African Techies Beat The App Craze By Building For Feature Phones

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Written by Kevin Mwanza

African techies are capitalizing on a blind spot missed by the likes of Google, Samsung and Apple to build apps for non-smartphones – also known as feature phones — that are widely used on the continent.

Out of the 550 million mobile phone subscribers in Africa less than a third own a smartphone, leaving a majority disenfranchised by the app revolution that mobile users enjoy in developed regions.

This phenomena has prompted budding app developers across the continent to build text-based apps that do not need data and are easy to use, Bloomberg reported.

“Africa isn’t a lagging copycat market to the U.S. or Europe,” Benedicte David, heads strategy and customer experience for Orange SA, told Bloomberg.

“What works here won’t necessarily fit there. There are specific local needs and opportunities.”

A 2015 Mobile Phone Tracker report from the International Data Corp (IDC), showed that more and more Africans are ditching their feature phones for smartphones as Android and iOS supported devices become cheaper.

But even with the number of smartphones expected to triple in the next five years, feature phones are still the most used devices in Africa.

According to CCS Insight, a UK based market research firm, there is still a large market for affordable feature phones in Africa.

“This opportunity remains interesting enough for a number of phone makers to continue to deliver products, albeit with ever-declining profit margins,” CCS said in a recent report.

Several tech startups in Africa have used text-based apps to reach their target audience. These include M-farm, a farmers online market place app, and iCow, a cattle monitoring app.

Samsung, Techno and Apple were the leading smartphone vendors in Africa in 2015, with the three vendors accounting for 55 percent of the continent’s smartphone shipment during the period, according to the Mobile Phone Tracker report from the International Data Corp.