Seizing the smartphone opportunity in Africa

Hoping to capitalize on the seemingly insatiable global market for smartphones, vendors continue to focus their efforts on new, low-cost devices for the African market.

Huawei has stated that it will offer the ‘4Afrika’ smartphone by next month. This Windows Phone 8 device is expected to sell for $150. It will include a 1.2 GHz Snapdragon processor, front and rear-facing cameras and reportedly a localized app store. The launch is part of Microsoft’s 4Afrika initiative, which includes efforts to increase sales of Windows Phone devices from multiple vendors, Nokia especially.

Microsoft has recently expressed its ongoing commitment to the African market. Earlier this month, the company stated its intentions to help improve Africa’s global competitiveness:

“Our goal is to empower African youth, entrepreneurs, developers, and business and civic leaders to turn great ideas into a reality that can help their community, their country, the continent, and beyond.”

Microsoft hopes its 4Afrika Initiative will “help place tens of millions of smart devices in the hands of African youth” and bring “1 million African small and medium enterprises online” by 2016. The Huawei Windows Phone device is only one step towards this goal, but it may represent a significant change in personal computing.

Currently, only about 10% of mobile phones in use in Africa are classified as smartphones. Expect this to change in Africa and throughout the world. As Tim Cook, CEO of Apple stated, “over the long-term all phones will be smartphones. And people like to upgrade regularly. This is an enormous market to get to.”

This creates tremendous opportunity not just for Apple, of course, but for Nokia and Microsoft, Android, Samsung, Huawei, Sony and many others. Just as importantly, it creates opportunities within Africa for apps, content and new services.

The $150 (about N24,000) price point for the 4Afrika device is almost certain to fall – quickly. The dual-SIM Tecno N3 is priced at under $100 (about N14,000). Nokia continues to promote its low-priced Asha line. Intel has announced its “Yolo” phone for Africa. Handset makers understand the growing African market cannot be ignored. Of the major platforms, only Apple, whose popular iPhone 4 continues to sell well, will not have a sub-$150 smartphone available for Africa, it seems. Of course, just as Apple has focused on China, and has recently begun ramping up sales to India, no doubt they will also come to Africa. The opportunity is simply too large to pass.

Brian S Hall is a writer and smartphone analyst with over 10 years experience in the web and communications industries. He is an expert on how smartphones and the mobile web are remaking markets, industries, business models and lives around the world. No person on Earth writes more on smartphones. His personal website is and he tweets from @BrianSHall

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