Why KaiOS?

Taking the time to undestand the see the potential to help users solve simple customer service problems has always driven me to understand new devices.

From my project with Google Assistant and The Guardian. I was tasked with designing for The Asstiant platform, as I got to understand what Voice, Smartspeakes and The Assistant was really capable and started to find all the device categories it was avaible on. I stumbled accross the device category of Smart Feature phones. Nokia had lunch relaunced their phones with The Assistant and KaiOS devices where selling incredably well in Inida and China. Show that a new OS within the mobile space was maybe possible. Furthermore when 23 million devices have been sold its time to know about this platform.

Within discoverly in mind I mainly swithed from just designing UX for voice but to multimodal devices which included JIO and Nokia phones. 

Getting started with KaiOS was relatively simple, I got myself a device, a CAT-35 and started to research the device, I quickly found out that 3rd party actions weren’t not permitted and were only launched in June 2019. Following on from this I wanted to understand how would I design a screen-based application.

My current project at the time was working with Skyscanner app transformation  and I thought it was would be a perfect fit as thought experiment for the following 3 reasons.

  • Firstly Skyscanner had just been acquired by a Chinese firm where KaiOS is currently developing quickly.
  • Secondly India and China are focused on Skyscanner to increase traffic.
  • Thirdly the devices are very affordable and with the rise of the middle classes in these two countries. It is natural that they would want to start travel.

The overall aim of this app, will be to Browse a Flight and buy it. Using only the device I have, my Nokia 8110 4G. I will plan the General structure of the app and the user journeys and explore certain UI elements. Since this a concept and deep dive into a new platform. The aim of this exercise  was to present back my finding of the platform.

Quick Tech History & Background

KaiOS started life in 2013 and like many things in the software industry as something very different, or something the world didn’t need another SmartPhone OS.  Mozilla had long had to try to regain their crown and lunched an an other OS for phones, tablets and TV.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be and from initial launch in version 1.0 in 2013 to its last  version 2.5 in 2015 ceased any further development of the platform. This was until 2017 Kai Technologies bought the dormant OS and transformed the into something we hadn’t seen since the days of Symbian OS. A Feature phone OS.

Unlike the early 2000’s things have move along and the line between Feature and Smart are starting to blur. With currently the only key different between SmartFeature Phone and SmartPhone being the touch screen, they both have 4G and Wifi & Bluetooth connectively. Both have an App Store and access to Google Assistant.

Currently the key differents other than a touch input are browsers are extremely liked

UX considerations & Challenges to overcome

Users TypesSince KaiOS phones are targeting emerging markets, most of the users are using the internet for the first time and will likely not have an email address. To overcome this issue One Time Password authentication (OTP) sent via SMS. Although this methods has is limitations.

InputsOne of the key limitations of SFP devices is the inout methods. Making sure an application users all of the input methods provide, such as D-Pad and Actions keys can help a user feel more comfortable. The option to map key actions to the physical dial pad below the screen.

Navigation ModelsA feature of the OS is that there is no touch screen support. This means that when a user navigates around they need to tap from top to bottom to reach the desired selection. They can not just touch and expected the object to be selected. Scroll discovery is another point. Whilst the fold has been disproven to exists on SmartPhones the scroll function does not seem to be so natural.

Performance due to the nature of the low cost and low power device, the loading times need to be consider. It has been noted that some UX tricks might need to be implemented to hind longer loading periods.

And lastly two key challenges KaiOS is facing. Firstly it has to work with very little processing power. Because it is built for cheap devices with very little processing power. Secondly it needs an app ecosystem but this is execrably difficult thing to do as Windows Phone, Blackberry etc have seen. So instead KaiOS has WebApp over Native Apps but KaiOS only allow App designers and developers to create app for the platform that run and off load all of the processing tasks to the cloud. Instead of running them on the device. For Google Maps or Assistant, on a web sever remotely.