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Breaking down the barriers to the next billion [Wired 2013]

Massive crowd

Day two of the Wired Conference kicked off with the lofty task of “bringing the next billion online” and included missives from those who are breaking down barriers and making big changes easier.

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Up first was Eben Upton — co-founder of Raspberry Pi — the small computer that looks like a small credit card with lights on it. Doesn’t sound that thrilling until you realise it is fast changing the world. Why? A few reasons; it’s US$25, freely available, customisable, incredibly easy to use… oh and it’s already sold one million units (and on track to sell two million by the end of 2013).

Recently adding a camera to its raft of add-on technology, the possibilities of what we and those in developing nations can achieve with this technology is pretty limitless. The takeaway? The popularity of devices that enable the owner (more than simply cheap smartphones) will inspire a great many of the next billion. It’s about enabling them to help themselves — that is the biggest win for all parties.

Second up was Suneet Singh Tuli — CEO of Datawind — you may know it as the maker of Indian tablet the Aakash, sometimes called the “$14 iPad”. It is causing enormous waves in places like India and Africa as students scramble to buy them. His talk was moving, depressing but inspiring even when looking at the figures of the poorer parts of the world his company is making real changes in technology democracy in.

The takeaway? Affordability is often the greater barrier to adoption over the stereotyped issues of internet and electricity availability. Those who want to succeed in the future will look beyond assumptions and begin trying. After all, the devices being made are rivalling top devices available now — a different market segment — but for less than a tenth of a cost.

Lastly, Deepak Ravindran of Innoz spoke about “the offline Google”… remotely (thanks UK Visa nazis!). In essence, Ravindran created an SMS internet.

Imagine sending a question to a shortcode and getting information back. Sounds simple enough, but the artificial intelligence behind understanding the query is staggering. Impressive, but what are the numbers? With more than 120-million users to date the service is exploding.

The facts: +100 million queries for cricket scores alone. By December 2012, the service had received more than 1-billion text related queries. Other top queries are for news, weather and such.

Yes it’s simple stuff, but it can save lives and improve them dramatically. I would argue that most don’t know what an SMS App Store would look like but through Innoz’ hackathons and national campaigns it’s a core way the service is growing and morphing.

The takeaway: With more smartphones than toilets in India, it’s clear the future of the country (and others) is firmly intertwined with the handset and tablet market and (as Ravindran puts it) “the SMS of Things”. Partnering with Google, Twitter, Evernote and other huge names are cementing Innoz in the hearts and minds of a massive market. Check out thinkbrownie.com for a sneak peek into Innoz’ future…

Image: Aurelian Săndulescu (via Flickr).

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