Making phones smarter: A look into KaiOS

Rojan Rajbhandari

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While you may be reading this article in the comfort of your bedroom or a chill workplace, 3 billion people worldwide still have no access to the internet. We know that 3G and 4G/LTE services have been doing their part in greatly reducing this number worldwide. A great example of this is India, where Jio started nothing short of a revolution in terms of providing cheap internet access to the masses. But turns out, the main problem stopping the billions from internet access isn’t the lack of service providers but lack of affordable hardware. Sure, feature phones come in prices as low as $5-$6 but do they really come with feasible internet access? The best you can get is a Snake game, which although pretty fun, isn’t what we’re looking for to close this digital divide.

KaiOS: The emerging OS

Lately, an unsuspecting hero has been doing it’s best to close in this difference: KaiOS. KaiOS is a light-weight OS built for non-touch phones that aims to provide the best apps, WiFi, GPS and other functionalities on par with modern smartphones. Built by the devs over at KaiOS Technologies, this is based off Linux, like Android. However, unlike Android, it is forked from a variant of FirefoxOS which is a discontinued OS that Mozilla once experimented on.

The primary features of this OS include support for WiFi, 4G connectivity, GPS and HTML-5 web-apps. This means that now phones costing as less as $7 can come with your favorite apps like Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, Whatsapp, etc. The apps can be downloaded from Kai’s own app marketplace, the KaiStore.

Most of these apps are web-apps, meaning they’re actually just webpages running inside a browser having a dedicated icon. However, seeing as to how smoothly apps run and how light this is on resource usage, users can’t really complain.

The apps are identical to a mobile browser web-page. So with a button-controlled cursor and a smooooooth app experience, it is arguably as good as it will get for feature phones. Of course, it isn’t comparable to the ease of use of touch smartphones… but let’s get real here. For a fraction of the price that users pay for modern touch-phones, features like these on a non-touch phone are a dealbreaker.

Fighting for a spot with Android and iOS:

It seems that this deal-breaking deal is what it takes to bring another mobile OS on the table with the big OSes. With the constant duopoly of Android and iOS, with each hurling middle fingers at the other after each update, even big projects like WindowsOS have failed miserably. This is something that the Kai-folks noticed, after the failure of FirefoxOS. The game of smartphone OSes is competitive. New OSes compared to Android and iOS lose all relevance.

KaiOS tackled this by catering to a different audience: feature phone users. And this has been a huge success too. KaiOS is now the third in terms of percentage market share. Although it is super unlikely that it will ever really overtake Android and iOS, it is fairly safe to say that it has met its original goal of closing the digital gap. By focusing on people in poor countries like in Africa or certain regions of Asia, it has brought lightning fast internet in the hands of people who previously had no access to the internet at all. With further partnerships and funding from big companies like CATHAY innovation, Google and TCL, the future of this unlikely savior of the masses look pretty promising.

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