September 23, 2018

Google reveals major investment in feature phones

01 July 2018, 03:58 | Megan Pierce

Above KaiOSImage Credit KaiOS

Above KaiOSImage Credit KaiOS

There is a growing market share for the stripped down version of mobile operating systems like Android and iOS suited to run on low-priced feature phones.

KaiOS Technologies Inc. the developer of an eponymous feature phone operating system that powers Reliance Industries Ltd's low-priced JioPhone, has raised $22 million (Rs 150 crore) in a Series A round of investment from Google.

The goal of Google is to bring its apps and services to everyone on whatever device-smartphone, desktop, notebook computer, smartwatch, and feature phone. Anjali Joshi, vice-president, product management, Next Billion Users, said in a statement.

Launched as a forked version of Firefox OS previous year, "KaiOS" is a web-based operating system that enables a new category of smart feature phones.

Google realized that this OS has a chance to complete the conquest of the mobile market, so it invested a lot of money in its development, and to be precise, the $22 million dollars. While Firefox OS never really took off, KaiOS seems to be doing a decent job of providing a gateway to internet portals for feature phone users. It also has partnerships with carriers such as Reliance Jio Infocomm in India, and Sprint, AT&T and T-Mobile in the US.

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KaiOS has working relationships with phone makers such as TCL, HMD Global, and Micromax. However, feature phones have also started to gain momentum which could be validated by estimates suggesting approximately 450-500 million feature phones being shipped in 2017.

Google wants to infiltrate the emerging markets where affordable phones are in demand but Internet connection is slow or limited like India.

"We're excited to work with Google to deliver its services on more mobile devices", said Codeville. KaiOS is a fork of FirefoxOS, and is actually quite popular - it's already on 40 million feature phones, including various Nokia phones.

The Reliance JioPhone has revolutionised the entry-level phone segment by packing "smart" capabilities in feature phone form. This also comes at a time when there is still not WhatsApp for KaiOS, so from a communications point of view Google stands to gain the most. It added apps for Twitter and Facebook earlier this year, and it mixes dedicated KaiOS apps - WhatsApp is said to be coming - with others that are more basic HTML-5 web apps.

Google rolled out its native AI-powered digital assistant for JioPhones last December.

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