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When I returned in February after four years away, they had multiplied, innumerably. I saw them at chai stands and tin-roofed restaurants, laid on tables between plates of rice and masala dosa; on the seats of rusted buses and crowded railway cars; under fluorescent lights at dusty street corners, casting an eerie glow of their own. In the hands of men and women, the sick and the healthy, the old, the young, and the in-between.

Everywhere in India, I saw smartphones.

In just a few years, India has undergone a mobile revolution. Once toys of the rich, internet-enabled phones are now within easy reach of the middle class and available to growing numbers of the poor. Even at around 25 percent ownership, India is now a bigger market for smartphones than the U.S. and is second only to China in the number of units purchased. Since only a fraction of these new smartphone owners have access to the internet through a home connection, smartphones in India (as in other developing countries) represent a first portal to the digital world for hundreds of millions of people.

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