Mobile growth is stagnating. Worldwide, the mobile market is starting to reach saturation, resulting in growth levels slumping to those seen back in 2008, before Android took off and when iOS was in its infancy. Back then, smartphones were mostly for enterprise users, the mobile web consisted mostly of text-based or WAP sites and, to most people, there was no such thing as an app ecosystem. Many analysts agree that emerging markets, places like Africa and India that are just starting to adopt mobile technology en masse, are the final frontier for the traditional mobile market in many ways.
These places and the unique challenges and needs they present, however, are also beginning to change the face of mobile in their own ways. Emerging markets can't be catered to with expensive devices and powerful cloud-based or value-added services that depend on a mature network in the same way a bigger market like the United States or China might be catered to. Emerging markets are a battleground for bang-for-your-buck devices, bundled services and convenient integration into everyday life.
On the device front, emerging markets tend toward lower cost, but devices that offer a great value also tend to do well. Devices like the Motorola Moto G, OnePlus X and Xiaomi's Redmi series all do well for their own reasons, though there is a place in the market for flagship devices like the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 and the iPhone 6S. Even the Android One program, despite its mostly chilly reception, did generate a few devices that managed to make waves. In some circles, higher-end devices are prized for their increased functionality, often used for business. To others, they may simply be status symbols.
There are, of course, those who value their mobile experience greatly and would rather save up longer and pony up for a flagship device, though most can't justify this sort of expense, especially in the face of cheaper devices that function perfectly for most use cases. For some, smartphones are more accessible than basic services and infrastructure. In a neighborhood with no plumbing or a small town far from hospitals and government centers, you may find people saving back their little hard-earned cash for a decent device or simply snapping up whatever's cheap, such as a smartphone costing less than $5.
On the software side, emerging markets often tend toward hub or portal services that allow them to socialize, obtain services and create content in an easy, efficient manner. This is evidenced by trends such as messaging apps, like Line and Facebook's Messenger becoming full-fledged ecosystems where users can chat with friends, access the web, shop and even call a cab. In some places, this has become the status quo, to the point that even a giant like Google has a hard time piercing the market. Accessing services via mobile devices is becoming a great alternative to traditional means of access in some markets. For example, Kenya's population mostly went without bank accounts, but the advent of a mobile payment service called M-PESA changed that in short order. In 2014, over 80 percent of the country's total GDP wound up passing through M-PESA at some point or another. The fast emergence of mobile tech is providing access to services that were previously out of reach or perhaps not even thought of.
Growth in places like Mexico, India and Brazil is currently exploding, with the crowd flocking to the services that are the most available and convenient. WhatsApp, for example, boasts roughly 70 million users in India alone. Along with the insanely huge shift in the volume and type of content on the internet that's impending from this growth and new access to mobile tech, essential services are on the cusp of being rethought for the mobile world. Education is one example that could be done well, as well as government administration and citizen input. In an area with no schoolhouses around, students may gather around a tablet or pull out their smartphones to enjoy educational content, resulting in a cultural and economic boon for the area in the future. People wanting to report issues to their local government may send a message online rather than by slow snail mail, which may or may not exist in some parts. The arms race for rural mobile internet surrounding this growth is truly something to behold as well, with Microsoft getting in on the action as Google's Project Loon begins receiving worldwide green lights and Facebook's Free Basics finds itself booted out of India, a key growth market, for net neutrality violations.
The future for emerging markets as a result of saturation elsewhere is looking pretty bright. Entrepreneurs and bigger companies looking to get a slice of the last fresh pie in the mobile tech space, as well as get in on the ground floor in revolutionary new technology-based servicing fields, will be pouring resources into emerging markets, resulting in economic growth. As the infrastructure and services are built out, access to information and the ability to create content will become more rich, easier and further-reaching. It's really no stretch to say that the next few years' growth in some emerging markets may help to shape world history in huge ways.