By Jeremy Wagstaff
SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Google launched a service on Thursday it hopes will push millions of people in the developing world to access the Internet - and Google's ads - via basic mobile phones.
Google is launching the service, called Free Zone, first in the Philippines via local carrier Globe Telecom. The service allows phones with an Internet connection but limited functionality to access basic Google products like search, email and its social networking service Google+ for free.
Users could access websites that show up in Google's search results for free, but any website outside those results would prompt an invitation to subscribe to the mobile operator's data plan.
"It's aimed at the next billion users of the Internet, many of whom will be in emerging markets and encounter the Internet first on a mobile phone, without ever owning a PC," AbdelKarim Mardini, product manager for Google, told Reuters.
Google and Globe hope that by offering a free layer of services they will entice users of so-called feature phones to move beyond just making phone calls and sending SMS messages to sign up for Internet services.
Such services are more lucrative for carriers. Google makes most of its money through ads on web pages. It says it plans to roll out the service in other countries soon.
While developing countries like the Philippines have been enthusiastic early adopters of cellphones, there are still millions who either use phones too basic to be used for Internet services, or who are reluctant to shell out for more expensive services.
Phones running Google's Android operating system now account for three quarters of all smartphones shipped, according to consultancy IDC. But that still leaves a lot of phones.
The GfK Group, a research company which measures consumer habits, reported in September that while smartphone sales are growing rapidly in Southeast Asia, the more basic feature phones still outnumber their more expensive counterparts.
The Philippines, for example, saw a three-fold growth of smartphones in the 12 months up to September, but despite boosting their share, such devices still accounted for only 24 percent of all mobile phones.
Globe and Google are not the only players in the Philippines to target non-smartphone users by offering them a cheaper way to access Internet services.
Since launching a pared down Internet service last year, for example, Globe rival Smart Communications said the half million users who signed up spent 150 percent more on average per month than its other subscribers.
(Editing by Robert Birsel)
Earlier on HuffPost:
The now-ubiquitous Gmail -- Google's email product -- was unlike any previous email service when it was introduced <a href="http://googlepress.blogspot.com/2004/04/google-gets-message-launches-gmail.html" target="_hplink">in 2004</a>. It featured way more storage space (1 GB per user), search capability within your email, and conversion view, which groups together all replies to the original message to keep the conversation in a single thread. It also included a built-in chat service.
Google Mars (2006)
Google worked with NASA researchers to create a detailed, digital map of the planet Mars. <a href="http://www.google.com/mars/" target="_hplink">Google Mars</a> works similarly to Google Earth -- except you're navigating around a far-off planet. Users can explore regions, mountains, plains, canyons, craters and other elements.
Google Sky (2007)
<a href="http://www.google.com/sky/" target="_hplink">Google Sky,</a> the outer space version of Google Earth, is a way to explore the sky from your computer or mobile device. Click the Sky button on the Google Earth toolbar and you can see constellations, the moon, the planets, and user guides giving information on each. And, of course, there's a search bar to locate whatever part of the sky you're looking for. If you're unfamiliar, <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gX9MeF2Au9c&feature=player_embedded#!" target="_hplink">this YouTube video</a> gives a good guide.
Google Reader (2007)
<a href="www.google.com/reader" target="_hplink">Google Reader</a> is a web-based news aggregator. It utilizes RSS feeds and included sharing capability until October, 2011, when this feature was <a href="http://www.theatlanticwire.com/technology/2011/10/how-survive-switch-google-reader-google/44069/" target="_hplink">disabled and replaced</a> with a Google+ button.
Google Moderator (2008)
<a href="https://www.google.com/moderator/" target="_hplink">Google Moderator</a> ranks user-submitted questions that come in during an online discussion. It was first created to help moderate the company's tech talks, and was later used by President Barack Obama's team to sift through Americans' questions for the newly elected president. It works like this: Participants can submit questions or ideas, and other participants vote on them. This crowdsourcing technique helps identify the questions and ideas with the most support or interest from the group.
Google Body (2010)
Google Body allowed users to navigate through 3D anatomical models of the human body. Google Body ceased operation in Oct. 2011 -- when Google Labs shut down -- and will relaunch as Zygote Body. <a href="http://www.zygotebody.com/" target="_hplink">Zygote Body</a> will be a searchable, interactive 3D model of human anatomy. Check out this video for a look at the former Google Body.
Google Docs (2010)
<a href="docs.google.com" target="_hplink">Google Docs,</a> a web-based office suite that includes word documents, spreadsheets and other formats, was innovative for a few reasons. One, the documents are accessible from any computer or device. Two, they're collaborative: You can share documents with coworkers or friends and read or edit them simultaneously. The docs also automatically save as you go, protecting the work from browser crashes or other accidents. Google Docs is a combination of two previous company projects: Google Spreadsheets and a web-based processor, Writely. There have been several iterations in the past five years, with the mostly completed version announced in 2010.
Google Goggles (2011)
<a href="http://www.google.com/mobile/goggles/#text" target="_hplink">Google Goggles</a> is on the cutting-edge of visual search. The product enables users to search with images instead of words -- basically you take a picture of something, and Google will recognize it and pull up search results on it. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/12/07/google-goggles-search-by-_n_382871.html" target="_hplink">See a demonstration here</a>.
Google X (2011)
A November <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/14/technology/at-google-x-a-top-secret-lab-dreaming-up-the-future.html?_r=2&pagewanted=all" target="_hplink"> <em>New York Times</em> piece</a> gave a glimpse into Google's super-secret "Google X" lab, where the company is dreaming up innovative ideas for the future, like elevator that goes to outer space, driverless cars, and all manner of robots. In January 2012, Google announced an experimental lecture forum called "<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/06/google-unveils-solve-for-_n_1258870.html" target="_hplink">Solve For X</a>," with an aim at solving "moonshot thinking." As Google <a href="http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2012/02/whats-your-x-amplifying-technology.html" target="_hplink">explained in a blog post</a>, the project will "take on global-scale problems, define radical solutions to those problems, and involve some form of breakthrough technology that could actually make them happen."