LOS ANGELES – Although the current technological buzz is about Apple’s latest iPhone model, there is a more revolutionary surge that is now influencing the smartphone industry. Last year, 985 smartphones were shipped around the world. Sales of inexpensive smartphones in developing nations have grown that figure to an estimated 1.2 billion this year. The mobile phone industry has noticed the scores of yet untapped emerging markets, and is catering to them with what is shaping up to be a competitive low-cost smartphone sector.
The substantial 19 percent rise in smartphone shipments is due to the smartphone industry attempting to access the great potential of what Google calls “the next five billion,” while 1.75 billion people worldwide already have smartphones, over five billion others do not.
“Knowledge is a game-changer. For instance, it doesn’t matter if you’re a Nobel Laureate at a world-class research center or a young student at a rural school in Indonesia, with Google Search, you have the same information at your fingertips as anyone else,” said Google’s official blog in a post introducing Android One, which retails in India for $105.
Google’s Android One is just one of many players in the growing sub-$200 smartphone market that is seeing a positive response from eager low-income consumers in developing nations. Microsoft, which recently bought Nokia’s handset business, has also turned a new focus onto the low-cost smartphone sector with its ultra-affordable $25 Nokia 130.
“With the Nokia mobile phone business, Microsoft will target the affordable mobile devices market, a $50 billion annual opportunity, delivering the first mobile experience to the next billion while introducing Microsoft services to new customers around the world,” said a Microsoft press release.
Meanwhile, Mozilla has just launched its own affordable smartphone, with New Delhi-based manufacturer Intex Technologies, in India for $33. The company behind the popular Firefox web browser debuted the Intex Cloud FX smartphone and sold 15,000 units within the first three days of its launch. Additionally, Mozilla will be releasing a $38 device with Spice Mobility, and plans further deals with other Indian smartphone makers.
The smartphone industry’s surge into the affordable device market is a boon to the billions of consumers in developing markets as smartphones are becoming less of a luxury good and more of a daily necessity in today’s highly connected world.
Earlier this year, a UNESCO study found that hundreds of thousands of people in emerging nations are depending on their phones to read, signifying that mobile devices could be instrumental in reducing illiteracy and improving access to educational material. In developing countries, physical books may be hard to find but cellphones abound. Nokia and Worldreader, a nonprofit that circulates digital book content, jointly carried out the study.
The study found that more than 60 percent of survey respondents reported they were reading more thanks to mobile devices. Over 10 percent cited greater affordability of mobile reading than of reading in print, while another nine percent responded that they would not otherwise have access to reading material.
The results lift up mobile devices as a potential way to bridge educational and cultural gaps. Women, for example, in countries where there may be social or cultural obstacles to obtaining books may read on mobile devices in privacy. The widespread reach of low-cost smartphones is a powerful tool in advancing literacy and promoting education in developing nations.
– Annie Jung
Sources: eWEEK, Forbes, Live Mint, Bloomberg, Time, Google Blog, Think Progress