Friday, May 12, 2017

The *New* Public Phone Will Conquer the Last Mile

The sharing economy of bicycles set the precedent.

For many decades bikes ruled Beijing. Then, along with China’s massive exodus out of poverty, the bicycle started to give way to a growing subway system, personal transportation devices like the Hoverboard, and cars. Despite headache inducing traffic jams, today's people who can afford a car, often want a car. This unfortunate luxury status has left us all coughing up smog. Couldn't sharing be more fashionable?

In early 2016, there was no sign of this letting up. It seemed the bicycle was going the way of dark green trench-coats. Fast forward just a few months and these colorful bikes started popping up everywhere; unrestrained to a docking station, left for anyone to QR scan and ride. Today, everyone in Beijing knows about the sharing economy of bikes. With rates starting as low as half a kuai per half hour, almost anyone can afford a ride. These bikes have proven to be the quintessential component in the quest to connect the last mile of public transportation in Beijing.

This year’s Beijing International Bicycle Exhibition (2017.7.8-10) is subtitled, Sharing Economic Golden Epoch, but with so many new shared bike companies entering the fray, the domain of shared bicycles appears saturated. None-the-less, Mobike and Ofo are heroes. They brought bikes back to China, and I am eager to see the latest innovations at this year’s BIBE show.

The sharing economy of bicycles previews the power of ephemeralization and the Internet of Things to come. Bikes made a comeback in sharing form. What's next?

the return of the public phone

Imagine going into a fast food restaurant -or any public venue registered as a pick up/drop off location-, picking up a cellphone, scanning your fingerprint, and having your profile downloaded from the cloud. This is now your phone for a negligible hourly rate. Once you're done, log out and leave the phone at any registered venue. It's now free for the next user to come along and log in.

There is a mutualistic relationship to be had between the shared phone companies and the hosting venues. Come to a '*New* Public Phone booth' to pick up a phone, and stay for a burger.

Who's it for?

While the sharing economy of bikes tackled the last mile in a very literal sense, the sharing economy of phones would mainly target the last mile of those who do not yet have a phone; those who can not afford a phone, tourists, people "off the grid", or those who simply choose the benefits of sharing over ownership.

Basic Access: The cost to produce a Mobike has been reported at ¥3000 per bike. Today, an android phone can easily be found on TaoBao for one-tenth that price. Perhaps users can donate a phone into the shared phone pool, giving them X amount of free credits for their submission. Basic shared phones can be made available for an extremely negligible price per hour, maybe even free.

Premium Access: Ownership is passé. Access is in. Rather than spend a burdenous ¥7000 on the latest and greatest phone every 6-12 months, many people may choose to pick up a premium shared phone instead. The competition will be fueled as it is today, with neat functional features and slick design, but the profit will be in the service fees, targeted ads, and/or data mining. Not in the hardware.

but won't people steal them?

To prevent theft and harvesting of parts, the *New* Public Phone can be glued shut, similar to how late releases of the Nintendo Wii were glued shut to prevent modding the console. If you pry it open, you will destroy it.

Who will charge the battery?

Many of the shared bikes today have solar panels on them, often on the floor of the basket. Cellphones can also have integrated solar panels. If that doesn't pan out, a credit can be awarded for charging the phone prior to logging out.

So, if the target audience is phoneless, how do they even register to use the *New* Public Phone?

Registration to use the phone can be done right on the phone. When you pick up a *New* Public Phone, you either choose register new account or login scan. Similar to Mobike registration, a new user can register by taking a couple selfies with their photo ID and a few finger print scans, right on the shared phone itself.

The ownership era will end.

When approaching zero marginalized costs, the *New* Public Phone will be readily available. If your current phone's hardware is still relevant, it can be tossed back into the pool for credits. There will come a time when street trash projects holographic coupons, begging to be picked up off the ground.

This white paper is presented by Beijing Technium 帝都科魂 ; committed to building an inclusive future. The sharing economy of phones will bring more people into the connected age.

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