My wife is Thai, and we talk about the differences between our native
cultures on a semi-regular basis. Of the many subtle nuances that
distinguish and characterize our social and professional habits, I think I've underestimated the role of mobile communications. Her unique perspective on phones reveals the seemingly insignificant details that actually make up our daily lives. I have never fully explored
all of Mrs. Walton's comments regarding the American cell market. And she has mentioned it enough that I think an article is in order. Whether or not Thailand is representative of the entire Southeast Asian market, I cannot say. But I hope it's an interesting tangent for our American readers, and an appropriate tip of the hat to some of our visitors overseas.
Thais take incoming ringtones
for granted. I don't even think that service is available in the
States. With this feature enabled, callers don't hear a pulsing tone that vaguely approximates the sound of a rapidly-hammered bell. They
hear your favorite song or comedian, you making obscene noises, a barking dog... whatever. The
service has been available in Thailand for about 5 years, and those who
don't use it are widely considered to be out of touch. Even my mother-in-law,
who doesn't know how to send email, has an incoming ringtone.
Mobile phones are an important part of culture and fashion in Thailand, and if
your phone is outdated, then so are you. I'm talking mainstream media culture here. The Thai people live as varied and disparate lives as citizens of any country. But 8 MP camera phones have been
on the market for some time, and strange multi-function gadgets are the
norm. It's not a crazy as in Japan, where so many new devices have 1 or
even 2 telescoping antennae for receiving live television and radio broadcasts, but
dual-SIM and dual-cam support is expected for high-end devices. Video calls are commonplace.
My wife scoffed when she asked me to recommend a spring-loaded switchblade-type flip
that bursts open with the touch of a button and I couldn't think of
one. (Seriously, comment if you know a model, especially unlocked GSM
or T-Mo. She's getting a phone for Christmas.) I recently told her we need a video camera, and she kind of
giggled before musing about how ridiculous it is that I have this hot new phone
and it can't even capture video. After a brief pout and period of denial, I had to agree. It is ridiculous. Why is America at the
tail end of so much cell tech?
Don't get me wrong, Thailand, Japan, and virtually every other
developed country on the planet has an iClone or three. Blackberry (Canadian) and WinMo knock-offs are a dime a dozen. North American innovation is embraced and imitated in most modern markets. But many of the homegrown contraptions and trends that make so much quirky sense overseas simply don't emerge over here. Then again, we miss out on some comically kooky
bad ideas. And, it's easier to put capital into hardware doohickeys where the use of cracked, unauthorized operating systems by low-profile OEMs is rampant.
It is a different market, and you have to take into account the cost of
living, average wage, unemployment, etc. Even so, check out some of the
standard options and prices in Thailand, keeping in mind that there are currently about 35
Baht to each US Dollar. An average monthly cell plan is 5 Baht a month.
With my mother-in-law's phone card, international calls cost 3 Baht to
connect and 1 Baht per minute. Incoming calls don't count against
minute usage on any cell plan.
With a PCT Homebase plan, 1 account is shared by several phones, and callers are
asked to select their intended contact from a menu. Calls from a
PCT phone are 3 Baht per, with no minutes counted, and no
Granted, international travel is far more common for Southeast Asians and Europeans than it is for Americans. While we spend our family Summer vacations at Disneyland or the
grandparents' house 1000 miles away, a Thai may go
to China, and a Briton may go to Germany. So it's not surprising that
International calling should be cheaper for those who live in smaller
countries (or that fuel is often so much more expensive).
It's time to look at some phones. As tempting as it is to start an image dump here, I'll just give some links to interesting models and you can take it from there. There's a sexy slider, the oddly-configured cam phone, a chunky-clunky smart phone, and one I call the lunch box.
Some of the phones on those sites are not exclusive to Thailand. I guess I can't give you guys an accurate picture until I go there myself, and visit the shopping mall of cell phones; Maa-buhn-krong in Bangkok. I plan to hit it next Summer. And I hope to have some sort of video-capturing device by then...