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Tech News: Cybercafes Get A New Interface

Posted on June 24, 2013

While the cybercafé has grown increasingly rare in North America, in many developing nations it remains the gateway to the Internet and a gathering place integral to community life.  Such is the case in many African nations where these local cafés are still very relevant and the standard way to get online.

The typical scene in these cafes is a crowded one, both with people and bulky computer units that that serve a very limited number of users at a time given the space and energy they require.  Internet connection is often slow, machines unreliable and energy costs huge.

The system could be much more efficient for customers and owners alike. Which is why Google is rethinking the “user interface”, not of a new digital software but of the physical space of the internet cafe.  What, exactly does this look like?  A tablet café.  By replacing desktops with tablets the entire experience of getting online has been transformed for locals in Dakar, where Google is piloting the program.

The first major advantage of the program is economic: tablet cafés make good business sense.  Owners stand to save a significant amount of revenue on electricity, savings that Google Africa hopes, “can be reinvested in faster connectivity to bring in more customers.”

From a social-change standpoint, potential benefits of the program are even greater.  Though customers do not own the tablets, the impact of putting cutting edge technologies into the hands of under-served populations is immeasurable.   Customers emerge with something much more valuable than a tablet: technological literacy that corresponds with some of the most advanced devices and operating systems in the world.  The potential for the democratization through knowledge here is huge.

Finally, from a community building perspective the physical layout tablets afford is inherently more social and much closer to that of a traditional cafe.  Rather than hunched over in separate cubicles customers can sit comfortably on couches, chat and share with total ease.

Do you think tablet cafes are the future face of internet access in the developing world? Can the barriers to sustainability of the program be overcome? Share your thoughts with us!

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