There’s an app on the Google play store called the Indian Browser. It’s been trending for more than a week and has amassed over a million downloads. You might think, whoa, there must be something great about the browser.
Well, here’s the truth: nothing really. Once you download the app, you get a vanilla browser which is full of advertisements. It lacks the polish of current browser apps like Chrome or Opera and pretty much qualifies as crapp. While most browsers offer added features like security, fast data downloads and so on, this one does none of that.
Delhi based software professional Ameya Paratkar takes a quick look at the app and goes: “The Indian Browser is a very crude render. Android browser plus ads everywhere. They have built it fast but will vanish even faster from the store unless revamped majorly.”
But then how does the app rake up a million downloads and more than 55,000 five star ratings when even the best developers in the world struggle to get this kind of adulation?
If you look closely, you’ll find the answer. It’s a BMKJ app. That is, a new breed of app that plays on the sentiments of the enthusiastic nationalistic Indian internet user. (BMKJ is short for Bharat Mata ki Jai, for those who came in late.)
It has an Indian flag as its logo. It’s got the national flag all over it. I called up an expert on apps to find out if this was indeed a trend. Turns out it is.
“Read the reviews and you will know why. Most are not happy with it but are still giving it 5 stars. Who can afford to give poor rating to an app carrying Indian flag,” he jokes. He didn’t want to be quoted, because: who wants to take panga with hordes who wear nationalism on their sleeves?
“This is just a gimmick to drive downloads. A real patriot wouldn’t develop a bad app and put the Indian flag on it,” says a developer with a large Internet company. He, too, requested not to be named.
Developers say that it’s easier to publish to the Google Play Store than Apple’s App Store.
Lucrative BMKJ brand
Adenwala, the name listed on the Playstore as the developer of the Indian Browser, has developed 24 apps like “Indian Actress Puzzle,” and “New Fidget Spinner.” This is by far the person’s most successful gambit. He or she has not responded to an e-mail query sent Monday.
A casual search on Google Play Store shows that there are many others who have used similar tactics to drive downloads. It would take a couple of developers less than a month to build a vanilla browser by copying an open source app. But it usually takes a lot of hard work to acquire users. Which is where the BMKJ positioning works. A back of the envelope calculation shows that an app with over a million downloads can easily earn close to $10,000 per month (over Rs 6.4 lakh) just through ads.
“These guys are the new mafias. Getting installs is hard. They have partners with huge install bases and they promote each other’s stuff like anything,” says Harsha Halvi, a Gulbarga based developer. “It’s like trying to build Gigaom and realising that Taboola has 99% of the revenues.”
GigaOm was an online technology publication which focused on creating high quality articles for its readers. Taboola, on the other hand, is a content discovery platform often viewed as a promoter of low quality content.
Two years ago, Halvi made an app that syncs all your contacts and makes sure that it isn’t lost. He tried his best to promote it but at the end of six months, made all of $75. He is contemplating giving up on app making.
Soham Mondal, who is one of the organisers at Android community BlrDroid, has a more optimistic view on this. “Given any system, people will try to game it. But by and large, the system works,” he says. Mondal has made an app called Voice Recorder which has over one million downloads across app stores. “There are apps that have nudity and lots of ads but they still rank high because people use it,” adds Mondal.
The market for apps is early in India but lucrative nonetheless. According to App Annie, worldwide mobile app revenues are expected to cross $139 billion in 2021, with Apple’s App Store accounting for $60 billion, Google’s Play store with $42 billion and third-party stores with $36 billion in revenues. App downloads in India are expected to grow 28% to nearly 23 billion by 2021 and App Store spend is expected to touch $2.1 billion at an annualised growth rate of $2.1 billion, TechCrunch reported.
It seems in the crowded Android bazaar where developers are jostling for every user, some tricky developers have found a hack that comes free of cost.
Can Google fix this?
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