Tutaleni I. Asino
Blog Post

What’s an iPad without the Internet?

ipadPic.jpgI stopped by an electronics store in the mall recently, where the store clerk told me that they had to send the 3G iPads back because the 3G devices that they required were not compatible with what Namibia uses. I don’t know how true that statement is because USB slots are fairly standard these days and I am able to use my devices with no problem. Nonetheless, the gentleman informed me that only Wi-Fi iPads are currently available in Namibia (The iPad that I am using has 16GB of memory with Wi-Fi capability) and so far I have not found any indication that what he said was false.Accessing the Internet in Namibia is done in the same manner as in the US. One can get a home set up or purchase a 3G USB device that allows for mobility.  I purchased my first 3G devices to use for my laptop hoping that through a Bluetooth connection and Internet tethering, I could share connectivity between the iPad and my laptop. This did not work because I don’t believe Apple allows for it. Also the first device that I purchased at N$650 (with 1100MB worth of access) would connect to the Internet only for short periods of time and intermittently drop. Consequently I had to drop another N$699 to purchase a second device (with 500MB of access), which has thus far been very reliable.

The issue is not simply my annoyance at spending money (even with the exchange rate it’s still money). The issue is that Computer Internet remains relatively expensive (especially for students) and to a large extent a luxury. Additionally, even when one is able to afford the cost, Wi-Fi signals are mainly available in the city centre, and not in the suburbs, townships or rural areas. Hence to access the Internet on the iPad, one has to either be in the city or in the house that has wireless access.

Design implications:
From a design aspect, more Apps need to be created that do not require access to the Internet post download. I realize that this may utilize a lot of memory, but it may be the most effective method. The iBook App is perhaps the best example of this. Once a book is purchased, the reader no longer needs to have access to the Internet unless she or he wants to download additional content. Students especially should be able to download programs that can be saved directly on the device, and can store information locally, to be uploaded (or interact with) to the server when the signal is re-acquired. I realize there are programs that do this already, but currently, a lot of what is available requires network connectivity that when the signal is not available, some programs do not function fully.

Contextual implications:
For the iPad to be more useful in the Namibian context, and perhaps for much of the developing world, the Internet connectivity issue needs to be addressed. Governments, NGOs or Businesses must invest in making Wi-Fi readily available in more locations, especially rural area and not just in the business centres. Alternatively, mobile 3G devices can be made widely available that can broadcast a wireless signal without the need to physically connect to the device through a USB slot. In Namibia, the easiest thing would be to allow the iPad to use a mobile phone signal through Bluetooth to access the Internet (if this is already done, I have not heard of it).

A thought:
What if the Internet and access to it was a human right? Perhaps enshrined in the UN human rights charter as other rights are? What effect would this have?

Date written: 8th June 2010
Word count: 617