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This month in Technology Review, my boss Jason Pontin wrote his editorial about the $100 laptop, one of the many silver bullets technologists believe will bring the digital revolution to the poorest of regions.

While it’s absolutely correct to develop cheap technologies for people who can’t afford to be first movers, I wonder if the dream of the $100 laptop will be preceded by the $20 handset. At least that is the notion that crossed my mind after reading this Wired News piece.

From the article:

For instance, Philips Electronics recently announced that it has the electronics required to make a mobile phone that can be sold for less than $20. By 2008, the company hopes to be able to support handsets that cost less than $15.

These days, I use my Sprint Treo 600 (definitely not a $20 handset) for many of my daily activities (emailing, searching for directions, keeping my calendar, receiving news feeds from wires, etc.) – and those activities will only expand as hard drives allow for more uses. On top of that, wireless connectivity is likely going to do more for rural areas that cables ever will.

So, if you buy the fact that handsets will become more powerful and wireless networks will reach more people, I wonder if it’s not time to pour resources into reducing the cost of handhelds (and their services) to create a powerful $20 handset.

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