One of the most overstated applications of mobile phones as ICTs for development is their access to the mobile web. Although it’s true, mobile phones have increased web access to a new audience, both urban and rural, there are both physical and technical limitations to their Internet capabilities. Before preaching their widespread use and impact in developing regions, it may be wise to take a step back and look at their boundaries of effective use first.
Furthermore, smartphones are not the most widely used mobile phone among everyday citizens yet but they are being implemented widely in the areas of marketing, e-commerce and are especially utilized in improving healthcare procedures and care quality. In such cases,
An article by the independent web-research institute, Baymard, “8 Limitations When Designing for Mobile” by Jamie Appleseed lists the top 8 of these issues:
- No Hover State: This means that web pages with numerous features and content can make navigation difficult. Appleseed outlines two distinct features, visibility and conventionality as other factors that complicate Internet use.
- Slow and Error-Prone Typing: This can have serious implications especially in terms of hospital and health use. Data errors in e-commerce as well can be disastrous especially if handing significant sums of money
- Less Context: Smaller screens and visibility cause similar issues to typing as discussed above. When the full typed text of an email or post for example cannot be viewed as one piece this increases the likelihood of errors.
- Inaccurate Clicks: slow hardware, lack of a right-click option and lack of a hover state can cause inaccurate clicks which all affect user-friendliness.
- Poor Connectivity: Regions where Internet connectivity is difficult even with laptops and computers, connecting with a mobile device becomes even less reliable. Slow download speeds are also a major factor in use and effectiveness of mobile phones as ICTs. Without Internet connectivity, they lose their basic purpose.
- Slow Hardware: Similar to poor connectivity above, this is another hassle. Poor hardware quality may also mean a shorter lifespan of the tech device.
- Usage Situation: If smartphones are used in more serious situations such as business or healthcare, there are interrupting factors such as push notifications, calls, texts, and application notifications that distract from Internet use.
- No Right-Click: Many mac users may be used to the concept of no direct right-click (macs can still right-click by control + click) however, no right-click capabilities at all significantly slow down time spent in accessing tools and further internet features among other limited capabilities.
Many of these issues such as the increased likelihood of errors, lack of accurate clicking and poor connectivity may seem trivial as many experience them on a semi-regular basis. When used in conjunction with laptops, computers, iPads, etc. limitations of the iPhone for example seem like obvious, common knowledge. As students at a private university, our perspective and background is very different from those who may use smartphones as their sole technology tool. One of the biggest factors is discouragement from use. These types of interruptions and confinements on quality of use can discourage users from trying or reaching out to other forms of technology as well.
Overall, Internet use is a valuable factor of mobile phone use but their capabilities need to be better understood before being hailed as the next big thing in ICT4D.
Resources: Baymard Institute “8 Limitations When Designing for Mobile”
In his case study, “Mobile Phones and Economic Development: Evidence from the Fishing Industry in India,” Reuben Abraham highlights how mobile phones have affected the fishing industry in India. In sum, the case study finds that there are substantial benefits to the industry, from the fishermen all the way to the consumers.
For the fishermen, these phones can greatly enhance working conditions as they are able to stay in touch with other fishermen, which provides a feeling of safety and information on where to find large schools of fish. Other tangible benefits for the fishermen include being able to know current market prices, to reduce time and fuel inefficiency, and to fish according to the market demand, thereby cutting unnecessary extra effort. In addition, the boat owners are able to have better information as to the whereabouts and condition of their expensive investments, so they stand less risk than without having any information about their boats.
Some others in the fishing supply chain benefit even more than the fishermen – the middlemen. The commission agents and merchants had less to lose than others in the supply chain before the presence of mobile telephones; however, these individuals are more certain as to the timing of when supply can meet demand and can essentially control market prices more than ever before. That being said, even the consumers benefit because they are able to know where to find what products they need and pay less with more market efficiency.
Overall, there are few negative consequences with the arrival of mobile telephones in the fishing industry. Mobile phones may increase vulnerability to corruption, harassment, and unethical practices from any of the supply chain participants to other supply chain participants. These incidents, however, are somewhat rare, and do not greatly reduce the benefits of mobile telephone availability in the fishing industry.
One of the most interesting parts of this case study is realizing that no development project or initiative introduced the fishing industry to mobile telephones. It was a natural occurrence and showed to be very successful mainly because the “beneficiaries” adopted the technology they themselves needed – they found something to meet their own needs. The case study was just a tool to help determine whether such an occurrence could be artificially recreated in another location to produce the same benefits.
When I first approached the subject of ICT4D I was somewhat skeptical of the immediate need of information and communications technology in developing countries. I figured that programs focusing in on healthcare, education, and gender equality are more important to the developing world. However, through this week’s lecture and a recent article on RYOT.com, I realized that it is through the use of ICTs that these three ideals are able to be promoted and sustained.
