UC Browser was one of the leading browsers in India until the government blocked it as part of a ban that was imposed not just on the Chinese browser but a total of 59 apps. Although its market share was significantly lower than Google Chrome, the app nonetheless had a large audience in India. The sudden departure of UC Browser from Google Play many people in search of an alternative.
Many Indian developers have started bringing their offerings to fill the gap until a close alternative to UC Browser enters the market. The Chinese browser was the second leading mobile browser in the country after Google Chrome, as per the data shared by StatCounter. It was available pre-installed on many budget smartphone models. But you can no longer get the browser after the ban that resulted in blocking 59 Chinese apps from app stores.
Bengaluru-based software services startup BlueSky Inventions, which already worked with smartphone vendors including Micromax, Karbonn, and Lava built a browser it says will take on UC Browser and Chrome. On June 23, BlueSky released Bharat Browser as its latest browser with features such as Indian language support and access to hyper-regional content to persuade Indian consumers. It garnered over 50,000 downloads as well as received over 4.7 star ratings from close to a thousand users since its launch.
The Bharat Browser isn't the first mobile Web browser by BlueSky Inventions. The startup had the Venus Browser as its first Web browser for mobile users that was launched in October 2017 and came preloaded on phones by companies including Comio. That original browser has been downloaded over 20 lakh times, with over 10 lakh downloads directly from Google Play.
In addition to the Venus Browser, BlueSky Inventions in the past also developed some white label solutions specifically for different Indian vendors. The startup also made some business-to-business (B2B) solutions for tech giants including Amazon and Facebook. Furthermore, it is working with some of the leading telcos in India to build Web browsers for their customers.
Gadgets 360 spoke with BlueSky Inventions Co-Founder and CEO Dinesh Prasad over a phone call to understand how the Bharat Browser is different from other Indian Web browsers, and why we ultimately need an Indian browser. These are the edited excerpts from the conversation.
Why do you think we need an Indian browser while the core essence of the Web is to provide a universal information system?
Yeah, so mature users like you and me know how to use the World Wide Web. That's how it was originally designed for, indeed. But I don't think the large part of users who are experiencing [the] Internet for the first time in India are that mature and qualified to consume the content or search the content through a standard search mechanism. The challenge is also about the languages in India as most of the standard content is largely available in English. So that's obviously the second problem. The third problem is that India is a very diverse country. We have different cultures, demographics, and every region has its very specific application services and all that. So, there has to be a mechanism to reach those areas to the end user.
Is the word "Bharat" in the Bharat Browser something that attracts users in India?
It would definitely create a little bit of connection, for sure. I am not sure we are relying too much on the word, but we are honestly very excited about the product and the purpose of the product. See the name can only get you to the point. It can't help you hold on to the consumer.
But why did you choose the word Bharat for the new browser? What was the prime reason behind that?
No, I don't think there was any specific reason. There was obviously an Indian national feeling of trying to do something for the country. But I don't see anything wrong with that. Also, we are not too excited about losing or having our Indian population use a browser product which is coming from a China market, like a UC Browser and all that. So, if [the word] Bharat helps people to attract and help a startup in India, why not?
So did you choose Bharat as a keyword to get more users on board through that name only?
If you look at it that way, we are not the first one with Bharat on the Play Store. But we still took a bet on that. If you want to get to a point whether this is a marketing approach, I won't deny that. But it's not just about pure marketing that can help. You can't hold on just marketing.
Is it more like taking the advantage of the timing and the Anti-China sentiment?
Of course, everybody is doing it. If you look at a TikTok equivalent or a Zoom equivalent, these kinds of things are happening at this time. It's an opportunity for Indian startups to stand up and compete with some of the big global Chinese companies. There's nothing wrong with that.
Do you think that the consumers who were using UC Browser or Chrome would shift to Bharat Browser in the coming future?
We are already seeing some shift happening from UC to us, based on the feedback that we can see on the Play Store. We don't have any confirmed data to know whether a user has come from UC or Chrome. But we were assuming the response that we are getting on the browser that there is a certain sentiment value and there is a certain usefulness value that people are seeing on our product. And so there is the moment that is happening.
As Google, Facebook, Microsoft and other big companies have already made it easier for users to find regional content, how are you set to bring any major distinctions for the Indian consumers?
