Reliance Jio announced its new feature phone JioPhoneNext recently. The 4G feature phone announced at the parent company Reliance’s 47th annual general meeting aims to give users an opportunity to participate in India’s mobile digital economy.
Seems the company that launched its first feature phone, JioPhone, in 2017 realised that the KaiOS-powered device is not enough to bridge the digital divide in the country. Jio has now partnered with Google to offer a smartphone running on stripped-down version of Android that gives users access to Google Play Store.
The JioPhone Next is likely to come with basic hardware features that may not run as efficiently on the current-generation Android operating system. This is why Google has made a stripped down and optimised Android version for the JioPhone Next.
Having said that, the JioPhone Next taps the 320 million users who are on 2G-enabled feature phones and 540 million who are still to buy their first own mobile devices.
For a population with 1.39 billion people that has a mobile phone penetration of 61% only, the JioPhone Next is a huge market for both Google and Jio.
Of course, the JioPhone Next needs to be subsidised, so that people will be able to afford it. But more than the costs, Google and Jio are eyeing the returns — over 500 million new users.
“Out of the 850 million unique mobile phone users, nearly 530 million are smartphone users, whereas roughly 320 million are feature phone users. With the JioPhone Next, Reliance Jio is staring at a potential 520 million users. These include around 150 million unconnected, 50 million second hand/older used smartphone users due for upgrade and the 320 million feature phone users (including 4G Jio Phone smart feature phone users),” as per a recent report by Counterpoint Research.
Jio already has a subscriber base of 425 million and in order to grow this number, it needs to push 2G users towards 4G.
Launching a full-fledged Android phone under Rs 3,000 given the high prices of chips, battery, camera modules is a huge cost challenge irrespective of the scale involved. Also, running Android 10 or 11 on a smartphone needs some minimum hardware requirements. Jio’s partnership with Google is all about balancing expectations and costs.
Google has said that it will provide an optimised version of Android without revealing much details. In other words, it will be a light version of Android with only necessary Google services, basic required features and access to Google Play store. Also, Google needs to optimise the software so that it can work well on basic hardware. To make the deal sweeter, the search giant has promised to provide timely software and security updates. You may think that Google is over-committing, considering the JioPhone Next will be a highly subsidised phone, but looking at the possibility of getting over 500 million unique users who will be using Google services for first-time, it is definitely worth it for the US-based company.