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[EDITORIAL] KaiOS as the global Smart-Feature Phone operating system for Africa

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Just three days into year 2013, the Nigerian government commenced the unfolding of plans to provide mobile phones worth about N60billion to 10 million rural farmers in the country.

The then Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Ibukun Odusote (now Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Environment) disclosed that plan.

The basis of the policy is reportedly that in the quest of the administration to make Nigeria self-sufficient in food production, the government took the decision so as to enable the Federal Ministry of Agriculture send SMS on useful farming tips; such as when to plant, irrigate, harvest farm products, when and how to access fertilizers so as to maximise their yield on national food security. Had that agenda been actualised, then about 10 million feature phones would have been added to this market.

*The Smart-Feature Phone launched by MTN Nigeria already

Something similar is happening on a Continental level: The MTN group in partnership with China Mobile, chipmaker Unisoc and feature phone operating system, KaiOS, brought affordable 3G ‘Smart-Feature Phones’ to the African market in the first few months of 2019.

The Group shipped the 3G smart-feature phone initially in Nigeria and South Africa, and hopes to make it available to almost all of its operations in Africa and the Middle East. The telco aims to sell 10 million devices over the next three years.

KaiOS an operating system developed by KaiOS Technologies, brings smartphone-like functionalities to affordable phones: the KaiStore for apps; video calls over 4G; mobile payments through NFC and even dual-SIM support.

Why is Feature Phone still selling?

First, cost – Not everyone can afford a N712,800 phone. This is not peculiar to Nigeria or Africa rather cuts across the world.

KaiOS powers Smart-Feature Phones

array of Feature Phones

Feature phones entry gadgets that some parents provide their children with as their first phone to provide connectivity. The OEMs recognise this as – Entry Level Devices. So, parents leverage feature phones to teach the children about the responsibility of having a phone.

Secondly, not everyone needs a smartphone. Not everyone needs a 3G, 4G, or LTE capable device. Not everyone has a need for them, or cares for them. Many people just use phone for the very basics – talk – and maybe texting. Some elder or non-technical people just want a phone. They don’t care about texting. They just want to use them when they need them to talk to someone, not fiddle around with the various keys and try to text, or the internet, or email.

Thirdly, infrastructure – Some feature phones have large batteries, excellent for long trips, or infrequent use due to them being in storage all the time. This is one of the very reasons most Nigerians who brandish two to three smartphones still go for Feature Phones.

So, some people slot in the Sim card into those feature phones for emergency service if needed. Besides, breaking a smartphone can easily set you back a few thousands of naira in repairs.

Fourthly, many feature phones even support dual, triple or even quad sim card support. This is important for travelling, or keeping in touch with others using various carriers to keep costs down, especially when heading to the hinterlands. This is very in Africa and very common in India and Asia.

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But, with the dynamics are changing as some phone users now prefer higher functionality at lower price which brings to mind the era of Smart-Feature Phone.

KaiOS-powered Device

KaiOS-powered Device have succeeded in India and will replicate same in African Countries

KaiOS OS boosts Smart-Feature phone penetration

First up, the term ‘Feature Phone’ is practically becoming out-dated today. Why? KaiOS has given the industry a new lexicon ‘Smart-Feature Phone. KaiOS is an Operating System for phones that has Internet Support. It updates over-the-air (OTA) like most smart phones. It has its own AppStore and supports 3rd party apps.

Some analysts believe the only dividing line between these phones and Smartphones is that Smart-Phones have touchscreens. But that is not absolutely true. Recall, ‘Blackberries’ of the past also had no touchscreens either, yet, they were still called as Smartphones. So, it is correct to say the Feature Phones have now evolved.

Where are we going with these devices?

To answer the question, let us look at some statistics:

Feature Phone shipments in Africa:

In 2018, there were a total of 179 million feature phone shipments across Africa, which accounted for 58% of the overall African market.

Feature Phones currently running on KaiOS:

Today, there are 110 million feature phones running KaiOS, and that number is expected to increase to 150 million by end of 2019.

Future/predictions on growth of KaiOS:

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By the end of 2019, KaiOS Technologies aims to have hundreds of apps available via the KaiStore. These apps will encompass major social media and service partnerships, as well as locally developed content.

Which countries in Africa are using more of KaiOS enabled Feature Phones:

Shipments started a few months ago and so far the biggest numbers are seen in Nigeria, South Africa, Rwanda, Cameroon, Zambia, Ivory Coast, DR Congo, etc.

Why OEMS are adopting KaiOS:

OEMs are adopting KaiOS because OS developers are the only company who can provide the high-quality and powerful features expected on smartphones, as well as access to popular apps, at the most affordable pricing, with devices running as low as 256MB of RAM.

We understand that apart MTN Nigeria, discussions are underway with other operators to bring KaiOS services to other networks. In others words, other telecom operators in Nigeria are going to leverage on KaiOS to launch smart-feature phone.

Recently, KaiOS Technologies  announced WhatsApp’s availability for download in the KaiStore, on both 512MB and 256MB RAM devices.

Further, by Q3 2019, most smart feature phones powered by KaiOS will have WhatsApp preinstalled upon shipment.

The only challenge we foresee with this development is the likelihood to slow down broadband penetration in Africa. For the reason that Smart-Feature Phones are not yet 4G enabled. Telecommunication operators deploy services where they are needed for RoI sake and other exigencies.

We think KaiOS Technologies should take this into consideration in their subsequent R&D programme.

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Apart from that, KaiOS is bridging the gap between the devices. Companies like Google have predicted how this will even impact the ecosystem as they invested $22M in KaiOS. Similarly, Facebook does too!

Imagine what would an average Smart-Phone owner need in a device? Multimedia? Social Media? Maybe (Google) Maps? It got it all! Thus, many young people on a tight-budget are also jumping on the band-wagon.

KaiOS enable WhatsApp support in Smart-Feature Phones

In Conclusion, Nokia, Samsung, Alcatel, and others have all jumped on the KaiOS band-wagon and with it based on HTML web-app it means, it does not need as much powerful hardware as a Smart-Phone, but can utilize web-based apps which not only means, that hardware can be low-cost, but also makes it easy for the big names to develop apps for the platform and being a unified platform.

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