Google invests $22 M in Linux-based mobile operating system KaiOS

29th Jun 2018
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Google wants to bring Search, Maps, YouTube, and Google Assistant to tens of millions of feature phone users in emerging markets.

Google has invested $22 million in Linux-based mobile operating system KaiOS. As part of its Next Billion Users initiative, Google will bring some of its core products — Search, Maps, YouTube, Google Assistant — to ‘smart feature phones’ that run on KaiOS. These apps will be developed specifically for the KaiOS platform, which is entirely web-based and uses open standards such as HTML5, JavaScript, and CSS.

KaiOS powers a host of ‘smart feature phones’ - an in-between category of devices that retain the form factor of feature phones, but are equipped with smartphone functionalities like 4G connectivity, social messaging and chat, video calling, GPS, NFC payments, etc. KaiOS has partnerships with leading mobile manufacturers including Nokia, Micromax, Alcatel, and TCL, and has gained significant ground in emerging markets.

The Google partnership takes it a step forward.

Speaking on the investment, Sebastien Codeville, CEO of KaiOS Technologies, said:

“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. We’re excited to work with Google to deliver its services on more mobile devices.”

KaiOS, which launched in India in January, powers the JioPhone and Lyf smartphones manufactured by Reliance Industries. It already commands a 15 percent share in the domestic mobile OS market, ahead of even Apple iOS, according to DeviceAtlas’ Mobile Web Intelligence Report. It has catapulted JioPhone to leadership position in the feature phone segment.

JioPhone accounted for over 38 percent of overall feature phone shipments, according to IDC. It surpassed erstwhile market leader Samsung, and even Nokia, Itel, and Micromax. The significance of JioPhone’s — and KaiOS’ — success is not lost on Google. In fact, Google Voice Assistant too grew six-fold on JioPhones since its introduction last December.

Anjali Joshi, VP of Product Management, Next Billion Users at Google, said:

“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. We want to ensure that Google apps and services are available to everyone, whether they are using desktops, smartphones or feature phones.”

According to Counterpoint Research, there were 23 million KaiOS-run feature phones sold in India in Q1 2018. Its year-on-year growth has been staggering. Counterpoint states KaiOS’ “lightweight operating system” with a user interface that can be optimised for non-touch or feature phones is “powering tens of millions of users”. It will go a long way in bridging the “digital divide” in India.

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