During this week, we discussed that one of the main problems with the spread of ICTs is the difficulties of accessibility. Without proper devices or nearby locations to access such technologies, there is little hope for ICTs to spread and help develop these countries. In order to fight this obstacle, Earth Institute Director Jeffery Sachs has pledged to train 1 million health workers in sub-Saharan Africa. This new campaign provides workers ‘mobile phone and broadband access to sophisticated medical resources’ in order to deliver health care to the rural poor.
Jeffery Sachs, along with Rwandan President Paul Kagame and Novartis CEO Joseph Jimenez announced the campaign earlier this week, and have hopes to ‘equipping and deploying one million health care workers by the end of 2015’ across sub-Saharan Africa. This pledge of ICTs to rural Africa will have huge impacts on these countries which are plagued with disease and have high maternal and child mortality rates. Through the accessibility of such simple technologies, the largely incompetent health care services in sub-Saharan Africa have the potential to develop and modernize.
One of things mentioned in our readings for this week, as they debated the pros and cons of the term “ICT4D” was a postcard project within the ICT4D world as a way to document the effectiveness of such projects. Intrigued by what this postcard project actually entailed, i found a blog post describing what was behind the idea (http://www.kiwanja.net/blog/2011/11/ict4d-postcards-the-story-so-far/).
In this post, he describes his reasoning behind the project- he was hoping to provide a few examples of good work being done in the field, since much of what is focused on is the drawbacks and inefficiencies. With each picture, the person who sent it is supposed to describe what is going on in the picture, the context (information such as the country, region, and what some of the main ICT4D issues are there, whichever the contributor chooses). While it is a good idea to try to create a good impression of the work that is being done, and in the descriptions the people do discuss what effect they have had, the failures of the field are present in both the pictures and the description. Almost every single picture perpetuates already existing stereotypes held by people in the western, developed world- africans with a phone, africans with a digital camera, all looking so excited and happy to be helped by the european or american. The two pictures that stuck out to me, where the first and last- the first was a picture of two women using mobile phones in rural Rwanda. It is then described how mobile phone rates for women have risen so dramatically, but as is sometimes the case, the phones are mainly being used for calls with friends and family, and not for microcredit or mobile banking as so many development officials hope they will be. At the same time, it is much easier for them to stay connected to family members and the world around them, which is extremely important. The last picture is the use of a digital pen in Kenya for women in labor. This approach is different- instead of trying to alter usage of a technology that has already been integrated into daily life in a certain way, this is introducing a completely new type of technology, in a field (health) that can use all the help it can get in rural Kenya. Since the concept is simple- audio goes off when a dangerous point of labour is reached, it does not require too much explanation or training for how to use it- it is a simple, straightforward and extremely applicable option that can be extremely beneficial for reaching lower rates of maternal and child mortality because of complications during childbirth.
This week, the class was assigned to read various articles on mobile phone use, including a study by Wyche and Murphy on the obstacles to cell phone usage in rural Kenya. Some of the main obstacles they found were:
- Traveling long distances to reach battery charge stations. This took up time and money.
- Knock-off batteries made in China could not store charge for long periods of time.
- Original batteries were often stolen from charging stations.
- Universal chargers ruined batteries because they used intermittent levels of voltage.
- Solar panels were not durable enough for rural conditions and lacked proper connectors for charging certain mobile phones.
- Most rural phone users had “dumb” phones, which have significantly fewer programs and capabilities than smart phones
- Phones were used twice as long on average than phone are used in the US. This lead to wear and tear on the phones.
- Difficulties involved with battery life and charging changed the way rural Kenyans were using their phones. They turned them off at night and did not play games or use calculator and clock functions in order to save battery.
This article is an example of several of the themes we have discussed in class. Lack of infrastructure, corruption (stolen phone batteries), and poverty all impact how ICTs are used in the developing world. This article provides another example of why needs assessment and evaluation of projects is critical in ICT4D
I found an article “Africa Calling: Can mobile phones make a miracle?” on Boston Review by the economists Jenny Aker and Isaac Mbiti. Besides mentioning about the relationship between mobile phones and literacy, they talk about how mobile phones can promote the economic development in Africa.
Prior to the introduction of mobile phones, farmers, traders, and consumers had to travel a long way to markets. Lack of infrastructure, they needed to get over roads with poor conditions only for obtaining useful information such as price. Obviously, this kind of travel is time-consuming and costs a lot of money as well.
With the introduction of mobile phones, the information cost is lessend greatly. People can use SMS via mobile phones to get better and in-time information to take advantage of arbitrage opportunities by selling in different markets at different times of year, migrating to new areas, or offering new products.
Furthermore, mobile apps provide opportunities for disseminating market information, monitoring health care, and transferring airtime and money. In most cases these apps are developed by the private sector and then adopted and adapted throughout the development process. Projects in agriculture, health, education, and governance increasingly rely on the services uniquely available via mobile phones.