Jio-FB Deal: Is a WhatsApp Phone Coming Soon?

Green, with two keyboard variations

by: - Last updated on: April 22nd, 2020

Facebook’s decision to invest in Reliance Jio has been making headlines, sweethearts. The social networking giant has picked up a 9.99 percent share in the India telecom service provider for a massive USD 5.7 Billion. And, darlings, for the moment, most of the attention seems to be focused on how the Facebook-owned WhatsApp Messenger service can work in sync with Jio’s small business initiative, JioMart.

whatsapp phone
Representative image

But well, a few folks in the two companies (I happen to know them, darlings – when you are as old as me, you get to know people) are saying that this is just the beginning. What we might actually see from the collaboration, and perhaps sometime as close as Indian Independence Day (August 15) is actually a WhatsApp branded phone. That’s right, lovelies, and it actually could even be green in color – though not quite glacier green like those Never Settling sweethearts.

What will be so special about it? Well, nothing really, except that it will do absolutely nothing other than handle WhatsApp services. It will have voice calling, video calling, and of course, messaging built into it. In fact, my sources indicate that it will actually be a simple feature phone, with a basic rear and front camera (2 MP each, so they say) a 2.4-2.8 inch displays, with WhatsApp being the only application running on it, apart from a very barebones browser, which they assured me would be mainly for opening links. And no, neither would be a touchscreen device. There will be two variants – one with an Alphanumeric (T9) keyboard and the other with a (sigh!) BlackBerry style full QWERTY keyboard. They will also have some sort of text to speech conversion in different Indian languages although we have no clear details on that.

The interesting part is that both these phones are going to be priced at well below Rs 1,000 from what I could hear. They will also come with very affordable data packages from Jio, of course with unlimited WhatsApp usage and calling. We are not too sure what the target audience of the two phones is going to be. I mean, it is kind of difficult for me to think of any existing WhatsApp user moving to this phone (it is largely a smartphone app, from what I know), but perhaps there is a large untapped audience out there that WhatsApp and Jio are trying to reach out.

Perhaps it might suit the elderly who use WhatsApp a lot but have no real need for other smartphone functions. Or maybe even folks using a smartphone would not mind carrying an extra, very compact phone only for WhatsApp. Or even, young children whom parents do not want to hand complete smartphones to.

Or who knows, perhaps it is all part of the grand design that many people think Facebook has of replacing the messaging icon on our phones with a WhatsApp icon. Incidentally, on this phone, it will!

The idea of a phone being totally dedicated to an app and a service provider is not new – remember Vodafone trying to sell us a Facebook phone, the Vodafone Blue in 2011, darlings – but given the size of Facebook and Jio, this could be one massive tie-up. WhatsApp has about 400 million users in India and Jio has almost the same number of subscribers.

Of course, this is just a rumor. But it could turn out to be something big. Now, what I would really like is an Instagram phone with superb cameras and unlimited data for Live sessions, TV, and Stories. Are you listening, Mark darling?

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