When Mobile Phones Are Free….Where Will Most Innovation Come From?

Posted Friday, September 13, 2013 in Online, Mobile & IT by Patricia Seybold

Rumor has it that Amazon’s next mobile phone will be free—presumably subsidized by the increase in impulse downloads and purchases we do from our handy phones. On Tuesday, September 10, Apple announced its lower cost iPhone 5C. Technology analysts quickly reported that the low-cost phone is still too expensive in China.

But, guess what, phones and phone service are already getting really inexpensive in the developing world. I was listening to a 2010 TED Talk by Nathan Eagle on Mobile Crowdsourcing, in which he reported that, in Kenya, you can buy a phone, complete with a SIM card and airtime for $15. I highly recommend this TedTalk. Nathan points out that “in reality, the vast majority of web surfers live in the developing world. There’s more people using mobile phones, living in rural villages in developing countries than every western white collar worker on earth. The mobile phone is a developing world technology. It’s their technology. They represent the vast majority of the users and ultimately it has impacted their lives far greater than it has impacted our lives.”

Nathan Eagle points out something that I have observed in my semi-annual peregrinations to Uganda--that everyone in every rural village now has access to a mobile phone, and the applications they use include many that are more sophisticated than what we have—such as the ability to easily and securely pay for things and to transfer money from person to person.

So, as we watch the jockeying for position between Apple, Amazon, Google, and Microsoft in the mobile phone space over the coming months. Let’s remember: the REAL battle is for the pockets of the billions of people who live, work and play in the developing world.


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