Cell Phone for the Developing World
May 5, 2014


The Innovations for Poverty Alleviation Lab (IPAL) at ITU focuses on using technology to come up with innovative solutions which are relevant to the developing world. Much of the technology that comes from the Western world is not suited to the needs of the developing countries. A case in point is cell phones; an average Pakistani uses cell phones most commonly for three main purposes: as a torch, as a radio and to make missed calls- most modern smart phones overlook features such as the torch, and even if they have them, they require the download of certain applications which is an option not easily available to many users in the developing world. Keeping this in mind, IPAL has embarked on a venture to radically redesign the cell phone to fit the needs of people with low literacy and belonging to low-income backgrounds. The idea is to use to the power of technology to make people’s lives easier, and so this cell phone is being conceived and designed with three main features in mind. The first is that it will operate largely with gesture and speech-based functions and thus be easily accessible for people with low literacy. Secondly, it will be designed around push notifications i.e., the phone will be designed to pro-actively give relevant information to its users and adapt to their needs. The idea here is that the device should be designed in such a way that it proffers information to users to ease their life e.g. through simple functions such as reminding them to take an umbrella when it’s likely to rain etc., instead of users having to actively seek information from the device. The phone will also be designed in such a way as to make it adapt according the needs of users. Thirdly, in order to ensure that this phone is inexpensive, it will be modular. In other words, a basic version of it will be available with the option of add-on modules, which could be selected to cater for preferred functionality. People will then have the option of choosing to add only modules which they require- this will significantly lower the cost of the phone and also allow for module production to be outsourced to third parties.
At the moment, the phone is at a very initial design and inception stage. Mustafa Naseem, the Co-Director of IPAL said that IPAL is currently working on collaborations to develop some of the technology required for the phone, such as speech synthesizers and voice recognition softwares which can cater to a range of dialects. He said that IPAL is also working on designing the product and that it’s a very exciting opportunity which could revolutionize the use of cell phones in the developing world.