Africa’s Android Invasion

Mobile phone manufacturers, operators and of course Google started a big push on Android into Africa this year. Samsung, HTC and Huawei are moving Android phones into the market. Some operators are seeing the signals and starting to subsidize Android handsets to get them to a price point that is palatable by a larger number of buyers. Google continues to push for local content, works with developers, does g-[country] events and puts on contests.

While the primary phones in Africa are still feature phones, Android has made a beachhead on the continent and will continue to roll forward. I believe we’ll look back at the landing of the IDEOS phone earlier this year in Kenya as an inflection point, where in 2 years we’ll define the times up until then as, “before Android”.

Developers as Leading Indicators

I see what the local programmers working on as a leading indicator of what everyone else will be using in the next 2-3 years. In the iHub, on the mobile side, we see a lot of programmers excited about, and working on, Android apps. It’s a balance between that and the SMS/USSD core infrastructure apps that Kenya is well known for.

Today, at the g-Kenya event, Google announced the three winners of their Android Developer Challenge for Sub-Saharan Africa. Each of the winners will receive $25,000.

There were 29 finalists came from the following 10 countries, which is a pretty decent spread. However, you can tell from the number of apps in each country where the real powerhouses are.

7 South Africa
6 Kenya
5 Nigeria
3 Ghana
2 Uganda
2 Malawi
1 Senegal
1 Togo
1 Tanzania
1 Republic of Guinea

The one pain point that developers have right now is that they feel pressure to support multiple operating systems. This is Primarily between Android and Symbian if the app is focused on Africa, if the app is global, then add in iOS and possibly Windows and Blackberry.

It will be interesting to see what happens with feature rich HTML5 and how it plays out into the mobile space. At this point, either we’ll see a lot of mobile web apps (working across PCs and all phones with real browsers) or we’ll see a lot of apps. Even if we do see the client-side Android apps, I’m guessing they’ll be more thin-clients than anything else. Only time will tell though.

The Future of Consumer Mobiles in Africa

The years ahead are hard to predict. However, in Africa I think we’ll see an increase in Android handsets and mobile web usage, and a continued decrease in the cost of low-end smartphones and data connectivity.

If I’m an operator, I see the writing on the wall in regards to SMS and USSD apps, and I’m trying to move my user base to data. This means more subsidized phones, and attractive data packages that are wide-spread across my region. I’m making deals with content providers and offering zero-rated (or reverse-billing) packages on data to large content houses in order to increase usage.

If I’m a manufacturer, I’m providing an array of Android handsets that allow my aspirational users to move up from a feature phone to a (we hope soon) $50 Android, then up to a tablet eventually. I’m doing whatever it takes to decrease costs on the low-end to get mindshare. If I don’t do Android (Nokia, RIM) then I’m doubling down on the mobile web and pushing for better browsers on my phones.

If I’m Google, I keep having dev events and competitions, but I also push for better localized payment options for developers in Africa. On top of that, I’m looking for an operator billing link for consumers with attractive percentages for app publishers, that way I attract them and everyone makes more money.

Of course, there’s more, but that’s where I’d start.

Notes from gKenya

This is the third day of gKenya, where there are 30+ Google employees running a big Google-focused conference in Nairobi. They’ve just done one in Ghana and Uganda as well. The first day was for university students, the second for programmers and today is for entrepreneurs and marketers.

Nelson Mattos, VP of Africa, Europe and the Middle East gave a keynote, here are some notes from that.


High penetration of mobile devices, and growth in mobile, yet not many fixed lines and very little high-speed connectivity. This provides a major challenge to Google, whose internet paradigm is based on a different type of user. Low speed and unreliable connectivity.

The diversity of Africa is also a challenge, especially languages. Example, is that there are 51 African languages with more than 2 million speakers.

Devices and affordability. Cash flow constraints impede the ability to pay the entire device price at once. – plus limited access to financing options as the whole of Africa only has 4% of the population that is banked.

Africa is a fragmented market with 54 countries and 1 billion people compared to other emerging markets like India (1.1b) and China (1.3b). This means lower volumes of things that can be sold and lower return for investors.

Broadband in Africa is 10x more expensive than in Europe. The price is just too high outside of cybercafes and certain limited mobile plans.

14% of the world’s population, 2% of the internet
Globally, 94 domains per 10k people, Africa is 1/10,000.


Africa is embracing mobile, so Google is trying to speed up the process of getting more and more people online using mobile. They’re also working on many different levels to create a more holistic ecosystem for the internet in Africa, including policy, education and developer outreach.

Access – reducing the barrier for potential users
This mainly means reducing the cost to access, data and services. They do this with with devices (like this week’s release of the Android IDEOS phone from Huawei). They also engage with major telcos and ISPs to reduce the price of entry for data connections.

