Essential’s attempt to reinvent the wheel has predictably failed

When Android creator Andy Rubin started a new company, big things were expected, however it now appears the ideas were far too glorious to have any basis in reality.

Essential has announced it has taken its ideas as far as it can, and it will now cease operations.

In years gone, Rubin was known as a revolutionary. The founder and creator of Android was held in high esteem, with a reputation which grew each year the operating system become more dominant in the mobile world. This was the enthusiasm which was placed in Essential, but it has been a disastrous journey.

The company was founded in 2015, with funding from Playground Global, and in 2017 Rubin revealed the company was working on a new smartphone which was dubbed the Essential Phone. The delivery of this device was full of chaos thanks to the Meltdown and Spectre vulnerabilities, supply shortage, a customer data leak and accusations of trade secrets theft. But this was only the beginning of the disaster.

Despite the rocky start, it was reported that Amazon, Tencent and Foxconn had invested in the company in August, valuing it at more than $1 billion. The belief was there, but it wasn’t until October 2018 that Rubin teased the world with the launch of another device, known as Project GEM. Unfortunately the world had to wait a year for any more information, and it was not good.

The device attempted to reinvent the shape of the smartphone, creating a device which was much slimmer. The smartphone was also designed to be more of a voice-interface device, a novel idea but perhaps miles ahead of what is technically capable or what the consumer wants.

This is the issue which Essential seems to have been facing. Rubin tried to invent a device which he believed was revolutionary rather than listening to what the consumer wants. Sometimes you have to ignore popular opinion to redefine an industry, Henry Ford famously said “if I was to listen to my customers, I would be breeding faster horses”, but this is not one of those cases.

Video consumption and mobile gaming are two of the biggest trends of the mobile world today, especially for the younger generations, those more likely to spend the big bucks on devices. However, Rubin’s devices ignore these trends, not offering enough screen real estate for such content to be relevant.

Essential’s vision got in the way of understanding what the consumer actually wants, and now the company will soon be non-existent. This should perhaps be a lesson to the innovators in Silicon Valley; revolutionary ideas have to be built on the realities of today.

MediaTek adds momentum to 5G mid-tier with Dimensity 800 launch

After launching its assault on the premium market in November, MediaTek has unveiled its Dimensity 800 Series 5G chipset for mid-tier devices.

The 5G euphoria is of course very exciting, or at least we have been told to be enthralled, but in reality, it means next to nothing without the devices to connect the data-frenzied consumer to the freakishly-fast digital super-highway. MediaTek’s announcement is a step in the right direction.

Announced at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, the Dimensity 800 Series 5G chipset is MediaTek’s answer to the Qualcomm Snapdragon 765; a product for mid-tier smartphones, the segment critical to fuelling mass market adoption in the 5G world.

“MediaTek already launched its flagship 5G smartphone solution, the Dimensity 1000, and with the 800 series 5G chipset family, we are bringing 5G to the mid-tier and mass market,” said TL Lee, head of MediaTek’s wireless business unit.

“Everyone should have access to great technology. The Dimensity 800 Series will power the New Premium segment for 5G, bringing consumers flagship smartphone features and performance at midrange price points.”

While most people in the developed markets would turn their nose up at the prospect of buying a mid-tier smartphone, such are the eye-watering prices of today’s 5G-compatible smartphones, few would consider the small loan which would be needed to purchase one. 5G compatible, mid-tier devices will be crucially important in fuelling momentum towards mass-market adoption of 5G smartphones.

The chipset supports two carrier aggregation for, what MediaTek claims offers, 30% wider high-speed layer coverage and improved handover, as well as both stand alone and non-standalone sub-6 GHz connectivity. Four big Arm Cortex-A76 cores operating up to 2 GHz, have been paired with four power-efficient Arm Cortex-A55 cores operating at up to 2 GHz to improve performance for intensive applications such as mobile gaming.

