The Next Killer Gadget?

    A hot new personal technology trend could become the field worker's perfect green companion.

    Last month saw the unveiling of not one, not two, but three solar-powered mobile phones. Samsung's

    appears to be the most advanced of the three. Its case is made from recycled water bottles and the phone offers an "eco" mode for adjusting screen brightness, backlight and Bluetooth usage and a GPS-linked application that tells you your CO2 emissions.

    LG has yet to name its

    , but it is part of a broader, eco-conscious movement at the Korean electronics firm. ZTE, the Chinese manufacturer of the third

    , said there is so much interest in Africa that it plans to create a range of solar-powered handsets.

    These phones, which are expected to hit the market this summer, are targeted at the developing world, where sunlight is plentiful and hundreds of millions have little access to electricity. Few details have been released regarding software, applications, or the price of the LG and Samsung phones, but most are able to power a 15-minute phone conversation from half an hour of sunlight and charge completely in seven to eight hours.

    Jamaica-based Digicel Group, which will distribute the ZTE phone at $40, expects a market of 700,000 in the South Pacific, Caribbean and Latin America alone. This excludes the two biggest developing world markets, Asia and Africa, and suggests the potential is enormous. The expanded mobile network would mean greater market access and more rapid communication in emergencies, particularly in the most at-risk rural areas.

    Yet these solar-powered gadgets are also of interest to the aid and development industry. Lightweight, green and full of useful apps, the best of them might well become standard equipment for field workers, who could take advantage of the sun, measure their carbon footprint and spread the good, green word – all while recording metrics.

    The coming solar phone wars are good for the poor, good for aid and development professionals, and good for the environment.

    About the author

    • David Lepeska

      David has served as U.N. correspondent for the newswire UPI and reported for several major newspapers, including the New York Daily News and Newsday. He was chief correspondent for the Kashmir Observer in Srinagar, India, and regularly contributes to the Economist, among other publications. Since 2007, David has reported for Devex News from Washington, New York, as well as South Asia.