Google is an ocean of data. The challenge is not about mature people trying to find out data. It's about how we are presenting it to the consumer at the end of the day. If you select any particular state on the state tab of the Bharat Browser, say Karnataka, you'll get all the relevant Kanada apps as well as your news, the current news going in the Kannada language. So, it kind of blends around with that flow. And soon we'll be kind of launching or expanding our video page, which will also start offering multi language video offerings in different languages. So, those are some interesting ways of presenting to a consumer who is not qualified or mature enough to go and look for the right data all the time.
Although UC Browser is banned, from the consumers' point of view, why should I use a “made in India” browser at this moment?
If you're looking for an alternate option to your normal Chrome interface that comes with any phone, then we are a possible option for you, and then it's a matter of competing with a couple of products that already exist in the market in this space.
A browser like Chrome or Firefox or Safari gets scrutinised by researchers around the world. In such a scenario, how can you assure the end user that they can trust a browser that they haven't heard of before?
Most of the contents or the interface is coming through the standard, the World Wide Web only. We have not created any content. So we have only created an interface. So, the IP rights for the content, app, services, reside with a company who comes on our platform. We are not here to take the onus of those content, if it is being published by an XYZ publisher.
Honestly, if you download our browser, we don't take any permission today. If we don't take any permission, you understand Google, then we are not tapping anything from you. So, if I'm not tapping anything from you, what am I going to do with your data? I actually don't have the data.
Why did Blue Inventions make a move from Venus Browser to Bharat Browser in just over three years of its inception?
Venus was our first generation product. So, it obviously gave us a lot of learnings on the performance aspect, on consumer preferences and all that. Every product goes through an evolution phase. You will learn while you get into the market, when you touch the blood, you understand the complication and all that. So, that's the reason why we shifted from, say, a generation 'A' platform to generation 'B' platform. And then we said, let's give it a new name and start up fresh rather than moving everybody to here.
Why is the team no longer supporting that browser that seems to have over 10 lakh downloads?
No, we are supporting that. We may not add more capability on that one, but we would be continuing to support till we have one user on that platform. So it's not that we are going to abandon that. That's not the plan. We have a team that supports that. We have partnerships in place that's already working. So we're not going to pull that out.
But why was the last update provided on the Venus Browser on July 30, 2019 then?
Yeah, so we've been slowing down the effort on that one, because we've been focusing more on a new generation platform. And like any other company, there are people who keep on moving new users from old users. We expect at some point the transition would happen. However, if people are seeing merit on my Venus Browser, if they are around, we will continue supporting it.
We heard some rumors that Venus Browser was earlier a white label for Micromax's M! Browser as well. The browsing experience and interface on both browsers are also apparently identical. So could you give some clarity on that front?
We do make products for telcos, for OEMs, and all that. But we have strict NDAs of non disclosure on certain aspects, which I won't want to violate.
Are there any new companies that are opting for Bharat Browser now? Of course, we don't want you to name any of those companies but are just curious to know whether they are opting for anything that is made in India right now.
We already got some queries from some of the Indian OEMs who have shown interest and who want to embed it on their devices and take it to the consumers. So it is a positive sign because they have come forward to us, looking for a partnership. Time will tell and how our discussions go with these companies.
Are there any new telcos in India who are planning to bring their competitors against the JioBrowser that's already available as a made in India browser in the market?
We are in discussions with the other dominating ones, which is not difficult for you to guess. So, there is an interest, for sure, and we'll see as things open up.
What are the principal sources of funding you have right now?
It's completely bootstrapped at this point of time. We have been able to control our cost, and our business in a way that our working capital requirements are just from the revenue that we generate.
So, is the entire funding from your side only or there are any other parties involved?
We have an angel investor in the company, a single angel investor, who has invested a small amount of money, but otherwise, it's all bootstrapped at this point of time, and we would be raising our next round of funds in the next few months.
This suggests that you're looking to raise your capital, right?
Yes, we are planning it because ultimately, if you understand our whole concept, our genesis is not as a browser. Our genesis is a publisher platform. So what we've done is we've created a publisher platform that can be leveraged by any company to create a browser-based product.
How do you want to shape Blue Inventions in the coming future?
We are a publisher product company. We are not very classically a B2C company, we are a B2B and B2C company. So, we would be working with multiple partners — not only in India but globally — and are trying to launch a few products in the global market very soon. We are already in discussion with some telcos and some other companies who want to use the browser platform to launch products.
In 2020, will WhatsApp get the killer feature that every Indian is waiting for? We discussed this on Orbital, our weekly technology podcast, which you can subscribe to via Apple Podcasts or RSS, download the episode, or just hit the play button below.