The future of mobile lies not in the old world, but in the third world

By | August 27, 2012
I've said this several times, but this deserves to be said again – I do believe that the old world has a lot to learn from the third world in terms of mobile innovation, use patterns and possibilities. North America and Europe are not truly mobile societies – this is painfully obvious if you try to do all of your key things (banking, electricity, mail, surfing, setting up accounts, reminder notifications, …) on a mobile device. But that's not the case in Africa and India. And because of that – despite their problems in other areas, those nations are leading the way in terms of what and how mobile technology enables society.

/via +John Blossom who comments: 

Africa – The Heart of The Second Web

Thanks to +Lester Walters for sharing. Appropriate photo – women are being empowered by mobile technologies for commerce and having a voice as much as men…I'd only argue that +The Economist is rather conservative in its take when it says that startups in Kenya based on mobile technologies are "about" to take off. It's booming already, as far as I can see.

Upwardly mobile
That’s another pedestrian dodged VISITORS to Kenya’s capital are often horrified by the homicidal minibuses called matatu. They swerve around potholes, seldom…

10 thoughts on “The future of mobile lies not in the old world, but in the third world

  1. Sophie Wrobel

    Granted, the technology is slightly different – from what I read, mobile penetration is high, but smartphone penetration isn't. As a result the interface is different, but the use case (who is involved, what is their objective, what sort of technology they want to use) quite similar.

    Reference story in India:
    http://gigaom.com/cleantech/using-a-missed-call-to-control-a-farms-water-use/

    Though granted, India has too many worlds in one, given the state of 'rich' and 'poor' Bangalore, rural areas, etc. But one thing India is consistently good at doing over the course of history is bending rules when needed to get things done; I'd be surprised if mobile scenarios is an exception to that.

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  2. Sid Jagannathan

    +Ralf Muschall that's a likely cause. For the most part its the English speakers who use computers. So anything other than voice calls are probably not usable for the rest. The technology to use other scripts exist but usage is low.

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  3. Sid Jagannathan

    No I don't think that's happening here. But what do I know.

    I do know that mobile penetration is high unlike fixed phones or most modern gadgetry. Maybe India can look into this option. My point was it's not already happening as the article and some comments might lead us to believe. Am going to look into this in detail.

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  4. Gaythia Weis

    +Sridhar Jagannathan Agreed.  I guess I was drawing a mental line between the parts of India you describe, as in say Bangalore or Hyderabad, and parts that came closer to fitting +Sophie Wrobel's description of a  "Third World"?  I  think that what the Economist article describes involves a lot of integration of communications at all levels of Kenyan society.  Some rural parts of Africa seem to be skipping over the fixed, wired infrastructure phase and going straight to mobile.  I once helped to guide a Masai acquaintance from his Tanzania home "boma" back to college in Nairobi Kenya via cell phone, Google Map and BBC news (to avoid downtown riots).  And I know that the Tanzanian government deliberately encouraged market information as a way to empower herders or fishermen by giving them sales choices before getting to a market where it would be too late to leave and try another port or town.  Is India structured to do the same, say for it's farmers?
     What if in the US mobile phones were used creatively by say, migrant worker communities to negotiate arrivals and wages for crops, or those isolated on Native American nation treaty lands, (what we call "Indian Reservations) for direct marketing of crafts?  

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  5. Sid Jagannathan

    +Gaythia Weis what social rigid ties? India has a dynamic business climate with a lot of engineering talent as a plus. We also have a modern financial system with cash and banking both offline and online.

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  6. Gaythia Weis

    Some of the applications that I am familiar with in Tanzania involve at least semi- nomadic or mobile peoples or access to those abroad.  To which port should a fisherman bring his catch?  A herder, his cattle?    With links established by tourists, web connections can market craft goods.  But, a business could be as simple as a cell phone sharing or charging service.
    +Sridhar Jagannathan maybe social rigidities in India inhibit such entrepreneurial enterprises?

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  7. Ralf Muschall

    +Sridhar Jagannathan Maybe the linguistic composition is different in India and Kenya (I'd expect lots of small different language communities in Africa, but all of them to speak english (at least a bit) and a more homogeneous situation in India).  An incompletely learned foreign language is easier to read+write than to hear+speak, so Kenyans would be better off texting than talking.

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  8. Cédric Lombion

    The usage patterns are answers to needs. If the need doesn't exist or is too weak, or has been answered another way, why trying to copy? Indeed, there is a lot to learn on how to improve the experience of people countries such as Cameroon. But that doesn't mean that the answers that will be found will match the "Old World (?)" needs.

    Moreso, in countries such as India, mostly feature phones are used, with significantly better battery life than our smartphones. Which makes a huge difference in term of usage possibilities until this gap is filled.

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  9. Sid Jagannathan

    Hmmm I don't see any such thing in India. Yeah mobile phones are often the first piece of technology that many Indians use but it's usually for regular phone calls. 

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