric paid games and apps, starting at Rs 1 and going all the way up to Rs 10.
Indus OS – Text-to-Speech
Adding support for regional languages isn’t just enough to break the barriers. Today, the text messages that we receive, websites that we surf, news that we read, and more are mostly in English language. To convert it into the language you understand, you’ll first need a translator app. You then need to copy-paste the text into translator app, translate it to the understandable language, if available. You then need to tap on the speaker icon for it to speak it out aloud, provided the option is available. Yes, that’s a tedious process, but here’s where it gets interesting, thanks to Indus OS.
Like I said before, Indus OS is built for simplicity, keeping regional language speakers in mind. So, the next time you are surfing a website or you get a text message in English, simply tap-and-hold, select the text and tap on the copy icon that appears on the top. Once the text is ‘copied,’ you’ll see two speaker icons pop-up (see image above). The top one is the mother tongue you’ve selected (such as Hindi, Marathi, Gujarati among others), and the second one is English (your primary language).
Tapping on the second speaker icon, your smartphone will speak the text aloud in English. And when you tap on the first icon, it will convert the ‘copied’ text in real-time to Hindi (or other language that you’ve chosen) and speak out loud. The feature is baked right into Indus OS, and you don’t need to install any third party app for that, or copy from one app and paste the text into other.
I tried it with Hindi, and it worked pretty well. Of course, it wasn’t the purest translation, but for those who hardly understand English, they get the option to get live translation of the text. And when you are in messaging app, you don’t even need to copy paste the text. Besides every message, you will see a speaker icon (check above image), simply tap on that and the speaker icons with primary language and mother tongue will appear. But do note, for live translation and text-to-speech feature to work, you need an active internet connection.
Indus OS – Swipe to Translate and Transliterate
Next up are two built-in features in the Indus Messaging app. There is swipe to translate, which works when you swipe on the text from ‘left to right.’ To test the feature, I had my phone language chosen as English and mother tongue switching between Marathi and Hindi (those are the only two regional languages I understand). The other feature is swipe to transliterate, which works when you swipe from ‘right to left.’
So, I wanted to text my editor saying ‘I’m taking a leave tomorrow.’ Now, I have the keyboard with Hindi / Marathi support, and I typed the message in regional language, but I don’t know how to translate it in English. I just swiped from left to right and it translated the text in English. Similarly, when it swiped from right to left, it transliterated the text in English. You can see the feature at work in the screenshot above.
For ‘swipe to translate’ feature to work, an active internet connection is needed. However, being in nascent stages, the working is not 100 percent accurate. In the above screenshot, I wanted to say ‘I’m feeling sleepy.’ I typed it out in Marathi, and while the transliteration worked pretty well, the translation didn’t work as it should have been. The result was ‘The series comes to sleep.’ But I believe future updates will bring more improvements to the OS.
The developers behind Indus OS have really done a commendable job. They are well aware of their target audience and the features they need. It’s good to see Indian developers taking the step forward to build something for our audience, something that other manufacturers couldn’t do in years. But, right now, it is half baked and far from finished. There’s a lot of room for improvement.
I’d like to see swipe to translate and transliterate features moving out of Indus Messaging and work across the OS, whether you are using instant messaging app like WeChat, Hike, Google Hangouts, WhatsApp and social media apps, or Google docs and tasks among others. Also, with not many users having proper internet connectivity (and most still on 2G), I think developers should try integrating the translation feature natively in the OS. This will cut down the reliance on the internet.