Skip to main content

A flip phone with Google Maps? KaiOS is making dumb phones smarter

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Android Go may be Google’s answer for more affordable smartphones, but with 1.3 billion feature-phone owners in the world, according to Counterpoint Research, that still leaves a lot of people using yesterday’s technology. Maybe not for long. A relatively-new software company called KaiOS Technologies is bringing an enriched “dumb” phone experience to a market most manufacturers have neglected for the past decade.

The company is bringing modern smartphone apps and experiences to affordable devices.

You may have never heard of KaiOS, but there’s a chance you’ve seen its software in action if you have read anything about HMD Global’s newly-announced Nokia 8110 4G — it runs KaiOS. The software is lightweight, based on HTML5, and manufacturers that use it on their non-touch phones are able to customize the look to their liking. In HMD’s case, it’s designed to be reminiscent of Nokia’s old Symbian operating system.

KaiOS Technologies now has its software on phones from Doro, Reliance Jio, HMD, Alcatel, and soon, Bullitt (with a Cat phone) and Micromax. What’s even more impressive is how the company is bringing modern smartphone apps and experiences to these affordable devices, thanks to entry-level processors in feature phones from chipmakers like Qualcomm.

A partnership with Google, Facebook, and Twitter also means people who use feature phones running KaiOS will soon have access to an app store, as well as web apps including Google Maps, Google Assistant, Facebook, Twitter, and more. JioPhone 4G phone owners, for example, already have access to JioTV’s video-streaming service — meaning they can watch shows and movies on their feature phones.

Just the essentials

We tested Google Maps on the Nokia 8110 4G, and while we had to take a few minutes to get used to a non-touch screen phone, we were able to look around on the map and find nearby places — just like on a smartphone. Google Assistant lets you tap a button to ask it a question, such as a query about the weather, but we weren’t able to do further testing due to congested cell phone coverage at Mobile World Congress.

KaiOS - A Powerful Operating System

All of this is possible because new feature phones are launching with support for 4G networks, largely because carriers are dropping 2G and 3G to make way for 4G LTE expansion as well as 5G. As mobile operators look for ways to replace revenue earned from voice and text, they are increasingly looking at a data and services business model. 4G feature phones are becoming essential in countries where data is expensive, and where there’s a wide gap in digital literacy. Since KaiOS doesn’t need to use much data, it’s likely a cheaper option than going for an Android Go smartphone; it also doesn’t require as much of a learning curve for someone who has never used a smartphone before.

But the software doesn’t just work well for emerging markets — it also works for people with smartphones. The Nokia 8110 4G, for example, can act as a 4G hotspot for your smartphone, or as a backup phone thanks to its 17-day battery life. Access to email, calendar, contacts, as well as apps like Facebook and Google Maps, give you all the essentials you might want on a phone to use, say, on your next hiking trip. KaiOS is present in the U.S., and its software is available on feature phones sold on Sprint, AT&T, and T-Mobile.

Bridging the digital divide

KaiOS Technologies originally started as a project at TCL Corporation, but founder and Chief Executive Officer Sebastien Codeville told Digital Trends he pitched the idea of separating it as a new company so KaiOS could work with different manufacturers. TCL agreed, and it spun off in 2016. Codeville said his company now has almost 200 employees, with offices set up around the world. With 20 million active users as of February 2018, Codeville said he’s targeting between 120 to 150 million active KaiOS users by the end of the year.

Codeville said he’s targeting between 120 to 150 million active KaiOS users by the end of the year.

What’s unique about the company is how hyperlocal it is — especially since it has employees across the world. The idea is to encourage local developers to develop apps for the operating system, offering localized content on these localized smartphones. To give a sense of how localized these feature phones are, the JioPhone running KaiOS already supports 22 Indian languages and dialects, making the phone accessible for a wide number of people.

Codeville said a Kai Store will be available soon with free apps at first, but developers can add paid apps at a later date. It’s also working on an advertising platform, as another revenue model for the company and developers. Other features on the roadmap this year include adding support for near-field communication, so feature phones with NFC can make contactless payments. Video calling is also in the works, as well as support for dual-SIM and enterprise.

