Micromax Informatics Ltd., India’s second-largest smartphone seller, is going where Google Inc.’s Android One failed to go, bringing a real local-language experience onto the Android platform for the subcontinent. This could help the company go after first-time smartphone users as the market expands into small towns and rural states.

Micromax has just started shipping the latest version of its popular Unite series smartphones, Unite 3, with FirsTouch OS, a customized version of Android that can be described as India's first regional smartphone operating system. For this, the smartphone maker has partnered with the software’s creator, MoFirst Solutions Pvt. Ltd., to bring the Android user experience to Indians in 10 languages to start with.

A useful feature on FirsTouch is “swipe to translate,” which allows users to select text, typically in English, and swipe left or right for either a transliteration or a useful translation.

FirsTouch A screen grab from MoFirst Solutions' website showing some of the features of FirsTouch OS. Photo: MoFirst Solutions website screenshot

The partnership extends to App Bazaar, MoFirst’s Android app store that is currently available and accessible only on the Unite 3 smartphone, from which users can download some 5,000 plus apps in their own language. For instance, choose to use Hindi, one of the most widely spoken languages in India. and download Skype -- and from the get go, everything will be in Hindi on the screen.

So a user with little knowledge of Hindi will be able to set up a Skype account on the smartphone in his own language. FirsTouch is also shipping on top of Lollipop, the latest version of Android today.

An Early Experiment

App Bazaar was the result of an early experiment -- about a year back -- to sell smartphones with a regional language operating system, FirsTouch. MoFirst did sell smartphones of the same name in the western Indian state of Gujarat, but gradually veered towards focusing on the software, a company executive, who did not want to be named, told International Business Times.

MoFirst is in discussions to make FirsTouch available on smartphones from other vendors too, the person said.

Micromax’s Unite series phones are its most popular. Part of the reason for that is specifications that are easily good enough to offer a smooth user experience. Unite 3 is selling at 6,899 rupees (about $108) on Amazon.com’s Indian site and ships with Lollipop out of the box.

It offers a 4.7-inch screen, an 8MP rear camera and 2MP front camera, a 2,000mAh battery and a 1.3GHz quad-core chip. The phone has 8GB of internal storage, 1GB of RAM and an expansion slot for up to 32GB via a microSD card.

The partnership with MoFirst is also timely for Micromax, which has seen a sharp erosion in its market share in India as Chinese competitors like Xiaomi continue their onslaught on the Indian smartphone market. Local language user interfaces should provide a strong selling point for its smartphones.

The larger effort at MoFirst is to help build “an end-to-end ecosystem that would bridge the digital divide and get the whole country on the information highway, language being the key,” the company says on its website.

Funded by angel investors, MoFirst’s first-generation entrepreneur founders are graduates of India’s top engineering school, the Indian Institutes of Technology.