Google Invests $22 Million In A Fork Of Firefox OS
Written by Mike James   
Monday, 02 July 2018

Google is backing another phone operating system, as if Android, Fuchsia  and ChromeOS weren't enough. But there is good reason for this move. KaiOS is different.

Firefox OS was Mozilla's attempt to displace Android and iOS from the phone market. It failed mainly because Mozilla didn't have the developer power to make it all work in time. After the plug was pulled it looked as if that was the end for a standards-based mobile OS and app framework. However, KaiOS has sort of resurrected Firefox OS and it is having more success than Mozilla ever did. It has already taken 10% of the mobile phone market in India - surpassing the too-expensive iPhone and second only to Android.

To be clear, KaiOS isn't Firefox OS. It is a fork of the basis for Firefox OS - Boot to Gecko or B2G. This is basically a Linux Kernel with the Firefox browser core as the UI. KaiOS uses the basics of B2G and then adds the extras needed to make a phone usable. The sad news is that much of B2G is under an Apache license which allows for re-licensing, which means that KaiOS doesn't have to be open source; and at the moment there is no indication where the source code is to be found.

KaiOS may not be open source, but if you want to write an app for it then you are going to be using HTML and JavaScript. You are essentially writing a web app with calls to specific phone-related APIs such as BatteryManager, Geolocation, WiFi manager and so on. The UI is essentially HTML. Create a manifest and submit to the app store and the job is done. Not much learning to do if you already create active web pages.

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Why is KaiOS going to succeed where Firefox OS failed?

The simple answer is that it is targeting ultra cheap feature phones, rather than competing with Android and iOS. To be more accurate, KaiOS phones aren't really feature phones; they are sort of halfway between feature phones and smart phones. They are the sort of phone you might buy if you wanted a phone rather than a computer, but still wanted some of the basic facilities like payment, maps, email, browser and so on. Of course the key feature is low cost. The success in India, for example, is largely due to JioPhones being almost given away. The rebirth of B2G is also matched by the way that another almost-lost cause has joined in - Nokia

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The Nokia 8110 isn't available yet, but it will cost less than $100 and it looks very interesting. The key feature is the keyboard. KaiOS phones don't use touch screens they navigate and obtain input from real keys and some programmable smart keys. The other obvious difference is that the screen is much smaller - 2.45 inch, 320x240 pixels.

 

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Take a look at how the UI works:

 

Is this going to overthrow iOS and Android?

Almost certainly not - unless KaiOS develops into something more powerful like Firefox OS and takes the field courtesy of upgraders.

At the moment KaiOS fills a gap - it is a standardized lower-power OS that can run custom apps. What is interesting is that creating the apps is much easier than for Android or iOS, even if what you can do is more limited by the hardware and the framework.

Why has Google invested $20 million?

Simply to make sure that Google services are included on what could be the most popular low-end mobile OS yet. In fact, given the number of people who can only afford a low-end phone, it could be even bigger than Android.

This could be a market worth creating apps for.

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More Information

KaiOS

Related Articles

Mozilla Confirms End of Firefox OS For Smartphones 

Mozilla Gives Up On Firefox OS

The Perils Of Mozilla   

Firefox Phones Go On Sale, Marketplace Opens

Getting Started With Firefox OS And Geeksphone Keon    

Getting Started with Firefox OS - The UX Building Blocks  

 

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Last Updated ( Monday, 02 July 2018 )