Google is investing $22 million into KaiOS, the company that has built an unique operating system for smart feature phones. The deal can be seen as an effort to put Google services in the hands of more users who are still not upgrading to a smartphone. As part of the deal, KaiOS will be integrating Google services like search, maps, YouTube and voice assistant into its operating system. The deal is a followup to the announcement of Google apps for KaiOS-powered Nokia phones early this year.
“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 statement.
KaiOS serves as the brain for a new breed of mobile devices called smart feature phones. It has partnership with OEMs like TCL, HMD Global and Micromax for mobile devices and also has a partnership with carriers such as Reliance Jio, Sprint, AT&T and T-Mobile. The mobile devices running KaiOS offer feature phone functionality with a twist of smart features like 4G network, GPS and WiFi.
The mobile world is dominated by smartphones with shipments of over 1.5 billion units last year. However, feature phone sales have stayed resurgent and even showing growth in markets like India. According to Counterpoint Research, the feature phone market in India doubled during the first quarter of 2018.
The leader in the feature phone segment is JioPhone, a KaiOS-powered smart feature phone made by Reliance Jio. It has already surpassed iOS to become India’s second most popular mobile operating system. TechCrunch reports that there are more than 40 million phones shipped with KaiOS to date.
Watch: Reliance JioPhone First Look Video
“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 at Google. “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.”
The high growth of KaiOS in a market like India alone could have contributed to Google’s interest and investment. Google could use the investment to offer tailored experiences to users in emerging markets. KaiOS already has apps from Facebook and Twitter on its platform and there are reports suggesting that Facebook is planning to bring WhatsApp to KaiOS as well. With Google apps, KaiOS can really turn into the preferred operating system for next set of users.