A young, internet-savvy population and government investment in educational technology boost economic prospects.
Turkey was Europe’s fastest-growing economy last year, expanding by more than 8 percent for the second consecutive year. Although that brisk pace is projected to slow this year, by about 3 percent, the government has ambitions to become one of the world’s top 10 economies by 2023 when the Republic of Turkey will celebrate its centennial. To get there, the government is betting big on technology to educate the country’s youth. Today, 65 percent of the population is younger than 24, and the nation’s leaders see this as a competitive advantage that will drive Turkey’s growth.
“Turkey is a very young society, where adoption of new things can be quicker than other societies,” said Anastasia Ashman, an author and Berkeley, Calif.-native who moved to Istanbul in 2003 and recently returned to the U.S. “One early adopter can get a group or whole family into a new thing almost overnight,” she said, adding that this behavior is driving quick adoption of computers, smartphones and Facebook.
The average Internet user in Turkey spends more than 32 hours online each month. The nation ranks as the third-most Internet-engaged country in Europe according to ComScore, after the U.K. and the Netherlands. “In fact, Turkey has the 12th-highest Internet usage in the world with more than 27 million users,” said Aydin Burak, Intel manager for Turkey.
Those users have a voracious appetite for Internet content, consuming an average of 3,706 Web pages per month, more than any other country in Europe, according to 2011 ComScore data. Many of those pages are on Facebook, which accounts for more than 28 percent of the entire time Turkey’s populace is online — more than threefold the time spent on either Google or Microsoft sites.
People in Turkey “picked up Facebook to connect with others, to be part of the crowd and not miss out or get left behind,” Ashman said, adding that’s where they were seeing news and photos of what their friends and family did the night before.” Facebook, she added, was the reason some people got their first PC. “Grandparents had to get on to Facebook because they value very deeply what’s happening, and like staying up on things,” she said. “Facebook keeps their finger on the pulse.”
Although Facebook dominates, it’s the not the only popular social platform in Turkey, which ComScore ranks as the world’s fourth-most socially engaged nation. There are more than 7 million Twitter users in Turkey, including President Abdullah Gül who has nearly 2 million followers.
Facebook may be driving first-time PC purchases, but today the typical family in Turkey has multiple computers, according to Stefania Lorenz director of research at IDC. “The main use is for education, gaming, entertainment and social with more tech-savvy people moving to smartphones,” she said.
“Awareness of new devices is very high and being connected is highly valued,” said Ashman. She says that in the past few years, people have become more tolerant of others checking their smartphone or grabbing their laptop while in family or a social setting. “People used to complain, but not anymore,” Ashman said. “They see the value in devices and are eager to get tips from people on how to get more out of their technologies.”
Lorenz said that more than 70 percent of the PCs sold in Turkey are notebook computers. “Netbooks are still in place, but dropping from the amount sold in 2010, and tablets are not yet that popular,” she said.
Turkey’s growing middle class is finding technology to be more affordable and more essential in their daily lives. According to data from Intel, people living in Eastern Europe paid the equivalent of nearly 48 weeks of work for a new PC in 1995. In 2010, that dropped to 5 weeks and a new PC in 2014 is expected to cost just more than the equivalent of 2 weeks of work. With more people able to afford a PC in Turkey, sales have grown from 1 million units in 2003 to 5.5 million units in 2011, and Aydin expects to see 13.8 million units sell in 2015.
A crowd gathers at 5:00 a.m. for the opening of the first Media Markt electronics store in Istanbul, Turkey.(Flickr photo)
Familiar multinational brands such as HP, Asus, LG and Lenovo are popular in Turkey, but people also buy from local PC makers such as Kesfer, Achi and Expherf. Aydin said that most people purchase PCs directly from small channel stores, but that more are turning to relatively new electronics stores that include Electromart and Technolia.
The government’s big bet on educational technology for Turkey’s 18 million students gets underway this year. The so-called “Fatih” project is a 4-year program with a goal of training tens of thousands of teachers in schools across the county, equipping educators with laptops and providing tablet computers for students plus cloud computing infrastructure and interactive whiteboards for classrooms. The education initiative could bring 15 million tablet computers to the country, according to one forecast from Invest in Turkey.
Aydin believes Turkey’s people — the world’s 17th largest population — and its location at the crossroads between Europe and Asia will help turn it into a top 10 global economy.
“Our young population plus a growing middle class are keeping us in a favorable position, and our government policies are helping,” he said. “But we will have to diversify our economy and diverge from depending too much on Europe.”