In a bid to pull the next billion users online, Google has created specialized apps like Tez and Files Go, while at the same time optimizing others for particular needs, such as limited connectivity. It has invested in a startup so as to achieve its goal to popularize its Voice Assistant front, Maps, and other services to those using feature phones.
Google has $22 million into KaiOS. The latter is a company that has developed an operating system for feature phones that contains several traditional apps, in addition to other smartphone-related services.
Besides smartphones, a new smart feature phone class of phones is emerging lately. It still has the pre-smartphone kind of features that includes a small 2-inch to 3-inch screen and a T9 dial pad. Many of these devices are in use in developing countries where smartphone prices are still not within reach for many.
Some smart aspects
KaiOS’ operating system which is based on Linux is able to run on such a limited hardware. These devices feature some smart aspects such as an app store that developers can use to create shopping, news, and gaming capabilities. They may also feature 4G LTE that enables video-calling, dual sim support, Wi-Fi, GPS, and payments via Near Field Communication (NFC).
KaiOS will be the one behind the integration of Google services such as search, YouTube, maps, and its voice assistance into more KaiOS devices. This follows the initial announcement of Google apps for Nokia phones that are powered by KaiOS. The announcement was made earlier this year.
KaiOS CEO, Sebastien Codeville stated that the funding will help the company propel the production and worldwide deployment of KaiOS enabled smart feature phones, allowing the company to connect the vast population that still do not have access to the internet, especially in emerging markets. 30 million phones are said to run on KaiOS today.
The mobile phone market is largely dominated by the smartphones currently. Approximately 1.6 billion smartphones were bought last year. However, feature phone sales are also increasing steadily. It is estimated that between 450 million to 500 million of the feature phones were sold in 2017.
Feature phone sales increasing
The feature phone sales are said to be growing faster than the smartphone sales. In India, for example, the sale of KaiOS powered phones have since surpassed that of Apple’s iOS to become the second most popular devices after the Android handsets.
Codeville expressed his excitement in working with Google to deliver its services on more mobile devices. He said that having an intelligent voice assistant on an affordable mobile phone is truly revolutionary as it overcomes some of the limitations a keypad brings.