The Digital Divide

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When was the last time you read this: “Nokia announced a new smartphone today that will only be available in Europe.” Or “Palm’s latest smartphone can only be used in the United States.”

If you’re a regular reader of Brighthand, it probably hasn’t been more than a couple of days since you last heard something similar. It seems like too many smartphone developers have created geographical niches for themselves that they don’t want to get out of.

This doesn’t make much sense to me. Are the needs of smartphone users on one continent so different from those on another that they demand completely different devices?

People are people, whether they are in Paris or Pittsburgh. They want to be able to talk to each other, exchange messages, keep track of their personal information, and maybe play a few games. There’s no reason why someone in England wouldn’t love a Treo 700w or someone in California wouldn’t want a Nokia 5500 Sport.

I really wish the smartphone developers of the world would quit playing it so safe and reach out to their many potential customers around the world.

Incompatible Wireless Standards

Bad decisions made a long time ago have made this situation much worse than it should have been.

It’s been many years, but I still distinctly remember the chill I felt when I heard a news report saying that while most of Europe had agreed on one wireless standard, the United States was going to let service providers use anything they wanted to.

You can argue with me until the cows come home that CDMA is better than GSM, but I’ll still believe that the primary result of this decision by the U.S. government has been to lock huge numbers of people into wireless carriers that they don’t much like and prevent many thousands from having access to the phones they wanted.

Another result has been to leave smartphone developers like Nokia and Palm holding the ball. It’s up to them to create different versions of their devices that can work on both sides of the Atlantic.

Sadly, for the most part they have dropped this ball. Companies like Research in Motion and Palm have mostly carved up the U.S. smartphone market, while Nokia and Sony Ericsson have put the vast majority of their efforts into Europe. There’s hardly a company I can think of that’s executing globally, not locally.

The Big Exception

There is one company that I can think of that is thinking globally: High Tech Computer.

While not as well known as many other smartphone makers because it mostly works behind the scenes, HTC has created cellular-wireless devices that are popular all across the planet.

And if more companies don’t start learning from HTC’s success, I predict it’s going to become the pre-eminent mobile device maker in just a few years.

It Ain’t Easy

I am as aware as anyone that there’s no quick and easy solution for the dilemma I’ve presented here. But there’s huge gobs of money to be made if companies could try co-operating for once, instead of competing for competition’s sake.

In the short term, smartphone makers need to expand their horizons. There are millions of people in dozens of countries who want to buy your products, so why are you concentrating on one small area? As I said earlier, HTC has shown that this is possible.

And wireless service providers around the world, from Tokyo to Toledo, must start working together to create a standard that doesn’t horribly inconvenience their customers.

Only by meeting these goals can the true potential of wireless communications be met.

 

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