Subscribe via RSS
Where technology meets anthropology, conservation and development

What if Apple worked in ICT4D? Reflections on the possible

by kiwanja

“Two weeks ago, I was staying at a working dairy farm sixty kilometers north of Bogotá, Colombia. I was fiddling around with my iPad when one of the kids that worked in the stables came up to me and started staring at it. He couldn’t have been more than six years old, and I’d bet dollars to donuts that he had never used a computer or even a cellular telephone before (Colombia has many attractions. The vast pool of illiterate poor is not one of them)

Curious, I handed him the device and a very small miracle happened. He started using it. I mean, really using it. Almost instantly, he was sliding around, opening and closing applications, playing a pinball game I had downloaded. All without a single word of instruction from me”

Michael Noer, “The Stable Boy and the iPad“

Two questions scream out at me when I read this. Firstly, what would happen if Apple turned a fraction of its attention to ICT4D? And secondly, why don’t Apple work in ICT4D? In a sector where so many tools and solutions seem to fail because they’re too complex, poorly designed, unusable or inappropriate, who better to show us how it should be done than the masters of usability and design?

 The answer to the second question is a little easier to answer than the first. As Walter Isaacson pointed out in his recent biography, Steve Jobs felt he could contribute more to the world by ‘simply’ making brilliant products. He seemed to have little time for philanthropy, at least publicly, and his laser focus meant he saw almost everything other than Apple’s mission as a distraction. Ironically, had he decided to give away some of his ballooning wealth, he’d most likely have funded programmes working in nutrition and vegetarianism, not technology, according to Mark Vermilion (who Steve Jobs hired back in 1986 to run the Steven P. Jobs Foundation, which he was destined to shut down a year later).

Had Steve Jobs decided to pursue his Foundation, and had he decided to fund technology-based initiatives in the developing world, how well might he have done, and what might Apple have been able to contribute to our discipline?

Here’s five initial thoughts on where an Apple approach to ICT4D might be different – or problematic.

1. Consult the user

One of the central tenets of ICT4D is to consult the user before designing or building anything. In business, at least, Apple don’t do this. They certainly didn’t speak to Colombian farm children, yet they managed to intuitively build something that worked for the six year old Michael Noer met. As Steve Jobs famously said:

Our job is to figure out what users are going to want before they do. People don’t know what they want until you show it to them. That’s why I never rely on market research. Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page

An Apple ICT4D project would unlikely spend much time, if any, speaking with the target audience, an approach entirely at odds with the one we champion right now.

2. Customer vs. beneficiary

Apple would see people as customers, and they’d be carrying out what they’d see as a commercial transaction with them. This approach would mean they’d have to build something the customer wanted, and that worked (and worked well). Since it would have to sell, if successful it would by default be financially sustainable. Part of the problem with the largely subsidised ICT4D “give away technology” model is that no-one is ultimately accountable if things don’t work out, and regular business rules do not apply.

3. Open vs. closed

The ICT4D community is entrenched in an open source mindset, almost to the extent that closed solutions are scorned upon. Steve Jobs was a strong believer in controlling all aspects of the user experience, all the way from hardware through to software. To him, closed systems were better “integrated” and open systems “fragmented”:

What is best for the customer – integrated versus fragmented? We think this is a huge strength of our system versus Google’s. When selling to people who want their devices to just work, we think integrated wins every time. We are committed to the integrated approach. We are confident it will triumph over Google’s fragmented approach

There is no evidence in ICT4D, I don’t believe, which points towards more success for open solutions vs. closed (however you define success), yet open remains dominant. An early Apple success might give us pause for thought.

4. Time for the field

Although Paul Polak doesn’t work in ICT4D, he is one the biggest proponents of “getting out into the field to understand the needs of your customer”. In his long career he’s interviewed over 3,000 people earning a dollar or less a day to better understand their needs – and the market opportunity. In this short video he talks about the process of spending time in rural villages, talking in depth with villagers, and identifying opportunities for transformative impact.

Apple wouldn’t see the need to do this because they wouldn’t consider the needs of dollar-a-day customers as being any different to anyone else. They’d consider their intuitive design and user interface to be non-culturally specific. People, everywhere, want simple-to-use technologies that just work, regardless of who they are.

5. Appropriate technology

Apple’s product line hardly fits into the appropriate technology model – they’re expensive, power-hungry and the devices are reliant on a computer (via iTunes) as their central controlling “hub”. The systems are also closed, blocking any chance of local innovation around the platform. How Apple tackle this – yet maintain their standards of excellence in design and usability – would probably turn out to be their biggest challenge.

Although it hasn’t happened yet, a post-Steve Jobs Apple might yet develop a philanthropic streak. If they did they could easily turn to their friends at frog design (now branded Frog) for help. Frog, who worked closely with them in the early days of the Macintosh range, have recently worked with a number of ICT4D initiatives and organisations, including Project Masiluleke and UNICEF.

