Where Africa and Technology Collide!

The “Nokia: Innovating Africa” presentation

A special thanks to all of the commentors from the last couple days who gave of their opinions to help Nokia think differently about innovating in Africa. It was these comments that I channeled, where I served as a messenger to tell the Nokia executives who flew in from all over the continent and Europe for this meeting in Nairobi.

Nokia: Innovating in Africa talk

Points made in the talk

[Note: most of these points came directly from the readers on my last post.]

First, stop treating the Middle East and Africa as a single region. If you’re serious about Africa, treat it as its own region.

Second, stop colluding with the operators and start colluding with your customers.

The mobile space is more nuanced now, it’s difficult to create a handset that will change your fate, instead it’s a mixture of software, apps, web platforms and data costs (as well as handsets) that decide your future.

Engage developers, third party programmers and businesses is where innovation comes from, not a large, slow company.

Standardize your UI and OS, strengthen your APIs. Get out of the way and let software developers innovate on a platform.

Make it easy for developers to make money, even in Africa. Figure out a way that people get paid and can bill via your server-side offerings like Ovi.

Take some of the big money that’s being thrown at high-profile “global social change competitions”, which generally attract Western organizations, and do more smaller-scale work at the grassroots level.

A large percentage of users can’t afford the data plan to get on your own websites and the Ovi store. Zero rate them. There’s no reason you shouldn’t be eating Facebook’s, Twitter’s and Google’s lunch in this, as Nokia has deeper penetration with mobile operators than almost anyone else on the continent.

Consider a specialized site for Africa, loading fast on low bandwidth.

You were too slow on the dual SIM card movement, that if anything showed you had lost your innovative practices in the emerging markets like Africa.

Today it’s driving the cheapest candybar phone to the lowest possible price. Good, keep that up. While you’re doing so, make the battery last longer and keep thinking of great ways to recharge it (solar or bicycle dyno).

But, look ahead are realize that even here in Africa, people want Smartphones with real web browsers, social networking and entertainment apps. Do it for under $100.

You don’t want to hear it, but I’ll say it anyway. Software isn’t your strong point, hardware is. Consider embracing Android.

How about a multi-touch dual-SIM Android smartphone for under $100… can you do it?

SD cards = digital storage. In fact, provide these with content already on them, including books, encyclopedias, etc.

Cloud-based services, including heavy application processes, would mean deeper penetration into phones with less RAM, content backup, and a content creation and sharing link that is still untapped.

Be the first to implement 802.21 in your handsets, allowing a seamless handover from WiFi to GSM/GPRS. Lead the charge to fully IP-enabled phones.

Finally, nothing will get better by holding to the status quo and slipping into mediocrity. Now is the time for daring exploits, especially in the places with the most growth potential and where your competition is either light or weak.

Africa is ripe for experimental phones and financing models, what is new coming out of Africa first?


  1. Hey Erik, sounds excellent, covered quite some ground there, Nokia could consider to pay you for top notch advice on moving their brand forward, or maybe they did 🙂
    I’d love to see preloaded (educational) African content on SD’s with the phones. Would help massively with distribution and all the young people want big sd’s.
    Hope Nokia make good use of your points.

  2. @Emer – thanks! No, this was pro-bono work. A favor for the Nairobi Nokia Research Centre who are friends of the iHub.

    That idea that you like so well, about using SD card storage was courtesy of Kikuyumoja and Niti Bhan (so, thanks guys!).

  3. @Hash – Can you share some of their observations, reactions or feedback? What is their way forward from here?

    There may be a level of confidentiality, but I’d be curious to hear what you can share. Thanks!

  4. buy them a beer from the boys back home in the park

  5. Another great representation of the African tech scenario and our aspirations. Thanks and keep it up!

  6. Chris Winkler

    June 4, 2010 at 5:59 pm

    I look forward to possibly one day reaping the benefits of this talk!

  7. Hi eric! That just about nailed it. I hope you didnt forget to stress that Data! Data ! Data ! is the solution to work with consumers instead of carriers.

  8. What a wonderful list of suggestions – a roadmap of possibility! Like Emer, the idea of pre-loaded content on SD cards also jumped out at me. Very cool.

  9. I’d like to throw one more in here: Bluetooth. Of the top 10 phones using Opera Mini in ZAF in November 2009: all had Bluetooth, none had Wifi. This is not a stat that is going to change dramatically in the next 2 years. Not only do people in Africa have Bluetooth on their phones, but they know how to use it. Figure out higher bandwidth activities that would be unaffordable on mobile data plans, and popularise Bluetooth access points with these services. Instant opportunity for an entrepreneur to invest in technology and amortise costs over many customers.

    And for goodness sake, don’t make phones with technology like Bluetooth but without an SDK that developers can use.

  10. these are brilliant ideas….I agree the others the pre-loaded SD Cards is an ingenious idea if implemented its potential impact is massive!! Hope Nokia shall take this feedback seriously. Thanks on insisting they should split MEA and Africa operations. Its about time they did it.
    Cheers Hash… Will buy u coffee when I c u for the Great Work!

  11. If you have a follow up, see if they have plans to implement NFC: http://www.economist.com/blogs/babbage/2010/06/apple

  12. Asante sana, Erik!

    Also, this may be a bit off-topic, but here’s another nice post on why Dual Sim phones matter, who dominates the market and why Nokia is still a bit too clumsy on the dual sim issue: http://mobile-review.com/articles/2010/dual-sim-phone-market-en.shtml

    I think quite a few of the mentioned points from the talk also apply to the European market, i.e., I’d like to see more and more innovations and case studies (like m-pesa, best example) being implemented in (Western) Europe. You said it before: If it works in Africa, it will work anywhere… dual SIM phones, prepaid instead of postpaid, mobile banking – these things also work in Europe (if only Nokia wouldn’t be too shy – operators setting the pace, not manufacturers…).

  13. Great comments and ideas – agree with all of them. I didn’t see this soon enough, but I would have supported you re the importance of not stereotyping Africa and assuming that “dumbed down”, cheap phones are the way to reach the market. Africans are aspirational and the need is more for affordable smartphones! That includes the prevalence of SMS-based services for development – start thinking of services that support feature phones and smartphones too, because the secondhand market for these devices is set to expand dramatically (and China is making large strides into Africa, making new devices affordable too). Believe it or not, there is a lot you (Nokia) can learn from Africa that can be applied anywhere in the world. The cell phone is the “PC of Africa” and the challenge has changed from getting access to ICTs to how can this PC of Africa be appropriated for new kinds of products and services.

  14. Its good news for mobile lovers.

  15. Erik, well said. Very helpful. Steve

  16. This is a real pull in the ear for Nokia. Great stuff. I like tha part where you told them everything the needed to hear..oh wait. That was everywhere! Data, Bluetooth, African markets don’t have to be low-end markets, deal with the continent as one entity, the hardware over software..that was a well done presentation man! Cheers.

  17. the beginning of the start, I’d say, wiki on demand

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