While this chipset might not have the horsepower of the flagship Dimensity 1000 Series, it is not supposed to. This is a product which is designed to accelerate the launch of devices in the mid-tier market, a critical area to drive through widespread adoption of 5G data connectivity.

5G threatens to crack mass market with affordable devices

As it stands, 5G is not a democratised technology, but that could change as a swarm of affordable devices promising to hit the market in 2020.

This week sees tens of thousands of shade-dwellers hit the Nevada desert for the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES), and in-between the quirky, faddy and ridiculous product promotions, there might be a few announcements worth keeping an eye on.

Starting with the distractions on show, CES 2020 certainly delivers.

Ivanka Trump will be on the keynote stage, diluted the male-dominance of the conference agenda, but perhaps ignoring the better-equipped, albeit less-celebrity attraction, women of Silicon Valley. Bathroom specialist Kohler is showcasing an Alexa-enabled showerhead with embedded speaker and microphone. PantryOn wants to automate your shopping-list. Tombot has a robotic Labrador puppy for those who want a companion without the messiness of real-life. And Manta5’s Hydrofoil e-bike allows users to glide on water for a mere £5,800.

While all these products are quirky, and likely to be forgotten within weeks as there is no basis in reality, there are still some interesting announcements which could have a much more material impact on the connectivity landscape.

TCL Communications has not been hitting the headlines over the last couple of months, but it has stormed to the front-page with the announcement of an affordable 5G device. As it stands, 5G is not an inclusive technology. Devices have been designed for the wealthy as few would dream of paying the obnoxiously high prices which have been attached to the devices.

The TCL 10-Series features three devices, including the companies first attempt at incorporating 5G connectivity. The TCL 10 5G will make use of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 7-Series 5G SoC, as well as feature all the add-ons which have become commonplace on a smartphone. Most importantly, this device will launch in North America in Q2 2020 for less than $500.

“Our TCL-branded smartphones and mobile devices will be an important focal point for the larger TCL ecosystem moving forward, and with these powerful and accessible devices coming this year, we feel TCL is well-prepared to compete in any market around the world,” said Kevin Wang, CEO of TCL Industrial Holdings.

The price is the most important aspect of this announcement. This is one of the first affordable devices to hit the market. There will be more over the next few months, most device launches are reserved for Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, which will be critical. 5G will only succeed if there are compatible devices in every tier of the smartphone market.

Qualcomm has been making a lot of noise over the last few months, especially when it comes to 5G chips which have been designed for the mid-tier smartphone market. The Snapdragon 765 might not have the power of other designs, but it has 5G compatibility embedded and is affordable for mid-tier ranges.

Staying on the topic of chipsets for mid-tier devices, MediaTek has also announced the launch of Dimensity 800 Series 5G chipset. This has been billed as a rival to the Qualcomm products, targeting mid-tier and mass market devices, while also supporting carrier aggregation and dynamic spectrum sharing. MediaTek has said these chips will be available by the end of H1 2020.

“Now that networks are deployed and gradually rolled out, affordable smartphones is the single most important piece of the puzzle that is still missing,” said Dario Talmesio, 5G Practice Leader at analyst firm Ovum. “Pricing are going down really quickly, the challenge will be to have affordable 5G phones with acceptable specs, and there’s work to be done for that yet.”

Over the course of the next 12 months, Ovum estimates 5G subscriptions to exceed 63.4 million worldwide, rising to 250 million by 2021-end and 687 million by 2022-end. Ovum data takes into account all SIMs connected to the network, irrelevant as to what the device might be, with the team also forecasting 4G connections to continue to rise through to 2022-end, before the decline starts to set in.

TCL Communications might have stolen the headlines here, but it would be perfectly reasonable to expect numerous announcements around the $500 price-mark prior to and during MWC in February.

Another interesting product launch took place over at Lenovo.