Apple have already reinvented the music and publishing industries. With the talent, capital and resources available I’d bet my bottom dollar on them reinventing ICT4D if they chose to. Steve Jobs liked to “live at the intersection of the humanities and technology”, and that’s exactly the place where ICT4D needs to be.

114 comments

1 Ken Banks { 01.24.12 at 10:37 am }

"What if Apple worked in ICT4D? Reflections on the possible". t.co/TmIbS5F5 #Apple #ICT4D #innovation

2 Caroline Hargreaves { 01.24.12 at 10:39 am }

"What if Apple worked in ICT4D? Reflections on the possible". t.co/TmIbS5F5 #Apple #ICT4D #innovation

3 Ben Warren { 01.24.12 at 10:44 am }

RT @kiwanja "What if Apple worked in ICT4D? Reflections on the possible". t.co/Q1irQMGU #Apple #ICT4D #innovation

4 Lauren Rosenberg { 01.24.12 at 10:48 am }

"What if Apple worked in ICT4D? Reflections on the possible". t.co/TmIbS5F5 #Apple #ICT4D #innovation

5 oluwakorede { 01.24.12 at 10:51 am }

"What if Apple worked in ICT4D? Reflections on the possible". t.co/TmIbS5F5 #Apple #ICT4D #innovation

6 Francesco Ciriaci { 01.24.12 at 10:53 am }

"What if Apple worked in ICT4D? Reflections on the possible". t.co/TmIbS5F5 #Apple #ICT4D #innovation

7 Dansutch { 01.24.12 at 11:01 am }

"What if Apple worked in ICT4D? Reflections on the possible". t.co/TmIbS5F5 #Apple #ICT4D #innovation

8 changefeed { 01.24.12 at 11:07 am }

->@kiwanja: What if Apple worked in ICT4D? Reflections on the possible t.co/jGLBtrfj

9 Fr@nthro { 01.24.12 at 11:09 am }

#anthro blog post: What if Apple worked in ICT4D? Reflections on the possible: “Two weeks ago, I was staying at … t.co/j19wbFTR

10 Jaume Fortuny { 01.24.12 at 11:12 am }

By @kiwanja >> Stirring the conscience of the #ICT4D community: Usability ahead openness t.co/oZxrNhUF #Apple #ICT4D #innovation

11 Joy { 01.24.12 at 11:16 am }

"What if Apple worked in ICT4D? Reflections on the possible". t.co/TmIbS5F5 #Apple #ICT4D #innovation

12 Esoko { 01.24.12 at 11:22 am }

"What if Apple worked in ICT4D? Reflections on the possible". t.co/eZIO7AFJ #Apple #ICT4D #innovation via @kiwanja

13 Nat. { 01.24.12 at 12:23 pm }

#anthro blog post: What if Apple worked in ICT4D? Reflections on the possible: “Two weeks ago, I was staying at … t.co/j19wbFTR

14 Joel Selanikio { 01.24.12 at 12:41 pm }

@kiwanja: "what if Apple did #ict4d" makes mistake of saying "closed": but don't all those apps represent #innovation?? t.co/p1UMP8WA

15 Ken Banks { 01.24.12 at 12:47 pm }

@jselanikio I only used the term in the post because that's how Steve Jobs describes it. Agree the terms are confusing. t.co/TmIbS5F5

16 Angela Beck { 01.24.12 at 12:47 pm }

"What if Apple worked in ICT4D? Reflections on the possible". t.co/TmIbS5F5 #Apple #ICT4D #innovation

17 gsmammu { 01.24.12 at 12:49 pm }

RT @TopsyRT: What if Apple worked in ICT4D? Reflections on the possible t.co/Bx3zfwfO

18 Philip Auerswald { 01.24.12 at 12:49 pm }

@kiwanja: "What if Apple worked in ICT4D? Reflections on the possible" t.co/SZnATsvA (great post)

19 Joel Selanikio { 01.24.12 at 12:50 pm }

Ken, absolutely right in debunking these unquestioned ICT4D concepts. Like that the first step in every software project is spending months consulting the users and writing down a detailed spec — even when the user wants to do the same thing that similar users want to do everywhere.

And bravo for pointing out (again) that “There is no evidence in ICT4D… which points towards more success for open solutions vs. closed”. Keeping in mind that there is almost NO success in ICT4D at ALL — only a string of dead pilot projects — note that the real successes in technology for people in poor countries have come from the commercial side: cell phones, Yahoo Mail, Google Maps, Facebook. All commercial, all “closed”.

Small point, by the way: Apple’s mobile products no longer use a computer as the hub. The hub is now in the cloud, and the basic use of it comes free with the mobile device. They’re anticipating your criticism.

