News.com writes that the present base of 600 million users will grow to a billion by 2010, ” fueled primarily by new adopters in developing nations such as China, Russia and India.”
Selling computers to people in these countries, however, won’t be easy. Poverty, unreliable energy supplies, a multiplicity of languages, regional laws and education levels are all potentially major obstacles. And they could all get more daunting, rather than easier to manage, as time goes on.
“The problem isn’t with the first billion, but the second or third billion,” said Roger Kay, an analyst at IDC.
To penetrate these markets, companies are creating the sort of nation-building programs more often associated with organizations like the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the United Nations. Microsoft, for example, has set up an initiative called the Local Economic Development Program for Software, in which company employees advise government officials on building tech programs at local universities, intellectual-property laws and other issues. Brazil is one of eight countries in the program.
Designing products to be cheaper is also an issue. Hewlett-Packard’s 441 system is an early attempt to grapple with the price and management issues. Introduced in South Africa, the computer features four keyboards with mice and monitors so that four different people–in a variety of the local languages–can work simultaneously. The Linux-based computer may get introduced to Southeast Asia later.
If technology can be seeded in a national economy, the gross domestic product will grow and in turn lead to future customers, said Maureen Conway, vice president of emerging market solutions at HP.
“But you’ve got to start the cycle somewhere,” Conway said. “The low-cost access device is critical to product development.”
Consider the following. By 2010, every one of today’s PCs will also be replaced/upgraded. And if we can get the price points of PCs down to that of cellphones (along with a subscription model), we can do another 500 million. That’s a total opportunity of 1.5 billion computing devices in the next 6 years.