Google invests $22 million in feature phone operating system KaiOS

By Anuj Sharma - June 29, 2018
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Risen from the ashes of Mozilla Firefox OS, KaiOS is a Linux-based mobile operating system that ‘merges the power of a smartphone with the affordability of a feature phone’.

In a bid to empower internet users in the emerging markets, Google is investing $22 million into KaiOS, an operating system designed for feature phones that offers smartphone-like services. As part of the investment, KaiOS will integrate Google services including search, maps, YouTube and its voice assistant into more KaiOS devices.

While Google dominates the smartphone world with Android OS, KaiOS is slowly emerging as a popular choice for feature phones, particularly in India. In India, Reliance Jio offers its own range of KaiOS handsets coupled with low-cost data packages. KaiOS’s India market share has reportedly jumped to 15 per cent, surpassing Apple’s iOS in the process and putting it on second position behind only Android.

The investment seems odd given that Google has already launched a slimmed version of Android called Android Oreo (Go Edition) last year tailored for smartphones with 1Gb of RAM or less.

KaiOS powers phones made by OEMs including Nokia (HMD), Micromax and Alcatel, and it works with carriers including Sprint and AT&T. It counts offices in North America, Europe and Asia.

According to TechCrunch, over 40 million KaiOS phones have been shipped so far, which itself represents tremendous opportunity for the feature phone market despite smartphones ruling majority of phone sales.

‘This funding will help us fast-track development and global deployment of KaiOS-enabled smart feature phones, allowing us to connect the vast population that still cannot access the internet, especially in emerging markets,’ said KaiOS CEO Sebastien Codeville in a statement.

According to Counterpoint Research KaiOS shipments grew 11,400 per cent year-on-year to reach 23 million in the first quarter of 2018.

With the investment in KaiOS, Google aims to introduce its services to feature phone users, making them potential smartphone buyers.

‘We’re excited to work with Google to deliver its services on more mobile devices. Having an intelligent voice assistant on an affordable mobile phone is truly revolutionary, as it helps overcome some of the limitations a keypad brings,’ added Codeville.

In February, KaiOS announced that it would add Google Search, Google Maps and the Google Voice Assistant to the new Nokia 8110 feature phone.

‘We want to ensure that Google apps and services are available to everyone, whether they are using desktops, smartphones, or feature phones.’ said Anjali Joshi, VP of Product Management for Google’s Next Billion Users division, in a statement.

‘Following the success of the JioPhones, we are excited to work with KaiOS to further improve access to information for feature phone users around the world,’ Joshi emphasised.

It will be good to mention that Google services are not the only ones on KaiOS. Earlier this year, KaiOS added apps for Twitter and Facebook, and WhatsApp is said to be coming.

Risen from the ashes of Mozilla Firefox OS, KaiOS is a Linux-based mobile operating system that ‘merges the power of a smartphone with the affordability of a feature phone’.

Devices that come with KaiOS include Alcatel OneTouch Go Flip, Reliance Jio JioPhone (LYF F30C)Nokia 8110 4G (runs Smart Feature OS, a KaiOS-based platform) and Doro 7050/7060

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