“There is such latent demand out there that can be unlocked by a new service or platform,” says Payne, adding that Google views its efforts to develop mobile apps and services in Africa, for example to provide health and farming information, as a for-profit activity. “We treat it like any other investment in a new area–if a market is big enough, there will definitely be a way to monetize it, and this is a really big market.”
Companies aiding the transfer of funds, like Slimtrader, have obvious paths to monetization by taking a cut of transactions, says Amy Klement, who invests in mobile technology in emerging markets for Omidyar Network, an investment fund created by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar.
Even in developing countries, smart phones and better data services will soon make an impact, says Klement, which means SMS-centric services will have to start supporting additional platforms. “I’m bullish about the prospect for data services in the emerging markets,” she says, pointing out that India recently freed up the spectrum necessary for 3G services.
Smart phones are already beginning to appear in developing markets, says David del Ser, founder of the startup Frogtek. His firm has developed an app for Android cell phones to help shopkeepers track the flow of goods and money using a low-cost bar-code reader. The app links back to servers that generate simple accounts, helping shopkeepers who don’t usually keep books to improve their business. It also provides data that can be sold to large corporations like Coca-Cola that have little data on how their products are sold in these markets, says del Ser. He is currently rolling out the service in Colombia.
“The lack of normal computers or laptops in these places means that they covet smart phones more than we do,” explains del Ser. “I think we’ll see those devices spread rapidly among certain demographics, like the small shopkeepers we work with.”