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KaiOS, the OS behind JioPhone, raises $22 million from Google

KaiOS Technologies, which has built eponymous operating system for feature phones, also deployed on the Jio Phone, has raised $22 million from Google. KaiOS enables smartphone-like features and native apps into low-cost feature phones.

As part of the investment, KaiOS will work on integrating Google services like search, maps, YouTube and its voice assistant into more KaiOS devices; the company announced GoogleMaps for KaiOS-powered Nokia phones earlier this year. Google integrates its Search service with internet browsers like Mozilla Firefox and Apple’s Safari. Google paid Mozilla Corporation in 2017 to replace Yahoo with Google Search as Mozilla’s default search engine. Google Search also replaced Apple’s native search engine in 2012 after Google paid Apple Inc. The Android OS runs on phones sold by Samsung, Xiaomi, Huawei, Motorola, and others and integrates core Google services like Maps, Assistant, Search, YouTube, GMail into the device. Remember that Google bought Android in 2005. Put together, Android and iOS account for 99% of global smartphone sales, according to Gartner.

So why is Google interested in KaiOS?

The KaiOS investment is Google’s bid to expand the reach of its core services to emerging markets through feature phones. “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 KaiOS CEO Sebastien Codeville in a statement.

Google’s business is built on the idea that more and more people should starting using its OS (Android), and naturally start using its services. This partnership will enable first-time internet users to use Google’s services on feature phones; these users could also eventually upgrade to smartphones. “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, VP of Product Management for Google’s Next Billion Users division. “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.”

In February, KaiOS announced that it would be adding Google Search, Google Maps and the Google Voice Assistant to the new Nokia 8110 feature phone.

KaiOS-Jio and the Indian feature phone market

In 2017, KaiOS’s deployed the 4G-enabled Jio Phone coupled with low-cost data services. The Jio Phone-4G combine reportedly increased KaiOS’s share in the Indian market. According to a study by DeviceAtlas, KaiOS surpassed iOS as the second most used operating system in India with a 15% share of the market, pulling in second to Android, which is highest selling OS in India.“Reliance Jio, India’s third largest operator with over 160 million subscribers, have in recent months taken the tariff war to the next level, and as a result, their branded devices dominate the feature phone landscape,” the study states.

Within six months of its launch, JioPhone became the top feature phone brand in India by shipments for 2017, overthrowing market leader in the segment Samsung, according to a study CounterPoint Research. The feature phone is effectively free, available for a refundable deposit of Rs 1500, significant for a newly-connected cost-sensitive Indian customer. The report noted the surprising shift in the Indian market where shipments (sold to retailers) of feature phones in India doubled in the first quarter of 2018 (Q1 2018) year-on-year while the smartphone market remained flat in the same period. That report also attributed the surge in popularity to the JioPhone range.

Note that in March, Reliance Retail bought a 16% stake for around $7 million in KaiOS Technologies; a key strategic development which may give Reliance more say or control in the software of its popular feature phone.

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