This might not be the most affordable of laptops, but Lenovo is claiming the Yoga 5G is the first of its kind to have embedded 5G connectivity. If you happen to be one of those individuals who likes spending $1,499 on a laptop and who also happens to live in one of the few areas where 5G coverage is a reality, this might be the product for you.

Although this is an interesting development, perhaps the team is jumping the gun. 5G is one of the simplest ways to attract buzz to a product, though as 4G-enabled laptops would not be considered the norm nowadays, perhaps a step is being skipped. That is not necessarily a bad move forward, though it does make the price-to-entry considerably higher.

CES is not the traditional launching ground for devices, but the TCL news is very encouraging for the accelerated adoption of 5G adoption. Top-end devices might be what everyone wants, but the question is what the market can afford.

Samsung claims the 5G lead after 6.7 million shipments

It might be nothing more than a symbolic milestone for the moment, though Samsung us claiming it is leading the way for 5G device shipments at the close of 2019.

After claiming to have sold 2 million devices at IFA in September, Samsung seemingly romped through the final three months with a total of 6.7 million 5G device shipments for 2019. The figure eclipses the 4 million target the firm set itself, though as its main Android competitor (Huawei) is being stifled by political friction, it is hardly surprising Samsung has stormed into the lead.

What is worth noting is this is nothing more than a bit of posturing. 6.7 million devices is simply a drop in the ocean of potential and could be dwarfed by an aggressive campaign by Apple in the US or Huawei in China. That said, you cannot argue with the figures; in the absence of main competitors, Samsung is maintaining its leadership position in the 5G segment as well as 4G.

“Consumers can’t wait to experience 5G and we are proud to offer a diverse portfolio of devices that deliver the best 5G experience possible,” said TM Roh, President of the IT & Mobile Communications Division.

“For Samsung, 2020 will be the year of Galaxy 5G and we are excited to bring 5G to even more device categories and introduce people to mobile experiences they never thought possible.”

While many analysts do not share Samsung’s belief that the consumer is clawing at the walls for 5G connectivity, there are likely to be more sales across the year. Firstly, geographical coverage will improve to whet the appetite, and secondly, 5G will come as standard on device; device shipments will most likely organically increase.

What will be worth keeping an eye on is the choices made by device manufacturers over the coming months as flagship models are pumped and hyped at industry conferences. Perhaps the most interesting element will be the ways and means by which the OEMs work with Qualcomm.

It has become widely accepted that the latest Qualcomm chipset features in the majority of flagship smartphone devices throughout the year. However, this year some OEMs will have a choice to make; to integrate or not to integrate?

Over the next few months Qualcomm will begin shipping both the Snapdragon 865 and Snapdragon 765 chipsets. The Snapdragon 865 is more powerful, though 5G is on a separate modem, potentially decreasing the power efficiency of devices. The Snapdragon 765 has 5G connectivity integrated, though is notably less powerful. Whichever chipset OEMs elect for, there will be a trade-off to stomach.

Looking at the rumours spreading through the press, it does appear many of the smartphone manufacturers are electing for the Snapdragon 865 and a paired 5G modem in the device. Samsung’s Galaxy S11, Sony Xperia 2 and the Google Pixel 5 are only some of the launches suggested to feature the Snapdragon 865 as opposed to its 5G integrated sister chipset.

5G might not have gotten off to the blistering start some in the industry would have been hoping for, but there is still plenty to come. With Mobile World Congress kicking-off in just over two months, there is amble opportunity for new devices to be launched prior, during and just after the event, while the iLifers will have all eyes cast towards September for Apple’s launch.

GlobalData: expect a flood of 5G devices in 2020

5G networks have been launched, though uptake has been questionable, but this is set to change in 2020 according to research firm GlobalData.

One of the reasons for the sluggish uptake in the opening months might down to the unattractive native of geographical coverage, though it might also be attributed to the affordability of devices. GlobalData believes this aspect of the industry might be set to run wild over the coming months.

