Sebastien Codeville, CEO of KaiOS, is an engineer by trade and spent his early career at Alcatel Mobile and Philips. In 201
The following year, Boot to Gecko what is shown off to the world and formally rebranded as Firefox OS. TCL pledged its support and started working on the Alcatel One Touch Fire, a low-cost smartphone designed for Emerging Markets in Europe and Latin America. Later, Codeville and his team worked on a jitterbug-branded phone that ran Firefox OS and would be sold through GreatCall, a US network aimed at the elderly. "The technology was great for what we wanted to do," Codeville recalls.
Mozilla had. "
Firefox OS did not get the traction that Mozilla had hoped for, however. At the tail end of 2015, the company announced it would rework the platform around internet-of-things devices. "We want to explore and prototype new use cases in the world of connected devices as an open-source project with a clear focus on the user's benefit and experience," Mozilla's Ari Jaaksi said. The last mobile-centric version of Firefox OS released in May 2016.
Undeterred, TCL kept working on it's Firefox OS phone internally. Codeville saw potential in the platform and pitched his employer on a standalone company. "This is the way KaiOS was born," he said.
Alcatel Go Flip
Codeville thinks Firefox OS failed because it was pitched as a smartphone platform. "When you go on the smartphone market you're immediately against Android," he said. "And when you don ' I have an ecosystem that is equivalent to Android, which is extremely rich, it's a bad compariso n for the end user. "People would buy a Firefox OS phone as well as a low-cost Android device.
A web-based platform, he thought, what better-suited to people who had never owned a smartphone. Customers who did not have access to basic apps would, instead, compare the platform to so-called dumb phones. "We're bringing them something that's much better than the 2G phones they currently own," Codeville said. Android, obviously. "
Firefox OS gave the company a huge technological name and, by extension, financial headstart. KaiOS hired 30 former Mozilla employees to help develop the platform. It also brought about a lot of people from TCL who had relationships and working with various smartphone companies, including network operators and chipset factories.
"We bring them something that is much better than the 2G feature phones they currently own . "
The operating system that emerged is quite different from Firefox OS. The user interface, for instance, is built around physical and non-touch displays. The application icons are smaller and you will often see a contextual strip at the bottom of the screen with physical input options such as "Cancel" and "Okay." KaiOS optimized the platform for low-end hardware – it only requires 256MB of RAM to run – and, crucially, maintained support for modern connectivity such as 3G, 4G, WiFi, GPS and NFC.
Feature phones are normally associated with emerging markets such as India and Brazil. KaiOS, however, started in the US with the Alcatel-branded Go Flip. Codeville and his team persuaded AT & T, Sprint and T-Mobile to stock the handset because of their track record while working at TCL. Those deals then allowed the company to win a contract with Jio, a mobile network in India owned by a massive conglomerate called Reliance Industries. Together they built the JioPhone, a candy-bar-style device with a 2.4-inch display and 512MB of RAM. It was effectively given away with ultracompetitive 4G plans.
The original JioPhone.
"This has been a huge success," Codeville said. "
The popularity of the JioPhone allowed KaiOS to court more network operators, chipset and device manufacturers." And then everything went faster and faster, he added.
The company won a project with HMD Global, the new steward of the Nokia brand. The pair worked on the Nokia 8810 4G, an updated version of the iconic slider that came out in 1996 and was featured in The Matrix .
At the same time, KaiOS announced partnerships with Facebook, Twitter and Airfind, a developer of news, weather and horoscope apps. Google Maps, Search and the voice-enabled Assistant to the newly-released Nokia 8110 4G.
"Everything went faster and faster."
These apps were huge for KaiOS; they legitimized the platform and made every phone feel smarter and more powerful to consumers. That, in turn, raises the perceived value of the usually low-cost hardware.
Google Assistant was a very important addition. For many, voice is faster than pecking a classic one-through-nine keypad with their thumbs. The Assistant talks back, too, which makes the platform viable for people with poor literacy skills.
The WizPhone also runs Google Maps, Facebook and YouTube.
Four months later, KaiOS has announced a $ 22 million Google release key services to all KaiOS users – not just banan a phone owners. "This funding seeks to support the fast-paced development and global deployment of KaiOS-enabled smart phones," said Codeville.
Google's support was surprising. The company, after all, had gone to Android One and its spiritual successor, Android Go. Both were conceived as lighter, stripped-back versions of Google's popular operating system. They were, however, fighting for popularity in the low-cost smartphone segment. KaiOS was operating on a different plane – one with even cheaper components and price tags where Google could not compete.
The partnership is extraordinary when you consider that KaiOS is based on the bones of Firefox, a direct competitor to Google's Chrome. KaiOS addresses people who are not using Android, "Codeville explained," and who are not using smartphones.
In July 2018, the Doro 7060 flip phone launched in Europe. It was joined by the JioPhone 2, a larger handset with a Blackberry-style keyboard, the following month. By the end of the year, the Cat B35, Doro 7050 and MaxCom 241 had come out too. KaiOS was racking up sales and pushing its mobile footprint into more global markets.
Then, in December, KaiOS announced the WizPhone, a simple handset that will cost 99,000 IDRs – or US $ 7 – in Indonesia. The surprisingly low cost is being subsidized by Alfamart, a convenience store giant that sees a banking and ecommerce opportunity. AllWiz app to scan and pay for physical products.
KaiOS is now finalizing a new funding round by Cathay Innovation, a global venture capital fund extra money to expand into new markets,
Google, meanwhile, is slowly improving the Assistant on KaiOS. At the moment, you have to make an app and hold the microphone. A new voice-typing feature allows users to navigate to a text box – in any part of the operating system – and transcribe a message with seamless speech-to-text. In addition, the Assistant will soon support "Actions" by third-party developers.
KaiOS has roughly 260 employees spread around the world. Roughly 150 are working on the product, including research and development, while another 70 support the company's carrier and OEM partners. The rest are split between marketing, finance, and developing the broader platform.
"We would love to talk to Mozilla."
KaiOS is not a household name just yet. Eighty million is an impressive install base, but it's a paltry figure compared with Android and iOS. Mozilla could not find an audience for a web-based mobile platform. Curiously, Codeville has not spoken with Mozilla about KaiOS or the legacy of Firefox OS. "We would love to talk to Mozilla," he said.
Smartphones are, of course, the future for most people. KaiOS has shown that feature can still help usher swaths of people online. Especially if you can offer them for less than $ 10.