Obsession with Smartphones is Ignorant

If you live in Europe or North America you could be forgiven for thinking that the only phones that really matter are so-called ”smartphones”. With all the hype and publicity around expensive, highly capable devices like Apple’s iPhone, BlackBerry devices or Nokia’s high tier Nseries products this is unsurprising.

It is time to challenge this notion. It seems that industry commentators have forgotten that there are billions of people around the world for whom such devices will never be relevant. By 2015 it is estimated that 80 percent of the world’s population will live in developing markets. In 2008 a further 94 million mobile subscribers were added to the Chinese market while in India 14.4 million subscribers were added in just one month (July 2009). This hits you like a thunderbolt when you consider that in rural India the average monthly income is $125 per month – a mere $4 a day. Everything must be paid for from this tiny income including the most basic needs such as food and shelter. According to Nokia’s latest research the core needs of food, shelter, clothing and household goods account for 70 percent of income in emerging markets. 15 to 20 percent is spent on transport and entertainment while an impressive five to eight percent is being spent on communications – and for communications read mobile telephony.

This is clear evidence that the very poorest people around the global are investing in mobile phones – and the key word here is investment. I’ve visited India on a number of occasions and each time I’ve been blown away by the impact mobile phones are having on the economy. There is growing evidence that in emerging markets mobile phones are not perceived as a cost – but an investment that can help deliver a tangible improvement in quality of life. Quite a contrast from the frivolous reason of having the “latest and greatest” gadget that appears to be the trend in the Western world.

There are many examples of how mobile phones can positively change people’s lives. A young African boy with a single gear bicycle can use his phone to become a courier. An Indian farmer is able to make sure he is not being ripped off by the local rice trader by getting access to latest market prices wirelessly. The opportunties are only limited by one’s imagination.

I know people sometimes groan when they hear these sorts of clichés but they are no longer fictitious case studies created for PowerPoint presentations. They’re real and I’ve witnessed some of them myself.

Of course, these types of solutions that help the poorest citizens of the global will never compete with the razzmatazz of the latest gadgets from Apple and others but it is a trend that most definitely cannot be ignored.