When it comes to mobile communications, there's still a lot of room for innovation at the bottom. In Bangalore, India, researchers from the University of Toronto and Microsoft are now imagining new business models for the world's poorest phone owners by adapting a little-known protocol that can receive pictures as bitmapped text messages. The technology could readily be used in the roughly 1.5 billion low-end Nokia and Samsung phones in circulation.
Nathan Eagle, a Harvard professor and CEO of Jana (formerly known as Txteagle), cautions that crowdsourced transcription may not end up being the killer app for displaying images on text messages. But he says one could envision developers writing simple games or educational tasks, or even sharing simple images as part of text-message-based social networks. "It's great to see more people starting to think about other uses for these low-end handsets beyond standard phone calls and text messages," he says.