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Android One and other third-world tech is on its way

By Evan Wade / August 28, 2014


Third-world tech will change the world

Building an infrastructure is an expensive, time-consuming task. Emerging markets could make great use of today’s exciting slate of mobile devices, but users often lack the access and/or resources needed to obtain a gadget. Throw these considerations (and a whole bunch of others) together, and you have questions that have effectively vexed the smartphone world from day one: How can users in emerging markets implement mobile data into their daily lives? What shape would the devices take? And what’s the best way to implement service where they are?

The concerns, humanitarian though they may sound, have some serious financial aspects as well. New users are valuable all over the world, and entire countries full of them are enough to make any business’s bean-counting brigade salivate. That makes emerging markets a top priority for all sorts of businesses and humanitarian groups, and mobile data a great tool for serving them.

Android One

Depending on where you live, the announcement of Android One could have huge implications. Designed by Google to “help make smartphones more affordable to develop and release,” according to one TechCrunch update, the initiative extends Google’s usual over-the-shoulder deployment tactics to emerging markets everywhere. Instead of pushing hardware into underserved geographical regions themselves, the Big G is encouraging manufacturers to do it, giving them guidance, support, and access to various Google programs.

As an operating system, Android is uniquely positioned to perform an emerging market takeover. We all know about its openness, not to mention the variety of hardware developers can get their efforts to run on. In creating an official roadmap to “conquering” these countries, so to speak, Google has created one of those mutually beneficial setups they’ve become known for over the years: Mountain View and manufacturers alike get an early point of entry into countries in need of cheaper smartphones, while end users enjoy inexpensive, yet fully capable devices the program was built to provide.

Standardization, a big point of concern for any technology entering international waters, is key here. Though they still aren’t offering hardware themselves, Android One shows Google isn’t afraid to get involved with that side of the business. As part of the initiative, their engineers design hardware for the initiative, while other manufacturers (currently a trio of international partners) do the actual building. At the very least, this will go towards eliminating the less-than-desirable hardware that sometimes goes into bargain-priced devices. Who better to pick the pieces than the people who designed the OS to begin with?

Thus far, the actual devices coming from the program definitely speak to the value Google wants its hardware to provide. Besides the usual slate of high-end phone perks (strong batteries, large screens, and multi-core processors, for instance), the phones pack international-friendly features like dual SIM slots, encouraging use of the devices in multiple countries/on multiple networks. In places where country-hopping is a way of life, that can be a huge boon in and of itself; $100 for an international-capable device is a heck of a lot cheaper than buying a new phone for each locale you visit.

As with Android Wear and the upcoming slate of Android-powered TVs and Cars, One reflects a key aspect of Google’s smart device strategy: wading into new territories to establish its ecosystem. If any company can survive (and flourish!) while having so many fingers in so many pies, it’s Google. Whatever happens, it’ll be exciting to see what the international focus earns the company over the years, in terms of cash, penetration rates, and lives improved.

mHealth: mobilizing health in emerging markets

Of course, smartphones are far from the only vehicle for mobile data. If anything, many of the great things people are doing with cellular communications are tailor-made for emerging markets. When it comes to health and security (two never-ending concerns for many people in underserved geographical areas), introducing new hardware could quite literally be the difference between life and death.

The numbers more than support this idea. One PWC study shows that 59% of people in emerging markets make use of mHealth products, while only 35% do in their more-developed counterparts—a testament to the flexibility and (perhaps more importantly) portability mobile data can provide end users.

The ‘why” here is simple. As the PWC update puts it, “mobile technology is the only (rather than alternative) affordable tool to reach people.” The “how,” on the other hand, comes down to a number of nifty health-focused devices, all of which make mobile data a crux of the services they provide.

Enter the ZaoPod. Designed by wireless sensor company Sensaris, the ZaoPod does a little bit of everything, at least as it’s related to mHealth. By connecting the gadget to their Android or iOS device, users can record and transmit vital stats like temperature, blood pressure, and even glucose levels, transmitting it as needed via the host phone’s cellular/Wi-Fi connectivity. The opportunities for a device like the ZaoPod are endless, especially considering the gadget’s versatility.

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A Healthcare Collective article says the pod is designed to work with “95% of the smartphones on the market today.” Better yet, it says the device can run on a solar-cell backpack, making it viable even in areas with sporadic or nonexistent electricity. One company, the article says, uses the gadgets as part of their “E Health Points” (or EHPs), giving rural patients easier access to critical facilities and encouraging community health.

Other devices take a similar, yet expanded approach to mHealth. The Swasthya Slate, designed by the Public Heath Foundation of India, is one of them: On top of vitals, it can take a number of more specific, advanced stats, and can even detect clean water. It also supports GPS through cellular data (including older mobile technologies, like EDGE), a critical tool in determining patient locations or pinpointing areas afflicted by less-than-healthy water.

Emerging education … and access

Education is the first step in resolving many of the issues emerging markets face. Mobile bridges gaps between people – including students and educators. Combine those two facts and you have the ability to teach people, wherever they may be.

Take the Magic Pencil, for example. This tablet was built from the onset for long-distance learning, with several options for students in less-connected areas. Besides traditional, interactive courses taught by live instructors (and “attended” by students all over the globe), it offers several “off the shelf” solutions like pre-recorded courses, eBooks, and even access to saved blogs and other content usually found online. EnableM, the company behind the device, also offer what they call “premium content services,” with thousands of lectures and study courses available for download when wireless communication is available.

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The Magic Pencil’s popularity shows how the MOOC trend is a perfect concept for emerging markets. Instead of forcing users to adapt to the institution’s schedule, giving users the opportunity to educate themselves could be the only way to gain an education at all. Whether you take a pragmatic or humanitarian look at the situation (or both), it’s hard to argue that some education is worse than none whatsoever.

An emerging world

The Web isn’t just an entertainment outlet or a way for businesses to make money. As a communications outlet, it’s already a game-changer. While installing infrastructure in countries is certainly a huge challenge (something our Smart Dust article touched on), it’s a worthy investment, and companies like Google are already fueling it.

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