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The spread of second-hand smartphones in Thailand/SE Asia

I’ve not posted here for a while as I’ve been a little short on inspiration and time. But taking the trip from Bangkok to Laos for a visa refresh and a few other recent sojourns outside of the big smoke have given me both in sizeable doses.

It’s been 18 months since I last made the trip to Vientiane – an all-nighter on a coach that brings a new meaning to the phrase red-eye – and, ever-inquisitive about the adoption of technology and its effects on society I’ve noticed a few things that have changed.

In no particular order:

  • Lots more people using iPhones (and to a lesser extent Samsung smartphones). What struck me most is that folks you wouldn’t expect to have them – such as migrant workers in Bangkok, who catch the bus to back up-country on their breaks – have older devices, like the iPhone 4 or 3GS. All the usual apps, Line, Instagram, Facebook, etc are on-board (from what I’ve seen) thanks to the fact that iOS supports older devices like no other platform. Unlikely that money is being spent, but very likely that users are highly-engaged and active (most have probably spent most of their time online in an Internet cafe).

  • Lots of folks with two phones. A feature phone for calling, and an older smartphone for games, apps and other computer-like activities. This is their version of an affordable tablet/computer, I guess, and feeds back to the above.

  • A great many smartphone users still evidently on pre-pay deals, as they toggle 3G data settings on/off. Also watched a number of people toggle location on/off, presumably to check-in on Facebook or Foursquare, while taking into account older devices have older batteries which drain quicker.

  • Most tablet usage appeared (at least from what I saw) to be among middle-class and upwards. Spotted more Galaxy Tabs than iPads, but not sure that is a country-wide trend.

I’m guessing that the wave of new smartphones has seen second- or third-hand sales of older devices push out a little further, reaching many for whom it is a first smartphone, and many who are based outside of urban areas.

It’s an interesting situation. Though obviously worth nothing to Apple, Google or Samsung in immediate income – since the original sale is long passed – it gets their devices into new hands, some of which have never had Internet access or multimedia options at their finger tips. That’s a chance to build a relationship, especially when you consider the apps used and unique experience of each platform.

Incidentally, while operators do not subsidize devices in Thailand, plenty of 0% interest credit deals are sprouting up for top handsets. These apply only to credit card owners – so middle-class and upwards – but it represents a step away from the ‘pay $820 up-front or nothing’ situation, and is, presumably, a pre-cursor to further moves to make devices more financially accessible to more people in the future.

Tablets are, of course, further behind smartphones. But, considering that nothing is ever wasted in countries like Thailand, it seems logical that they too will ripple out into new demographics in time.

I can’t vouch for other emerging markets but I’d imagine that, at this stage in Apple’s iPhone product history, older devices are also reaching new and inquisitive owners in many other markets in Southeast Asia. And maybe beyond.

 
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