The mobile as the post industrial platform for socioeconomic development in the BoP segment

Dan Pink wrote about the Well curve, the antithesis to the Bell curve that traditionally defines where the majority of the populace will lie statistically in their preferences. In essence, he says,

But today Galton’s beautiful form might not be so regular. Although bell curve distribution is still considered normal, a surprising number of economic and social phenomena now seem to follow a different arc. Instead of being high in the center and low on the sides, this new distribution is low in the center and high on the sides. Call it the well curve.

So when I stumbled upon this news piece from The Economic Times of India that watches were being sold in an odd demographic manner – the majority of the sales were from the top of the pyramid or from the bottom, but a hollowing out in the middle of the pyramid. This concerned them enough that they asked,

Forget CK Prahlad’s bottom of the pyramid theory. The market for wrist watches —India’s second largest consumer durable product after mobile handsets — is showing an X-shaped bulge with double digit growth clocked by both the bottom end of the market as well as the premium category.

The almost flat middle market for watches puts forward the question: where’s the big fat Indian middle class?

These two data points got me thinking about the iPhone brouhaha and the numbers being bandied about as the potential market for such phones, LG Prada being one that would go after the high end segment where Apple was aiming for as well with their similar pricing strategies. After all, iSuppli tells us that Apple’s margin on the iPhone is estimated at 50% !! Talk about milking a new market.

Which led me to the belief – Why wait for the prices to drop if they’re already possible at half the price? Why not start now to develop a smartphone of this calibre for the bottom of the pyramid segment of the mobile handphone market? The numbers of new subscribers are growing everyday and by the time you can come out with a $100 "iPhone" or "Blackbox" the current entry level segments will be ready to upgrade.

Now that would cross the digital divide in a heartbeat wouldn’t it? On this platform, lets add alternative banking solutions for the unbanked – Bharti Telcom is already looking into credit card on a SIM chip, though I think its just a provocative press release, they’ve not begun implementing the prototype yet. However it happens, once the flow of wealth to and from the BoP begins, it washes away the key barrier to entry for the majority of companies who wish to enter this market. Rural India for example does not automatically mean poor, they’re wealthy by the cost of living standards of their remote hinterlands and don’t have much to spend it on other than gold ornaments or buying land.

Once they can conduct mcommerce on their handsets, they’re hooked into globalization, the flat word, the internetworked world wide web. What would it do to sites like Kiva.org etc who are already building reputations in this area? If they move onto the wap platform if they’ve not already done so, their service could really make a difference to those who need it.

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