The third mobile operating system is almost completely unknown, but it grows with increasing force. This is the ultra-economic and new ‘basic phones’ with KaiOS, the heir to Firefox OS.
After the fall of BlackBerry and the withdrawal of Windows Phone a few years ago, iOS and Android share the big cake of smartphones globally. Faced with the increasingly difficult task of reaching the portion of the population that is still left out, there is a singular player. This is KaiOS, a system that tries to bring connectivity to the next band of users equipped with the essentials.
Gone are other proposals for names as well known as Canonical’s Ubuntu Touch, Samsung’s Tizen or Mozilla’s Firefox OS, and their search for different connected mobile and from just $ 25. These were already satisfied with something much more basic than what Big Tech brought. Still, Google’s insistent push with Android Go gave little room for the opportunity to go further. Users chose known bad, following the saying.
KaiOS Technologies bets from Hong Kong for really basic terminals, which it calls smart feature phones . These are the natural evolution of old mobiles. Some dumbphones of a lifetime on steroids. An ode to the keys, where nothing is tactile but everything is –or tries to be– smart.
KaiOS has managed to turn the sock around and the bad experience of Mozilla. Based on the open-source skeleton Firefox OS left behind in 2016, the project is getting more and more push. About two years ago, he received a $ 22 million investment from Google. Recently, it was Mozilla itself that joined forces to improve the performance, functionality, and security of these devices.
With this agreement, closed in March, a new data was also published: 120 million devices distributed in more than 100 countries have been exceeded. It is expected that in 2020 alone, 120 million more will be placed, according to Counterpoint, to approach the 500 million accumulated by the end of 2021. Not without reason, KaiOS phones were one of the 100 ‘inventions’ that marked 2019 according to the last Time list.
The next billion
Google has already repeatedly emphasized that its goal is to reach the next billion users. For example, it has many Go versions in its main apps to favor it. With at least 2.5 billion active devices, and another 1.5 billion iPhone , don’t think there is so much accessible space left to cover.
It may seem that between the 4 billion smartphones and the 7.8 billion humans on Earth, there is still tremendous room for growth. The problem? The total number of mobiles now reaches 5,000 million, counting the traditional ones, and we must still add the fact that there are some 2,000 million people who have not yet reached the age of 14.
The clamp closes like this on a pool of not really connected accessible that in the end are not so much. And is that many of these people live in countries where, simply, it is not possible to afford even the cheapest smartphones . This is why we limit ourselves to just under 2 billion adults who are not yet connected, to share between the push of Android and, now, KaiOS.
That’s where Mozilla’s original gamble, with its $ 25 smartphone hunt , was as rare then as it is right now. Denying the large touch screens, these devices once again compress their bill, having models from just $ 11 . As a reference, the average sale price of Xiaomi smartphones, the leading brand of this data, was $ 146 in the last quarter.
It may seem like a mere curiosity, but there are giants like India where this is crucial, one of the last markets where the mobile industry still has a long way to go. Societies are not written in binary, and there are still large sections of the population where these extremely affordable phones are essential for connecting. Hundreds and hundreds of millions of people live there on as little as $ 5 a day or less. Therefore, they do not have much more option than what this type of mobile provides.
KaiOS attacks in that precise niche. Beneath those who can afford a smartphone , but on a connectivity becoming more and cheaper. In India, you can buy as little as a couple of dollars a month for 2GB of 4G data a day and literally change your family’s life . Of course, many countries in Africa share this scenario.
With KaiOS the keys return with the new ‘basic phones’
In other markets, KaiOS may not have it that easy, but that does not mean that they are not selling devices. One of them is the Alcatel 3088 , which I was able to test a few months ago for several weeks. For an average citizen in Europe or Latin America they are more like a mobile phone that does almost everything basic, if you do not have the need to be constantly connected .
This is, a luck of the mobile of your mobile that the new Palm proposed , but to the beast. The difference? They cost 40 dollars here, instead of 400. It does have a basic 4G -although not always-, Wi-Fi and web navigation, GPS with its Maps application and even some, NFC for payments. We also add Facebook, WhatsApp or Twitter, as well as applications among which we find some simple games.
In its app store, the KaiOS Store , we already found 500 apps . A concise figure, too, on purpose. KaiOS limits access, with entry barriers that guarantee the functionality of a preserve to which each month some ten million users join. However, the strength of KaiOS are the web and progressive web apps .
These mobile phones with keys have a great ally in the AI to avoid being a nuisance that forces you to type everything. Not for nothing its largest button is usually precisely that of the microphone. With this we can search and activate commands directly, in addition to transcribing text or sending voice notes. Google Assistant is accessible with a single click, maintaining autonomy that lasts for several days on mobiles that are around 100 grams .
Google and Firefox (OS): the double Trojan horse in the bright future of KaiOS
What has changed for Google to compete against Firefox OS, but support its heir, KaiOS? Google knows perfectly well the reach that Android has, in its search for the next million users. It has terminals that are better year by year, putting more and more capable devices at a first price range. But this does not seem to descend, and the current one is not enough.
KaiOS is the modified version of an already lightweight operating system to make it even lighter. Unlike Firefox OS, KaiOS does not try to fight for the cake that Android already has tied, but rather complement it from below . And this has ended up serving as a great gateway to two web giants: Google and Mozilla itself.KaiOS arrives on the smartphone as Chrome OS arrived on the PC: with little, for the basics and based on the web
KaiOS was based, from its first version, on the Gecko engine that arrived on board Firefox 48, when Mozilla left the support in 2016. This was a problem for KaiOS, which was stuck in older standards. With the recovery of the Mozilla backup at the beginning of the year , this operating system receives a new boost.
On it, Mozilla also has a great opportunity to overcome the indentation of ‘users’ that it has both on the desktop and on mobile. In this last segment, KaiOS itself seems to have already surpassed it, according to Statcounter figures. Thus, it reinforces its weight in the most adopted web standards far from Google’s control.
Meanwhile, Google invests in KaiOS because it accelerates the digitization of developing countries that can continue to adopt its services. This strengthens the future monetization of these markets in which the number of users who, equally, could not afford an Android shoots up.
KaiOS has slipped through the cracks of giants. However, it is a for-profit organization whose business model revolves around advertising revenue. It is not Mozilla’s dream, but even so, there is no doubt that these mobiles are vital for more and more millions of families, especially in the era of the coronavirus.
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