The New York Times reports that Microsoft thinks that cell phones are the key to bringing the benefits of the Information Society to the Third World. In a direct response to Negroponte’s “One Laptop Per Child” project, Bill Gates proposed at the World Economic Forum yesterday that a hybrid “cellular PC” would be a more realistic way to bring ICTs to the developing world.
Craig J. Mundie, Microsoft’s vice president and chief technology officer, said in an interview here that the company was still developing the idea, but that both he and Mr. Gates believed that cellphones were a better way than laptops to bring computing to the masses in developing nations. “Everyone is going to have a cellphone,” Mr. Mundie said, noting that in places where TV’s are already common, turning a phone into a computer could simply require adding a cheap adaptor and keyboard. Microsoft has not said how much those products would cost.
Why Microsoft should feel the need to compete with what is still just a project in development is somewhat baffling. Perhaps its just sour grapes since Negroponte decided that the $100 laptops would run on Linux instead of MS Windows CE.
I have have a hard time imagining someone in Laos or Liberia hooking up a souped-up cell phone to keyboard and television to surf the net. In the US, that kind of connectivity starts at $50 a month, where we have the kind of infrastructure and market base that can support it. Who knows how much that might cost in the developing world.
Then again, cell phone penetration is doing a lot to bridge the Digital Divide all over the world. SMS messenging is already very popular in lots of developing countries. So who knows?
It would be nice to see a race to develop the killer app that is going to bring the “World Wide Web” to the actual entire world.