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Google Assistant coming to feature phones, starting with India’s JioPhone

Hundreds of millions of people still use feature phones and Google is bringing its Assistant to some of them, starting with the Reliance JioPhone.

Published onDecember 5, 2017

At the Google for India event in Delhi, Google launched a series of new features and initiatives designed for India and the developing world at large. The most important is Android Go, a lightweight edition of Android made for entry-level devices that have little storage and less than 1GB of RAM. But Google is not stopping at low-end smartphones.

Despite the growing prevalence of smartphones, hundreds of millions of people still use feature phones, which don’t run Android, but do feature internet connectivity. So Google is bringing its Assistant to these phones, starting with the Reliance JioPhone.

JioPhone is a 4G feature phone that runs KaiOS, a custom operating system based on Firefox OS. Launched earlier this year and available for free (with a deposit) to Jio subscribers, the device actually has its own voice assistant, called HelloJio.

Android Go: What is it and which phones run it?
Now Google is bringing a customized version of Assistant (with Hindi voice support) to the device, that is adapted to the JioPhone’s 2.4-inch QVGA color screen. While the interface may be different, the core functionality of the service is expected to stay the same, meaning JioPhone users will get to enjoy many of the same features that are available to smartphone users.

It’s not clear yet if Google is working with other feature phone makers as well (Nokia might be a good candidate). There are 500 million feature phone users in India alone (out of a total market of 780 million), so there’s clearly some untapped potential. As hardware components become cheaper, the technological gap between feature phones and smartphones is shrinking. By making Assistant available on feature phones, Google can reach a huge pool of new users and bring them online, in line with its Next Billion Users strategy.

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