Half the world with mobile phones


in Economics, Geek stuff, Internet matters

Path beside Dow's Lake, Ottawa

The Economist recently published an interesting survey on mobile phones and telecommunications in emerging markets. One fact that is a bit startling is that, of the world’s estimated 6.8 billion people, 3.6 billion (53%) are estimated to own cellular phones. As one of the articles argues, a luxury item has become a tool of global development.

It will certainly be interesting to see what happens as smartphones begin to make the same transition. As the internet turns ubiquitous, it seems likely to change in ways more profound and unexpected than simply being available anywhere. As my own experience with smartphones demonstrates, the formfactor of these devices makes them less-than-ideal tools for browsing the conventional web.

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{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Tristan October 14, 2009 at 10:04 am

While the smart phone you bought might be awful for browsing the web, this problem has already been solved. http://northernsong.wordpress.com/2009/09/24/the-arrival-of-the-future-part-1-of-3-the-iphone/

Milan October 14, 2009 at 11:55 am

The iPhone does a good job of displaying content that was mostly created with keyboards, mice, and monitors in mind.

It will be interesting to see what about the internet changes when mobile phones are the default devices for accessing significant parts of it.

Tristan October 14, 2009 at 7:33 pm

It’s already the case that a portion of websites have iphone specific versions. I’ve noticed this proportion has increased, even since I got my itouch in august.

Milan October 14, 2009 at 8:48 pm

That’s still just an evolutionary change. I am more curious about whether smartphones will spawn any genuinely revolutionary web phenomena.

. October 15, 2009 at 10:30 am

Battle of the smartphones begins

Smartphones are going mass market, fuelled by the public’s “insatiable appetite” for social media, analysts say.

They predict an explosion in sales alongside price falls for smart handsets next year.

Milan October 15, 2009 at 12:53 pm

One area where the emergence of smarter phones could be transformative is in terms of payment systems. The survey mentioned above estimates that “at current rates of growth it seems likely that within five years, and certainly within ten, everyone in the world who wants a mobile phone will probably have one.”

If all those people can easily make small payments from phone to phone, it could have big impacts on everything from the banking sector to privacy to whether cash will remain a common form of payment. It’s not implausible that using cash will become suspicious once everyone has the ability to easily pay by phone.

R.K. October 15, 2009 at 1:09 pm

There are lots of science fiction stories where using cash has either become illegal or become something only done by criminals.

. October 15, 2009 at 2:50 pm

The boom in smart-phones
Cleverly simple

Oct 1st 2009
From The Economist print edition
As internet-capable handsets become more popular, they are also changing

IF THE recession is the cloud hanging over the mobile-phone business, “smart” phones are the silver lining. Sales of mobile phones were 10% lower in the second quarter of this year than in the same period last year, but sales of smart-phones were up by nearly 15%, according to IDC, a market-research firm. By some estimates, half of all handsets sold will be “smart” in four years and by 2015 almost all will be.

oleh October 16, 2009 at 1:08 am

More than half the world’s population have cell phones : that is amazing>

I wonder how

1. fast than number went from 0% to 10% to over 50%

2. if any other object has become so prevalent so quickly

3. how it compares to the percentage of people with safe drinking water, heath care or a high school education

oleh October 16, 2009 at 1:28 am

The Wikipedia entry on cell phones provides a chart that lists the number of mobile home subscriptions globally per 100 inhabitants as
4 out 100 in 1997
12 out of 100 in 2000
49 out of 100 in 2007

Milan October 16, 2009 at 10:01 am

There are probably a lot of people who we would consider very poor, but nonetheless have the kind of sub-$35 phones discussed in this survey.

One major reason is the relatively low infrastructure requirements to deploy cell phones. Apparently, it was done successfully in Sudan and the DRC, even in the midst of civil war.

. October 16, 2009 at 10:43 am

The Sad State of the Mobile Web

“Despite being the much better development platform for today’s smartphones, open Web standards still face an uphill battle on mobile devices, Fatal Exception’s Neil McAllister writes, noting that here, as on the desktop, the main hurdle is scalability. But whereas successful Web development for the desktop is a matter of scaling up, mobile Web development calls for applications that can effectively scale down as well — an imperative that is fast making the state of the mobile Web ‘even sadder,’ McAllister writes. ‘The more that modern Web applications take advantage of the new client-side technologies available in desktop browsers, the more the divide between the desktop Web and the mobile Web widens.’ As a result, developers are forced to fall back on basic Web technologies — a tactic that too often translates simply into writing separate UIs for mobile users. ‘The result? Mobile Web applications are in pretty much the same boat as they were when the first WAP-enabled handsets appeared: two separate development tracks, one for the desktop and one for mobile.'”

alena October 16, 2009 at 5:29 pm

Will I be the last person in North Van who does not have a cell phone? I have never missed it or needed it so far and feel happy that no bees have lost their way because of me.

