Google Apps, Assistant Coming to Basic Cellphones

John Lister's picture

Google has invested $22 million in a company that makes software for bare-bones smartphones. As part of the deal, it hopes to bring some of its key apps to the budget handsets.

The investment is in an operating system named KaiOS. It's based on an open source system that was developed by Mozilla, the makers of the Firefox browser, before being abandoned. Originally Mozilla had hoped to make a phone for as little as $25.

Cheap Handsets Get More Attractive

KaiOS is specifically designed for "feature phones." That's a term with a loose definition, but generally refers to very basic handsets that have a limited range of functions that take advantage of a data connection. Such handsets often cost less than $100 and are aimed both at budget buyers in countries such as the US and at people in developing nations.

So far a reported 400 million devices have been made using KaiOS. It's even said to be more widely used than the iPhone's iOS in India. (Source:

The key to features on such phones is using limited memory and limited storage and not relying on fast processing, which are of the main ways the phones are kept cheap.

YouTube Among Basic Apps

Google will now work to bring versions of its Search, Maps, YouTube and Assistant apps to KaiOS. Of those, the Assistant appears to be the most challenging to bring to the budget phones.

That's not because of the artificial intelligence element of the virtual assistant tool: most of the processing is actually done remotely on Google computers. Instead, the difficulty would be running the speech recognition element of Assistant, which requires a fair bit of processing power.

Despite these difficulties, it may be a task worth pursuing. If the voice recognition works, it would be a big advantage for the phones themselves, even beyond the Assistant app. That's because another common cost-saving part of feature phones is using a physical alphanumeric keypad rather than a touchscreen with a full keyboard. (Source:

What's Your Opinion?

Would you be tempted by a budget phone if it had some of the more popular Google apps? Is a virtual assistant tool a genuine selling point to the type of people who'd get such a handset? Do you trust Google's motivations in making such an investment?

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