Talking tech since 2003

It seems as if every time we as consumers turn around, manufactures are releasing new and improved smartphones; more feature-rich and power-packed than the ones they released only a matter of days before.  However, with the constant innovations that the smartphone industry is making it is sometimes easy to forget about the non-smart phones that are still sold day-in and day-out.  Call them baseline, call them low-end, call them “dumbphones” or “plain old telephones”, but the fact of the matter is that they are still in high demand and are still widely used.  You know the ones I’m talking about; the handsets that are given out for “free” with new contracts, or even the ones that you can purchase for around $20 with no contract at all.

My point is, despite all of the growth in the smartphone market, there are still quite a bit of baseline handsets out there that are manufactured, sold, and used each and every day.  And even though these phones are a big market, many people in current-day society neglect to realize the huge market that baseline handsets are in the mobile industry.  Facebook, however, announced yesterday plans to tap into this abandoned mobile market by introducing a mobile version of their website specifically for “baseline” mobile handsets.

The concept in itself is rather simple.  Instead of designing a web interface around the capabilities and features of a more desktop-like WebKit browser or full-fledged mobile application as seen in the iOS and Android mobile operating systems, Facebook is putting forth efforts to create a mobile version of its website that can be easily accessed and used on less powerful web browsers on lower-end baseline handsets.  While it goes without saying that this mobile product is not as feature-rich or user-friendly as the mobile sites or applications on more advanced handsets, the fact still remains that users will be able to utilize the basic functions of Facebook – keeping up with family and friends, reading and updating statuses, etc – from their lower-end mobile devices.

On top of this, Facebook announced that they have entered into agreements with a number of mobile providers to allow users to take advantage of this new mobile site completely free for the first 90 days after launch.  This means that users who don’t have data plans on their devices – and I’d assume this to be a large number simply because people would not sign up for a data plan they could not take advantage of on their limited handsets – can still take advantage of and try out Facebook’s new offerings without having to immediately sign up for a data package.

What’s interesting about this move, however, is that all of the carriers that Facebook has made agreements with are outside the United States.  Facebook’s move to make this new service available for users in Sri Lanka, the Ukraine, Poland, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong, Tunisia, the Dominican Republic, and Romania suggests that the company is using this new venture in order to attract more foreign users to the social networking site and ultimately expand its population and user-base.  From a marketing standpoint, this is actually a very clever move because they are making it easier for users to use hardware that they already have and luring them in with the sweetened deal of free service.

In the near future, Facebook plans to expand their services to more countries, including Canada, India, Mexico, Brazil, and Bulgaria.  There is no word, however, as to if or when such services would be offered here in the United States.  However, seeing as how mobile carriers tend to blame Facebook’s network traffic for their sluggishness, part of me truly believes that more and more carriers will be willing to allow Facebook to pick up the tab for some of the network utilization; possibly meaning continued free access to Facebook without the need for a data plan.  After all, this would be a win on all sides, as consumers would have a “free” benefit, carriers would potentially be compensated by Facebook, and Facebook itself would grow.

All in all, I’m sure this venture is costing Facebook a bit of money to get off the ground.  At the same time, I feel that this type of development is crucial in Facebook’s expansion process and their continued Internet dominance.  When all is said and done, I can’t wait to see how this unfolds and if Facebook has any more moves up their sleeves.

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