- Jan 8, 2011
After Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter were blocked in the country, some Russian users switched to domestic social media, particularly to VKontakte, the Russian version of Facebook. Russian companies, both state-owned and private, have also been trying to lure Russias from TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube to homemade variants such as Yappy, Rossgram, and RuTube. Many of these platforms, however, have attracted criticism for outdated designs, lack of users, or too much state propaganda.
Another project that received much fanfare was the domestic RuStore app store launched in May of last year by VKontakte and the Russian Ministry of Digital Development to replace Google Play and Apple’s App Store. The store has more than 10 million users, according to VKontakte.
Over a thousand tech companies stopped or curtailed their operations in Russia after the invasion of Ukraine. In just a month, Cisco, SAP, Oracle, IBM, TSMC, Nokia, and Ericsson, as well as Samsung and Apple, left the market, affecting entire industries, including mobile operators, factories, startups, and large state-owned companies. According to IDC, a global market-analysis firm, the Russian IT market in 2022 shrank by $12.1 billion, or 39 percent.
Russian prime minister Mikhail Mishustin said in February that Russia wants to replace 85 percent of foreign software with Russian substitutes, opening dozens of so-called import substitution centers. Among them is a project to create a national operating system for devices. The plan, however, is at an early stage with no road map in sight, says the Internet Research Institute’s Kazaryan.
“Currently, a few big players are trying to woo the government for subsidies to create devices on ‘national mobile OS,’ whatever that might be,” he says.
One of the more promising alternatives to Android is Aurora OS, a Linux-based smartphone operating system made by the Russian state-owned telecommunications firm Rostelecom. But Aurora was primarily made for government use and does not support Android apps.
Other Russian smartphone makers, such as BQ, have promised to adapt Huawei’s HarmonyOS for its handsets. But there's been no news of progress since BQ’s announcement in September.
Other Russian phones, most famously Yotaphone, have tried to capture the domestic market, but they remained at a very small scale, says Stryjak. Russians prefer brands they already know. Thanks to parallel trading—importing goods without the permission of the manufacturer—even Samsungs and iPhones are still available in the country. NCC says it aims to price its smartphones between 10,000 and 30,000 rubles ($132 and $398).