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Smart feature phones spell KaiOS

A new operating system promises smartphone apps at basic phone prices, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

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It’s called a smart feature phone, and it offers the world of apps at prices never seen before on smartphones. But the new Smart S from MTN is not only one device: it represents a new operating system that will bring similar functionality to a wide range of feature phones. 

The Smart S is the first phone available in South Africa to use KaiOS, an operating system developed by San Diego-based KaiOS Technologies. Founded in 2017, it has raised $79-million in funding, including $22-million from Google and $7-million from Indian mobileoperator Reliance Jio.

It is especially appealing in emerging markets, where the typical prices of smartphones – starting at R600 for most entry-level devices and R1200 for mid-range handsets – put them out of reach of most of the population. The Smart S, for example, retails at R249. 

KaiOS Technologies has also announced partnerships with operators in Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, Kenya and Tanzania, who will all launch mobile phones running on its operating system. The phones come preinstalled with the KaiStore, an app store similar to Google’s Play Store, along with Google Assistant, Facebook, Google Maps, YouTube, and Twitter. The operating system itself requires little memory, and Lite versions of many apps are available. 

The founder and CEO, Sebastien Codeville, says traditional smartphones are too expensive for large parts of the population in these markets. 

 “Our mission is to close the digital divide by bringing advanced digital services to the billions of people who are still without Internet,” he said. 

MTN has bundled the Smart S with 100 MB of data per month for the first six months and 1GB of WhatsApp bundles for the first six months. 

“We are living in a country where affordability of smart devices is one of the biggest barriers to internet access,” says Jacqui O’Sullivan, executive for corporate affairs at MTN South Africa. “The device comes at a right time as we recently launched MTN Chat recharging channel, which puts customers in charge by allowing them to conveniently top up airtime and data bundles on the popular instant messaging platform, WhatsApp.” 

Click here to read about what KaiOS means to emerging markets.

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