KaiOS and Jio are ready to serve 4G goodness to the unserved
Jio is probably the only company surfing the ‘Digital India’ wave
Not sure if it’s the DNA of a Gujarati or some mind-boggling influence, but Jio has had a whirlwind of success in India ever since it has been launched. From democratising data costs to gathering gobs and heaps of subscribers, Jio has managed to change the spectrum of the telecom sector.
But if you didn’t know, disrupting the telecom industry was only the first task on its to-do list. Now, with the base set right, Jio wants to capitalise on its existing network to disrupt the entry-level smartphone game among many other things.
Jio Phones, that were first released in 2017, have been a phenomenal hit with Indians who still can’t afford a 4G smartphone. Since its inception, Jio has sold millions of its phones to rake a 38% share in the feature phone market in 2018 from just 11% a year ago.
But why do feature phones still sell in an era where phones have got cheaper?
Well, cheap is a very relative term. A new OnePlus device might seem cheap to someone who’s been paying dollops of money for Apple devices. At the same time, for someone who doesn’t earn more than $2.5 a day (a substantial chunk of population in India), getting an entry-level smartphone like the recently released Redmi Go is definitely not a piece of cake.
According to a report by Counterpoint Research, more than a billion feature phones will be sold in the next three years.¹
While affordability is a major factor behind feature phones still being prevalent, battery life is another. Unfortunately, the population at the bottom of the pyramid are also likely to have an erratic supply of electricity. This further adds weight to the decision of buying a feature phone. They’re cheap, simple-to-use and last long on charges.
Enter Jio Phone: Powered by KaiOS
Jio was one of the only ones to recognize the wide gap between the basic feature phones and out-of-reach smartphones. Couple this with its mission to get more users onboard its 4G services, it only made sense to address this gap with a phone of its own. But as discussed above, given the purchasing power of this audience, it would be almost impossible to deliver a good smartphone experience.
Reliance Jio introduced the JioPhone that was effectively priced at ‘zero’. To get the phone, users would have to pay an upfront deposit of INR 1500 that would be refunded 3 years later. This, along with the fact that it had support for 4G-based services like JioTV, JioMovies and JioMusic amongst others made the phone a runaway hit amongst its target market. To get all these services and unlimited calls/text/data, users had to pay only INR 153/month.
The JioPhone 2 further improved on its predecessor by offering a bigger form factor with a QWERTY keyboard. It also had Google services, including Google Assistant running on it (more on why, later). The phone offered dual VoLTE, NFC for payments and the same promise of cheap data.
Another very important update to the phone was the addition of the highly popular instant messaging application: WhatsApp. Realising the growing importance of KaiOS, it only made sense for them to do so.
We also reached out to Mahesh Telecom, a renowned Mumbai-based retailer, to ask his opinion on the JioPhone. This is what he had to say about the JioPhones and their dominance in the market.
As of now, 70% of all feature phones that are sold, are JioPhones.
The fact that a user can make use of JioTV, Jio Music (now JioSaavn), internet and unlimited calls at only INR 153 further reduces the monetary burden usually associated with such services.
The addition of WhatsApp to KaiOS has also drastically increased the sales of JioPhone. The only factor that is keeping JioPhones from capturing a larger market is its build quality, as compared to other quality feature phones like the Nokia 3310.
If Jio decides to work on making more durable phones, there’s no stopping them from taking on the entire feature phone market.”
But wait, what is KaiOS? Who owns it?
KaiOS is a light operating system that was made for smart feature phones like the Jio Phone and the Nokia 8110. KaiOS redefined the expectations from cheap feature phones by offering apps and features that were previously only available on feature phones.
Video calling, digital payments via NFC, Google’s suite of applications including its Assistant, and Facebook are just some of the features and application that it has been successful in making work on meagre hardware.
KaiOS is a web-based feature phone operating system that was developed on the back of the failed Firefox OS. It mainly focusses on offering smartphone services like 4G, WiFi, VoLTE, ViLTE etc. to feature phones (non-touch devices) that have limited processing power and battery capacity.
KaiOS is developed by Kai Technologies and is based out of San Diego, United States of America. Realising the fact that it’s Android Go platform won’t be able to target a big chunk of audience who can’t afford even these relatively cheaper smartphones, Google invested $22 million in Kai OS in 2018.
KaiOS being at the core of JioPhones, Reliance also invested in Kai Technologies in 2018 and took home a 16% stake in the company for $7 million in cash. This investment is considered to be a key step for Jio to have greater control over the software for its apps and services.
Jio, along with KaiOS, is all set to unlock both hardware and software based revenues from a population that has never been able to access 4G and related services. And with Google also betting on KaiOS, expect to hear a lot more about how KaiOS managed to capture a massive unattended audience, in the near future.