Smartphones like Apple’s iPhone and Samsung’s Galaxy handsets enjoy the lion’s share of attention when it comes to cellular devices, but feature phones are not dead. They are cheaper to produce and purchase, making them ideally suited for emerging markets, though obviously they are not as robust as smartphones. To help lessen the gap, Google is pouring $22 million into KaiOS Technologies, which is the developer of KaiOS, an emerging mobile operating system for smart feature phones.
KaiOS has working relationships with phone makers such as TCL, HMD Global, and Micromax. It also has partnerships with various wireless carriers, including AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, and Reliance Jio. The end result of these partnerships is that users in emerging markets have access to affordable devices that support apps, GPS, 4G LTE connectivity, and built-in Wi-Fi. Google’s investment will expedite the launch of KaiOS devices.
“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 Sebastien Codeville, CEO of KaiOS Technologies.
Google isn’t just giving KaiOS Technologies an infusion of cash, it’s also working with the company to inject some of its core services into KaiOS, which is entirely web-based. It uses open standards such as HTML5, JavaScrip, and CSS. The web-based philosophy is similar to what Google pushes with Chrome OS, so it’s not surprising to see Google give it a financial nudge. More than that, Google and KaiOS are working to implement Google Assistant, Google Maps, YouTube, and Google Search into the OS.
“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, Vice-President, Product Management, Next Billion Users. “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.”
This is a neat thing that Google is doing, though it’s probably not altruistic. There are hundreds of millions of feature phones sold each year. By throwing its services into the mix, Google can effectively expand its services to a wider base. Those same users might also be more apt to buy an Android device if and when they upgrade from a feature phone to a smartphone.