Kathy Gibson is at AfricaCom 2019 in Cape Town – A $20 smart feature phone, the Smart Kitochi, has been launched in Tanzania through a partnership between Vodacom, Azumi, KaiOS Technologies and MediaTek.

The feature phone is still a favourite in Africa, with about 122-million sold here every year out of a global 400-million.

Affordability is key to the feature phone’s prevailing popularity, while its ruggedness and long battery life also makes it well-suited to developing markets.

The Smart Kitochi is designed and built around the MediaTek chipset and powered by the KaiOS operating system, enabling 3G and 4G connectivity as well as WiFi, GPS and hotspot.

The KaiOS is based on HTML 5, offering users a rich user experience requiring limited memory.

The device has initially been launched in Tanzania, subsidised by Vodacom. The initial uptake has been positive and Vodacom will look to expand in markets like Mozambique and Lesotho.

This isn’t the first smart feature phone launched by Vodacom. It has supplied a similar device, but using a different operating system, in South Africa for the last year. The Smart Kitochi will be launched in this market next year, says Sylvester Moyo, executive head of terminals at Vodaom International Business.

“With the competitive price and special data bundle offer, we anticipate market adoption will gain further momentum as the acceptance of the product features increases,” he adds. “This launch forms part of our bigger strategy to contribute towards positive economic development through bridging the digital divide.

“This device, to a large extent, ensures that a large proportion of the population that cannot afford a smartphone can still get online,” says Moyo.

Rami Osman from MediaTek explains that KaiOS is the operating system that lets a feature phone act more like a smartphone.

“Users get the best of both worlds: they get affordability and access. It is simple because it is a product they know.”

He adds that East Africa, as an emerging market, has different challenges from the developed world.

“The volume of feature phones shipped is not shrinking. The smart feature phone bridges the gap between the affordable feature phone that sells well and the smartphone.”