“In 2020, we will see manufacturers such as Lenovo and HMD in the US, along with Xiaomi and Oppo in Europe and Asia, hitting the market with lower-priced 5G smartphones in the $500-$700 range, with some even being offered for less than $500,” said Anisha Bhatia, Senior Device Analyst at GlobalData.

“As more devices become available across price tiers, 2020 will be the ramp-up year for 5G. Coverage will continue to grow across regions, and carriers will engage with partners to find ways to monetize 5G devices and services.”

As it stands, there isn’t a huge amount of choice available for the 5G enthusiast of today.

Device Price (rough estimate) USD
Huawei Mate 20 X 5G $1,240
LG V 50 ThinQ $1,152
OnePlus 7 Pro 5G $749
Samsung Galaxy A90 5G $810
Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus 5G $1,299
Oppo Reno 5G Ocean Green $1037
Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 5G $840

Unfortunately, not all of these devices are available in every market, or through every telco. The choice for the consumer is rather limited.

This presents an unpleasant ‘chicken and egg’ situation for the 5G ecosystem. Device manufacturers will not go 100% unless there is genuine interest from consumers, who in turn might be waiting for the price to come down, 5G applications to appear or coverage to increase. The 5G applications will not increase unless there is an install base, and network deployment will be staggered unless the technology is embraced. Economies of scale cannot be achieved by the OEMs unless there is appetite from the rest of the ecosystem, but cheaper devices are needed for this to come true.

It is a mish-mass of complicated result-and-outcome knock-ons, but GlobalData anticipates the launch of several new devices over the course of 2020 which should be more palatable for the consumer’s wallet. This might well be the catalyst which drives excitement (and investment) throughout the rest of the ecosystem.

According to GlobalData, the launch of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 765 was a very important event this year. This chip, designed for mid-range devices, could enable the creation of new devices in the $500-700 range. These are still not cheap in comparison to what is available today, but it is a price point which is accessible to the mass market.

Ofcom proposes ban on selling ‘locked’ devices

Ofcom has proposed new rules which would stop UK telcos from strong-arming customers into renewed or extended contracts.

The new rules would prevent telcos from locking-down devices to a single network. This has been a popular way for telcos to bully customers into remaining customers, and while it has become less commonplace in recent years, EE, Vodafone and Tesco Mobile persist with the ugly strategy.

“Switching mobile provider can be really frustrating,” said Lindsey Fussell, Ofcom’s Consumer Group Director. “By freeing mobile users from locked handsets, our plans would save people time, effort and money – and help them unlock a better deal.”

Quoting its own research, Ofcom suggests more than 50% of people in the UK find it uncomfortably difficult to switch handset providers, will a third have given-up on a switch because it was so much hassle to get the device unlocked.

Although these numbers do seem high, it perhaps should not come as a surprise. All the UK telcos have elected for difficult divorce proceedings as opposed to enhanced customer service to reduce churn. The attitude was never to make themselves more appealing, but to make the process of leaving so distasteful, frustrating and complicated that few would try it. Customer service is better in comparison nowadays, but it is still far from acceptable when set alongside other verticals.

While O2, Sky, Three and Virgin have all decided to drop the ‘locked’ device approach, it seems EE, Vodafone and Tesco Mobile are still drawn to the Mafiosi style of telecoms.

These proposals are now out for public consultation, though there are other efforts being made by the regulator to level the playing field for customers.

In another proposal, Ofcom is hoping to simplify the process of switching home broadband providers also. As it stands, it is simple enough to switch between internet service providers who make use of Openreach’s infrastructure, but the difficulties arise when moving to an ISP on different infrastructure, such as CityFibre or HyperOptic. Once again, BT appears to be employing strong-arm tactics in the pursuit of profit.

As a result of another distasteful, frustrating and complicated process, 43% decided against switching because they are worried about arranging two different services to start and end at the right time, 37% were put off by having to speak to two different companies and 35% were concerned about overlapping bills. If any of these worries become reality, there is no consequence for the telco irrelevant as to where the blame lies.

