How ‘Smart’ Is Mukesh Ambani’s JioPhone?
Feature phone or smartphone? Aayush Ailawadi tries to decipher the JioPhone conundrum...
Mukesh Ambani, chairman of Reliance Industries Ltd., introduced the world to “India ka Intelligent Smartphone” on Friday. The JioPhone, he said, was “effectively free” for customers of his Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd. But, is the device truly a smartphone? Or is it a 4G-enabled feature phone with advanced capabilities?
It turns out that it’s most likely none of the above, and rather a hybrid between the two.
What Is A Smartphone?
The best way to define a smartphone is by attempting to differentiate it from a feature phone. While the line between the two has been blurring over the years, there are still some key differentiating factors. For instance, a smartphone packs in a superior processor, more RAM and ROM for advanced computing, runs a standard operating system and third-party apps that you can download and install.
It’s also a popular perception that a smartphone comes with a touch screen display, but some Blackberry devices belie that thought. Most modern day smartphones come with LCD or LED screens, and VGA displays are considered a technology of the past.
It’s safe to assume that an iPhone or a Google Pixel or a OnePlus 5 or their predecessors can all be called smartphones. In fact, some techies like to call such phones “super phones”, considering their advanced processing power and functions.
Feature phones have now evolved from the basic “dumb phone” used for texting and calling to running proprietary firmware with limited functionality. They tend to run on 2G networks and while they do provide basic functions like limited internet access, a camera, they are usually meant to excel with set functions like music storage and playback or extended battery life. The best way to picture the modern day feature phone would be Nokia’s newly released 3310 with a colour screen, great battery and an Opera Browser to be used on a 2G network.
Smarter Than A Feature Phone
JioPhone is way smarter than a traditional feature phone. First of all, it is a 4G VoLTE phone that will be manufactured in India by Reliance Jio in partnership with Foxconn Technology Co.
The phone’s highlight is a voice-enabled interface, a lot like Google Now where users can operate the phone using voice commands. The phone comes with a 2.4 inch QVGA screen, micro SD slot, a torch light, FM radio and alphanumeric keypad and is pre-loaded with Jio services like Jio TV, Jio Music and Jio Cinema. Users will eventually be able to use the phone for one touch payments using NFC (Near Field Communication) technology via the UPI interface. This feature will be rolled out in a software update later this year.
The biggest revelation was made by Qualcomm India in a tweet on Friday, where the company announced that it was proud to associate with the JioPhone, which will pack a Snapdragon processor under its hood.
The reason this revelation becomes significant is because Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 205 mobile platform is essentially designed to do exactly what Jio wants to do with inexpensive feature phones for the masses – enable them with high-speed 4G internet. Qualcomm’s website describes the platform as one which will ensure that “feature phones will never be the same”.
The 205 platform means the JioPhone is capable of supporting incredibly high download speeds of up to 150 Mbps and peak upload speeds of 50 Mbps on Jio’s VoLTE network. While it allows GPS services, a decent processor, an Adreno 304 GPU, bluetooth and video playback at 720p or Half HD, the key thing about it is that it only works on one operating system – Linux. That might explain what kind of third-party applications could run on the device.
What About The JioPhone TV Cable?
Well, it’s frugal innovation but there are a few caveats before we all get overwhelmed by what seems like a cable that will mirror the content of the JioPhone on to a television screen. The company is still to explain how this will work but it most certainly won’t make you give up your cable TV connection just yet. The company says, “Along with this accessory (cable), users can opt for the existing Jio Dhan Dhana Dhan 309 pack that would allow users to watch almost 3-4 hours of videos daily, of their choice, on a large screen.”
The JioPhone TV cable only works with an existing data pack that comes with a Fair Usage Policy of a maximum of 1GB per day. That caps the amount of content you can consume on the JioPhone, after which it would be reset to snail-like speeds of 128 kpbs. To put things in perspective, watching two back-to-back episodes of House of Cards mirrored to your TV in 720p (if the phone actually supports that playback) would probably exhaust your daily 4G data limit. That’s under 2 hours of video playback.
A Hunt For Data Users
While the company is yet to release the phone (and we are still to test it), it’s important to remember how this 4G-enabled feature phone is being positioned in the market. It doesn’t seem like it’s for the iOS fanboys or those who obsess over stock Android on their phones.
Indeed, it’s for the untapped market of 50 crore feature phone users that Ambani believes have been left out of the digital revolution. For now, it looks like it’s all set to get the masses hooked on to a relatively smart piece of hardware that might cost nothing at first, but will go a long way in making India the largest data market in the world.