It had felt like a few more hours than usual since Apple’s last story on India, although this might be slightly less good news as India appears to want smartphone OS makers to unbundle apps from the OS.
India wants key services to be unbundled
Reuters reports that India’s IT ministry is considering new rules to protect against spying and misuse of user data by smartphone manufacturers.
The report suggests that Apple, Samsung and other smartphone makers have already attended closed meetings with Indian lawmakers on these proposals. While it’s not clear if those rules will apply, the report says India will give manufacturers a year’s notice before they come into effect.
“Preinstalled apps can be a weak security point and we want to make sure no foreign nations, including China, exploit them. It’s a national security issue,” an official was quoted as saying. Relations between China and India have been strained since a border skirmish between the two nuclear powers in 2020.
What the proposals mean is that smartphone manufacturers would need to offer an uninstall option for bundled apps.
At Apple, this is said to extend to core apps like Photos or Safari.
Manufacturers must also submit new devices for security testing by India’s Bureau of Indian Standards Agency and have software updates tested by the same agency. Testing can take up to 21 weeks, which would dramatically delay product launch.
Manufacturers will rightly point out that some of these apps, like the camera app, are vital to the mobile experience and are certainly hoping to persuade the government to agree to that distinction.
A threat to digital supply chains
However, what I find most concerning about these proposals is the extent to which they threaten digital supply chains. While it may seem okay to take positive steps to secure operating system ecosystems, the challenge in doing so is that you end up in a situation where an operating system in one nation might function very differently than in the nation next door.
The potential for government-mandated incompatibility also looms, and this could be seen as a threat to the standards that hold the entire digital ecosystem together.
If you look at Apple’s Calendar app, while it’s superficially an app like any other app, it’s also a reflection of the work the operating system is already doing to make the information it contains available to other apps on those systems. At what point does this system-level work become affected by these proposals, and does it make sense to force manufacturers to separate the background tasks from the UI? Users can already choose an alternative calendar app.
Does it affect Made in India?
The other concern is the potential 21-week delay before the products ship.
Given that Apple intends to ramp up iPhone production in India, it could do major damage to production schedules and secrecy. Apple doesn’t want new product launches to be delayed in this way while it prepares to manufacture them in India.
I think we have to hope that cooler heads will prevail and be successful in pointing out to manufacturers that they could jeopardize the Made-in-India strategy if these rules are not adjusted, which the nation has already spent huge wads of money to maintain .
We’ll see what happens I guess, but clearly doing business in India means manufacturers are in for some surprises along the way.
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