Under the new rules, service providers would have to compensate customers if things go wrong and they are left without a service for more than one working day. There will of course be small print to prevent abuse of the system, though at least there are some foundations for holding service providers accountable.

Apple could ditch Lightning port, but should it be allowed to?

Analyst Ming-Chi Kuo has a reputation for pretty accurate guesses at what Apple is going to do next, and the next prediction is ditching the Lightning port for a ‘wireless experience’.

Although wireless charging is a quirky feature many of the smartphone manufacturers are boasting of, it is far from the norm when it comes to charging a device. It is incredibly useful, but when presented the opportunity to purchase an additional cable or wireless charging unit, most consumers would go for the more traditional means of juicing devices.

However, this is Apple we’re talking about. A company which thrives on being innovative, often forcing the hands of competitors to follow suit. There has been a notable lack of innovation in recent years, though that it not to say the team is not cooking up something to shake the industry.

“Apple will create more differentiation between the highest-end and high- end models,” Kuo’s research note for TF International Securities states, courtesy of MacRumors.

“It will benefit the shipment of the highest-end model and iPhone ASP. Among new 2H21 iPhone models, we expect that the highest-end model would cancel the [Lightning] port and provide the completely wireless experience.”

This might sound exciting, but you have to remember Apple likes to charge a premium and doesn’t play well with others. This is one of the most closed companies on the planet, forcing consumers into its own ecosystem of products and services through incompatibility.

This is where the conundrum lies; should Apple be allowed to do this? As per form with Apple, the smartphone may well only be compatible with official Apple wireless charging units, which like every Apple product, will probably be more expensive than the market average. Without a Lightning port, customers will be forced to purchase additional wireless charging units for (potentially) several different locations. This could become very expensive for the customer, unless they are willing to play battery chicken.

Most consumer watchdogs get twitchy when companies effectively force consumers into spending more money, though the reaction might well depend on the development of the wireless charging market. Will the products be commoditised enough to bring prices down? Or perhaps Apple will start playing nice and ensure the devices are compatible with generic products?

That said, despite the aforementioned concerns, this could be a move towards the much-heralded dream of innovation. The ‘wireless experience’ which Kuo describes is looking like it could be a reality sooner rather than later.

Alongside the Airpods launched in 2016, Apple has also launched its own range of smart speakers and a full-range of smart watches, which of course connect wirelessly, while it has persisted with the development of Siri, its in-house virtual assistant. Add wireless charging into the mix, and it does become a complete the ‘wireless experience’.

This is not innovation on the device per se, wireless charging already exists, but moving into a completely wireless experience is a new status quo. This would almost certainly trigger an industry wide-shift and a new type of digital environment for the consumer.

Huawei’s Mate 30 is void of any US components

If the objective of the White House was to destroy Huawei by undermining its supply chain, the strategy is seemingly heading towards failure.

Only a few months after announced it had built a 5G base station without US contributions, Huawei has now stated its latest smartphone is free of US components also. According to device teardown by UBS and Fomalhaut Techno Solutions, originally cited by the Wall Street Journal, Huawei has managed to find supply chain alternatives for every US supplier.

“We would like to continue using American components,” said Huawei Head of Cybersecurity John Suffolk. “It’s good for American industry. It’s good for Huawei. That has been taken out of our hands.”

While some might have been nervous about the Huawei ban when it first emerged out of the Oval Office, some fears may have been lessened today. With Huawei capable of producing smartphone products and 5G base stations without purchasing hardware from US companies, it does appear the economic dirty bomb dropped by the White House will not have the desired impact, as it did on ZTE in 2017.

What is worth noting is that hardware is only half the battle when it comes to delivering consumer experience; the software is equally or more important. Without Google services or the Android operating system, Huawei’s smartphone business is most-likely to see a slow in sales in Western markets.

