It suddenly dawned on me while on holiday in South Africa why the race is on for everything from Facebook and Google to be driven via mobile phones. Whilst in a small rural village 3 hours inland from Durban near our game park, where the local business owners wear state of the art Italian leather shoes, are incredibly well dressed, yet still live in mud huts with no power, electricity or running water, every one of them had a mobile phone.
In the streets of Johannesburg, the thugs want only two things – cash and the latest mobile phone (although one woman was stabbed in Cape Town just for her running shoes).
Some of my savvy kiwi colleagues on the trip don’t yet have a computer at home – why do you need it when you can get the internet on your phone? I have even caught myself surfing on my iPhone rather than lugging a laptop around. Hence the iPad – surfing heaven.
The basic difference is price: a computer is still a lot pricier than a smartphone. Except the iPad – I can see why they’ve priced this in between a laptop and a smartphone. Admittedly, broadband in the rural hinterlands of Africa was unbearably slow, and unreliable (perhaps the herd of elephants we encountered had trampled a connection? They seemed to leave a path of devastation where they had meandered. Interestingly their footfalls were silent – their impending presence only detectable by the sound of breaking branches) .
Everyone, rich or poor, had a cell phone. But computers and internet were much fewer and further between. Google maps also didn’t seem to work when we found ourselves lost in the ghettos running scared.
Does that mean that mobiles will be the online domain of the poor and web will be only accessible to middle and up? Does it mean we don’t need to have .mobi sites unless we are targetting a wide economic demographic?
Clearly not when the upwardly mobile under 30 year olds have them glued to their side. Seriously surely we will have implants soon so we don’t lose them from our bodies – programmable for latest fashion and technology trends? It was interesting on the Jetstar route from Sydney which had no inflight video service how many of us were doing games or music or videos on smartphones. And how commuting on public transport becomes so much more bearable with personalised entertainment on smartphones.
Even my partner, a 50 year old technophobic farmer, splashed out for an iPod Touch to have music for tedious tractor work after seeing me ensconced with iPhone in transit. (And yes recently acquired wireless broadband on the farm too).
The only thing holding us up, (in New Zealand anyway) it seems, is the broadband network to sustain it and the readiness of the audience to give in to smart phones. Although in Africa I suspect the holdup will be manpower; a South African pharmacist we met said 9 out of 10 blacks he regularly tested for Aids tested positive. The number of orphans resulting from parents dying is a tragedy as we witnessed at a local orphanage.
“The poor people don’t listen”, commented the health project co-ordinator, who had just changed his mandate from education about Aids to teaching people how to earn a living from chickens and how to start a chicken abbatoir. What to fight for: Aids or poverty? “The Zulu boys are too promiscuous,” said the pharmacist. The culture is polygamy. The rural men go to cities to work, have girlfriends there and bring Aids back to the village.”
Aids or no Aids, they have a happy disposition that I think we could learn a lot from. I reckon some of the hip hop cool dudes on the streets we saw must spend more time doing online music videos than we do and there’s no denying that New Zealand is outdone on food and fashion in South Africa. Not on online marketing though!
What are your thoughts? Will mobile overtake computers? Will internet access on phones make the need for serious computer power redundant?