Google has launched a new service designed to get users in developing countries to access its core offerings.
Dubbed Free Zone, the service is launching first in the Philippines starting today. Users in that country will be able to access Google Search, Gmail, and Google+ from their mobile devices without incurring any data charges.
In an interview with Reuters published today, Google product manager AbdelKarim Mardini said that the service is designed to take aim "at the next billion users on the Internet, many of whom will be in emerging markets and encounter the Internet first on a mobile phone without ever owning a PC." If successful, Free Zone could be rolled out to other emerging markets.
However, there is a catch. While folks will be able to send and receive e-mails on Gmail and check out what friends are sharing on Google+, they can't go any further than Google's search results page before being told they need to pay their carrier for access to data.
Free Zone is available on just about any Internet-enabled mobile phone in the Philippines. According to Google, it's optimized to work on feature phones, but can also work on smartphones.
Google's move underscores the growing importance of emerging markets. Several countries around the world are starting to improve their technology infrastructure, giving companies like Google, Apple, Microsoft, and others, the opportunity to capitalize. In addition, as China's middle class continues to grow, nearly all tech companies will try to pounce.