Basic Smartphones Now Cheap Enough to Replace Feature Phones Worldwide

Earlier this year, Mozilla announced their project to build and sell a $25 smartphone. The firm, maker of the Firefox web browser and mobile operating system, now says they’ll begin selling the device in India and Indonesia.

The smartphones won’t have all the functions you might find on an iPhone or Samsung Galaxy, but they’ll be a step up from feature phones—traditional handsets with internet connectivity but limited online functionality.

Mozilla has already collaborated with wireless carriers in Europe and Latin America to make affordable smartphones using the firm’s bare bones Firefox mobile operating system, but so far, none are available for less than $60.

“With a $25 price tag, there is no price gap between a smartphone and a feature phone,” Mozilla Chief Operating Officer Gong Li told the WSJ. “This attractive price point would help motivate feature-phone users to switch to smartphones.”

Mozilla will be wading into a pitched battle in India. Other firms are likewise targeting the estimated 71% of India’s mobile users who still use feature phones. According to Indian business periodical The Economic Times, smartphone makers Intex, Spice, and Celkon are planning to launch phones as cheap as $30 (1,800 Indian rupees).

stratobus-thales-google-loon-1The push to provide affordable smartphones in parts of the world where they’re still rare is only part of the story. Big technology companies, like Google and Facebook, are aiming to bring more people online in emerging markets by providing wireless internet access.

Facebook recently purchased Ascenta to potentially widen internet access with a global fleet of solar-powered drones. Google, meanwhile, is considering internet providing high-altitude balloons (Project Loon), solar-power drones (Titan Aerospace), and a $1+ billion constellation of small satellites. Space firm, Thales, has even suggested internet providing dirigibles (see above).

The bigger picture?

Connected personal computing is invading every corner of the globe. As Peter Diamandis likes to say, “Right now, a Maasai Warrior on mobile phone has better mobile communications than the president did 25 years ago; and, if they’re on Google, they have access to more information than the president did just 15 years ago.”

Diamandis goes on to note that, with a smartphone, the same individual can access GPS, video conferencing, a camera (for video or stills), a stereo, a library of books, movies, video games, music, and more. He estimates the value of all this bundled and bought 20 years ago would exceed a million dollars.

Added to smartphones, tablet and even basic laptop prices will likely also undergo similarly sharp declines as costs fall and makers try to tap new markets.

If history is a guide, the form factor most widely adopted in emerging markets won’t match preferences in Europe and the US. Forget the details. The point is not how people access the internet, but that they access the internet.

A mere 1% of the world’s population was online in 1995. Three billion will browse the web by the end of 2014. That leaves four billion, or roughly 60% of the world’s population, still offline. But not for long. Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt predicted last year that “everyone on Earth will be connected to the internet” by 2020.

An internet connection can join people to family, friends, and colleagues, to markets, and above all, to information. Urbanization and the internet are already facilitating and accelerating the flow and cross-pollination of ideas and innovation. Imagine what happens when we more than double the number of people with internet access?

Image Credit: Mozilla; Thales

Jason Dorrier
Jason Dorrier
Jason is editorial director of Singularity Hub. He researched and wrote about finance and economics before moving on to science and technology. He's curious about pretty much everything, but especially loves learning about and sharing big ideas and advances in artificial intelligence, computing, robotics, biotech, neuroscience, and space.
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