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New Fashion in Smartphones: Cheap

The mobility market continues to evolve, and one of the results of that evolution is that focus is now shifting from the developed to the developing world. In the U.S., almost two-thirds of mobile lines are supporting smart devices, primarily smartphones. But according to Gartner, worldwide smartphones represent just over half of the devices being sold. The response to this new reality is that manufacturers are starting to churn out lower cost smartphones targeted at the cost-conscious market, and we saw three such introductions this week.

First, BlackBerry rolled out a new low cost touch screen model called the Z3 Jakarta for the Indonesian market; the company had announced the device back in February. The device will retail for the equivalent of $190 USD, and will be manufactured by Foxconn- further evidence of BlackBerry's new mindset. While some might sniff at BlackBerry's plan to be a "big fish" in Indonesia, according to Wikipedia, Indonesia has 236.8 million mobile lines, placing it at number 6 on the worldwide list immediately behind the U.S., Brazil and Russia. According to BlackBerry CEO John Chen, "BlackBerry has new technology and is financially stable, I think that's got to be the first step -- to explain that."


Next, Motorola is introducing a low-cost ($129), Android-based smartphone in a move to wean cost-conscious users off feature phones--models with keyboards to ease texting but without the capability to run full blown apps. The water-resistant 3G smartphone will run Android 4.4 and is powered by a dual-core 1.2GHz processor. It has a 4.3-inch screen with 960 by 540 pixel resolution. It comes with a 5-megapixel camera, 4GB of integrated storage and can support a microSD card and 1GB of RAM. Essentially the device is a stripped down version of its highly popular Moto G that launched six months ago with a 4.5-inch 720p screen, a quad-core 1.2GHz processor, and 8GB or 16GB of integrated storage. The current Moto G sells for $180 without a contract in the U.S., and the company is launching an LTE version that will cost $219.

Of the bunch, the most interesting is the report in the Wall Street Journal that Samsung is getting ready to launch its first smartphone using the Tizen operating system; the report said the initial launch would be in India and Russia. The Tizen project was born about three years ago, when the Linux Foundation and Limo Foundation joined forces and merged their respective open-source MeeGo and Limo operating systems to develop a mobile OS to compete with iOS and Android; Intel and Samsung are the biggest backers behind Tizen.

This is a development we are watching closely, as Samsung is far and away the biggest manufacturer of Android smartphones, and has been most aggressive in developing additional capabilities for the platform with its Safe and KNOX initiatives.

The thing I find most exciting about smartphones in developing countries is that this may be the first access many of these people have to the Internet. These populations are essentially skipping the AOL, 56K modem, and DSL phases of Internet adoption and going straight to mobile Internet.

So the new theme with smartphones is, "'Thin' is in, and 'cheap' can't be beat."

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