And then along came the Droid ErisJanuary 13, 2010
I’ve finally upgraded to 3G. Last week, I picked up a Droid Eris.
It’s been a long time coming, of course. I work in international media development, and given that mobile phones are the game changing technology for communications in the developing world, it only makes sense that I go this route. It’s not for lack of interest that it took this long. Just a bad economy. But, now that I am here, I am ready to go. Whole hog.
It was a tough decision, one that added to the delay. Obviously every mobile phone decision in the United States should go through the iPhone. But, my big concern with the iPhone was 1. What’s it going to be like abroad, especially in developing countries, and 2. What about mobile applications development vis-a-vis international development?
The iPhone will work abroad, given it is a GSM phone. At the same time, it’s locked, so I’d be stuck with either AT&T’s exhorbitant international plan, or unlocking the phone to put in my own sim card, risking turning my phone into a coaster should there be problems. As for applications, sure there’s a vast apps market. Yet, the market is closed, meaning that there are significant barriers to entry, and the iPhone isn’t exactly the top 3G in the world at this point, so those apps are probably not going to fly as a developing country solution.
I’ve tried other phones. Touch screen was important to me, with it’s flexibility and fluidity of use. If a phone isn’t touch screen, it seems to be lagging in the latest technology and demand. And, what Web sites look like on the browser was also a big deal. On top of my other concerns, of course. Other phones just felt like cheap knockoffs compared to the iPhone, like they wanted to break, like they weren’t serious about my business.
One other thing: I was already a Verizon Wireless customer. Did I really want to make the switch? I was pretty happy with my service, and the main competition in 3G (sorry, Blackberry, but your 3G phones are pretty bad), AT&T has been getting hammered lately on its network.
And then along came the Droid Eris.
Thanks to the Eris, I am catching up on mobile communications. At light speed.
My reasons for choosing the Eris:
- Verizon Wireless – I’m already a customer, so I could stay one. Plus, AT&T is getting pretty hammered right now for its 3G network. Oh, and since iPhone is exclusive to one carrier, they clearly don’t want my business right now.
- Touch Screen – This is the only phone I’ve tried out that feels like it was made using today’s technology, other than the iPhone. Everything else, even the Droid at times, feels dated.
- Browser – I tried out all my usual Web sites on a bunch of phones. Other than the iPhone, this is the only one whose browser consistently never distorted the Web pages I looked at.
- Google – I’m on gmail. I use Google Docs extensively. YouTube is THE online video resource in the world. All of my scheduling and personal planning is done on Google Calendar. Let’s face it, Google is key for me. And the Eris syncs very nicely with Google products. Makes sense, since Google owns the OS.
- Android OS – Here’s the kicker. Android is open source. For most people, this might not be a big deal. For someone in international media development, this should be a very big deal. Open source makes it possible to develop your own applications. But, just as important, it enables people in developing countries to develop their own applications–because it is open, there are lower cost barriers, which is a key factor for aggregate innovation in countries with high aggregate price sensitivity. Also? Android is where a lot of international development applications are already being built upon (btw, probably the definitive resource on mobile phones and international development is MobileActive‘s Web site, in case you were unaware).
Now, I haven’t had a chance to really test out the Eris in an international development context yet, or test out the related apps. But, I have had a chance to get to know a lot of the applications that make mobile phones such a game changing technology.
My favorite Android applications, so far:
- Twidroid – You can use it as your Twitter app. But what I like about it is that you can easily share links to Web pages on Twitter. And it shortens URLs, too.
- Bookmarks for Delicious – Bookmark Web pages using your Delicious account.
- Camera – Shoot pics or video, and “share” them on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, you name it.
- UStream – Livestream your video on the Internet.
- Pandora – Your phone becomes essentially an Internet radio receiver from the Pandora Web site.
- Location Based Services –
- Places Directory – Find restaurants, bars, taxis, etc. in the area.
- Banks & ATM – Find them in the area, by company.
- Where – Find all sorts of types of places in the area, but my favorites are Gas Prices and Traffic. But my favorite thing about Where is the “Pulse” feature. When you push it, you access the “pulse” of what is happening on Twitter in your area.
- ShopSavvy – Find products in the area by barcode.
- Foursquare – This is location based, but next level. It’s also a social-networking game. Basically, visit real world locations, “check into” them on the app, amass points, see where your friends are.
For seasoned veterans of Android phones, or even just 3G smartphones, this might no longer sound revolutionary. Or, it might be easy to forget how revolutionary it is. You’ve probably been using these for some time. And you might be very much in touch with the digital divide that exists between the availability of these services in the developed world versus developing countries.
Yet, when I plug my imagination into places I have been, like Lviv, Ukraine, or Accra, Ghana, I can’t help but feel something visceral. For starters, these applications make it possible for someone to be citizen journalist. That certainly comes with concern, given that it opens Pandora’s Box of Endless Misinformation Possibilities. Though, in my opinion, that only strengthens my argument for teaching media literacy, which is tremendously underserved even in the United States. But, this capability is very important nonetheless. Corrupt authorities the world over have less to fear when there is little capacity to broadcast their corruption. These technologies, on the other hand, can make it abundantly possible for anyone with these phones and apps in hand to report corruption. Suddenly private eyes are watching you.
Or they can report on poverty. Or neglect. Or dilapidation. Or success. This last one is at least as important–people are drawn to project and program success, and are more likely to give to something producing success than something bleak.
It’s likely going to be some time before these location based services reach deep into the developing world. When they do, this too could be a revolution. I think back to my time in Ukraine, where it was often impossible to know where the nearest store or business of just about any kind was. So many of those businesses had yet to catch onto the importance, or practice, of advertising their business in a way that draws in new customers. I personally think a lot of that is carry over from the culture of underground business is in the Soviet Union. It was also difficult to compete in prices. Find more than one business with that product was hard enough. Then, if they were in a major city, that meant a lot of time and public transport going from place to place. Sure, you could call on the phone to ask the price, but in my experience, businesses in Ukraine went to great lengths to not divulge their prices beyond the walls of their business (even a catalog was often a coup). And forget about Web sites.
Now imagine what happens, in situations like that, when you can find products using your phone. It subverts the whole existing system. Maybe subversion sounds dogmatic, and evolution is more your goal. I guess it all depends on how you look at it. If your goal is to promote economic development, I don’t think empowering customers to compete through great choice is such a bad way to do it. When I was in Ukraine, I found that customers seldom had the power to compete. Of course, Ukraine is quickly changing, and this is less the case. Especially as mobile phones and 3G service are penetrating rapidly. But, think on a macro level, and imagine this technology in other cultures still stuck in post-Soviet hangover, or other kinds of information scarcity.
What might seem commonplace in the United States could revolutionize the developing world. In fact, it already is.
I’m just excited to have finally joined that revolution.