HMD Global was the first to refresh old successful mobile phones, thus creating some interest in so-called feature phones. Until now, they've been running on KaiOS. They could soon be offered with Android on board. But why is Google considering it?
Google is considering the feature phones market
The Nokia 3310, Nokia 8110 4G and Nokia 210 are three successful old phones that HMD Global has relaunched after making them smarter. If so far they have been running on KaiOS, in the future, they could run Android. This hypothesis, already considered for some time, is picking up more steam thanks to a new image spread by 9to5Google, which shows a feature phone with Android functionality.
The device in the picture looks like a Nokia, although there is no certainty given the absence of the brand logo. However, it is suggested by the source that provided the image itself based on the typical Finnish brand's call button.
On the screen you will immediately notice the microphone icon, dedicated to Google Assistant or voice search, and the possibility to change the language for voice commands. Above the Select button, there is a sort of app drawer, while on the right side Chrome and YouTube apps appear. The camera and an unknown icon are on the left. On top you can see notification icons and time.
Despite the new leaked image, it is not confirmed that an Android phone feature will arrive. Google will eventually have to optimize the system to make it functional on this type of device, though. Without a doubt, the Nokia brand could be the best one to accompany these devices.
And Android Go?
Think of feature phones with an Android operating system rather than KaiOS if you will, for those accustomed to Google features. But then what about Android Go devices? In both cases, they would be cheap devices with reduced RAM and limited functionality, but there is still an important difference between the two.
Feature phones on the market do not have touch screens and require physical key interaction. The Android Go devices, yes, are devices that also follow the trends of high-end devices in design, but offer more limited functionality and less frequent updates.
Feature phones, although with Android on board, are devices that cannot be defined as smartphones, unless Google decides to make the two things coincide. For now, however, the public code of Chrome scanned by the team of 9to5Google does not seem to go in this direction and shows how it is an Android version different from Android Go.
Android feature phones: but for whom?
Who is an Android feature phone for, then? Those released so far by HMD Global under the Nokia brand are devices that play the nostalgia card but also seek to meet the needs of those who do not really need a smartphone to all intents and purposes, or to those who do not want a smartphone at all, or those who need a secondary device which is basic and cheap.
Despite the spread of smartphones, there are many users who need a phone simply to make a call. A mobile phone capable of staying alive for days. No fast charging, touch displays, the latest generation of cameras: a simple "brick" to pull out to communicate (calls and SMS), to be charged once a week and to be really cheap. Of course, being able to use WhatsApp may be convenient to some, but that's not the priority.
Think of countries where the average income per capita is very low. Android Go smartphones are a middle ground solution, but in some parts of the world, such as developing countries, they are inaccessible. And even if you look at Europe, the main point is the same: the price difference between an Android Go and a feature phone is visible.
A market for these devices therefore exists (it is no coincidence that the KaiOS devices sold in greater numbers in 2019 compared to the previous year and the number is still growing). And even though they are considered niche devices, Google would have its reasons to invest more in them.