By the end of 2013 it was estimated that approximately 4.5 billion people globally had access to mobile phones while around 2.8 billion were connected to the internet. Smartphone penetration was estimated to be 1.4 billion, with the number gaining speed by worldwide deployment of 3G/4G networks. Given an approximate global population of 7 billion, it is clear that there exist significant opportunities, especially in emerging markets, for technology giants such as Google, Facebook and Apple to expand and consolidate their positions.
According to statistics related to penetration in tablets and smartphones, it is clear that Google’s Android leads the way with approximately 78% of market share, followed by Apple’s iOS which accounts for around 18%. The remainder is made up by the Microsoft Windows platform, which is still struggling to gain a foothold in this highly-competitive market. Android, with its open source format, is the preferred platform for most of the developing world due to its ability to be used by a variety of manufacturers across budget, mid-range and premium priced devices. Conversely, iOS is jealously guarded by Apple and is currently only available on Apple-manufactured devices, a trend that is unlikely to change. iOS is positioned as a premium and luxury platform which means that the company makes more revenue by selling apps and services, but loses out on advertising revenue as the overall number of devices using the platform is relatively low.
The future for both platforms, however, is how they position themselves to the remaining ‘5 billion’ people who currently do not own a smartphone or tablet PC. It is also in the interests of these companies, as well as others such as Facebook, to cater to the approximately 61% of global population that are not connected to the internet. Leading this initiative is a partnership called Internet.org, whose mission is to provide “affordable internet to the approximately 2/3rd of the world that is not yet connected.” The partnership is headed by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, and includes technology giants such as Samsung, MediaTek, Nokia, Qualcomm, Eriksson and others. However, just the provision of affordable internet access is just the first step towards ensuring connectivity. This population will also need to purchase devices, such as smartphones or tablet pcs, which give them the capability to browse through cyberspace. The need of the hour is affordable devices that can connect to 3G and WiFi networks, thereby ensuring constant connectivity.
The recently-launched Android One initiative by Google seeks to address the need to provide affordable smartphones to the rest of the global population that is not yet connected. Analysts are referring to the initiative as the ‘future of smartphones’, and it is easy to understand why. Android One smartphones currently retail for approximately $100 and include a customized version of Android 4.4 KitKat, 4.5 inch screens, 1 GB RAM, dual-sim capability and a 5 megapixel primary camera. These specifications are advanced enough to ensure an engaging smartphone experience and allow Google to gain further footing by an increase in the number of users for Gmail, Google+, Google Maps and other services. Although the Android One initiative has yet to be rolled out on a mass scale, its warm reception in markets such as India means that the initiative will gain significant traction. Apple seems unlikely to follow suit by introducing low-cost devices as it is likely that their strategic focus will remain on high-end consumers and a slew of innovative, but expensive products. The stage is set for Google to become as ubiquitous as the internet itself.
It is also worthwhile to investigate the demographics of the global population that will drive internet and smartphone usage. Urban centers, due to the large concentration of population in a small geographical area, already have competition in the provision of internet services and availability of smart devices. Rural towns, villages and other areas which have scattered rates of population are likely to drive growth; a phenomenon that e-commerce ventures like Daraz.pk are already experiencing. As e-commerce gains more traction, retail and delivery channels will undergo disruption and previously untapped sectors of the population will now become target consumers for a number of companies. Such ventures will have the capability to deliver devices to remote and inaccessible regions, thereby contributing to connectivity and inclusion.
It is clear that the need of the hour for technology-focused companies is to move away from their traditional focus in developed markets and on to sectors that have traditionally lied on the periphery. For the next wave of growth shall primarily come from people who may have never accessed the internet before.