As KaiOS Extends its Products into Nigeria, are Feature Phones Still Popular in Africa?

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KaiOS Technologies recently announced the extension of its affordable smart feature phones into six African countries including Nigeria. KaiOS is partnering with MTN Nigeria to drive their feature phones deeper into the Nigerian market.

Feature phones have been a key driver in Africa since the continent is a mobile-first region. These traditional basic phones were kings some years back. But in recent times, the introduction and popularity of smartphones in the African market, has made many abandon feature phones.

This beckons the question – are feature phones still popular in Africa?

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Do Feature Phones Still Rule In Africa?

Years ago, feature phones ruled the mobile market. This was because of their various offerings including FM Radio, MP3 player, average camera, lots of apps and games, and the ability to access the internet. But with the arrival of smartphones (Android and iOS) and its advanced functionalities, feature phones were expected to go away.

But in truth, they have not.

In 2017, according to International Data Corporation (IDC), the market share of feature phones rose to 61% from 55.4% in 2016 while that of smartphones fell to 39% from 44.6%.

During the 4th quarter of 2017, smartphone shipments was 20.3 million units, while shipment for feature phones totaled 33.4 million units. This shows that the demand for feature phones is still very strong.

The reason for this is not so far-fetched. Africa, despite being the world’s second largest mobile market, is also least penetrated.

And in an emerging market like Africa where the mobile phone is the primary internet access device, many people coming on to the market prefer to buy cheaper feature phones first. This is due to the economic constraints present on the continent which has steered people away from buying smartphones as a way of avoiding excesses spending.

Even the least of smartphones still go for about $100, which is much compared to feature phones that could be gotten for as low as $20-$25.

Moreover, low-end smartphone devices do not pack as much power as their high end counterparts. So, many people settle for feature phones at least till they have enough to get the big-gun smartphones. Afterall, some feature phones are capable of running few important apps such as WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter.

Additionally, the feature phone has remained popular due to its long battery life. In emerging economies like Africa where electricity is epileptic, this is an edge for feature phones.

Also, many smartphone users still resort to feature phones as secondary devices for calls in order to save the battery life of their smartphones.

The Era of Smart Feature Phones

In order to ease the transition from feature phones to smartphones without tearing the users pocket, a new category of phones that combine the affordability of a feature phone with the essential features of a smartphone were produced.

Called the “smart feature” phones, they are meant to be as affordable as feature phones and as multifunctional as a smartphones. These includes having access to apps like the Google Assistant, YouTube, Facebook, Google Maps, and Twitter.

A major operating system for these feature smartphones is run by KaiOS technologies, and are to be launched first by MTN in its Nigerian and South African markets this quarter. The firm also has plans of partnering with others to launch it in six other African countries this quarter.

This rollout plus the the introduction of more affordable smartphones from Chinese brands such as Xiaomi, OPPO, and Huawei might result in a steady decline in sale of feature phones. And should this happen, we just might be saying goodbye to the era of feature phones.


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