For anyone traveling to or residing in Africa, a country that does not have widespread internet access, then Google’s recent news will excite you. No more complaints from your girlfriend or frantic messages from your mom in Illinois about how you’ve dropped off the face of the earth!
This new service - Gmail SMS - delivers Gmail messages over SMS.
This means that anyone in Africa can access incoming messages from their Gmail account simply by receiving a text. This requires only a cell phone calling plan; no internet or data plan required. It seems like this service would work even where cell phone calls are difficult to make; sending a text requires the least amount of telephone connectivity.
This service is one more incremental step in pushing Africa closer to digitization; it will help close Africa’s considerable gap in the digital divide. Currently only about 6.2% of the African population has Internet access. Africa has a near-total lack of connectivity (few towers, lack of power / frequent blackouts, high cost of internet services).
But, mobile telephony is booming in Africa, and already there are more cell phone plans than land lines in there. In Africa, smartphone penetration is low for now because those features would be useless in many regions.
This service is currently available only in emerging markets where smartphone penetration is low and internet connections are unreliable. Ghana, Nigeria and Kenya are the first three countries where Gmail SMS is supported. But not for long (this is Google, remember); soon they will roll out this service to other locations.
One downside is that setup of this service does require the use of a computer. You can’t set it up directly from your phone. I hope that changes, because setting up from the phone itself would have dramatically increased the potential of this service.