It’s Not the Power of the Phone, It’s the Network That Counts

The death of the feature phone is widely reported and greatly exaggerated. “Although we see a huge market ‘hype’ around smartphones, the fact remains that the India mobile handset market is still dominated by shipments of feature phones. On the other hand, smartphone shipments are growing fast” analyst Faisal Kawoosa said in a Times of India article reporting that smartphones comprise just 7% of the overall Indian handset market.

But we find that owning smartphones doesn’t alter one vital facet of web access in developing economies: the network. In countries like India, we see slow networks covering huge geographical areas and difficult terrain. That’s why, even on high-powered devices, people still rely on data compression from browsers such as Opera Mini. Today we announced that over 100 Android devices shipping in India, Bangladesh and Nepal are pre-installed with Opera Mini.

But why? Isn’t Opera Mini for low-powered phones that don’t have an operating system capable of running a browser? Well, yes, that’s the original rationale behind Opera Mini — but we see that even with Android-powered devices, the bottleneck remains the network. Opera Mini can compress pages down to 10% of their original size. This makes browsing faster and consumes less bandwidth — absolutely vital for people on data plans that charge per megabyte.

We see a similar situation in the Asia Pacific region. In 2012 we wrote “From having 9% of Opera Mini users on smartphones in July 2011, the share of Opera Mini smartphone users in Asia Pacific countries increased to 32% in July 2012” and this continues to grow: in Indonesia, the number of Opera Mini users on Android increased by 189% from May 2012 to May 2013.

Don’t get caught up in the hype that everyone has smartphones (or soon will), so you can be profligate with data and simply inject the DOM via script into empty <body> tags. For a large percentage of the world, it’s not the power of the phone that’s important, it’s the network.

Good HTML content that you progressively enhance for JavaScript-capable browsers, tested on a slow connection, and images with proper alternate text (because many users turn off images in their browser) is still the way to ensure the web remains a world wide web.

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