MTN South Africa has launched the MTN Smart S device, a new feature phone manufactured by U.S.-based KaiOS Technologies. Priced at ZAR 249.00 (US $17.47), the phone supports popular apps such as WhatsApp, Facebook, YouTube, Google Maps and Google Assistant. It also has a web browser and is 3G-enabled. MTN is bundling Smart S with an allocation of 100 MB of data valid for 30 days for the first six months and 1 GB of WhatsApp bundles valid for 20 days for the first six months.
The device follows the recent launch of MTN Chat, which enables customers to top up airtime and data bundles via WhatsApp. MTN Smart S is available at selected MTN retail stores and major retail partners.
The Smart S device is a “smart feature phone,” a hybrid or intermediate device category that has appeal in developing and budget-oriented market sectors. Running on KaiOS, an open-source, Linux-based operating system, it is a white-label feature phone that is capable of accessing certain apps that require data, such as WhatsApp, Facebook and YouTube. The KaiOS company’s technology, which is also found in phones branded by Nokia and Alcatel, enables simple lightweight flip phones to perform tasks previously available only to smartphones, and at a very low price point. KaiOS is also behind the JioPhone, a similar white label device that is offered by Indian operator Reliance Jio.
By producing the Smart S device and self-branding it, MTN is making a savvy move. The device has the potential to bring the use of universally popular apps to a huge customer base that previously lacked access altogether. Furthermore, since such users are likely only familiar with feature phones, aside from the price issue, the Smart S will make it easier for them to make the transition to using data.
Ultimately, that is very likely to lead them to want fuller use of mobile data, with more better interface. That means that many Smart S users will eventually upgrade to true smartphones that cost more and use far more data, thus driving more revenue to the operator. In the meantime, by making this smart feature phone available, MTN will likely attract many new customers, sell more data and lay the groundwork for future profits by cultivating these new data consumers.