Exclusive: India’s Reliance Jio is developing a low-cost laptop called the JioBook, running on JioOS
Reliance Jio, the Indian mobile network operator that has seen staggering growth since its public launch in late 2016, is developing a new product tentatively called the JioBook, we at XDA have learned. After selling tens of millions of its low-cost JioPhone device, bringing 4G LTE to millions of Indians previously using basic feature phones, Jio may be looking to bolster its growing digital services by offering a larger-screened device that can access these services through a cellular connection.
In early 2018, Miguel Nunes, Senior Director of Product Management at Qualcomm Technologies, told The Economic Times that the American chipmaker had held talks with Reliance Jio to launch laptops with cellular connectivity. Nearly three years later, it seems that Jio is finally developing a product based on Qualcomm hardware, but the components and software used have diverged from what was originally discussed.
Rather than bringing out a laptop running Windows 10, the JioBook seems to be running Google’s Android OS. Jio may dub its fork of Android as “JioOS”, according to firmware reviewed by XDA. Likely to bring down costs, Jio’s prototype laptop is currently using Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 665 (sm6125), an 11nm chipset that was announced in early 2019. The chipset features a built-in 4G LTE modem — the Snapdragon X12 — that the JioBook will likely leverage to provide cellular connectivity to Reliance Jio’s expansive 4G network.
To develop the product, Jio is partnering with China-based Bluebank Communication Technology, an engineering firm that creates mobile devices and develops software for third-parties, according to documents reviewed by XDA. On its website, Bluebank proudly mentions its work creating products that run KaiOS, a mobile operating system for feature phones, and includes images of both generations of Reliance’s JioPhone.
According to the documents we reviewed, development on the JioBook began in early September of 2020 and is expected to continue through the first half of 2021. At the EVT, or Engineering Validation Test, stage of the product development cycle, the JioBook had unfinalized hardware, including a recycled keyboard that contained a Windows key, as seen in the live image below obtained by XDA. By mid-April, the product is expected to enter the PVT, or Product Validation Test, stage of the product development cycle, so its current design likely looks closer to the final hardware than what’s shown below. In particular, the Windows key will likely have been swapped with a key more fitting for the product and software, though we don’t know what it will have been swapped with.
While digging into the laptop’s firmware, we discovered evidence that the PC will have a 1366×768 resolution display, though we don’t know the size of the actual display.
Bluebank has tested several iterations of the JioBook during development, including a model with 2GB of LPDDR4X RAM paired with 32GB of eMMC storage and later a model with 4GB of LPDDR4X RAM and 64GB of eMMC 5.1 storage. Bluebank and Reliance Jio seem to be sourcing low-cost components from a variety of vendors, most notably Samsung for their combined mobile DRAM and NAND chip as well as Qualcomm for its Snapdragon 665. According to a list of components used for the PCB, the laptop may have a mini HDMI connector for video output, support for WiFi over 2.4 and 5GHz frequencies, Bluetooth, a three-axis accelerometer, and a Qualcomm audio chip.
The PC currently runs a clean build of Android 10, and it is unlikely the OS will be switched over to Windows 10 on ARM prior to release. Qualcomm and Microsoft only support Windows 10 on ARM for a handful of Snapdragon chipsets, but the Snapdragon 665 is not one of them. The JioBook likely features the Snapdragon 665 and Android to cut down on costs, which might explain why there are currently no Google apps installed. Pre-installing Google’s suite of applications requires a license to distribute Google Mobile Services, which is a cost that many vendors are willing to pay but does slightly increase the price of the product. As you might expect, the laptop’s firmware is preloaded with a multitude of Jio applications, including JioStore, JioMeet, JioPages, and Jio’s ad services. There are also, interestingly, several apps from Microsoft pre-installed, including Microsoft Teams, Edge, and Office. We don’t know if these apps will be shipped on production hardware, though.
Although we’ve spotted the “JioBook” branding through an analysis of the PC’s firmware, we don’t know for sure if the product will launch under that name. The JioBook branding would line up with Reliance’s other Jio-branded products, including the bestselling JioPhone, though. We do not know exactly when the product will launch, but a schedule reviewed by XDA suggests that assembly could happen around mid-May.
When it does launch, we expect it to retail at an incredibly low price, though we don’t know how low that will be. Given Jio’s dominance in India as a mobile network operator and its track record of selling entry-level hardware, there’s a good chance the JioBook will gain traction among price-conscious consumers looking to purchase their first PC. Getting a larger screen device into the hands of millions of new Indian consumers has the potential to take Jio’s digital services to the next level in terms of adoption, which could be their goal with this product.