Google plans on $100 smartphones in India, but how about a glorified cell/pda instead?

in the year 2010 Google was hoping to get lots of Indians buy an Android smartphone - not sure if they already existed at the time, but it seems that they expect price to be on the order of $100 or more. Link

That raises the following question. So there are a whole lot of people in 3rd world countries that have primitive cheap cellphones (I have seen claims of around $15 price here at SDMB) and that communicate by SMS. Given that for many people the price gap between $15 and $100 (not to mention $150) is quite a lot, why don’t we see progress precisely in that low end niche? Why do they need support for a whole fancy OS up to Googly nerdly standards if all that many potential users will actually need is a decent QWERTY (or equivalent) keyboard, a usable personal information manager for SMS and notes and maybe a simple spreadsheet (or maybe not). I mean, a TI83 calculator could be made to run a simple spreadsheet if you jump through enough hoops, and it costs below $90 even in its heyday.

So what is holding back the low end cellphone manufacturers from marginally improving their wares, just a little bit closer to the true nirvana of a high end smartphone, and then proceeding without opposition to conquer the huge untapped market of people for whom $15-$30 is right about the right price for the cellphone gadget?

Why do you assume that that’s all the users need? I mean, those of us in the West don’t really need the cellphone to serve as a clock, still camera, video camera, email device, Internet access, GPS device, etc. but we find it very convenient to have all of those features in one device. So presumably those in the Third World will also find that a real smartphone will also be useful.

would they also find a personal airplane useful? Maybe, but my question focuses on the market niche of people for whom $30 is doable but $150 is not. So why isn’t anybody offering them that hypothetical $30 gadget?

code why so hostile? We already have feature phones that are basically what you want at the price you are talking about. Google thinks that people aspire to more and is trying to give the people that.

gazpacho, could you please be more specific? Can you point me to pages discussing a phone at around $30 or so price point that has a real keyboard and usable personal information management features?

Well, for simplicity how about just the keyboard. Let’s assume that “usable” software is an IMHO issue, but if they don’t even bother to put in a keyboard that’s a sure sign that they don’t really intend the phone to be used as a PIM. These are prices less than 2000 rupees or about $45.
Look at the spice phone. QWERTY keypad

on the linked page I see 4 phones, and each one has 10 key keyboard.

the page scrolls sideways SPICE is the 5th phone.

Here’s a page showing the Samsung Guru phones at about Rs. 1,500 (or around $30). No real keyboard and no “personal information manager,” although there is of course a phone book.

I stand corrected, thanks. This gadget seems similar to the old Palms for a pretty low price, although it seems too basic on the SMS front with only 500 SMS stored and non-apparent note taking capability. The SMS storage might also be further handicapped by poor UI design of the software.

I wonder if it could get cheaper and better by dumping the useless color screen and the mp3 stuff and instead introducing better software and a phone-to-phone or phone-to-usb-gadget-connected-to-computer data transfer capability.

I’m may be swimming against the tide but all I want is a cell phone. Period. I don’t need nor want all the extra crap that may require hidden data charges, fees, fees on fees, etc., just to soak us for more money. Yeah, I know the “trend” is for all-encompassing tools. Sorry, but I prefer specialized tools that perform one or two functions, and do those functions very, very well.

But to answer your question, don’t assume that every country has the infrastructure to take advantage of smartphone technologies. Here in America we’re bombarded with ads about 4G this and 4G that. In reality, much of our cell phone infrastructure remains at 1G, 2G and some 3G capabilities. Marketing hype is all too often not the same as to what is actually available, in place, and functioning.

At the same time, governments have their own interests in restricting enhanced technologies for their own political and economic reasons.

Duckster, I agree. That’s why my question focuses precisely on those phones that would seamlessly plug into the existing SMS based communications infrastructure but help the user organize his info in the device instead of having to take notes on paper. Notice that I did not mention internet connectivity at all here.

