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How KaiOS is beating Apple and Android to the next billion cellphone users

Its phones sell for as little as $15 but run WhatsApp, YouTube, and more.

How KaiOS is beating Apple and Android to the next billion cellphone users
[Source Image: KaiOS]
THE WORLD’S 50 MOST INNOVATIVE COMPANIES
11 KaiOS Technologies

KaiOS is the most popular mobile operating system you probably haven’t heard of. Instead of designing software for full-blown smartphones, Hong Kong–based KaiOS Technologies (pronounced ky-O-S) has exceeded 150 million global users by powering what it calls the “smart feature phone.” Far more spartan than iPhones and Samsung Galaxy models, these devices—which sell for as little as $15—run must-have apps such as YouTube, Google Maps, Facebook, and Whats­App, with more available from the KaiOS app store.

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KaiOS’s success in India (where it’s the No. 2 mobile platform after Android), Indonesia, Rwanda, and Nigeria has now piqued the interest of U.S. corporate giants. In 2019, Google participated in the company’s $50 million Series B round (adding to the $22 million it had already invested), and Disney struck a deal to bring its characters to KaiOS phones in the form of games, wallpapers, and e-books. “This is a key strategy for many of the largest companies: reaching the next billion users,” says KaiOS CEO Sebastien Codeville. “Today, the only way to reach them is with KaiOS, because these users cannot afford a smartphone.”

Read more about Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies:

A version of this article appeared in the March/April 2020 issue of Fast Company magazine.

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About the author

Harry McCracken is the technology editor for Fast Company, based in San Francisco. In past lives, he was editor at large for Time magazine, founder and editor of Technologizer, and editor of PC World.

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