The land of the $20 smartphone


Main image © Jamie Carter

“This one $40, this one $30 … that one $20!” The owner of the street stall, a man of about 30 years wearing a traditional longyi tied around his waist, is gesturing at a phone that looks, to my eyes, like a mid-range Android phone.

It bears the brand Singtech, a brand among myriad others you’ve probably never heard of, and a stick on the screen show app icons for Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter and Yahoo.

The centre of Yangon, in Myanmar, is dominated by Sule Pagoda, a golden stupa Buddhist shrine that hosted a ‘saffron revolution’ of monks in 2007 on the country’s slow path towards democracy.

But the stupa is not the most important gleaming icon here.

That honour goes to the curved shapes of aluminium and polycarbonate on sale on almost every street stall on Mahabandoola Road. Myanmar is now the land of the $20 smartphone.

Chances are you’ve never seen so many phones in one place. So why so many, and why so cheap

Now, 80% of the population gets a 3G signal, and in urban areas, 4G. The real revolution here isn’t democracy, but the influx of the phone….

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