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An app challenge to make India digitally 'atmanirbhar'

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  • The AatmaNirbhar App Innovation Challenge is an opportunity for Indian tech start-ups and other players to make apps not only to serve users in India but around the world, and facilitate India’s self-reliance efforts.

The launch of Digital India AatmaNirbhar Bharat App Innovation Challenge (bit.ly/3grtSkw) is an opportunity for Indian tech developers, entrepreneurs and companies to build for India at a large scale. The challenge seeks to tap into the talent pool that exists in India and ensure that robust, scalable, secure and useful apps are developed for various needs of people, not only in India but even the rest of the world.

A look at the app ecosystem shows that Indians are among the top users of apps in the world. In the first quarter of 2020, there were 33.6 billion app downloads, an increase of 20.3% over the first quarter of 2019. With more than 5 billion downloads, India is the world leader in them—most of these downloads are from Google Play Store as the number of Apple users in India is small.

When one looks at the companies with maximum app downloads, Facebook tops the list, with almost 800 million downloads in the first quarter of 2020, almost 12 million more than Google. Bytedance, the Chinese company, with apps like Tiktok, is third on the list with almost 500 million downloads. Voodoo—the French company that makes popular video games and Tencent, the Chinese company with apps like WeChat, complete the top five companies with most downloads. Thus, among the top five companies, two are American, two are Chinese and one is French. The trend is the same when we look at the top 20 companies—five are American, five are Chinese, and the remaining 10 are from France, Belarus, Israel, Germany, UK, Switzerland, Turkey, Ireland, Vietnam and Cyprus. Ironically, India is a big user, but none of its companies or app developers figure in the top list.

To get further insights into the kind of apps being downloaded, one can look at the data being made available by Sensor Tower. According to its report, the top five app categories being downloaded on Play Store are of games, utility tools like File Transfer, entertainment, social and communications—with more than 10 billion game downloads as against the next highest—tools, with around 1.55 billion downloads. On App Store, the top five categories include games, photo & video, entertainment, utilities and social networking—with almost 3 billion game downloads as against the next highest—665 million downloads of photo & video.

Based on this data, the eight categories for the Aatmanirbhar Bharat App Innovation Challenge have been identified. These include office & work from home tools, social networking, e-learning, entertainment, health & wellness, business including agritech & fintech, news and games. The possibilities of developing apps in these categories are immense and the challenge is quite flexible as it will allow developers to make apps in sub categories of the eight broad categories. This Challenge round is to be followed by another round wherein more complex apps, that may require longer to develop, will also be included. This Innovation Challenge, with cash awards and incentives of featuring apps on leader boards, can help create an ecosystem where Indian entrepreneurs and start-ups will be incentivised to ideate, incubate, build, nurture and sustain tech solutions to serve not only users in India but the world.

In the last few years, India has shown the ability to build tech solutions at a very large scale. The Unique Identification number (UID) project revolutionised the way we look at identity, and facilitated initiatives like direct benefit transfer, which helped the government extend welfare benefits to citizens without delays or leakages. The Unified Payments Interface (UPI) initiative allows seamless financial transactions between entities. The Digilocker has enabled citizens to store their documents securely and has enabled paperless governance to a significant level. The Aarogya Setu app is another example of an app built in a short time that now has more than 130 million downloads in just about three months. All these have been developed with the participation of Indian industry and academia together with the government. This model of partnership has the potential to create many more tech products that can help make lives of citizens easier and better.

The Innovation Challenge is an opportunity for all Indian start-ups and entrepreneurs to scale up their solutions and products and help make India Digitally Aatmanirbhar. The Video Conferencing Innovation Challenge launched by ministry of electronics and information technology last month saw more than 2000 applications, out of which 12 were shortlisted to make prototypes. After evaluation, the top five have been identified to build full scale solutions. The fact that these companies are from Jaipur, Hyderabad, Alappuzha and Chennai shows the extent of talent pool that exists in our tech start-ups.

This App Innovation Challenge will further give an opportunity to start-ups and entrepreneurs from across India to contribute to building these apps and get awarded and also feature on leader boards. The Digital India Aatmanirbhar Bharat App Innovation Challenge is a bold leap towards building an empowered digital society and a digital Aatmanirbhar Bharat.

These are the author’s personal views.

The author is chief executive officer of MyGov and the National E-Governance Division.

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