At first glance $80 for a smartphone doesn’t really seem like that amazing of a deal. Especially when you consider that is has a smaller screen, less processing power, and fewer megapixels in the camera. But, when you consider that this is the price for the phone without any type of contract it becomes a little bit more interesting.
The phone is the Android powered IDEOS from the Chinese company Huawei. It was released earlier this year in Kenya and has already been bought by 350,000+ Kenyans. In an area of the world that is stricken by poverty, this device is bringing the wonders of the smartphone to people who could never have afforded such a luxury in the past.
In comparison to the major smartphones on the market right now, namely the iPhone4, DroidX2, and Blackberry Bold, it does not have the same level of technology. The screen is relatively small, though larger than the screen on the Blackberry Bold. The RAM is half of that of the major smartphones, and the battery life is worse as well.
However, when you consider the cost it is incredibly reasonable. The IDEOS sells for about $80 with no contract, compared to the iPhone4 at $800, the DroidX2 at $700, and the Blackberry Bold at $600 without a contract. That means you can get a phone for 85-90% less than the big boys.
It is also uses the Android OS which means that the sky is limit with 300,000+ apps. The open source software makes it possible for apps to be developed in developing countries in ways that would never be possible with Apple or Blackberry’s stringent requirements. This makes these cheap phones even more useful in these poor countries.
Apps are being developed to help farmers better market their products, and even track diseases that can destroy farming which is a huge part of most African nation’s economies.
In the sphere of this blog, I have already written about all kinds of apps and gadgets being developed specifically with Africa in mind. This phone makes those devices that much more useful. One of the most exciting of these is Medkenya which is essentially the same as WebMD here in the states. It provides information and resources to people that would never have had them in the past.
By encouraging the rapid spread of smartphone usage in Africa it is not unreasonable to think more apps could be developed to help prevent the spread of infectious diseases or maybe even an HIV-testing peripheral that would do wonders to help slow the spread of that terrible disease.
We already take a lot of technology for granted in the US, and that is understandable. We use our phones for games, and news, and sports scores, and even to buy our coffee at Starbucks now. The difference for the people in these developing countries is that his technology can save their lives quite literally by providing medical assistance at a level they never would have had without smartphones. This idea is summed up quite well by Dr. Bitange Ndemo, Kenya’s Minister of Information and Communication:
In the beginning of the 21st century, the mobile telephone was the reserve of an elite few and the gadget’s sole purpose was to make phone calls and send text messages. Today, all this has changed and the mobile phone is no longer a luxury but a necessity. By morphing and adopting into various aspects of our lives, the mobile phone has gone beyond its original purpose of phone calls and text messages and it now serves as a bank, a computer a radio and a television set among other things. In a nutshell, it has penetrated every aspect of our lives.
Personally, I have never seen a cell phone as a necessity despite the fact that I have one and really value all of the features that it gives me. The difference is that I live somewhere with plenty of doctors and hospitals, and everything else I could ever want. These inexpensive cellphones are providing an improvement in the quality of life for these people that would otherwise take decades more of development.