If you’ve owned a JioPhone, or at least used it or know something about it, chances are you’re aware of KaiOS, the Operating System that runs on quite a few feature phones, including a few from Nokia like the Nokia 8110. Kai OS aims to provide a smartphone-like experience on feature phones by making it easier to use Internet-based services. While the suite of apps currently is limited, thanks to the lack of an app store, Google wants to change this by providing Google services like Maps, Google Assistant, etc. for internet users in emerging markets. It has invested $22 Million into KaiOS as a part of integrating Google services into feature phones running the OS.
“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.
In a world dominated by smartphones, emerging countries like India still has a vast number of feature phone users who haven’t made the switch to smartphones yet. About 1.6 billion smartphones were shipped all over the world in 2017, while the number of feature phones shipped still remains to be quite high at about 500 million. And surprisingly, the sales of feature phones seems to be growing more rapidly than that of smartphones, and with the features that KaiOS has to offer, there doesn’t seem to be a reason why manufactures do not implement it on their feature phones. The proof to this claim lies in the fact that KaiOS overtook Apple’s iOS to become the second most widely used OS after Android in India.
The investment seems to pave the way for KaiOS to offer a glimpse of Google’s services to consumers who’re currently using features phones but will eventually make the switch sooner or later to smartphones who would then find it easier if they’re already aware of the services and features.
“We’re excited to work with Google to deliver its services on more mobile devices,” said Codeville, the KaiOS CEO. “Having an intelligent voice assistant on an affordable mobile phone is truly revolutionary as it helps overcome some of the limitations a keypad brings.”
KaiOS is a U.S.-based project that started in 2017, built on the ashes of Mozilla’s failed Firefox OS experiment, as a fork of the Linux codebase. 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.
“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.”
Features phones are getting smarter, and Google doesn’t want to miss out on providing their services to users, who might then decide to switch to the Android ecosystem if they enjoy using Google’s services.