Kerala's booze sale app Bev Q caught in pre-launch queue

Liquor | Mobile

Kochi: The Kerala government seems to have tied itself into many knots by attempting to launch the Bev Q app to buy liquor through a virtual booking system.

Even though it has been three weeks since the Centre gave the nod for resuming liquor sales in Kerala, after the state closed bars and liquor outlets in the aftermath of the COVID-19 outbreak, authorities are still tinkering with the app.

The delay in launching the app is being justified by claiming that the app has not received the Google's security clearance.

However, experts point out that an app does not need any security clearance.

Once the app is developed, it needs to be submitted for listing in Google Play Store to be available on android phones and App Store for Apple phones.

Both these stores will review the app for security, software bugs, quality and user interface.

After the review, the app will be up on the Play Stores and consumers can download the app on their phones.

Though the app will undergo security checks, it is wrong to create a smokescreen on the pretext of security clearance.

There is also talk doing the rounds that the officials concerned have been misinformed.

When will the app be ready?

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There is still no clarity on when the Bev Q app will be available on the Google Play Store.

Normally, the Play Store gives permission for apps within 24 hours. However, Google has said that there could be a delay of seven days or more due to the COVID-19 crisis.

This was mentioned in a notification for Android app developers. But apps of the government or those related to healthcare get priority. The rules have been relaxed for COVID-19-related apps. This is also applicable to institutions that have been tasked by the government.

However, liquor sale may not be in the ambit of relaxations.

Even when the Google Play Store had sought time for seven days, there have been several instances when the approval was given within hours.

The developer can also submit a request, highlighting that the app has to be listed for downloading on a particular date. However, the Play Store can take a call on whether to act on such a request or dismiss it.

Not on Apple?

Also, there is no confirmation on whether the BEVCO's app has been submitted for listing in the App Store of the Apple. It is more difficult to get Apple's approval than Google. It can take from 24 hours to seven days to get Apple's approval. The Apple Store also has a notification similar to that of the Google, asking the developers to mention if the app is for emergency services. But it is for Apple to take the final call. Only COVID-19-related apps will be considered for this. Other apps will not be considered. There is also a strict instruction that other apps will not be given approval if they try to seek permission under the pretext of COVID-19. Therefore, it is unlikely that the app will appear on Apple's App Store. Those with Apple phones will have to use an android phone if they want to get alcohol in Kerala.

The testing

Uncertainty remains as the government agencies cannot seek for exemptions or use pressure tactics, but wait for Google and Apple to take a call.

Another reason cited for the delay is that the app will be tested for a day even after getting approval. But this claim also sounds dubious. The app will be put up on the Play Store only after all the testing is completed. And if the app crashes due to the high number of users, then precious little can be done to save it.

Why app and not the web...

A web application would have been much more easier to develop than an app. Even the consumers can easily use the web application on computer and mobile, rather than downloading the app. The government had earlier made use of this technology for setting up the virtual queue system at Sabarimala.

There is also the facility to give the website, features akin to an app. This is possible through a simple SMS push. For this, a code needs to be sent as an SMS to a particular phone number. The reply will have a link. Click on this to access the site. By using the 'add to home' facility, this site will be available as an icon on the phone. There is no distinction for an Apple or Android phone. This feature will even function on a Jio phone. The web application would have also been the most ideal choice for the majority of the common people who stand in queue before the BEVCO outlets.

Revenue losses will run into crores

The government gets its biggest revenue through the sale of liquor. The government expects to earn Rs 1,200 crore from the revised duty on liquor. A monthly average of Rs 120 crore, i.e., Rs 30 crore in a week. Therefore, the loss estimated due to lack of sales from May 3 to till now is at Rs 90 crore.

Other states had seen a huge rush when the liquor sales were resumed during this period, while Kerala was left calculating the losses.

App is costly

About 10 lakh people turn up at the BEVCO outlets every day. For every token issued, 50 paise reportedly needs to be given to the firm that developed the app. If 10 lakh tokens are given, then the firm will get Rs 5 lakh in a day, Rs 1.5 crore in a month and Rs 18 crore in a year.

This amount is several times more than the money required for developing the app and its maintenance. If it had been a government website, then the same virtual system could have been implemented at a much cheaper rate.

Tipplers are waiting...

This inordinate delay in launching an app for resuming the liquor sales in the state is surely testing the patience of booze lovers in Kerala. The liquor outlets will definitely see a huge rush in the initial days.

As many as 1,200 liquor outlets, including the beer and wine parlours, will be opened instead of the regular 300 liquor stores when the sale of alcohol is resumed. Therefore, the rush is expected to ease within one or two days. The fate of the app also remains inconclusive when the demand dips. It could be much easier if the rules are amended to allow online liquor sales through Zomato or Uber Eats.

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