Africa: The Next Frontier of Smartphone Growth

by Matt Klassen on February 19, 2013

Dubbed “The Cradle of Humanity,” Africa is a continent of unparalleled cultural, historical, and biological diversity, which in my mind makes it a confusing choice for the next frontier of smartphone growth. Regardless, while some are looking to China as the next great untapped smartphone market, as TechNewsWorld writer David Vranicar explains, “A recent wave of product activity by major technology companies is forcing a second look at Africa as the next big arena of opportunity for smartphone manufacturers and providers.”

To that end, companies like Microsoft, Huawei, and Nokia have all launched products aimed directly at the “African smartphone market,” with lower-end smartphones like the “4Afrika,” and Nokia’s “620” all aimed at this burgeoning market.

But the problem is that many here in the West often naively paint the entire African continent with one brush, failing to recognize that there is no African smartphone ‘market’ (singular) anymore than there is a single South American or European market, but a diverse collection of markets each with their own unique smartphone needs, which begs the question: is any collective smartphone growth across Africa even possible?

There’s no question that when one talks about other markets like China, for instance, that this same sort of diversity exists, but there’s a key difference between one country like China and an entire continent like Africa, and that’s infrastructure management. While there are certainly some African countries poised to welcome the smartphone revolution, most still lag far behind in terms of wireless infrastructure, not surprising given that many countries have significant populations mired in seemingly unending poverty.

Further, the fact that the Microsoft/Huawei partnership and Nokia have all released Africa-branded lower-end smartphones has many questioning the rationale behind such a move, asking whether Africans will even care that smartphone companies are attempting to pander to their nationalism  (or continentalism, if that’s a thing) in order to push these entry-level devices?

Beyond that, what’s strange is that as Microsoft, Huawei, and Nokia attempt to enter this burgeoning market, they’ve found a long time competitor waiting for them, as Blackberry is, by a huge margin, the most popular mobile choice in the pockets across the continent where smartphone use is possible. Of course what’s even stranger is that Blackberry, whose bread and butter has long been emerging markets, is increasingly ignoring the African market; turning its attention to the high end markets with its latest Z10 and Q10 releases. But I digress…

In the end, one has to wonder if a continent so divided by conflict, by culture, by sheer distance will ever become the unified smartphone market many here in the West think it can be, given that the draw of the African market comes from accessing the continent’s population as a whole, not from the work required to get many of those individual African nations to a point where they can even think about being smartphone customers, and perhaps that’s where this whole strategy falls apart.

But that said, there is some hope that as these African countries improve their overall economies over the next half century or so, the need and desire for smartphone technology will grow, and companies like Microsoft and its partner in the African market, Huawei, and Nokia will already be there when that happens.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. www.digitcom.ca. Follow TheTelecomBlog.com by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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