In 1996 Pauline Hanson infamously said in her maiden parliamentary speech that she feared that Australia was going to be “swamped by Asians”.
Nearly 20 years on, it appears her prediction was right, but not in any way her narrow mind could have imagined. What Hanson also failed to appreciate was that it wasn’t just Australia that was being taken over by Asia, but the whole world.
And where Queensland’s most notorious ranga feared the threat of the unknown, Google sees opportunity and hope, and a truck load of money as well.
What I’m talking about is the message coming out of Google’s The Mobile First World media conference: Asia is leading the world in not only mobile-first connectivity, but mobile-only connectivity.
Eric Schmidt speaking via video link to the assembled 200-odd journalists from all over Asia said this region “was going to lead the mobile world for a very long time”. He pointed to the rapidly developing nations throughout the region and the high quality data networks being built that would make this prophecy true.
“The next billion people to join the Internet will be from Asia,” he said. “They will also join the Internet via a mobile device.”
And as this market becomes the most important economy for mobile connectivity, the habits and influence of Asian people will shape the way the rest of the world lives. As we move into the age of the Internet of things, online will become even more pervasive than it already is.
For Schmidt, the next transition is from mobile-first to mobile-only. His reasoning for this was that smart phone functionality would preclude the use of anything other than a mobile device. Think of how Instagram is better on a mobile than desktop simply because it knows where you are.
As more and more apps tap into the array of built-in features offered by smart phones, from gyroscopes, GPSs and accelerometers to cameras, audio recording and so on, accessing the Internet without these things just won’t be the same experience. It’d be like watching TV in black and white once colour had been invented, or perhaps with the sound turned off, or both.
To illustrate its point, Google trotted out a number of examples of how people were using smart phones in ways no-one had ever dreamed of. Perhaps the most impressive of them all was Dr Steve Lee from ANU’s development.
An optical scientist, Lee has developed a lens that can turn a standard phone camera into a microscope. Lee’s invention saw him recently take out the ANSTO Eureka Prize for Innovative Use of Technology.
His droplet lens uses the surface tension of liquids and gravity to easily and cheaply manufacture a tiny lens that fits over a smartphone camera and turns it into a microscope. Currently, the lenses can be churned out for $2 a unit.
Amazingly, Lee’s microscopes can be made at home on a 3D printer. If Lee’s invention can be made widely available, the ramifications for everything from medical diagnosis through to farming are obvious.
Another obvious use of smartphones is their integration with other wearable or even consumable devices. For example the capsule endoscopy is a camera the size of a pill you swallow that allows you to have a far less invasive intestinal examination. Let’s assume they’re single use.
Another favourite in the region is Google’s translate app, which can read and interpret Chinese characters on a sign in a night market into English. Again the camera is imperative to this functionality.
Knocking down barriers one at a time
Google has set its sights squarely on Asia. The next billion people to come online will be disproportionately represented by Asians and as they become the dominant group so too will the nature of the Internet reflect its dominant citizens. So we can expect to see more of the selfie stick to get bigger in Australia.
Google is doing its best to ensure its bet on Asia will pay off. It’s identified the issues within Asia impeding access to the Internet and addressing them one by one.
For instance, Andrew McGlinchey, product manager for southeast Asia, Google says cost has been a barrier which is why the Android One is now available in India for $100 plus $5 a month for data, which is 1/20th of the cost of what it used to be.
Similarly access to data infrastructure has lead to the development of lightweight search, which drops out the images and maps and just gives you text if you’re in a low speed area – automatically.
Because video can chew through data plans, India and elsewhere are now offering separate data plans so you can just watch YouTube videos under a separate quota so that you can still send texts and so forth after you’ve used up all of your data. The Android One has dual SIM cards for this purpose and you can expect other manufacturers to follow suit.
Access to data is also being solved with huge long-life balloons that float over countries and deliver 3G speed. Google has also bought Titan Aerospace and wants to launch satellites to deliver 3G.
Culturally, women in India are significantly under represented online and so Google is running education programs, which have so far trained 100 million women to use the Internet.
And finally, here’s one you probably hadn’t thought of: Hindi keyboards are a challenge as there’s 50 characters in the language. Speech will unlock these languages for the Internet. “200 million people speak English, 400 million speak Hindi . . . this is unlocking users,” says McGlinchey.
The Macro View of Asia:
- 2.25 billion people (World Bank 2013)
- 279 million fixed broadband Internet subscribers (World Bank 2013)
- 2.22 billion mobile cellular subscriptions, growing over 8X since 2000 (World Bank 2013)
- 673.7 million smartphones shipped per year in Asia-Pacific, over 1.8 million shipped per day. This compares with 283.3 million in the Americas (Canalys)
- Smartphone shipments in Asia are growing at 30% year on year (Canalys)
From Mobile First to Mobile Only
- Consumers in these countries said a smartphone was their only device for going online: Malaysia – 35% / Vietnam – 24% / Singapore – 16% / South Korea – 14% / Hong Kong – 14%
(Google Consumer Barometer)
Mobile only content consumption
- Asia sees some of the highest rates of video watching on smartphones in the world: Of smartphone owners, China – 82% / South Korea – 81% (compared to UK – 61% / Germany, 53%)
- The same is true for listening to music on smartphones: Of smartphone owners, Vietnam – 84% / Thailand – 70% (compared to France – 46% / UK – 44%)
- Smartphone games are particularly popular in Asia. Of smartphone owners, Thailand 65%, China 64%, compared to Germany 20%
(Google Consumer Barometer)
Android and Google Play
- 1 billion users globally
- 1.5 billion devices activated every day
- Google Play Games has added 100 million new users in just six months.
- Globally, 3 of 4 Android users are playing games.
- Google Play paid out 2.5x to developers from June 2013 to 2014 compared to the previous year
- Number of registered developers on Google Play in Asia have grown 3x in the last two years
e-shopping on Mobile in Asia
- Nearly 50% of online shopping in India is done on phones, with cash on delivery
- More than 10 million downloads
- 216 countries
- Translated into 15 languages
- During Ramadan 2014, downloads for Muslim Pro went up to 100,000 in a single day
Possibilities of a Mobile First World
- Between 1.1 billion and 2.8 billion people are out of range of an existing mobile network (McKinsey)
- More than 4 billion people globally still don’t have access to fast Internet today.
- 65% of mobile users worldwide are currently on a 2G data plan.
- Over 55% of the Internet’s web content is in English
- Japanese – 5%, Chinese – 2.8%, Korean – 0.5%
- Indonesian – 0.4%, Vietnamese – 0.4%