KaiOS – Everything about the smart feature phone revolution

While the whole world was fixated on Android OS and iOS, a silent revolution was taking place right under everyone’s noses. In 2016, a team built KaiOS on the back of the now discontinued Firefox OS, and already had it on 30 million phones as at mid-2018 in North America and India. Sometimes, there is no hype around the revolution. It isn’t tweeted or televised.

This is the mobile platform behind the new generation of 4G-capable, smart feature phones that we have been talking about. Yes; those phones that will keep the other half of the world connected.

kaios technologies

Let’s put this in perspective. While Windows Phone and Windows 10 Mobile and BlackBerry OS were dying off, Kai OS popped up and grew. And its growth has been noticed by big players like Google, Facebook, and Twitter, who have committed resources to developing for it.

Google apps support means that the platform can synchronise your email, calendar and contacts. Voice Assistant, Google Maps, and Google Search are in the mix too. Of course, Facebook and Twitter are two of the most popular social networks around. What would be great now is for WhatsApp support to be added, and KaiOS would be ready for prime time.

What Is KaiOS?

KaiOS is a mobile operating system based on Firefox OS, meaning it is web-based and built on HTML5, CSS and Javascript. These are basic technologies. The platform is so lightweight that it runs smoothly on phones with only 256MB of memory. Light as it may be, the beauty of KaiOS is how it also supports advanced features like 4G/LTE, VoLTE, Wi-Fi, NFC, apps and an app store, dual-SIM support, and QWERTY keyboards.

The whole idea behind Kai OS is that it puts the smart in light and affordable phones, hence the tag smart feature phone.

Jio Phone
Photo source: Reuters

Who is behind KaiOS?

KaiOS is developed by KaiOS Technologies, a California-based tech company with offices in some other countries too. The operating system was developed from an open source successor of the now dead Firefox OS and made its first public appearance in 2017.

Which devices run KaiOS?

These were the first generation of smart feature phones to run KaiOS:

  1. Alcatel OneTouch Go Flip (known as Cingular Flip 2 on AT&T)
  2. Reliance Jio JioPhone
  3. Nokia 8110 4G (runs Smart Feature OS, a custom KaiOS version)

In early 2018, KaiOS Technologies announced that the platform was already on 30 million phones in the U.S., Canada, and India. I have been unable to find any independent verification of this claim though, but I shall keep my eyes open. But in essence, it means that between the Alcatel OneTouch Go Flip and the Reliance Jio JioPhone, 30 million units had been sold. It soon become the second most popular mobile OS in India after Android OS.

KaiOS-powered Energizer smart feature phones
KaiOS-powered Energizer smart feature phones

The Rise of Smart Feature Phones

Feature phones used to be something that were spoken of in a condescending manner. It was for poor people only. While it is still predominantly a poor people affair, the feature phone is also seeing an uptake in advanced mobile markets. Smartphone owners are buying feature phones as backup phones, especially for their long battery lives.

Imagine having a small cell phone that has super fast 4G broadband internet, basic apps, and a week-long battery life in your pocket. Now you can eat your cake and have it. Perhaps the 3rd smartphone platform will be a smart feature phone OS, one that blurs the lines between smartphone and feature phone.

News and Updates

June 2018: Google invests $22 million in KaiOS.

February 2019: 8 KaiOS-powered Energizer feature phones announced.

May 2019: The smart feature phone operating system now runs on over 100 million phones: KaiOS Technologies Secures $50 Million of Series B Funding to Connect the Next Billion People.

July 2019: Kai Technologies announced that WhatsApp and Facebook apps are now available for all KaiOS phones. WhatsApp had been available to only the Reliance JioPhone and the Nokia 8110 4G

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4 comments

  1. In essence the feature phone will give the user the power of a lamborghini in a golf 2 engine.

    Now, that is something worth keeping an eye on.

    If android is to BB, then can KaiOs be to android too.

    Hmmm….. never say never

  2. I welcome this feature phone with all pleasure, this will be useful as a backup phone, especially with the 4G network, it will go a long way.

  3. The 30 Million_user claim seems surprising. I suppose this would have its market.

    Aren’t there dirt_cheap Android phones that would serve me far better than this Joke of an OS?

    I can think of many reasons this is DOA here.

    Many phones here have double SIM, so a backup phone is not necessary for many. As a primary phone, ní, thank you. Where are the apps (there is a world beyond Facebook and Twitter).

    If I do need a backup phone, if I can not get a cheap Android phone, then I would just go for a bargain basement call+sms only phone for Five Thousand Naira.

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