If information is power, the internet has been one of the great equalizers in human history. As Ray Kurzweil said recently: today "a kid in Nigeria with a smartphone has access to more knowledge and information and capability than the president of the United States did 13 years ago". But extending these benefits to many parts of the world is a challenge.
Many African countries don't have widespread or reliable land-line infrastructure, so more and more people are using mobile devices exclusively to access the internet. Android devices are helping to overcome this information access challenge in two ways -- (1) by driving down the cost of advanced mobile technology and (2) by making it easier for entrepreneurs to build new features and services.
Android handsets are now available for N25,000 or even less. The Huawei IDEOS, for example, is available for around N15,000. Other popular, affordable devices include the Samsung Galaxy Pocket and HTC Wildfire. As the cost of devices has gone down, the potential utility for users has gone up. For over a decade, most mobile services in Nigeria have been SMS-based.
These have worked well, particularly when used for trading and payments, but their functionality is limited. Basic phones lack the processing power and apps necessary for features like voice recognition, which can allow illiterate people to speak into phones to find information or translate between different languages.
A smartphone with apps and access to the full Internet can provide people with new economic opportunities. On the one hand, it helps existing businesses work or reach their customers more efficiently. On the other, it opens the door to new businesses as people develop local apps, which can truly change people's lives for the better.
Suddenly the cycle of engagement and innovation that was once the exclusive reserve of Silicon Valley is being pursued by people in Nigeria and other countries like Ghana, and Kenya. When people who get to town by okada are given powerful, affordable handsets, the effect is huge.
Beyond "fun" apps like Angry Birds and practical apps like Google Maps, access to information through the full internet and the right apps on an Android device can literally mean the difference between life and death. Here are a few apps and services that show the transformative power of Android and mobile technology.
Businesses around the world need decent financial services to thrive, but traditional banks do not always reach the local level in emerging markets. In Nigeria, mobile money platforms such as Paga, GT Money help people make small transactions via text message. Android apps can enhance this experience and make it easier for people to manage their money.
ReadyCash offers users a more convenient and easy way to do mobile transactions like transferring money between accounts, purchasing airtime, and paying utility bills. ReadyCash also offers statements based on ReadyCash transactions, so people can budget their money better and see how they're using it.
This is transformative -- suddenly a woman who makes handmade crafts can start a business, sell her wares in local markets (or door to door, the side of the road, or anywhere else -- she no longer needs a physical presence) and accept payments without having to worry about cash being stolen. Speaking of markets, mobile devices can help to create more opportunities for local traders to reach larger audiences -- Google Trader allows people to buy and sell products and services and search for jobs from their mobile devices.
Sometimes, having access to the right news can be the difference between passing an exam, getting a job or getting ahead. In Nigeria, news is one of the major drivers of internet traffic. Whether it is political, sport, or business news, Nigerians want be able to access news as quickly as possible.
Mobile apps today help to aggregate information from different sources based on the preference of users. Apps like Naija Papers or Nigeria News gives easy access to the most popular news sources from Nigeria from an Android device. In addition to this, mobile technology also makes it possible for news houses to crowd-source news, thus making it possible for them to deliver breaking news as it happens. Battabox is an android app that allows Nigerians upload and share their videos on the Battabox channel so that other Nigerian can see.
The entertainment industry in Nigeria has come a long way- from the days when movies could only be seen in cinemas, to the introduction of the VHS and compact disc that made it possible for any Nigerian to watch home videos from the comfort of their homes. The Android technology has now taken the experience even further.
Thanks to apps like YouTube and AfriNolly, today, Nigerians can watch movies, listen to music or or access any audio visual content on their phones, from any location. While this helps to create an avenue for relaxation, it also makes it easy to find Nigerian creative people who have put their contents online.
These are just some of the ways that Android and mobile technology are truly enabling economies and improving people's lives in developing countries like Nigeria.
Juliet Ehimuan is the Country Manager, Google Nigeria.