Smartphones in Developing Nations

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The world is becoming increasingly more interconnected thanks to constant advances in technology.  I can talk to my sister halfway across the world on at a moment’s notice (if we’re both up to it).  Smartphones are one of many devices used to connect to others. They have become very popular since their inception in the early 21st century. These handheld devices have become integrated in our lives; we use them every day to keep ourselves organized, in touch, and entertained—but how exclusive is this luxury, geographically? Not very, it would seem. Smartphones can be found in almost any country from the United States to Turkey to Kenya.

Feature phones, such as the Nokia Asha, currently reign supreme in most developing nations. What is the difference between a feature phone and a smartphone? While a concrete distinction doesn’t exist, a good rule of thumb to follow:

If the device is capable of downloading, installing, and running third-party applications, it’s probably a smartphone. Those applications are also able to easily work with the operating system (OS) and hardware, as well.

Accessibility in Emerging Nations

There are some key factors that make a feature phone more appealing than a smartphone to people in emerging nations. One such factor includes the lack of network support in non-urban areas. The ability to always be online and connected is an important selling point for smartphones. While most of the developed world is populated with network towers in order to increase coverage, developing nations do not often have this comfort. Why pay for a static data plan if you aren’t going to be connected often enough to use it? Furthermore, a correlation has been found between nations with higher percentages of smartphone ownership and preference to fixed data plans. Countries where smartphone ownership is low are keener on non-contract or pay-as-you-go plans.

Affordability a Driving Factor

Perhaps the largest factor slowing the sale of smartphones in developing nations is their affordability. Smartphone companies are putting forth effort to combat this issue.  Apple, for example, has been marketing its iPhone in India, but only recently saw their sales increase after reducing prices and introducing a monthly payment plan. From December to January alone, the sales have tripled. However, even with this boost in sales, less costly brands running Android operating systems (such as Samsung) dominate the market in India. Still, only about 10% of Indians use smartphones.

Aside from India, Africa proves to be a popular target for smartphone campaigns. There has been about a 40% increase in smartphone ownership over the past decade. As a result, there exist some strong projections for ownership and penetration by 2017. Companies such as Samsung, Microsoft, Nokia, and even Intel are pooling many of their efforts into getting more phones into the hands of Africans. These companies are aiming to keep their phones affordable while maintaining quality.

On the consumer side, more features are in demand. No doubt that furthering social networking support is among these desires if you consider the increasing number of accounts on Facebook and Twitter originating from areas such as Africa. One prevailing issue, though, is the large number of unemployed youths (who happen to be the most interested in smartphones) being unable to afford these luxurious devices.

It’s a safe bet to say that smartphone penetration in the markets of developing countries is increasing with each day. As production companies make efforts to increase not only availability but also affordability, more and more people will be prone to upgrade their current phones to smartphones.

An Untapped Market

Conor Murphy, marketing manager of Android, iPhone, and iPad games company Big Fish observed, “When looking at the third world, there’s a vast untapped market of mobile gamers that do not yet own a digital entertainment platform. As smartphones and tablets become cheaper to produce, global adoption should accelerate. Game studios would be wise to keep a close eye on mobile developments abroad.”

By breaking into new territory, an increasing amount of areas across the globe will gain easier access to technologies such as the internet, mobile communication, mobile gaming, and computing. In fact, there’s already evidence that the introduction of smartphones has yielded positive improvements. Kenyans have started to utilize electronic banking services, which are safer and easier than carrying cash around; it is also faster and more convenient.

Personally, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the number of smartphone owners become the majority in both developed and developing worlds within the next 10 years. As these numbers increase, so does the access to knowledge, communication, and ideas. Considering that, it doesn’t seem too farfetched to imagine that nations will improve in the wake of technological advances. Electronic banking is just the tip of the iceberg!

About the Author

Jeff Rapp is currently finishing up his studies in Game Design and Development with a double minor in Creative Writing and Entrepreneurship at Rochester Institute of Technology. He enjoys all things involving games, technology, and media. Follow Jeff on Twitter @MajinDiablo.

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