Built by San Diego, California-headquartered start-up KaiOS Technologies and led by CEO Sebastien Codeville, KaiOS is the third biggest operating system globally after Android and iOS.
Data from StatCounter show that while Android has over 91.5% share in India, iOS has over 2.6% share as of July 2019. KaiOS has over 4.3% share in the country.
The emergence of KaiOS has led to the growth of a new category of devices — smart feature phones. For those who cannot afford a smartphone, these devices have proved to be a boon as they allow users to connect to the Internet, thereby bridging the digital divide.
KaiOS-powered devices allow users gain access to apps such as WhatsApp, YouTube, Google Maps, the Google Assistant and Facebook, as well as a store for apps called the KaiStore.
Thanks to to the ultra cheap data rates offered by Reliance Jio, these devices helped a large section of India's population move from 2G network to a high-speed 4G network.
"Kai experienced strong growth in 2018 as it built a presence in new markets such as India and Africa through critical partnerships with companies including Reliance Jio, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Orange, MTN, Qualcomm, and others," Codeville wrote in a blog post in May this year.
The team behind KaiOS comprises over 260 people spreading out in offices in Hong Kong, the US, Taiwan, China, India (Bengaluru), Brazil, and France.
In a good news to the start-up, a recent Counterpoint study found that the smart feature phone segment presents a $28 billion dollar market opportunity in the coming three years.
With more than 100 million devices shipped in over 100 countries till now, the company is betting big on demand from India as well as countries in Africa and Latin America.
"Reliance Jio is a great case study showcasing the success, reach, and impact of KaiOS-powered devices. After adopting the KaiOS platform, Reliance Jio acquired tens of millions of 2G feature phone users and transitioned them to its 4G network," the company said.
"Consumers found the phone appealing because it was a fraction of the price of an entry-level smartphone but offered curated apps and robust functionality like Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, and Google Assistant," it added.
KaiOS Technologies in May announced $50 million in a Series B funding round led by Cathay Innovation, with continued participation from Kai's existing shareholders Google and TCL Holdings.
With this Series B, Kai said it plans to expand into new markets, and to invest in product portfolio research and development.
In June, KaiOS announced the launch of two smart feature phones in Brazil and in August TECNO, the leading mobile phone brand in Africa, announced the launch of the latest 3G smart feature phone T901, the first TECNO device running on KaiOS.
"Kai aims to transition a substantial portion of the more than 1.5 billion feature phone users to smart feature phones, enabling carriers, manufacturers, developers, and advertisers to create innovative, new business models," Codeville said.