This excellent article by Erica Kochi, the co-lead of Tech Innovation at UNICEF, talks about creative uses of mobile phones in emerging economies like India, China and various countries in Africa, as well as the future of the mobile market as a whole. She writes,
patterns of mobile phone use in developing countries are vastly different from what you see on the streets of New York, San Francisco, and Berlin. This is a market underserved by technologists and startups. This is where the majority of future growth lies, and Silicon Valley has yet to realize the huge economic opportunities for network operators, handset developers, and mobile startups.
So what are these opportunities? And what kinds of technological, service and product innovations do we need to best leverage mobile phones to the best possible extent? Kochi talks specifically about using mobile services to help some of the most underserved populations of the country, by bringing smartphones capable of testing for HIV and other diseases, or using even simple text and voice recognition programs for feedback or reporting. UNICEF has also developed a RapidSMS initiative, a scalable SMS-based open-source framework for dynamic data collection, logistics coordination and communication.
Kochi also talks about the actual design of the kind of smartphone required in these markets, such that it best suits the context. Not only would it need it to be cheap, but rugged, have a long battery life, and be equipped with the kind of apps that best support the actual needs of the community. This doesn’t need to be a cheaper copy of the iPhone or some other high-functioning smart phone, but rather a new phone that brings the smartphone technology together with the usability and convenience of the Nokia 1100 (still the world’s most popular phone). It will be interesting to see which company attempts and succeeds in this endeavor first, since it may well end up occupying the largest market share in coming years. It could also be an excellent opportunity for innovation within countries India and China, rather than another multinational or Silicon Valley startup continuing to occupy the market share. Your thoughts?
*Hat tip to our new intern, Shiv Kehr, for pointing me to this article