Nokia launched a quartet of basic cellphones for the developing world in Nairobi today, but the most interesting new offering is a peripheral device. The Finnish firm's Bicycle Charger Kit consists of a little bottle dynamo that you attach to the wheel of your bicycle to power up your phone as you pedal away. It comes with a phone holder that attaches to the handlebars using a hi-tech system composed of an elastic band and a plastic bag, in case of rain. Its price (in Kenya) is a little over $18 bucks, and it's a wonder that no other phone manufacturer has thought of this before.
Maybe that's because Nokia is the dumbphone ruler of the world. While other companies push ahead in the smartphone market, Nokia is concentrating on keeping less wealthy nations connected. And in parts of the world where access to electricity is limited, or unavailable, this Nokia kit is golden. Can you see the charging stations in villages miles out in the African bush, staffed by a bunch of kids on stationary bikes, cycling away to charge people's cellphones?
The Nokia Bicycle Charger Kit starts to work when you're pedaling at just under 4mph and clicks off at 31mph. Hit 7.5mph and your bike will be charging your cell as quickly as a traditional charger would. Ten minutes at 6mph will give you 28 minutes talk time or 37 hours of standby time— if, that is, your phone is one of Nokia's new models, which have a standby time of up to six weeks.
There is, however, a small flaw in the argument that people-generated energy is green. If you're going to cycle your way to five power bars on your phone, you need to cycle a tiny bit faster than normal. And if you're cycling faster than normal, and expending more energy than usual, you may find you need to eat a bit more. The fuel to create the energy has to come from somewhere, I'm afraid.
Nokia hasn't said when its kit will be available in the U.S., but it should be before the end of 2010.