Despite its continued success from Android, Google has now invested as much as $20 million (approximately Rs. 138 crores) in KaiOS, the operating system that is a forked-version of Mozilla's Firefox OS and is designed to bring smartphone-like smartness to feature phones. The investment that comes as a Series A funding is aimed to help the emerging platform reach newer devices. Alongside the investment, Google and Hong Kong-based KaiOS Technologies have jointly agreed to bring make the Google Assistant, Google Maps, YouTube, and Google Search available to KaiOS users. HMD Global announced the arrival of Google apps on KaiOS-powered Nokia 8110 4G back in February, though that update is yet to debut. Notably, KaiOS is the operating system that is powering Reliance Jio's Jio Phone that is already dominating the feature phone market not just in India but all across the globe, according to a Q1 report by Counterpoint Research.
"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, in a joint statement while announcing the investment.
In addition to Reliance Jio for the Jio Phone, KaiOS Technologies is working with vendors such as TCL, HMD Global, and Micromax, as well as carriers such as Sprint, AT&T, and T-Mobile. Although the company has its headquarters in Hong Kong, it operates out of offices around the world, including San Diego, Taipei, Shanghai, Paris, and Bengaluru. This enables the platform to offer localised experiences.
While more than 1.4 billion smartphones shipped globally in 2017, the market for feature phones also grew by 24 million to 164 million last year, as per an IDC report. It was also lately found that one in two feature phone users in India, which is the leading feature phone market, intend to buy a 4G feature phone in the next six months. This has already pushed companies like Jolla to bring their developments to fill in the missing space. Moreover, it is the market potential that apparently convinced Google to make the newest investment. The Mountain View, California-headquartered company notably already enjoys domination in the fast-growing smartphone market with its Android operating system.
"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, in the joint statement. "Following the success of the Jio Phones, we are excited to work with KaiOS to further improve access to information for feature phone users around the world."
"We're excited to work with Google to deliver its services on more mobile devices," said KaiOS' Codeville.
When compared with Android, KaiOS doesn't require plenty of processing power or memory to enable smart experiences on feature phones. At MWC 2018 in February, KaiOS Technologies announced KaiOS 2.5 that works with devices using low-end Spreadtrum and Qualcomm SoCs along with as little as 256MB of RAM. The company also revealed its partnerships with Unigroup Spreadtrum & RDA, Airfind, Facebook, Google, Twitter, Doro, HMD Global, Micromax, NXP, and Qualcomm to bring newer experiences despite the inferior hardware requirements.