This Startup Brings The Web To Feature Phones Via Text Message
While smartphones have become ubiquitous in tech-savvy circles over the last few years, a significant number of people around the world still use feature phones—which often don’t have Web browsers, data plans, or third-party apps. You and I have the entirety of human knowledge at our fingertips, but feature phone users are just out of luck.
Well, not anymore.
New Jersey startup Text Engine aims to bring the Web to feature phones using an old technology we all know and love: SMS.
The platform essentially converts the Web to text messages, allowing users to get on-demand weather, news, yellow pages, flight status, and more—all without having direct access to the Internet.
“There are many cities in the world—even here in the U.S.—where the majority of residents must use feature phones, flip phones, or ‘dumbphones,'” says co-founder Eric Bryant. “This is because the residents can’t afford smartphones, data plans or WiFi—or the infrastructure of the region simply doesn’t support these technologies. These ‘dumbphones’ are phones you and I used 10 or 15 years ago, but they are the commonly used phones in these developing economies as well as poor regions in the U.S.”
Text Engine’s mission is to bring underprivileged citizens information they otherwise wouldn’t have access to. “They don’t need a Web browser, Internet access, or an app,” says Bryant. “If they can send a text message, they can search Google, Wikipedia, get world news, and more.”
Co-founder Shari Sloane has witnessed the effects of poverty firsthand, having worked in one of the poorest school districts in the U.S. Many of her students were unable to own smartphones, and some didn’t even have Internet access at home.
Bryant tells me that 75 percent of the world’s population is without Internet access. “And we’re not the only ones who see the problem; Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg does, too, which is why he established his Internet.org enterprise.
“We believe the Web is for everyone, regardless of the hardware or software they have. The Internet is a great equalizing force in today’s knowledge economy. Access to information leads to education, opportunity and ultimately a freer society.”
Text Engine’s service could have an enormous impact on people living in developing countries without Internet infrastructure. Suddenly their feature phones are a lot smarter—they can now search Google, research on Wikipedia, and so much more. The possibilities are endless.
“We make a difference by connecting the offline world to the Internet in regions and on devices that don’t have it,” says Bryant. “Many people do not have a smartphone or internet access, but virtually every family, even in the poorest communities, has a mobile phone that can send and receive text messages. Text messaging is one of the most ubiquitous telecommunications technologies in the world. Text Engine provides access to information around the globe.”
Text Engine has attracted nearly 1,000 users to date in the Philippines, Uganda, Botswana, Mongolia, Nigeria, and other developing nations. The company plans to move into low-income rural and urban U.S. communities as well as additional emerging markets.