The Nexus 5 may not be sold through the Google Play Store anymore, but that doesn’t mean it’s not out there making people’s lives better. Mobile4All is a community pilot program in San Jose, California, made to get smartphones into the hands of homeless people, in order to help them better communicate with the world, find homes, jobs, and more. Google donated 150 Nexus 5 devices to the scheme, which is part of the Community Technology Alliance (CTA), and each has its own custom plan, Wi-Fi connectivity, and customer service team.
Is it making a difference? According to several reports, yes. Speaking to KTVU, Holly Leonard describes how having a reliable Internet connection and a working phone changed her life for the better. After living in her car for a year, Leonard now has a home, can send out resumes, and is back in touch with her family.
She told the New York Times, “People don’t put out ‘for rent’ signs anymore, so the Internet is the best way. You can’t even go get a paper application for a lot of things. You can’t get a job unless you get online.”
Jen Padgett, the Community Technology Alliance’s CEO, said: “I think we can consider it a basic need for someone who is homeless. It allows us to put them on a level playing field with the rest of the world.”
The service isn’t free, but comes at a reduced rate. For $30 per month with BetterWorld Wireless, the phone has unlimited calls and SMS, plus 500MB of included data. It also includes call waiting, caller ID, and a voicemail number, but crucially, no contract and alternative ways to pay other than through a bank account.
A selection of pre-installed apps are added to the phone before it’s handed out, such as Skype, Google Voice, and a free calls app from MagicJack. To ensure the phone is easy to use, it has a custom user interface designed by students at a Santa Clara school, and for anyone who wants one of the phones, a special training course must be attended. The Mobile4All scheme, and its partners, send alerts through to the phones with information on available homes, jobs, and even important weather reports.
Other CTA partners include Vodafone and Citibank, and more than 1,000 additional phones have been pledged. The scheme will be introduced in other cities — with Detroit and San Francisco at the top of the list — in the future.
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