November 24, 2010, 9:45 AM — In Nigeria, South Africa and Indonesia, more than 90 percent of 18- to 27-year-olds use mobile phones as their primary means to access the Internet, even though smartphones aren't widely used, according to a survey by Norwegian browser company Opera Software.
The survey was displayed to Opera Mini browser users on their handsets and Opera collected 300,000 responses. The results challenge the long-standing belief that smartphone uptake will be the major driver of mobile web usage globally, according to Opera.
Also, the countries with the highest percentage of respondents using desktop or laptop computers as the primary means of Internet access were countries where smartphones are more common among the top handsets used, including the U.S. and Germany, where the split between phone and laptop or desktop is about fifty-fifty.
In October, the most popular phone among U.S. and German Opera Mini users was the iPhone, but in India and Nigeria it was Nokia's 5130 XpressMusic, according to Opera.
That users in developing countries choose feature phones over smartphones and access the Internet is not necessarily a voluntary choice, because the lack of fixed Internet infrastructure and the fact that people can't afford the iPhone 4 or the latest high-end Android-based smartphone.
But the results show that there is a need for a good browsing experience on feature phones as well, according to Opera. And the company isn't alone in thinking that. Opera signed a deal in April with Vodafone to use the Mini browser to push Web browsing in emerging markets. Also, Nokia acquired Novarra with the same intent.
At the same time, the phone market is changing rapidly, with the emergence of smartphones at increasingly lower prices, according to Carolina Milanesi, research vice president at Gartner. The arrival of 3G phones based on MediaTek's Android-based platform next year will help push prices down further, she said.
However, the lower price sometimes also comes with a compromised product, with smaller screens and touchscreens that aren't as good as those found on a more expensive phone. So it's not certain that consumers in developing countries will pick less expensive smartphones, she said.
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