When Smartphones Cost 1 dollar

July 3, 2013 at 9:12 PM

What will happen when mobile devices are practically free and disposable? A question no doubt that developing nations will answer the loudest when it happens. Let’s remember for a moment that according to the world bank 80% of Earth’s population lives with less than $10 dollars a day. The next 5 billion to come online will do so through cheap and ultra portable mobile devices. Clearly though, in the future when that happens other modern and magical devices will be selling for a lot more. (holographic displays or virtual reality, anyone?) But the demand for all kinds of cheap mobile devices will continue to drive prices down until they become completely commoditized.

Here are some ideas about what might gain in importance then:


Social differences are flattened, knowledge is power as the old adage goes and soon for the vast majority of humanity which has lived for generations with less knowledge than their more privileged brothers “at the top”, a floodgate will open of equal access to it. With everyone accessing the web the economic playing field is leveled immensely and eliminates the disadvantaged relationship most people today have with the systems around them. This indeed will be a just and welcome change, but not one without conflict, for established players will suddenly have to make room for hungry masses of empowered humanity.

Connectivity, or access to the internet and other data services becomes the primary concern once the hardware is procured. Without connectivity smartphones lose their “smarts” and the richness in communication and information they can provide is inaccessible. Today this “gateway” to massive data-exchanges is provided by one or a handful of ISPs in every country and will probably continue to be so; given the infrastructure demands of maintaing a network. Though we may yet see new technologies which democratize access. One such disruptor is the concept of mesh networks (essentially decentralized p2p wifi networks) and is a good example of the kind of technology people could use to get connected without having to go through traditional ISPs.

Information & Communication Services, is the crux upon which a big part of success in the online space falls. Once a device has data access it can tap into the immensity of the interconnected Web. Users have to access the raw mass of information out there through services such as websites, apps, and other interfaces which permit the consumption and transmission of information. The enormous benefits of cloud computing will ensure that all information and services will be accessed in this way. Google is the clear leader today, but the global opportunity is so great that there is yet a lot of room for anyone to reap the rewards of creating useful ways for people to communicate and consume information online.

Security & Privacy is as big a concern, perhaps the most serious one. Eric Schmidt writes a lot about this subject in his book The New Digital Age, suffice it to say that it is a highly complex issue and more so because it’s difficulty will only grow as technological breakthroughs are made faster and faster thanks to the effects of steadily spreading connectivity.


Having devices which are extremely cheap yet powerful means that the first part of getting everyone online is solved. When this happens computing and communication will no longer be bound to devices, but instead to access and control of an all pervasive ‘information-space’.