PhonePe launches app store to take on Google’s Play Store | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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PhonePe launches app store to take on Google’s Play Store

By, New Delhi
Feb 22, 2024 01:29 PM IST

PhonePe launches Indus Appstore, India's first major rival to Google Play Store with 200,000+ apps; aims for local, personalized experience, free payment gateway choice.

Walmart-backed Indian fintech PhonePe on Wednesday launched its app store for Android called Indus Appstore, becoming the first Indian rival to Google’s Play Store.

The digital payment service PhonePe (Bloomberg)
The digital payment service PhonePe (Bloomberg)

The new platform, which enables the download of Android-based applications was launched with over 200,000 apps such as Bing, Kotak, MapMyIndia, and the government’s DigiLocker, and takes off in 12 Indian languages.

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The launch of the app store is significant as it is the first serious competitor to Google’s dominance backed by a homegrown tech behemoth, especially after the Supreme Court ordering Google to allow third-party app stores on Android in January 2023.

Indus Appstore is currently available as a sideloaded APK (Android application package) from its official website.

The company is in conversation with multiple phone manufacturers so that the app store can come pre-loaded on different Android cellphones, founder and PhonePe CEO Sameer Nigam said at the launch event in Delhi. “We are trying to create a highly localised, a highly personalised and efficient platform which is called an app store,” Nigam said.

Users will log in using their Indian mobile numbers to download apps, and recommendations will be personalised on the basis of the user’s “mobile number profile”. “Your mobile number is the de facto digital identity today,” Nigam said. The recommendations will be personalised on the basis of location, neighbourhood, region and multiple other signals, he said.

The bigger apps are listed directly on Indus and the company has signed individual contracts with such developers, but for smaller apps, Indus is currently sourcing them from different platforms, Nigam said.

The app store was launched by IT minister Ashwini Vaishnaw at Bharat Mandapam in the presence of G20 Sherpa Amitabh Kant.

In 2022, India’s competition watchdog had imposed a 1,337 crore fine on Google for abusing its market dominance through Android and Play Store. In response to Google’s challenge in the Supreme Court, the apex court had allowed the American tech giant to not pay the fine but had ruled that it must allow third-party app stores on Android.

Indian developers have been waging a legal battle against Google’s Play Store policies in Madras high court. As per these policies, app developers must use the Google Play Billing System on Android or pay a higher commission for using third party payment gateways.

Nigam addressed these concerns. “All the apps will be free to use any payment gateway they want. You don’t have to pay a penny [if you don’t use PhonePe],” he said. For monetisation, Indus will rely on advertising solutions and content distribution, and on payment solutions for developers, Nigam said.

Commissions charged by Apple and Google on paid app downloads, and in-app purchases, have been a bone of contention between app developers and the two giants across the world. Epic Games had sued Apple in the United States over the latter charging 30% of total transaction amounts but ultimately lost. Elon Musk, too, had railed against this issue and had thus introduced Twitter Blue, now X Premium, on iOS at $11 per month compared to $8 per month on desktop.

“Advertising is where we want to make money, not usage,” he said. For paid app downloads, the commission will be in “lower single digits, not in high double digits”, he said.

On the question of legal apps on Indus, Nigam said that if it is allowed by Indian law, it will be allowed on Indus. “Real money games is one of those categories where if millions of Indians are using it and if the law of the land allows for it, it is welcome. Why not? I am not going to sit here and decide whether a category is welcome or not,” he said.

On cybersecurity, Nigam said that Indus was thus conducting KYC for all developers. The Indus team said that all apps on Indus are scanned by multiple anti-virus partners on the server side so that no infected apps are made available to users. “Every single app on the Indus Appstore undergoes a rigorous 7-step security check by our antivirus and cybersecurity experts,” the Indus website says.

“Here, we will get some things right and we will get some things wrong. ...To begin with, we will probably try and get every app developer in. ... In that we might get some spurious apps, we are sure of it. Then there will be a cycle where we will filter hard. ... but we will publish the reasons,” Nigam said.

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