Nice work.

20 kiwanja { 01.24.12 at 12:53 pm }

@Joel – Thanks for the clarification on the cloud. That said, needing a reliable Internet connection is for many people almost as much of a barrier as needing a computer.

21 DataDyne { 01.24.12 at 12:55 pm }

What if Apple did #ict4d, from @kiwanja t.co/X7I5s5wv #innovation

22 Joel Selanikio { 01.24.12 at 1:11 pm }

Ken, just a bit more on the cloud: you don’t need a reliable connection, only an occasionally available one, so that you can sync info. It’s actually quite good in poor connectivity situations: sync when you can, otherwise you’re still fine.

23 jmatsushita { 01.24.12 at 1:16 pm }

What if Apple worked in ICT4D? Reflections on the possible t.co/om2rKjkm

24 Chris Foote (Spike) { 01.24.12 at 1:22 pm }

RT @jmatsushita: What if Apple worked in ICT4D? Reflections on the possible t.co/c1OCoYxw

25 Bill Barhydt { 01.24.12 at 3:26 pm }

RT @auerswald: @kiwanja: "What if Apple worked in ICT4D? Reflections on the possible" t.co/Qg3WcKcd (great post)

26 What if Apple worked in ICT4D? Reflections on the possible | Global Health Hub { 01.24.12 at 3:35 pm }

[...] See original here: What if Apple worked in ICT4D? Reflections on the possible [...]

27 Ken Banks { 01.24.12 at 3:39 pm }

Disrupting ICT4D: What would Steve Jobs do if Apple worked in #development? t.co/TmIbS5F5 #Apple #ICT4D

28 GlobalAssetsProject { 01.24.12 at 3:39 pm }

RT @billbarhydt: "What if Apple worked in ICT4D? Reflections on the possible" t.co/Fd1kJwLd great post @unicef @auerswald: @kiwanja

29 Jason Knobloch { 01.24.12 at 3:42 pm }

RT: What if Apple worked in #ICT4D? Reflections on the possible t.co/IAL5fvDJ

30 david galipeau { 01.24.12 at 3:43 pm }

RT @kiwanja: Disrupting ICT4D: What would Steve Jobs do if Apple worked in #development? t.co/7fdHyanx #Apple #ICT4D

31 Martine Koopman { 01.24.12 at 3:56 pm }

RT: @Esoko "What if Apple worked in ICT4D? Reflections on the possible". t.co/uH9q5dDA #Apple #ICT4D #innovation via @kiwanja

32 Petrelli Pierre { 01.24.12 at 4:09 pm }

What if Apple worked in ICT4D? Reflections on the possible t.co/r4t7qQzH

33 Edmund Fliski { 01.24.12 at 4:14 pm }

What if Apple worked in ICT4D? Reflections on the possible t.co/r4t7qQzH

34 Development Gateway { 01.24.12 at 4:35 pm }

@Kiwanja asks what would happen if Apple got involved in #ICT4D. t.co/JLc46YpJ #ict

35 Ken Banks { 01.24.12 at 5:15 pm }

Ripe for disruption? What Steve Jobs might do if Apple worked in #development. t.co/TmIbS5F5 #Apple #ICT4D #innovation

36 Erin Dian Dumbacher { 01.24.12 at 5:27 pm }

What if Apple worked in ICT4D? Reflections on the possible t.co/r4t7qQzH

37 Shikoh Gitau { 01.24.12 at 5:29 pm }

Ripe for disruption? What Steve Jobs might do if Apple worked in #development. t.co/TmIbS5F5 #Apple #ICT4D #innovation

38 AidData { 01.24.12 at 6:04 pm }

RT @DGateway | @Kiwanja asks what would happen if Apple got involved in #ICT4D. t.co/k8co5VCs #ict

39 Tom Murphy { 01.24.12 at 8:00 pm }

Turning #ICT4D on its head RT @kiwanja: Disrupting ICT4D: What would Steve Jobs do if Apple worked in #development? t.co/SH6ORtBD

40 Dale Zak { 01.24.12 at 8:05 pm }

What if Apple worked in #ICT4D? Reflections on the possible by @kiwanja t.co/N9J3lHI7

41 Erik Hersman { 01.24.12 at 8:07 pm }

What Steve Jobs might do if Apple worked in ICT4D t.co/zfjnpvLg (via @kiwanja)

42 Mark Belinsky { 01.24.12 at 8:10 pm }

Another #ICT4D #facepalm moment RT @kiwanja: "What if Apple worked in ICT4D? Reflections on the possible" t.co/wu4JsE9Z

gipoco.com is neither affiliated with the authors of this page nor responsible for its contents. This is a safe-cache copy of the original web site.