Where Africa and Technology Collide!

Nokia and the Developing World

There is a reason that Africans, by and large, love Nokia and there’s a reason that the brand has made such an impact in that part of the world. While most companies around the world are ignoring Africa, Nokia actively develops solutions for the continent.

I’m continually impressed with Nokia. They seem to really care about making money by doing things right. That’s easy enough for any large multinational to say, but much harder to practice. However, a couple new stories popped up recently that prove this out.

First off, you should go read what Jan Chipchase is writing about Nokia’s Open Studios. They’re working in shanty towns from Ghana to India actively listening to their target audience in the developing world. One of the initiatives that they just ran was a competition to design your ideal future phone”. Below is just one of the designs, see the rest in at BusinessWeek.

Nokia Civilian Police design

Nokia Civilian Police: Designed by a 17-year-old living in a Liberian refugee settlement, this phone is designed to help the user record daily life in the camp. This way he can share his experiences with others. It also helps fight crime by including two separate cameras. This also ensures that both he and his brother have access to a camera.

Beyond the ethnographic and discovery stages of what Nokia does are the actual phones. Juliana writes about Nokia’s new mobile phones for emerging markets. This is where all the work by people like Jan and Younghee come to fruition.

Nokia Phones for Emerging Markets

Lastly, everyone should be aware of Nokia’s Beta Labs, which is full of news and information on what they’re doing in markets around the world. It’s their skunkworks and R&D center (the stuff that they share anyway), and it’s just one more touch point to see how Nokia is innovating around the world.


  1. Great example of their though for Africa: when I was in DR Congo: the most common, affordable Nokia Cellphone had a little LED flashlight built into it!

    This is totally missed on some people maybe, but in Bunia, where you have power 1-3 nights a week, having a reliable, low power use, recharble light to get you to and from your generator, Karocine lantern, etc. is invaluable.

    No other company had anything like this.

  2. Nokia continues to impress me with their approach to designing for real people, especially people in poverty.

    More than any company I have ever seen, they get it. Design is research is people is business.

  3. Ever since mobile phones took over in a big way in Africa, the word Nokia has been in the African, at least Kenyan, vocabulary. I am glad to see that Nokia isn’t taking that for granted.

  4. Nokia delivers phones customized for the market and that is why it is a big hit in Africa. Africa for nows buys what is cheap and durable and user satisfying.

    The flash light thing has become so popular than even Nokia envisaged. This year Nokia intends to sell 35 m devices in Africa alone.

  5. I have high hopes for Nokia’s next generation of mass produced phones for Africa. A camera phone is a great entry point to the digital world. When you take a picture you naturally want to share it. That’s the 2.0 publishing impulse that made sites like Blogger and Flickr explode.

    Another nice thing about Nokia phones in Africa is that more and more I am seeing them released with English, French and Portuguese interfaces. That’s a really great way to lower the bar for people struggling with a new technology (Not sure if we’ll see easy localization any time soon, but I can dream…)

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