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iPhone Conquest Turns to Africa

iPhone Conquest of the World (June 9)

Above is the map of the, “iPhone conquest of the world” shown at Apple’s WWDC keynote today. 15 African nations are getting in on the game now that is is 3G and more affordable. Honestly, I wonder how many of the local networks can handle the data load, but that’s another conversation. Orange will be the carrier for Africa (as well as the Middle East and Europe).

The iPhone will be released in many countries on July 11th. However, the full index of countries, including all of the African nations (save South Africa), won’t see the iPhone until later in the year.

iPhones in Africa - Country List

The 15 countries are:

Botswana, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritius, Niger, Senegal, South Africa.

The iPhone in Africa. Really?
Many people will say that the iPhone will never be of any consequence in Africa. Possibly true. Outside of Egypt and South Africa, the number of people who can afford post-paid data plans are fairly limited. The second problem is the data networks themselves, many of them aren’t ready for the stress that iPhone users will apply (as AT&T wasn’t in the US).

I reserve judgment. Blackberry’s, N95s and other smart phones can be made to work in Africa quite well. However, I don’t think what we’re seeing is “just another smart phone”. It’s a new operating system that changes the paradigm of the mobile phone/web. (I think Android is similar in many ways too – just more open).

What will happen is those who can afford the iPhone and the requisite post-paid plan will rush out and buy it. The data networks will become stronger to support it, and local developers will start building for apps (not to mention the secondary and tertiary applications and APIs that are needed).

Years from now, when the idea of the mobile web isn’t so flashy and unknown in Africa, we’ll look back and say our thanks to the iPhone as one of the catalysts that pushed development forward.

Gruber gets it right:

“The physical phone is not the story. A year from now, the iPhone 3G will be replaced by another new model. The platform is the story. Platforms have staying power, and, once entrenched, are very hard to displace.”

[image courtesy of Engadget, and full notes from keynote. Full video on Apple.com]

10 Comments

  1. Hey man, great to see a post like this. I actually wrote a post about how the Iphone was a game changer for africa a few weeks back at http://buzz2point0.blogspot.com/2008/05/iphone-available-soon-in-south-africa.html

    The IPhone is a game changer due to the internet experience(which is the closest i have seen to a desktop, and sometimes even better)

    The gist of the post is basically a device similar to the IPhone (Simple intuitive interface) at a much lower price point could allow millions of Africans easy access to the internet.

  2. hash,

    do the chinese knock off Iphones count? I don’t think they are 3G but they are pretty cool.

    I am still in Juba and keep coming across various models of “Bluetooth” phones with a big Apple logo slapped on the back. These things sport a TV, radio, video/still camera (very poor quality), USB connection, Bluetooth(thats why it is labled bluetooth on the front, but no other name on the phone), standard memory slots(please excuse me, i can’t remember the name, but you can by the card just about anywhere) and a garble of other accessories. Some even come with Dual sim slots.

    I saw one “Iphone” that was almost exactly like the original. Expect slightly bulkier and the worst user interface I have ever seen. I thought was the real thing until I started playing with it.

    Anyhow, I want to make more comments concerning your post, but I have run out of time… maybe later.

    P.S. I wish I was going to be in Nairobi 21st.. grrr…

  3. “The Iphone 3G in Africa …”
    Personally, I think that the various African countries covered by the Iphone 3G, have much better things to do instead of buying this new Apple “gadget”.
    Indeed, when I take the example of Cameroon my country, I find it totally absurd to talk about Iphone, when the largest amount of the population faces every day starvation. Is only my point of view.

  4. @Rob, that’s an interesting idea, which I think has a lot of legs in Africa. There’s no reason why these Chinese knockoffs can’t start running Android too right?

    Something to think about anyway.

    @Jikeb – I’m not sure I agree on that premise. You see, people in every country can afford an iPhone. Even though there are thousands of starving, malnourished, homeless people you still find people driving Mercedes, Range Rovers and Pajeros. This is no different, there is always a group that can afford it and will buy it. Capitalism is just doing what it does best here.

  5. hash,

    from some of the models I have seen, I am sure you could wipe whatever is running on it and load it with something else. I am assuming that is what Android is yeah?:)

    My biggest gripe about internet access, whether over a phone or through a wire is that it is friggin slow in these parts.

    Until these countries are connected to something providing massive bandwidth at a decent cost, it won’t matter how fancy your device is, access is still going to run at a snails pace.

  6. Hash
    There is little that makes me believe that this 3G Iphone will be anything more than a neat albeit expensive entertainment toy/device.

    The 200 $ upfront cost ( over 1500 $ for a 2 year contact) can buy a decent rural based web/data server.

    This is what Africa lacks- decent local content and hosting infrastructure.

  7. @Fimbo – I completely agree with you if we’re talking total market penetration. However, those that can afford it will buy, if for status only.

    Another thought is the smartphone market within enterprises in Africa. Let’s assume that the iPhone is enterprise-ready, as it looks like it will be. If your employees are already using an expensive data-enabled phone, this will fit too.

    At first glance there appears to be two viable markets: the haves, and enterprise.

    On to bigger things though. The idea of an open platform that allows you to do all that can be done on the iPhone is intriguing. That’s where Android comes in. Once there is enough bandwidth that allows more median-income Africans to get data-enabled phones, the obvious choice will be the open/inexpensive option.

    So, while the 3G iPhone very well might be seen as an expensive blip on the radar, it’s also forcing countries and carriers to speed up their plans to create a more robust data network. That’s what I really like about it right now.

  8. It’s surprising the number of people I see here in the ‘interior’ who access the internet by their phones.

    The ‘want’ is there (I was about to call it a ‘need’ and then changed my mind) but as other commenters have said the speed is not so great.

    Over the past few days I’ve been teaching some of the rangers here how to use the internet. It was a big unknown at first, even the computer they had no idea, but as to the way the internet works they all keep saying how easy it is as it’s just like a mobile phone.

    I think mobile phones will be an important step in much of Africa getting online.

  9. Well, as an African living in the west, I can tell you that most buying iphones are doing so largely on credit, driven by the great big materialism that is there to acquire the ‘next biggest best-est thing to show off’. Credit is all what ‘buying power’ is based on, nothing else. Look at their sinking economy to know. So white african, do reserve your judgement.
    P.s mzungu chick says hi, haa!
    If anyone thinks that Africans couldn’t get the iphones, then they are the typical racists who kept mobile phones out of Africa, only for the open minded to come in and reap profits the way M. Joseph has done. I figure less of Europe is actually interested in the i-phone than Africa would, since Africans are into the same sort of ‘big thing’ mentality that N. America has (through tv, of course). Another big buyer is the middle east, but luckily(for the upcoming mid-east sellers), all big cellphone/i-phone companies will bypass this market as well because of ignorance, forgetting that there are actually quite a number of countries there with a lot of spoilt rich oil people and teenagers than the rest of the world.
    Bypassing Africa has been the foolish pastime of the west, until China and India came along, so step aside and let’s do business with people who actually prefer colour-blind business.

  10. Hash
    Thanks for the reply. Of course this is not an either/or preposition. The 2 (access and content) have to go hand in hand like a tag team.

    But as more of the havenots get connected (probably on android/symbian and also through fiber optics) the issue and opportunity cost from lack of local content and infrastructure ( or ownership thereof) will will become more glaring.

    The concern is that Africa will only have a narrow window to migrate their old media to the web before they are annihilated by the onslaught from the west.

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