Friday, May 16, 2008

Will Bridging Common Devices Be a Bridge to New Users?

Has Microsoft shifted its thinking on how to win the hearts, minds and wallets of the world’s low-income consumers? Dan Nystedt, a sharp-eyed tech writer at IDG News Service, suggested last week that new management in the company’s Unlimited Potential Group may favor mobile devices over low-cost PCs and shared computing in the effort to increase technology access in emerging markets. Though details are few and a release date is not on the calendar, Microsoft has been working on a low-to-mid range smart phone that connects to a TV docking station, so data on the handset can be displayed on a TV screen, essentially lowering the cost of computing for the poor.

Vital Wave Consulting likes the simple logic of bridging two common and accessible pieces of technology in developing-country homes – the TV and the mobile phone. There are over 850 million households with TVs in the developing world, and mobile penetration is extending to the most remote corners of the globe. The learning curve for each device is relatively flat and global ownership is an indication of affordability. But in one-TV homes there may be stiff competition between PC-time and regular television programming.

Microsoft is the right company to make such a technology work. It’s primarily a software issue, and the company’s experience with Windows Mobile could speed innovation and acceptance in the market. Adding applications and functions to a handset and turning the TV into a monitor could alter the fundamental perception of each device’s utility. It could also convert the handset into a family tool, rather than a private device. By partnering with Microsoft, mobile operators have two ways to increase ARPU – offer more services and increase the number of users on a single handset. Broadening the utility of existing technology devices is a good strategy for all technology companies. Emerging-market consumers are able to justify spending precious resources on technology that solves more problems for more people in the household.

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