The Three World Planet of Mobile Handsets

In the Hutong
Avoiding the raging mobs of spring breakers
1747 hrs.

The trendmeisters in residence at PSFK have come to the conclusion that mobile phone usage habits vary significantly across the world’s regions. They’re spot on.

They divide the world into 3 regions, based on the rate at which both the Internet and mobile phones diffused into the population:

Region 1: North America, where people mostly had Internet before mobile phones;

Region 2: Europe, where people got mobile phones and the Internet at the same time; and

Region 3: Asia (East, West, and South), Africa, and South America, where for most of us the mobile phone preceded the Internet – and for many in these regions, still does.

The theory is that the later we got Internet versus our phones, the more reliant we are on phones as our primary device for digital access, and as devices to enhance our lives. It’s an attractive idea, especially in its simplicity. I’d say there are probably other issues involved, but I’m ready to grant their idea for the sake of argument.

The article focuses heavily on North America, but gist of the article is basically that if you are in the mobile handset, software, or services business and you count on there being a single usage model the world over, you’re road kill.

My one quibble with the article is that it doesn’t go far enough.

Suggesting that there are no – or minimal – differences between the way the handset is used in Japan or Korea as opposed to, say, India, or Australia is nuts. Asia, as an old friend of mine used to say, is not a place. Asia is an accidental geographical agglomeration of highly diverse countries and cultures. For that reason, you need to think about designing handsets, services, and software for specific countries.

My pals at Motorola get this. The MOTORAZR that sells in China is different than the MOTORAZR that sells in Korea, which is different than the MOTORAZR that sells in Japan. And the differences go beyond the launch screen, languages, and a few .apis. Apart from the iconic design and trademark colors, each of these are phones designed specifically with the users in that country in mind.

That’s also why they drive their R&D and design deep, deep into the local markets: 16 R&D centers in China alone.

Simply sticking a design center into a trend-setting place like Los Angeles isn’t going to capture a significant chunk of a diverse global market. Nor is creating phones in a small town near the Arctic circle, or a company compound near the DMZ.

In the long term, the global handset will give way to the individual handset. The winners in the mobile telecommunications business are going to be the ones who enable that first.

And by the way – that goes DOUBLE for China.