You are in luck. The world is awash with very inexpensive phones that make phone calls. It is difficult to find a phone in the US that has no web capability but that is manly because nobody makes phone chips that don’t support data anymore. Along with lots of inexpensive phone plans if all you want to do is talk.

It sounds like you don’t object to the technical capabilities as much as you (rightly) object to the sneakiness of telecoms.

a possible, plausibly-sounding answer to my own OP question has occurred to me. It may be that in India:

  • the set of people who actually care about preserving their SMS, taking notes, using QWERTY keyboard and generally using the gadget to the fullest
  • and the set of consumers with disposable income low enough not to afford $150 Android phone
    are simply disjoint. Maybe all the intelligent, functionally literate, potentially gadget-savvy people over there are sufficiently affluent to buy a good smartphone whereas everybody else (including plenty of people with any given level of disposable income) don’t need any sophisticated features at all beyond the basic sending of SMS and so would not appreciate the hypothetical low end gadget that I described above.

You can find phones at all price points, and I think the buik of developing world phone users have phones in the $30-$60 range.

Cell phones are status symbols, and so few people get the cheap ones unless they have no other choice. Think about them as being like cars, here. In many places, it hurts your credibility, especially if you are a professional, to use a bottom-rung cell phone. It’d be like showing up to an important business meeting in a beater car.

The marketing of the Android phone is not really so much about its features, but about being an international-standard product that is difficult to successfully fake (although fake ones will pop up- China is awash in millions of pseudo-iPhones that are varying degrees of convincing.) It has a cachet that even the more expensive locally produced cell phones don’t.

As for the lower end of the market- does anyone seriously use their phones to do anything all that useful? I love my iPhone, but mostly I use it to send off SMS length emails, read stupid websites while I wait in line, and download daily planner apps that I then proceed not to use. It’s amusing, but i don’t think it’s made much of an actual improvement in my life. It’d be even less useful in a paper-based society where instant electronic communication was not the norm. There is nothing wrong with pencil and paper, and the only thing that has gotten people to finally abandon it is stuff like GCal which allows for easy cross-platform access and makes entering info from email appointments easier to do electronically than by hand.

Another factor- on the low end of the market, battery life is going to be a factor. It’s not unheard of for someone in a village to send their phone through the local bus company once a week to be charged in the nearest city with electricity. Others rent time on generators to charge their phones. A phone that needs to be charged every night is not going to be acceptable to a large portion of the low-end phone market.

In my experience in China at least, is that having a mobile phone is in the “must have” category followed by sms/text messaging. Web browsing and other smart phone features are a distant third. For an awful lot of the China market, just having a mobile phone is the bees knees since their land line infrastructure still pretty well sucks/is non existent out in the countryside.

So, from my experience, having mobile voice communication is really the great enabler in China. Not sure about the rest of the 3rd world. Texting is good too because it’s really cheap and people have plenty of time to text even using a basic cell phone keyboard. YMMV

You do know why these phones are so cheap, right? Economies of scale.

There are more than a few companies, stereotypically in the Pacific Rim but probably elsewhere as well, that exist to produce massive numbers of the same chip for cell phones. If they had to make smaller numbers of different chips, even if it worked out to the same number of chips total, their prices would go up, their profits would dry up, and they wouldn’t be in business anymore, making phones more expensive for everyone. The companies are just as commoditized as the chips they produce, and their whole existence is predicated on doing volume business in one specific component.

So that’s why you can’t get a dumb phone as easily as you can get a smart phone these days. It’s also why that tide keeps rising: The dumb phones of ten years ago were pretty smart compared to what we had 15 years ago, and what we have now will be very dumb compared to what the baseline standard is a decade from now, assuming the same volume-based business model obtains.

So, Duckster, protesting the advance of technology is rather pointless. You’d do a lot better to protest the fee-based soak-'em-dry business model of the major carriers, in which case I’m sure there are entire Popular Fronts and People’s Movements and so on you can join.