However, what remains to be seen is whether the devices and base stations are in-line with the high-standards customers, both consumers and telcos, have become used to. Changing the components of a products is highly-likely to impact performance in some manner, though whether this is a material downgrade remains to be seen.

This outcome might irritate the strategists in the White House, though it does appear another plan is currently in the works.

According to two sources, the US Government is considering extending the trade ban. Not only would the new scope include US companies, but also companies who are based in allied countries of the US. This would most likely create a catastrophic impact to Huawei’s business.

What is worth noting is that just because the US wants allies to place trade barriers in-front of Huawei doesn’t mean they actually will. Most US allies have refused to ban Huawei from selling 5G products to telcos, despite pleas, posturing and threats. The huffing and puffing from the White House does not seem to have that much impact on European nations, for example.

President Trump might have spent his first 70 years forcing his will on others in the commercial world, but he has found out Presidents and Prime Ministers of sovereign nations are not as easily swayed by temper tantrums.

Xiaomi still growing as Christmas spending sprees approach

Chinese smartphone vendor Xiaomi has reported another quarter of year-on-year growth, and while it might not be as aggressive as previous quarters, the Holiday season is upon us.

The Christmas period might be profitable time of year for many, but Xiaomi might have more reason to cheer than many. 5G networks are being switched-on, and its smartphones are adorning the shelves. Huawei might be stealing market share in the Chinese domestic market, but Xiaomi has a significant advantage in the international markets; it doesn’t have a White House propaganda campaign of hate to counter.

Revenues over the last three months accounted for approximately $7.64 billion, a year-on-year increase of 5.5%. This might be down on previous quarters, though it always worth bearing in mind the company is still growing, thanks mainly to diversification. Xiaomi is primarily known as a smartphone manufacturer, but the team is sweating the brand into numerous different market segments.

That said, the smartphone business still accounts for the lion’s share of revenues.

Chinese market share European market share
Company Market share Company Market share
Huawei 42.4% Samsung 35.7%
Vivo 17.5% Huawei 22.2%
Oppo 17.4% Apple 18.6%
Xiaomi 9% Xiaomi 10.5%
Apple 5.2% HMD Global 1.8%

Q3 2019 Market share statistics courtesy of Canalys

The on-going US aggression has had two very contradictory impacts on the Huawei business, which are having contradictory impacts on Xiaomi. In Europe, Huawei devices are becoming less attractive to the consumer, which benefits Xiaomi sales, but there seems to be a doubling-down of efforts in China, which is eroding Xiaomi market share.

Revenues for the Xiaomi smartphone business were recorded at roughly $4.6 billion, down 7.8% year-on-year, though in shipping 32.1 million units (down 3%) across the period it is sat in fourth position for market share rankings, with 9.2%.

The next financial earnings from Xiaomi will certainly be more telling on the success of the Xiaomi smartphone business, as this three-month period will include the Christmas spending sprees; a solid performance from Xiaomi could see the brand be cemented as a mainstay in the Western markets. However, it will have to fund some aggressive marketing campaigns if it is to reverse the year-on-year shipments decline for this period.

Ultimately, the Xiaomi smartphone business is not in a bad position, though when you look at the wider portfolio there are some ambitious plans underway.

Alongside the smartphones and laptops, Xiaomi has an IOT business which incorporates the team’s virtual assistant, it has now sold 213 million units to date, while there are also various different smart home appliances. Xiaomi’s TV shipments in mainland China during the period led the market, while it also sells air conditioners, refrigerators and washing machines.

Outside the hardware segments of the technology world, Xiaomi is also nurturing an Internet services business. This unit includes advertising and gaming from mainland China smartphones, as well smart TV and Mi Box subscriptions, bringing in approximately $750 million for the quarter.

The smartphone business is the core business for Xiaomi, but the team is doing a very good job at sweating the brand in associated hardware and software segments. This is a Chinese company which is flying under the White House’s radar, but it does seem to be making the right moves.

