Safaricom abandons feature phones in favour of affordable smartphones

old telephone juuchiniAfrica is estimated at currently having a smartphone penetration of between 17 – 19%. Data analysts (and other well placed tech enthusiasts) *cough cough* have projected a growth by about double (to between 40 – 42%) by 2018. Analysts say Africa will hit the 1 Billion smartphone subscriber digit by end of 2015.

Kenya currently has 4 main mobile operators namely Safaricom, Airtel, Yu and Orange. Safaricom, currently the leader of this pack, had announced that it will stop selling feature phones in favour of affordable smartphones as part of its offering to its customers.

During February’s Mobile Web East Africa (MWEA 2013) conference in Nairobi, Nzioka Waita, Corporate Affairs Director at Safaricom, mentioned expressly that Safaricom is soon going to stop selling low price point (read cheap) feature phones in all retail outlets. Safaricom will start to introduce and sell more of the affordable smartphones to consumers in the Kenyan market. Nzioka added that as much as Safaricom understands the importance of feature phones in the African (and specifically rural/remote Kenyan market), as the country’s leading telecoms provider, it will take up the responsibility of ensuring the penetration of affordable smartphones and to specifically increase its percentage uptake in the market.

“Feature phones are now being replaced by the cheaper and well priced smartphones that are now readily available in the country,” he added. He was probably referring to phones like the Intel YOLO that Safaricom launched in the last week of January 2013.

The move from feature phones to smartphones, Nzioka explained, will not only ensure customers switch to smartphones, but the market for local content like music, rich media and mobile applications made for smartphones will grow hence more production and more consumption of these by local Kenyan consumers regardless of where in the country they are.

Think about it this way: Even local developers can now create, market and sell their products to a more local audience. One of the biggest issues with local developers has been creating solutions for problems in Africa and having no one use them locally.

What I’m really worried about is the effect this announcement will have on relationships with companies like Nokia, Alcatel, Huawei who at times go out of their way to produce and distribute feature phones. What happens to these products? Only time will tell.

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