Many residents of African countries can't afford a computer, but the continent has the world's highest cell phone growth rate, with one-third of the population already owning a mobile phone. That's why Google unveiled its Google SMS suite of applications yesterday. The suite includes access via text messaging to information on health, agriculture, sports, weather, and more. One service, Google SMS Tips, allows users to enter a query and have Google return an answer after searching a database.
But perhaps the most important service for the developing continent is Google Trader, a text-message based marketplace that allows users to buy or sell a range of products and services, including crops, livestock, and jobs. The Google Africa Blog imagines that the service could be used when "farmers in Iganga want to sell their maize, they can list their crop on Google Trader and a miller in another trading center can find and contact them to buy their goods". The success of the service depends, of course, on how many people know about Google Trader, as well as how many people can afford to send frequent text messages. In order for it to work, Google will have to launch a heavy marketing campaign.
The Google SMS suite, set to initially be launched in Uganda, is the product of partnerships with a number of organizations, including the Grameen Foundation and MTN Uganda. It's Google's first major initiative in the country, but only the the beginning of the company's expansion into the African continent, according to the Google Blog.