Mozilla has developed a $25 smartphone aimed at the emerging markets of the Global South. Boasting internet access, a decent camera, and a suite of basic apps, the phone is set to revolutionize mobile technology in the Global South, where up to 80% of the population already uses a standard mobile. Accessible mobile internet access will have a major impact on business development, communications, and disaster relief.
The phones are definitely not meant to compete with the higher end models seen in North America and Europe (and won’t be available there either), but reviews of the prototypes have been largely favorable. The camera has a lower resolution than most, and it doesn’t have the functionality to run some of today’s hottest apps, but it is well-made and quite impressive for the price. It is important that the phone is durable and relatively maintenance free. As anyone who has been tempted by discount laptops can attest, paying less up front often means high bills later when things break down. So far reviews of the model haven’t touched on that, but they do suggest that it doesn’t feel cheap or poorly made.
Apart from the standard applications of smartphones in community and business development, Cory Doctorow speculations that sheer numbers of potential customers in the Global South could help to establish a “new ecosystem of developing world developers” geared towards the “unique needs of people in the developing world.” As such, this device and others like it may mean that smartphone technology cater to business and application environments that are distinct in many ways from the ways phones are used in the Global North.
The phone is certain to be a success, as the next most expensive models are in the $60-80 range and have already sold hundreds of thousands of units across the Global South. It remains to be seen how it will integrate into the needs of its target market, and how that market will react in terms of developing applicable software. The other concern is for telecoms to offer affordable data plans to match the low cost of the unit. Most users in the Global South use pay-as-you-go plans rather than contracts, however this is inconvenient when using mobile data. If an accessible solution can be found that benefits consumers, we could soon see a communications revolution in the world’s emerging economies.
For more information, check out an article from BoingBoing.net, and one from SingulartityHUB.com. For a full technical review of the phone, check out this article from the UK’s PC Advisor. Finally, this article from citeworld.com discusses the rise of Firefox as a mobile browser and touches on its role in developing markets.