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As mobile messaging smartphone apps have flourished, feature phone users have been largely left out. That’s the problem that the team at Chaatz, comprised of engineers that developed Facebook’s chat function for feature phones last year, aims to solve. The company’s iPhone app, launching today, provides messaging for free internationally, but that’s just the first step: Later this year, Chaatz plans to expand to a built-in feature phone version that will help users in mobile-developing countries communicate internationally.
“We’re going to launch Chaatz for feature phones, and that’s going to allow more powerful communications in emerging markets that doesn’t exist today due to prohibitive cost,” Arnie Chaudhuri, co-founder and head of business development at Chaatz, said via phone.
In addition to providing messaging for free across phones (both local and international), Chaatz has two key features: profiles and “ChaatzNumber.” Chaudhuri says that users of Chaatz will be able to add multiple numbers to the app and manage them like chat client aliases. For example, a businessman in New York would be able to input his local Beijing number into Chaatz, mark it as “China Business,” and receive all his messages from that phone through the app. Chaudhuri says that users who contact that number will continue to receive it as a local number, meaning that there won’t be any extra cost involved. If another number is needed, that’s where ChaatzNumber comes in.
“It generates an alias and you can use it for others to contact you,” Chaudhuri explained. “It can also be assigned to a non-SIM device, turning your tablet essentially into a smart device.”
Chaudhuri says that the company’s first step is to get the iOS and Android (s goog) apps up and running. (The Android app is scheduled to launch within the next two weeks) Later this year, the company plans to go country by country to help manufacturers pre-load Chaatz into feature phones. Chaudhuri says that the company is looking at many emerging markets, including Mexico, parts of Africa, Indonesia, and Vietnam.
“Many feature phone users have no way to connect to their US-based friends and family on a messaging network without a high cost,” Chaudhuri said. “Chaatz for feature phones will bridge that gap.”