Hey! You there! You’ve got it pretty good, you know that? While you’re sitting there using your Internet-enabled device to read about some other Internet-enabled device, it’s easy to forget that the majority of people doesn’t have any access to the Internet at all. The “World Wide” Web is actually not that worldwide—only about one-third of the population is online. That’s 4.8 billion people out there with no way to get to the Internet.
Bridging this digital divide will be one of the tech industry’s biggest challenges—and growth opportunities—over the coming years. As all-encompassing as the Internet feels now, the user base has the potential to triple in size. So as of late, we’ve started to see Internet companies take an interest in getting more of the disconnected world online. Facebook launched Internet.org, and Google has a ton of projects that aim to provide Internet by fiber, balloon, and drone for example.
But these initiatives are all focused on merely bringing Internet access, not addressing the actual hardware necessary to display the Internet. Enter the Intex Cloud FX, a $35 (Rs 1,999) smartphone from India aimed precisely at this issue. The Cloud FX runs Firefox OS, Mozilla’s home-grown OS. Firefox OS is entirely Web-powered, and, therefore, Gecko, Firefox’s layout engine, runs just about everything on the device. Apps are built entirely from Web technologies. Think “Chrome OS”—but from Mozilla and on a smartphone.
Fair warning: we’re going to talk frankly and honestly about the Cloud FX, and it’s not going to be pretty. As we journey into the world of sub-$50 smartphones, leave all worries about performance, user experience, and any kind of pleasantness behind you. While $35 doesn’t buy you a lot, perhaps we’re past the stage of “does it work well?” The question for a device like Cloud FX may simply be: “Does it work at all?”
The Internet, as cheap as possible
Today’s Internet is wildly skewed in favor of rich, English-speaking companies and users. Only five percent of the world’s population speaks English as a first language, but 55 percent of webpages are in English.
The countries without Internet access are exclusively the poorer ones—the “developing world.” That means our Internet device is going to need to be as cheap as possible so that people can actually afford it, and the cheapest Internet-enabled device we can make is the smartphone. Its small size and relatively lightweight OSes are both qualities that lead to a low bill of materials, provided you aren’t trying to make it powerful enough to double as a game console.
Besides being the cheapest computer we can make, a smartphone is the perfect device for this environment. Its self-contained nature makes it easy to take along in a pocket. The battery is great when there’s no power. Long-distance wireless Internet, like cellular data technologies, is much cheaper to deploy than laying cable. For many people in developing countries, the smartphone will be their first Internet device.
Cloud FX is one of many offerings aiming to serve India, which has a combination of a really high population—1.2 billion people, second only to China—and really low Internet penetration—only 12.6 percent. China’s 1.3 billion people aren’t as good a target as you would think, thanks to a relatively high Internet penetration rate of 42.3 percent and a government that really, really hates the idea of a free and open Internet.
The highest-profile, India-focused device initiative thus far has been Google’s Android One, which gives Indian OEMs an easy way to build high-quality smartphones that end up costing around $100. That sounds dirt cheap, but consider that the average monthly wage in India is around $295, and you’ll realize that’s still not good enough for most people.
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The Latest Software Testing News department was not involved in the creation of this content.