The rise of the smartphone in Kenya has been astronomical over the past year or so. The main reason for this has been the arrival of affordable smartphones in many flavors from Nokia, Samsung, Huawei, RIM (AKA BlackBerry) and even other lesser known brands such as Mi-Fone and Tecno. As things stand in Kenya, I estimate that smartphone penetration should be in the region of 7% which is still quite low when many other global markets have over 30% penetration. On many levels, one could say that it is still early days for Kenya where smartphones are concerned but this will change radically over the next few years.
The reality is that for pretty much the first time in Kenya, we have smartphones retailing for as little as Kes. 7,000.00 depending on the brand and model you buy. At the same time, most of these low-cost smartphones run on Google’s Android, a trend that was started by Huawei’s ground-breaking IDEOS almost 2 years ago when it retailed for around Kes. 8,000.00 at launch. As of this writing, we probably have as many as 10 Android smartphone models retailing for under Kes. 10,000.00 in Kenya – including Dual-SIM models. It therefore goes without saying that when it comes to entry-level smartphones, Google’s Android has all the potential to wipe out Nokia and BlackBerry in Kenya.
Now, I am well aware that next year Nokia will be launching equally inexpensive Windows Phone 8 handsets in Kenya and the rest of Africa to counter the trend mentioned above. However, Nokia is still pushing Symbian-based smartphones in Kenya and these are not as popular as they used to be. At the same time, although BlackBerries have become really popular for business executives and the Youth who love the free BBM service, the reality is that with delay of their new operating system till next year, things are not looking good for them.
Going forward, it seems that Google’s Android will thrive not only in Kenya, but also in many other African markets as consumers start making the shift from feature phones to smartphones. It’s still quite shocking in Kenya for instance to see many feature phones still retailing for as much as Kes. 16,000.00 which is twice the price of some Android smartphones in the market. It’s really a no-brainer since Huawei has sold over 150,000 of its IDEOS smartphones in Kenya to-date and they have also released two more low-cost updates with Safaricom and Orange to maintain the trend. What remains to be seen is which brand will lead the low-cost Android market that is growing rapidly on a day to say basis in Kenya with Samsung, LG, Mi-Fone and Huawei leading the charge.