KaiOS shows why it is critical to Africa’s digital ambition

Working in tandem with Vodacom, KaiOS has brought another smart-feature phone to the market, this time in Tanzania for the remarkable price of $20.

With an install base of 80 million already, the alternative operating system is proving to be a very viable and attractive alternative for the development markets. The latest push forward is in Tanzania, with the $20 Smart Kitochi connected-feature phone, which has sold out already. Vodacom said 5,000 devices were sold in the first four days, while the team is waiting for another shipment to land next week.

The device is built on the MediaTek chipset and powered by the KaiOS operating system, enabling 3G and 4G connectivity, access to a new KaiOS app store and many slimmed-down features which we take as commonplace today.

The emergence of KaiOS, and the enthusiasm of the telcos to embrace a new dynamic, is helping the team tackle a major hurdle for shrinking the digital divide in Africa; affordability of internet connected devices.

When you consider the monthly take home salary of an individual in Africa could be as little as $100, the internet becomes an unachievable dream. Who can spare money to invest in a smartphone when you have to pay the rent and feed your family? This is where KaiOS fits into the equation; it has driven the creation of an ecosystem to manufacture feature phones with 3G and 4G connectivity features. It is a compromise. A no-frills device which allows some of the world’s poorest individuals to benefit from the digital economy.

What is worth noting is this is not a direct threat to the dominance of Android in the operating system segment. KaiOS should be seen as complementary to Google’s efforts.

Firstly, what is always worth bearing in mind is that Google is a KaiOS investor. It was one of the four companies which funnelled cash into the business to drive development in the early years.

Secondly, Google services will continue to run on KaiOS devices. The team has no intention to create alternative products in-house, such as mapping or messaging features. Although it is a different operating system, the more successful KaiOS is, the more exposure Google products get.

Finally, the monetization model at KaiOS is completely different to Android. Whereas the Google team drive revenues by placing products as default applications on Android devices, KaiOS generates cash through revenue sharing models and commission earned through in-app purchases.

Like Android, KaiOS is free of license fees for the telcos, an important aspect of the model. As soon as licensing fees are introduced, there is a risk of telcos charging more for the devices, which will lead to a smaller install base for KaiOS. Charging licensing fees would undermine the very concept of the business.

Google has once again invested very intelligently. To drive future revenues, Google needs to gain exposure to more individuals. Unfortunately, Android is a smartphone OS and not entirely applicable to the developing markets. It could be re-imagined, but then again it might be much more efficient to simply invest in a company which can specifically build an OS for smart feature phones. The slimmed down version of Android looks to be living on limited time and it would not be surprising to see the OS culled.

With more and more affordable devices flooding onto the market, more people are taking into the digital economy. If KaiOS continues to grow its user base, Google’s products such as Maps and YouTube, which are installed as default on the devices, are used by more people. By investing in KaiOS, Google has gained an extra 80 million customers, and these are still the early days.

KaiOS has already launched in several markets, though India is the most successful to date. In partnership with Reliance Jio, the Jio phone has proven to be very popular allowing KaiOS to surpass Apple iOS as the second most common OS in the market. There will be launches in the near future, but this all depends on the appetite of the telcos.

KaiOS highlighted during a press conference that it is the telcos who decide future launches, as they have the retail presence to push the smart-feature devices out to the market. Although handing over control to a third-party is not the most comfortable position to be in, there is drive from the telcos.

If the telcos are going to secure additional revenues, they will need more people to be connected. Device affordability is one of the biggest challenges to connect the unconnected, so expect to see some aggressive moves forward with new device launches. Vodacom is a very good partner for KaiOS, with the telco maintaining a presence in 32 African nations.

Connecting the unconnected is still a monumental challenge in African, though the creation and aggressive deployment of new ideas is generating momentum. Underpinning all of this success is the emergence of affordable, internet-connected devices, and an operating system which is perfectly designed for the unique connectivity landscape in Africa. KaiOS has a very bright future and the importance of this business should never be undervalued.