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Google Invests $22 million In The OS Powering Nokia Feature Phones

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It seems that failed mobile operating systems often get a second chance. Despite impressing many smartphone fanatics with its gesture based navigation, Nokia went one and done with MeeGo, which was offered on 2011’s Nokia N9. While Nokia was looking for a more modern OS to replace Symbian, then-CEO Stephen Elop decided to go with Microsoft’s Windows Phone platform and jettisoned MeeGo, which later evolved into Jolla’s Sailfish OS.

Mozilla ended development on its smartphone operating system, Firefox OS, at the beginning of 2017, according to CNET report. But since it was open-source, other companies have used the code for new products. KaiOS is one fork of Firefox OS, and was first released in March of 2017. Google has already developed applications for KaiOS, but now it’s investing $22 million into the company building it.

Only a handful of devices have shipped with KaiOS at this point, including the Alcatel OneTouch Go Flip, the Reliance Jio Jio Phone, and the Nokia 8810 4G (although the 8810 runs a tweaked version). Like Firefox OS, apps are written in web technologies like HTML5, JavaScript, and CSS. The web-based philosophy is similar to what Google pushes with Chrome OS, so it’s not surprising to see Google give it a financial nudge. More than that, Google and KaiOS are working to implement Google Assistant, Google Maps, YouTube, and Google Search into the OS.

KaiOS has working relationships with phone makers such as TCL, HMD Global, and Micromax. It also has partnerships with various wireless carriers, including AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, and Reliance Jio. The end result of these partnerships is that users in emerging markets have access to affordable devices that support apps, GPS, 4G LTE connectivity, and built-in Wi-Fi. Google’s investment will expedite the launch of KaiOS devices.

“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 Sebastien Codeville, CEO of KaiOS Technologies.

“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, Vice-President, Product Management, Next Billion Users. “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.”

This is a remarkable thing that Google is doing, though it’s probably not altruistic. There are hundreds of millions of feature phones sold each year. By throwing its services into the mix, Google can effectively expand its services to a wider base. Those same users might also be more apt to buy an Android device if and when they upgrade from a feature phone to a smartphone.

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