Nokia’s Flashlight Phone and the Africa Element

If you haven’t been following cell phones, now would be the time to start. Forget the smart phones for a minute. There are about 3M cell phone users worldwide, expected to more than double to 5M within by 2010. The majority of these new users live in the global south—India, China, Africa and the Middle East, and to a lesser extent, Latin America and other parts of Asia— and most have never had any kind of phone before. Outside the iPhone bubble, this is the real future of cellular communications.

Anyone who’s worked in India, for example, knows that petty economies crop up all around the behemoth cellular industry. A driver may ask that you ‘hit him with a misssed’— a simple message conveyed via missed call — that costs neither the recipient nor the sender any precious AirTel minutes. Mobile Don Juans text a dozen senoritas a day. Idea! Phone has Abishek, and, if we take the previous example as any indication, Vodaphone is more like a boyfriend than a phone company, shooting off chirpy SMS pretty much whenever you change neighborhoods. Yes, your Indian mobile knows exactly where you are—if you are visiting SRK’s bungalow, say, it will gladly welcome you to Juhu Beach. Headed to the Infinity Mall? Welcome to Andheri West!

As they proliferate, cell phones have come to have a variety of unpredicted, and generally more serious uses across the globe. The latest tsunami warning systems use cell-phone technology, as in Sri Lanka and Indonesia. In Africa, the world’s fastest growing cell phone market, the implications are even more wide reaching. I’m always impressed with the the ingenuity of everyday people, but I’m taken with Nokia and Motorola, and what they’re doing to target this market.

Nokia has it’s own Africa Website, and as a long-time Nokia user, I can understand why their product is well suited for this entry market. The phones are simple, and though newer models include the 1st world trappings of 3megapixel cameras and customized ringtons, they are increasingly being built with an African market in mind. Hence, the flashlight, which Nokia customer Julius (feature of a Nokia PR video in Kenya), uses to keep in touch with his couch, and literally light his way out of trouble. (And if you’ve never used your cell phone to find your keys in a blackout, you really live under a rock.)

Technology is making our markets more wildly diverse and complex than any of engineers of those markets could have imagined. And not because you can watch Yo! Gabba Gabba on your cell phone, but because it can quite literally light your way into the future.

*Today’s post is inspired by my work with a certain clean-energy venture, but we won’t

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Filed under 3rd World Imagineering, Economy, it's a small world

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