Are Microsoft’s Low(er) Cost Lumia Windows Phone Smartphones Too Little Too Late For Kenya & Africa?
Its been over year since Microsoft acquired Nokia’s mobile devices and software services for a whopping US$ 7.2 Billion back in late 2013. Since then, Microsoft’s mobile devices business has slowly but surely been taking shape and the last new smartphones bearing the Nokia name rolled off the production line in late 2014. Surprisingly, Microsoft which was expected to abandon the Nokia feature phone business sometime last year is still plugging away with these low-cost everyman devices and even announced the Nokia 215 earlier this month that will sell for only US$ 29.00 whilst featuring (very) basic Internet capabilities.
Most significantly, Microsoft has been rolling out steadily less expensive smartphone models from its Windows Phone powered Lumia range on a global basis. Indeed, the Lumia 520 was selling for as low as Kes. 10,000.00 late last year whilst the Lumia 535 launched in November 2014 with decent specifications and sells for around Kes. 14,000.00. These prices, whilst reasonably(?) affordable, are nowhere near the bottom of the pyramid for smartphones in Kenya where an entry-level Android smartphone can be had for as little as Kes. 4,000.00 (i.e. under US$ 50.00).
Still, I’m pretty impressed that earlier this week Microsoft announced that they would be launching the Lumia 435 and 532 at US$ 81.00 and US$ 93.00 respectively in various global markets including Africa. These actions on Microsoft’s part start to convince me that although they are NOT yet selling Lumia’s at the much lower prices Android smartphones have reached in Kenya, they are almost certainly making their way there?
The real problems for Microsoft’s Windows Phone going forward in Africa remain the same as they were over two years prior to Nokia’s acquisition. I did a blog post here in September 2013 where I said that one of the things that Microsoft needed to do to win in Africa with their Nokia acquisition was to is release a sub-US$ 50.00 Lumia smartphone for them to gain any kind of significant traction. The fact that this has NOT happened yet(?) must be hurting their growth plans BIG time. They need a smartphone that Africans can afford to buy en masse in the same way that they can with inexpensive Android smartphones at the moment. Its a no-brainer!
Secondly, Windows Phone is a distant third globally for consumers and mobile app developers when considering mobile ecosystems after Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android. Even though Microsoft is unifying the codebase for Windows on desktop and mobile devices to make it easier for developers to build once and deploy everywhere, in a mobile-first world they no longer wield the same sway they had with consumers, businesses and developers in the former PC-centric era.
Thirdly, Google Play is now the world’s largest mobile app store in terms of mobile apps available for download. Mobile content in the form of mobile apps is a compelling driver for consumers when making choices on which smartphones they eventually purchase.
The final problem for Microsoft is that their Lumia smartphones are simply NOT top-of-mind for most African consumers. As I see it, most will NOT go out of their way to buy Lumia smartphones unless there is a compelling reason to do so? At the moment, many popular mobile apps on iOS and Android find their way to Windows Phone many months or even years later as mobile app developers prioritise what is now commonly known as the duopoly of Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android.