Google's Android One Is Nearly Here, Because Smartphones Aren't Just For The Wealthy

After tackling the sharks that were eating its Internet last month, Google has moved on to its next opponent: Apple. In a move that can only be described as strategically competitive, the tech giant has begun sending out super exclusive invitations to Google's September 15 unveiling of the Android One smartphone, which will be sold for less than $100. Compare that to the rumored $400 price tag for Apple's iWatch, and the likely $600 (and that's a low-end estimate) cost of the upcoming iPhone 6. So let's play a quick game of "Would You Rather?" — six Android One's or one iPhone 6?

While smartphones are a ubiquitous accessory in the United States and other developed nations, the technology is nowhere near as available in emerging markets, which arguably are even more in need of technological advances. Though it may seem that having a smartphone is the least pressing matter in countries where even meeting basic necessities is a daily struggle, access to information is key to improving economies and in advancing education.

In an interview with SciDevNet, Shem Arungu-Olende, secretary-general of the African Academy of Sciences, noted,

Africa's development has been lagging behind the rest of the world because of, among other things, inadequate science and technological activities, including research and development.

While smartphones are not the cure all to these problems, it certainly would introduce at least some form of modern technology into the continent. And Google is not alone in its endeavors — after all, $100 is still beyond the reach of many of those in need, particularly in developing nations. But other companies like Mozilla, Motorola, and Microsoft are joining the game as well, with Mozilla unveiling a $33 smartphone, Motorola releasing the $99 Moto E.

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This increased technological presence in less affluent nations, notably India at this point in time, seems to be part of a united push from several tech companies to bring good hardware and software into countries that simply cannot afford to spend several hundred dollars on a phone. In Indonesia, for example, 75 percent of households have daily incomes of less than $2.50. It would take such a family around 240 days to buy a single iPhone.

But hopefully, with the advent of less and less expensive smartphones, price will no longer be a barrier in accessing much needed information. And access to information has long been considered key to advancing national economies, and smartphones are of paramount importance in this endeavor. In fact, over 50 percent of young people surveyed by the Groupe Speciale Mobile Association (GSMA) in Ghana, India, Uganda and Morocco accessed the Internet using a mobile device.

How do smartphones help?

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But how does Internet access and cell phones help citizens of developing nations? For one, the Fair Observer reports that in India, the Self-Employed Women’s Association, or SEWA, recently began utilizing mobile phone technology to keep the network in the know about daily agricultural prices. Each morning, farmers and vendors would be sent text messages detailing prices in various locations, thereby allowing them to choose the most advantageous market in which to sell their goods.

In Kenya, the Fair Observer found that the Farmers Helpful Network provided crucial "crop rotation, artificial insemination, and crop insurance" research to farmers, which helped them maximize their crop output and, by extension, their income.

Women and (Lack Of) Technology

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While certain members of developing nations have greatly increased their access to technology, one demographic remains largely underrepresented in this change: women. This problem has been documented since at least 2001, when Nancy Hafkin and Nancy Taggart authored a study entitled "Gender, Information Technology, and Developing Countries: An Analytic Study."

Written for the Academy of Education Development, the paper revealed that in 2001, only 22 percent of those with Internet access in Asia were women, only 38 percent were women in Latin America, and only 6 percent were women in the Middle East. 13 years later, another study conducted by Ooredoo found that little had changed — two out of every three Internet users in the Middle East and northern Africa were men. And although the capacity to browse the web may not seem like a big deal to those of us with the luxury of doing so every day, the clear discrepancy between men's and women's access to the wealth of information found on the Internet presents an enormous barrier to equality.

Why women need technology

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While we Americans may spend most of our online time on Facebook (guilty), the role of the Internet in developing nations is markedly different. Ooredoo's study showed that 90 percent of the young people surveyed claimed that their entrepreneurial drive came from the Internet and the resources found on the web. A high number of respondents also said that the Internet was crucial for staying aware of market and industry changes.

But considering that men outnumber women on the Internet two to one in developing nations, women are placed at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to business pursuits and establishing some form of financial independence. In 2013, Intel's Women and the Web Report determined that having Internet access greatly improved not only women's income potential, but also their overall earnings. 85 percent of women surveyed said being able to use the Internet made them feel more free.

With findings like these, it is a travesty that tech companies, particularly those in the United States, restrict access to Internet connected devices and other pieces of technology by creating a price point that is effectively unattainable by the vast majority of the world. While Google's $100 Android One isn't necessarily the best answer in the world, it's certainly a step in the right direction. Lowering the price of these smartphones may very well raise the economic situations of those in developing nations, and you just can't put a price tag on that.

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