The smartphones opportunity

Two stories today that show the power of smartphones in unexpected spaces and the opportunity it provides.

Cheap Smartphones Cheap Smartphones (photo courtesy, Wired)

Mat Honan in Wired about the importance of cheap smartphones.

We’re rushing headlong into the era of cheap cell phones. The peace dividends of the smartphone wars mean you can buy a pretty amazing piece of hardware for what many people spend on lattes each month. That Alcatel has 4G, a quadcore processor, a 13-megapixel camera, and it plays 1080P video. It runs Android 4.2, which isn’t completely current but isn’t totally out of date either, and you can grab one for as little as $80 without a contract. That $129 Moto E ($79 if you get a contract, which you shouldn’t) runs Android 4.4.2, sports a Gorilla Glass screen, has an all-day battery and is even water resistant.

Clearly great features are trickling down. But what’s more interesting is how these cheap phones are going to trickle up. Put Internet-connected, app-capable smartphones running the same major operating systems the rest of us use and there will be all sorts of unforeseen ripple effects on us that we can’t even anticipate.

Anand Chandrasekharan, the Chief Product Officer of Bharti Airtel, one of the largest mobile network operators in India. In his new role, he went on a tour to understand India.

Mobile = Opportunity

One of the most fascinating stories I had heard was about a user in rural Bihar, who purchased a 2GB plan and was renewing it weekly. Notwithstanding the obvious guesses, we were curious what he was using it for. As it turns out, he downloaded full-length movies at night (when he had free and unlimited data usage) from YouTube, and burned them on to SD cards from his Samsung smartphone for his customers. His day job was running a general store. By doing this, he had used the oldest trick in retail — use an exclusive product to sell high-margin commodity items. While the SD cards did okay, it also brought footfall into his store, which resulted in sales of groceries, soap and shampoo. Given the impact on his business, he was religiously topping off his mobile Internet connection to keep the cottage industry he had created going.

What was interesting to take away was that a user with absolutely no education had used smartphones and the Internet to achieve his entrepreneurial ambitions. Be it the growing venture-funded mobile apps industry or the cottage industries, these opportunities are for real and just getting started, as only 10 percent to 15 percent of the more than 900 million mobile users have ever tried using the Internet on their phones.

Anand touches upon the banking opportunity with mobile phones too. I see the same opportunities in the Indigenous space in Australia. The increasing gap of well being compared to non-Indigenous Australians and the life in the bush; the rural and remote parts of Australia; is similar in context to rural India which brings the same challenges and opportunities.

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