Google’s Schmidt hails the ‘real mobile revolution’ in Asia

Today I’m publishing “The Real Mobile Revolution”, an opinion article from Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman of Google, which looks at the potential of mobile in Asia.

Though not an exclusive, the piece – provided by Google Thailand – is an interesting look at the role and opportunities that mobile is playing and providing to developing countries, and in particular Asia.

Thailand-watchers may be interested to note Schmidt’s mention of how technology helped Cambodian PM Hun Sen and ongoing Thai PM Abhisit Vejjajiva resolve one round of (the many) border issues, back in October last year.

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The Real Mobile Revolution

By Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman of Google

I heard a crime story from Cambodia recently which illustrates both how not to use your mobile phone as well as just how far advanced the technology is in Asia.

A man in Phnom Penh tried but failed to extort some money from his ex-employer with an anonymous death threat. The Cambodia Daily explained that his main downfall came from asking his victim to transfer the money to his Wing account, a system that allows for money transfers to and from mobile phones.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that it’s probably best to leave your personal phone out of things when you’re sending someone threats by SMS. But I guess this guy wasn’t all that clever. Now his phone, on the other hand, was incredibly “smart”—this small-time crook was using a service that would be the envy of many people in the U.S., where the majority of transfers still have to be done by paper checks even in a country that’s rapidly embracing smartphones that can take full advantage of the Web from anywhere.

The fact is that Asia has been a leading innovator in mobile Internet technology for years. On one side, you have places like Japan and Korea, where people were paying for train tickets and streaming movies with their mobile phones years ago. On the other, you have clever people across Southeast Asia making the most of the SMS as a simple but powerful lever to exploit the Internet’s banks of servers, turning their phone into a computer.

Farmers in rural India can check agricultural prices from the fields while several Asian companies have used the mobile phone to deliver financial services to the enormous swathes of the developing world where banks have refused to go. G-Cash of the Philippines is another famous example. In Kenya, using SMS, you can buy weather insurance and receive payouts directly to your phone automatically if the rain doesn’t fall within a specified range. A company in India has built an entire mobile OS around SMS-based apps, including Google and Facebook. The SMS is very much alive and well and doing more than ever before.

Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman of Google

People have been hailing the “mobile revolution” for a while now. But what is it that makes 2011 so different from just a few years ago? These different changes are being driven by a fundamental shift, one that unites the smartphone and the most simple phones. Asia’s mobile community is converging on the open Internet from all sides, whether it’s through the SMS, the smartphone browser capable of rendering all Web pages, or open-source operating systems like Android. In all cases, innovation can quickly spill across devices and platforms.

It hasn’t always been that way. In some countries, phones with inventive functionality were introduced but were unable to interact with the Internet or phones on other networks. In others, each new phone brought with it new software requirements for developers. In fact, it was not so long ago that at Google we were spending as much time trying to make our mobile maps application work on different phones as we spent actually improving the product itself.

It’s now a completely different picture. On the high end, the smartphone supplies an open platform that any developer or manufacturer can use and Asia is grasping the opportunity. China is the second-largest country in terms of downloaded mobile apps. The expectation is that Asia will become a global hub for app development in a few years.hai

Both Japan and Korea can boast truly international hits for iPhone and Android that would have been hard to catch on across borders a few years ago. As the smartphone gets cheaper, this power will spread across Asia. We expect a billion people will have inexpensive, browser-based touchscreen phones over the next few years.

Both the insurer building SMS-based insurance and the Japanese developer making a photo app for Android can take that technology across the globe in a flash. And for that reason openness is a much surer foundation for Asia’s mobile Internet than closed, walled gardens. We should never underestimate the power of being able to send information without worrying about barriers. In October, the prime ministers of Cambodia and Thailand resolved a minor border crisis via a back channel. Was it a red telephone attached to a hotline? No. It was an exchange over SMS.

Image via Daily Telegraph