With India and China locked in a border battle which has already seen plenty of casualties, the Indian government finally decided to take a stern step of banning 59 Chinese apps in India. While the ban covers a range of apps, short video app TikTok, file transfer app SHAREit, UC web browser, fashion platform Shein were among the most used apps in India. This has given a big boost to many Indian alternatives that are directly competing with the Chinese apps as well as global counterparts.
Many of the apps included in the list are among the top-grossing apps on Apple’s App Store and Google Play Store. At least 15 of these Chinese apps have regularly featured on the top 50 lists on the Play Store.
In a press release announcing the ban, the IT ministry stated that the government had received “many representations raising concerns from citizens regarding the security of data and risk to privacy relating to the operation of certain apps”. Some social media users are even calling it a “digital surgical strike” after the central government finally acted on the pleas of citizens, who have been calling for a complete boycott of Chinese products including manufactured goods as well as Chinese electronics brands.
Speaking about how this ban is a small step towards popularising Indian apps, Rishi Khare, founder and CEO, Thrymr Software said, “China-made apps have the benefit of huge capital dumping along with high marketing strategies. Meanwhile, our Indian apps lack investment which in turn makes them unsuitable to compete with the neighbouring country’s apps. In such a scenario, this ban will surely provide a good opportunity for the 4-5 Indian companies that are building similar apps to make it big.”
Indian apps like ShareChat, InMobi and others have similar offerings like the banned Chinese apps and have been in the market for a long time. However, due to low funding and policy support from the government many of these apps could not become very popular. With this ban, experts hope that the right kind of India-made apps will get the opportunity to grow.
While TikTok has undoubtedly become a sensation among the Indian youth, with over 611 Mn downloads and over 200 Mn monthly active users, including several celebrities. Roposo is its Indian competitor with over 55 Mn downloads and 25 Mn monthly active users. Other Indian alternatives to TikTok include Mitron and Chingari. Thanks to the ban, Instagram and Chingari have seen many TikTok users migrate.
SHAREit, the popular file-sharing app has over 400 Mn downloads in India, with over 1.2 Bn worldwide. The app has 1.5 Mn daily active users (DAUs) from the country. Jio share is one of the Indian alternatives, though most of the primary competitors are international companies. It must be noted that SHAREit had an active involvement with the startup ecosystem in India. The company had acquired FastFilmz in May 2018.
Last year, SHAREit India CEO Karam Malhotra told that India accounts for the apps largest user base among any other country in the world. “India is our largest market right now, with 40% of our user base coming from here. We initially focused on product-market fit, and what we realized is we understand what people share. So we understand the apps they share, the games they share, the videos, images,” Malhotra told.
Popular e-commerce apps like Shein and Club Factory, too are included in the list. These companies have a prominent share in the fashion e-commerce space in India, but have attracted plenty of controversy over the past year for allegedly importing orders into the country as gifts and avoiding customs duties. The likes of SheIn and Club Factory have recorded daily shipments ranging between 15,000-55,000 in June.
“This is going to change the trajectory and create a whole new revolution for home-grown apps,” Pulkit Agrawal, CEO of video-blogging venture Trell. According to Agrawal, Trell has already started seeing the benefits of the interim order.
“Users have become more aware and informed about the Chinese apps and possible national security and privacy risks of using them; now they are migrating to the Indian counterparts wherever possible,” he said.
Even before the ban, the downloads of several Chinese apps had started falling since the start of June, once the face-off between the forces escalated.
For other Indian ventures, the latest development has become the best opportunity to ramp up their user base, go deeper into tier-2 and tier-3 towns and cities, monetise their offerings and establish themselves as leaders in a market dominated by mobile users hungry for content and well-discounted products.
And now with the attention on Indian apps, even VCs and investors including Balaji S. Srinivasan and Prayank Swaroop are coming together in an effort to back competitive alternative apps for the Indian market, willing to fund the right app ideas.
The government’s interim order, which cites national security concerns, also comes a little over two months after it tweaked its foreign direct investment rules to ensure that all investments originating from countries with which India shares a land border, which includes China, comes after prior approval.
This has already impacted deal flows from the world’s second-largest economy, which has been the largest investor in the Indian startup ecosystem for the last two years, with some Chinese investors even withdrawing term sheets that were on the table.