As I was traveling a bit last weekend, taking the metro, train, and a bus connection in California, I watched a number of kids riding along with me and using their mobiles in a way that I usually don’t in that they were texting heavily. Instead of blathering on the phone like so many people I know usually do (including myself at times), they just kept pinging text messages back and forth during their whole ride. Now, these kids had some of the latest mobiles with touchscreens and ridiculous ringtones that would play a full song when they had an incoming message, but what I was amazed at was how able they were with texting. One was using T9 and the other was using multi-tap to put in their messages. Both were just as fast as each other and were able to do this with one hand, whereas I need both my thumbs in there for any amount of speed.
But what really got me was that despite all the fancy junk that keeps getting slapped on to mobiles, it keeps coming back to the basics that I’ve seen in Africa in that everyone really wants a two-way text pager. In Western countries, we keep buying new mobiles that are basically worthless gadgets. I know there have been cries by a lot of folks to offer a mobile that is a simple B&W screen, rugged, and has endless battery life. While I think we all regret tossing out older mobiles (I miss my S40), people living in Sub-Saharan Africa are a lot smarter, hanging on to, fixing and continuing to use these older mobiles. Sure, there is the issue that it’s done out of a cost issue, but really, when it comes down to it, a Nokia 1200 or a Nokia 3410 have to be some of the best phones suited for these areas, especially Central Africa.
It’s not just the Africans using these types of phones I might add. People working for the UN and other NGO’s fall back on them as well. They stand up to the environment, perform well, and hang on to battery life for a long time in an area where power can be scarce. Good luck keeping an iPhone running anywhere except in a capital like Kinshasa, Kampala, or Kigali. Of course, this isn’t lost on foreign-based companies like CCT (Congo China Telecom) who offer a very simple phone for $20 USD that meets all the criteria of these older mobiles that keep circulation the region. What I regret even more than selling my S40 was not picking up one of these phones. While they are locked in to CCT, they’re a very interesting example of the innovation that takes place in Sub-Saharan Africa due to environmental needs rather than by consumerist want. The big GSM Association conferences may take place in Barcelona, but the place where the most useful implementation of mobile technology is happening, is in Sub-Saharan Africa. I’ll bet that whatever Web 3.0 application start popping up in the next couple of years will be based on something that happened in there first.
The Beauty of Old Mobiles