Race to the Bottom of the Pyramid

The great race is well and truly on to create communication, computing and media technology for the Bottom of the Pyramid (BoP), a euphemistic term that describes underdeveloped markets globally. As more indicators have pointed to not only the size, but the needs, sophistication levels and desires of consumers in these markets, companies big and small are turning their attention to supplying them. One only has to look at Intel's split from the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project, and even the OLPC group's own CTO's departure to set up a company commercializing some of that group's breakthrough technology, to see how interest in supplying consumer technology to these markets is accelerating. The big mobile companies and operators have looked to these markets for growth over the past five or so years, and emerging markets and the BoP are helping to carry these businesses as their mature markets feel the drag of economic slowdown and saturation. As the gaze of big tech turns more to serving the underdeveloped and developing world, several things are likely to happen:

  • Competition will spur development of better, more efficient, cheaper products globally. The need for lower price points, more durable components and more efficient, sustainable materials and energy usage demanded by these markets should have a positive effect on the developed world as well.
  • Competition will spur technology originating in developing markets as local companies seek to apply richer knowledge of their own markets needs and leverage lower costs of development.
  • Quality expectations may shift among mass market consumers worldwide, not only in developing and underdeveloped markets, but eventually back the developed world. Just In Time (JIT) becomes Just Good Enough (JGE), with the need to meet basic standards of functionality, usability, and safety trumping Six Sigma quality and high touch finishes. A veneer of visual and functional appeal will be necessary--see the many consumer electronics knockoffs emerging from Asia as an example--but near enough is good enough, as they say.

Maybe in the near term this will help spur interest in not only making technology cheaper for all markets, but less complex and more sustainable.  For once, perhaps the developed world will learn something by following the lead of markers where these qualities are a neccesity, not just a lifestyle choice.