KaiOS Technologies isn’t just focusing on the phone market. Codeville said the company has plans to expand its software into the wearables space, creating entry-level wearables for children and elders; as well as the smart home and automotive industries.

With 600 million feature phones to be sold every year for the next 5 years, according to estimates from the International Data Corporation and KaiOS Technologies, Codeville said his company is not a competitor to Android or iOS. The goal is to connect unconnected feature phones, improve digital literacy, and decrease the digital divide.

Julian Chokkattu
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Julian is the mobile and wearables editor at Digital Trends, covering smartphones, fitness trackers, smartwatches, and more…
Walmart is selling refurbished iPads for $99 today
The iPad Air 9.7-inch with Apple A7 chip, USA Essentials wireless earbuds, an iPad case, and an iPad screen shield.

Who says Walmart deals are only good if they’re for a brand-new product? For those unaware, you can save even more cash on top-dollar tech if you decide to go with a refurbished model. In fact, Walmart is offering a great deal on a refurb bundle as we speak. For $100, you’ll be able to take home a refurbished Apple iPad Air 9.7-inch model with Apple’s A7 chip, Wi-Fi connectivity, and 16GB of storage. Other bundle items include a set of USA Essential wireless earbuds, a protective case, screen shield, and charger. 

Why you should buy the refurbished Apple iPad Air 9.7-inch
Whether you’re a student looking for an inexpensive tablet to take notes on, or a working professional that needs a reliable way to mirror graphs and spreadsheets to a projector, each generation of the iPad Air has prioritized portability and performance. This particular model (the Air A7) uses an older Apple processor, but that doesn’t mean your tablet is going to run slow. In fact, Amazon’s refurb process involves rigorous testing to ensure the iPad runs as close to like-new condition as possible. 

Read more
This is no doubt the best Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 6 pre-order deal
Samsung's unboxing of the Galaxy Z Fold 6.

If you want to be the very first to get one of the newest, greatest Samsung phones, you're probably pretty excited right now. That's because the Galaxy Z Fold 6 is coming out on the 24, which is just about two weeks away from the date this is being written. And that means it is pre-order season. When we explored Galaxy Z Flip 6 pre-order deals, we found a fairly robust landscape with a ton of best options for you depending on your carrier of choice. Unfortunately, though, the same does not apply for the more expensive Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 6. When looking at Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 6 pre-order deals we kept finding that Samsung itself was (usually) your best choice. Tap the button below to see the Samsung page and start making your order or keep reading below to see why other retailers are struggling to keep up the pace.

Why you should pre-order the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 6 from Samsung
Pre-ordering the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 6 from Samsung nets you a number of benefits. The first, which is largely superficial but won't fit in with the numerical arguments to come, is the fact that Samsung has reserved some color variations for their own shop. This includes the white and the special "Crafted Black" with a special textured exterior. Note that Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 6 cases are already out, however, so you can always just get a textured case if you want that feel. Also note that Samsung online exclusive colors are having a delayed shipment and aren't expected to arrive at your home until by August 7th, a full two weeks after launch.

Read more
Best Prime Day iPad deals: Air, Mini, and Pro starting at $180
The back of the Apple iPad Air (2024).

If you're thinking about buying any of Apple's tablets, you might as well take advantage of this year's Prime Day iPad deals. These devices, especially the latest releases, usually don't come cheap, which is why there's always high demand for discounts on iPads from Prime Day tablet deals. There are offers for both budget-friendly models and current-generation devices among iPad deals for the shopping holiday, so there's surely something here for everyone, and to help decide on what to purchase quicker, check out our Prime Day deals recommendations and buying advice below.
Best 10.2-inch iPad Prime Day deals

The 10.2-inch iPad, which encompasses the seventh-generation Apple iPad to the ninth-generation Apple iPad, are highly recommended models if you want a budget-friendly device that still has access to the conveniences of Apple's tablets. Their performance won't match those of the latest models, but they're still pretty decent devices by today's standards, and they're more tempting purchase because you can get them for even cheaper prices from this year's Prime Day iPad deals.

Read more