3 December 2007

The mobile web is NOT helping the developing world… and what we can do about it

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Africa phone
According to Niti Bhan, Nathan Eagle‘s post on the limitations of the current perception of the mobile internet experience for the developing world are “spot on and the most insightful I have come across to date”.

Here is a quote from his article on the Nokia Developer’s blog:

“I attend an increasing number of keynotes where CEOs and EVPs of both major mobile handset manufacturers and mobile operators trumpet their role in bringing the internet to the bottom of the pyramid in the developing world. It’s a total fallacy.

The phones that are designed and marketed for the ‘developing world’ today aren’t data enabled, they have no browser or any ability to function as a traditional data device. We’re dumping hundreds of millions of devices into these regions that are essentially crippled – and their legacy (the average life span of a phone in Africa is many times that of it’s Western counterpart) will affect mobile internet usage in these regions throughout the next decade. […]

This is not to say that these billions of mobile phones do not have the potential to access content from the web – rather, the traditional browser-based paradigm of internet usage does not cater to them. The idea that the mobile web consists exclusively of mobile devices running web-browsers identical to the web experience we are used to with IE/Firefox is simply wrong. Throwing more and more resources towards creating devices for the developing world that can emulate the PC browsing experience is misguided. The 2 billion phones being used in the developing world are really great at making and receiving voice calls and text messages: Why not shape the internet experience to meet the specs of every phone’s inherent functionality (voice!) rather than requiring devices to have specs that quite frankly aren’t going to be realistic for many years to come?”

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By the way, make sure to check out the website of EPROM:

EPROM (Entrepreneurial Programming and Research On Mobiles), part of the Program for Developmental Entrepreneurship within the MIT Design Laboratory, aims to foster mobile phone-related research and entrepreneurship. Today’s mobile phones are designed to meet Western needs. Subscribers in developing countries, however, now represent the majority of mobile phone users worldwide. We believe the adoption of new technologies and services within this vast, emerging market will drive innovation and help shape the future of the mobile phone.

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