Can the the JioPhone make the feature phone smart?

The JioPhone has all the right ingredients to make the feature phone relevant again, to its target audience as well as the smartphone crowd.

Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Jio has been making news since the time it started doing business. The company became the only network operator in the country to operate an LTE network with the capability to support VoLTE calls. Not only that, to ensure that most of India utilises the most advanced network infrastructure in the country, it rolled out Jio as a free-to-use network, followed by affordable tariffs. However, Jio’s reach was only limited to the smartphone fraternity as the 4G VoLTE technology was only available on smartphones. To extend the reach, they have unveiled the JioPhone – a feature phone with the ability to support VoLTE calls and fast 4G LTE network.

At first glance, you may pass on the JioPhone as another simple feature phone with the capability to support Jio’s VoLTE network. It looks like any other feature phone in the sub Rs 2,000 category with its usual boxy design and a physical keyboard. You may be thinking that the FM radio along with a dedicated torch makes it unsuitable for the white-collar people. And, it is also normal to think that one needs to have a big touch-enabled display smartphone with the logo of a well-known brand to help him/her become an established entity in the society.

The JioPhone carries an image that makes it an illogical decision for those who are concerned about their status in the society. However, underneath that “India ka smartphone” (India’s smartphone) image, the JioPhone has what it takes to revolutionise the feature phone segment. It may have a typical feature phone form factor but a closer look at the buttons shows that it is all about making the feature phone smart. As shown in the launch demo, the JioPhone has voice recognition buttons. The user can trigger the voice recognition service to launch apps and various Jio services. So, users can search for a particular song by simply speaking to the phone in the same way one utilises Google’s Assistant or Apple’s Siri.

Apart from that, the JioPhone has support for NFC, a feature from the smartphone that is not so useful in a country like India which prefers paper bills instead of digital payment. But the JioPhone has support for Jio Money – Jio’s own UPI-based payment app. Therefore, it seems that Reliance Jio has the intention to make its proprietary digital payment app more popular amongst the masses with the JioPhone. The NFC payment system could find popularity with the JioPhone and can help our paper currency-based economy transform into a digital economy, something that the government is also keen on doing.

The JioPhone also has the capability to stream content to any TV through MHL. When we say any TV, we also mean that the JioPhone can stream content to a LED TV as well as old CRT TVs. This makes Jio’s live TV-streaming app more relevant in the world of apps and lets its target consumers enjoy the feature of expensive flagship smartphones on a budget.

But the most important aspect of the JioPhone that has the potential to make it a revolutionary feature phone is its software. Feature phones always run a dreary iteration of JAVA-based operating systems. Although they have the capability to support multimedia and extremely watered-down version of the Internet, the experience is generally appalling. With the JioPhone, Reliance has gone a different way – put a software in it that doesn’t try to be a re-skinned JAVA OS. So, they went for the Kai OS that is based on the Firefox OS.

Intex Cloud FX: 3.5-inch HVGA display, 128MB of RAM, 256MB of storage, Firefox operating system (Estimated price:1,999)The FireFox OS couldn't make a mark in the Indian smartphone market as expected.

The Firefox OS couldn’t exactly set the markets on fire with its smartphone-only approach. By utilising a platform meant for lower-end smartphones, Reliance has possibly revived the OS along with the feature phone segment. The JioPhone will have its own app store, which is unheard of in the feature phone segment. From the limited demo of the launch event, it was also evident that the interface seems to be more fluid and akin to Google’s Android platform.

It is also evident that Jio seems to focus on the user experience of the device instead of cramming as many features as possible. We know that Jio has an aim to disrupt the market and to go ahead with that, they could have introduced a touchscreen display on the JioPhone, which could have made it difficult to operate the phone. The smaller 2.4-inch display is good enough for feature phones and will surely focus on the experience of a VoLTE-enabled feature phone that simply works.

Nokia 3310The Nokia 3310 – the most hyped feature phone of the year, is comparitively nothing to the JioPhone.

Therefore, it seems that the JioPhone has achieved something which Nokia’s famed as well as hyped 3310 couldn’t achieve. It may not be as glamorous as the 3310 and may surely not boost your ego in white-collar societies. But, Jio has studied the feature phone market very well and worked on providing the experience that consumers have been expecting from their dirt-cheap feature phones. We don’t know whether the JioPhone will reflect the success of the network but it marks one thing for sure – there is an organisation that knows what its consumers want, which is something that other players of the field lack.


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