Google reaches out to the 'next billion'
Google launched a service on Thursday it hopes will push millions of people in the developing world to access the Internet - and Google's ads - via basic mobile phones.
Google is launching the service, called Free Zone, first in the Philippines via local carrier Globe Telecom. The service allows phones with an Internet connection but limited functionality to access basic Google products like search, email and its social networking service Google+ for free.
It is only available in the Philippines at the moment but the Google Africa logo was to good not to grab as I think Africa is the continent that is screaming out for this.
Users could access websites that show up in Google's search results for free, but any website outside those results would prompt an invitation to subscribe to the mobile operator's data plan.
"It's aimed at the next billion users of the Internet, many of whom will be in emerging markets and encounter the Internet first on a mobile phone, without ever owning a PC," Abdel Karim Mardini, product manager for Google, told Reuters.
This is a brilliant initiative from Google the cost to me of an international text is $0.31 NZ the problem is that while that is not an issue for me a user in Africa often needs to buy a pre payed data package that can be prohibitive but opening a gmail account resolves that problem. Uganda needs to rethink its plan to disenfranchise cell phone users.
Google and Globe hope that by offering a free layer of services they will entice users of so-called feature phones to move beyond just making phone calls and sending SMS messages to sign up for Internet services.
Such services are more lucrative for carriers. Google makes most of its money through ads on web pages. It says it plans to roll out the service in other countries soon.
I can think of several lives that would be changed for the better by this. We take much for granted but when Significant Others cell phone goes and a very short conversation happens in Swahili I am almost to scared to ask who it was. The orphaned boy from the DR Congo who is a refugee in Kampala breaks my heart. Significant Other is only 15 years older than him but she is the only mother he has. I reiterate this will change lives.
While developing countries like the Philippines have been enthusiastic early adopters of cellphones, there are still millions who either use phones too basic to be used for Internet services, or who are reluctant to shell out for more expensive services.
I have 3 internet capable phones and an old blackberry sitting in a draw at home. I suspect many of us do. It isn't hard to send a package to Africa.
Phones running Google's Android operating system now account for three quarters of all smartphones shipped, according to consultancy IDC. But that still leaves a lot of phones.
The GfK Group, a research company which measures consumer habits, reported in September that while smartphone sales are growing rapidly in Southeast Asia, the more basic feature phones still outnumber their more expensive counterparts.
The Philippines, for example, saw a three-fold growth of smartphones in the 12 months up to September, but despite boosting their share, such devices still accounted for only 24 percent of all mobile phones.
Globe and Google are not the only players in the Philippines to target non-smartphone users by offering them a cheaper way to access Internet services.
Since launching a pared down Internet service last year, for example, Globe rival Smart Communications said the half million users who signed up spent 150 percent more on average per month than its other subscribers.
Well done Google.