. October 16, 2009 at 5:32 pm

Cell Phones Aren’t Killing Bees After All

“A couple of weeks ago, there was a nutty idea discussed in The Independent that claimed the electromagnetic radiation from cell phones was causing bees to become disoriented, preventing them from returning to the hive. The flimsy cell phone argument was used to explain Colony Collapse Disorder. Today the LA Times reports that researchers at UC San Francisco have uncovered what they believe to be the real culprit: a parasitic fungus. Other researchers said Wednesday that they too had found the fungus, a single-celled parasite called Nosema ceranae, in affected hives from around the country.”

alena October 16, 2009 at 8:44 pm

I am glad to hear that because with all those cell phones kicking around, they wouldn’t stand a chance. Can they eliminate the fungus?It doesn’t grow on cell phones, does it?

. October 16, 2009 at 8:49 pm

Colony collapse disorder
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Colony collapse disorder (CCD) or sometimes honey bee depopulation syndrome (HBDS) is a phenomenon in which worker bees from a beehive or European honey bee colony abruptly disappear. While such disappearances have occurred throughout the history of apiculture, the term colony collapse disorder was first applied to a drastic rise in the number of disappearances of Western honey bee colonies in North America in late 2006. Colony collapse is economically significant because many agricultural crops worldwide are pollinated by bees.

alena October 17, 2009 at 11:50 am

The above paragraph does not mention any explanation for the honey bee demise. Perhaps it is to do with the increase in temperature or some pollutant.

Milan October 20, 2009 at 10:37 am

Some people don’t think it is happening at all. In any event, I don’t think there is any credible evidence that it has anything to do with cell phones.

Ryan Nassichuk October 20, 2009 at 6:55 pm

I believe that cellphones/smartphones are beginning to have a profoundly negative effect on peoples’ ability to engage in non-electronic communication. What will happen when even more than 50% of the world is connected all the time?

I had dinner with an old friend last week, and for much of the meal, he was unable to avert his eyes from his smartphone. He isn’t a businessman or a politician or anyone who needs to be constantly connected – Just a regular guy who in unable to unplug himself from the net.

On the bus, a significant proportion of people are seated quietly, heads down, focused on the rays of light emitted from their shiny new communication devices.

It is all a little sad.

Milan October 20, 2009 at 9:24 pm

I agree that answering or checking phones when physically with a friend is rude and inappropriate, but I see no reason to complain about people making otherwise pointless commute time a bit more productive or interesting.

Having a smartphone can actually make you more social in the real world, since you can organize things without having to go back to a landline or a computer.

Ryan Nassichuk October 21, 2009 at 2:30 pm

Milan –

While I agree with you in theory, I believe that, in practice, smartphones have allowed the average person to make their life unnecessarily complex. This complexity compels the people on the bus to escape into their glowing screens at the expense of communicating with their fellow citizens/looking out the window/thinking about nature/etc.

I believe that, twenty some odd years from now, a great number of people will wish they hadn’t bought into the myth of better-living-through-connectivity. It is all too easy for people’s lives to pass them by as they sit almost motionless, drooling in front of the latest fancy communication device. Our planet is a remarkably beautiful, complex, inspiring place. The average person’s facebook wall is not.

A great rift exists between the wondrous things smartphones can theoretically be used for and the things the average person is actually using them for. Get ready for things to get a whole lot less real.

Matt October 21, 2009 at 2:40 pm

I don’t mean to get into an argument about this, but I’ve never had the desire to engage strangers in communication on the bus. I also fail to see how using a smartphone in this environment is objectionable.

There are benefits of easy connectivity, like staying up to date on the news. I bet a lot more people are “readers” now due to the internet than were “readers” when TV was the dominant media. I personally very rarely ever watch TV anymore, but would estimate that the downtime I would’ve spent watching TV is replaced by the using the internet, where I definitely read and learn a lot more. And thanks to things like facebook, I’d say my person to person social time has improved as well, because it’s easy to organize events with your friends this way.

Be wary of the ‘kids these days’ way of viewing the world. The world has constantly changed, but human beings still behave similarly to how they always have.

oleh October 22, 2009 at 12:08 am

I enjoy talking with strangers especially outside. sometimes I can quite open up to a stranger in a way I would not open up with someone that I know or may have to see again. The question is whether those people enjoy talking to me or whether I am bothering them.

This discussion and that regarding voicemail and email points out varied are ways of communication and how different people are in how and what they use.

Milan October 22, 2009 at 10:10 am


I think there is a dangerous sort of psychology behind this kind of longing for ‘simpler days’ coupled with a kind of derision from those whose preferences are not the same as yours.

It reminds me of this XKCD strip set, appropriately enough, on a bus.

R.K. October 22, 2009 at 11:40 am

That XKCD strip is the perfect rebuke. A custom one could not have been created to respond to the issue better.

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