Google works a lot with the African developer communities as well, they’re particularly heavy in Kenya, Ghana, Uganda, Senegal and South Africa, but are growing to more countries. One of their goals with this is to educate on how to better create efficient and effective websites, and it’s also to help grow a higher calibre of developer.

They have a university access program, where Google helps bring universities into the internet era in Africa (though I’m not sure what that means to be honest, outside of giving them Google Apps for free.)

Finally, they work to Improve the end-user experience, including latency for both Google products and internet services in general (ie, Google Global Cache). Note: Google Global Cache only works in certain countries, Kenya is not one of them due to political bickering amongst certain ISPs, AccessKenya amongst them

Relevance – making the internet relevant and useful to local people
Google is working to create and enable more African content online (ex: Swahili Wikipedia challenge and Google books partnerships). They’re helping to develop applications that are locally meaningful and enabling African devs to do the same by launching Google products in more languages.

Sustainability – helping to build an internet ecosystem in Africa that has long term sustainability
Developer outreach is a major component, where they are strengthening the developer community (through places like the iHub), working with universities by raising the level of curriculum and awareness about Google, and are also working and partnering with startups, publishers and NGOs.

Awareness and education (Doodle for Google in Kenya and Ghana, “Best place to watch the match” in Kenya during the World Cup, etc.

Google Tools

Taking advantage of Google apps (email, docs, calendar):
50k students using Google apps for free at universities
Small, medium and large sized organizations are using Google Apps as well, examples given were: Kenya Airways, Homeboyz Radio, USIU

Products developed for Africans – recent launches:

  • YouTube (South Africa)
  • Streetview (South Africa)
  • Google maps in 30 African countries: including driving directions in Kenya, Ghana and SA
  • Google News in many African countries
  • Google Places (Kenya)
  • Google Trader (Uganda)
  • iGoogle in 36 Sub-Saharan African countries
  • SMS chat in Gmail (Ghana, Senegal and Zambia)
  • Tools in local languages (ex: Gmail in Swahili)
  • Android Marketplace launched in Kenya and South Africa on Monday, but it’s crippled by lack of Google Checkout use in these same countries.

(There were actually quite a few more “Africanized” tools and features that he listed, but I couldn’t copy them all down in time. I’ll try to get the full list later.)

Ability for organizations to start local and expand globally:

  • Google Maps: 300 cities mapped, and represents a chance for local businesses to have a global presence by getting into the business listings
  • Google Site Creator: get indexed faster, uses the example of AkiliDada
  • Monetization opportunity through AdSense and Adwords: uses an example of “BabyM“, a business out of Nigeria, who used $400 on Adwords and sold their complete inventory in 4 weeks.

$100 IDEOS Android Phone Launches in Kenya

Google and Huawei have launched a very competitively priced Android smartphone in Kenya today, called the IDEOS. It is being sold for 8,000 Ksh (~$100).

It runs Android 2.2 (Froyo) and have access to the Android Market. The IDEOS is a touch-screen phone that comes with bluetooth connectivity, GPS, a 3.2-megapixel camera, up to 16GB of storage and can be transformed into a 3G Wi-Fi hotspot connecting up to eight devices.

2 out of every 3 internet users in Kenya connect through their mobile phone. This is why data is the current battleground in the mobile operator and handset space. Though there are only 6 million internet users in Kenya, the data market though the mobile is huge. Currently, there are 20 million mobile phone subscribers of a total 38 million possible.

Data enabled phones of any type cost a minimum of $40-50 in Kenya, a touchscreen smartphone coming in at $100 is going to be a big deal for a lot of people.


Google Kenya started their gKenya conference today. They are meeting with software developers, entrepreneurs and CS students at Strathmore University over 3 days to discuss innovation and growing businesses, as well as discussing their own suite of products.

[An update, after discussions with a bunch of Google employees at the iHub yesterday. The Google team said they didn not know when the phone would be able to be bought in Kenya.]

Android and pre-paid phones

There are two very big issues that the Android team will need to take care of before we see Android being used heavily in Africa.

First, the lack of access to SIM applications is surprising. These are the apps like Mpesa, top-up services and such. These aren’t just “nice to have” features, these are critical and the phone will fail if it doesn’t have them enabled. Your most basic phones can do this, but smartphones running Android cannot? (Note: unless you root your phone)

Second, there are a lot of background services running on an Android phone that use data. That’s fine for people living in an all-you-can-eat world of bandwidth, but here where we have to pay by the megabyte, it doesn’t work. I remember one day when my phone used up 1000 Ksh of credit ($12), that’s unacceptable and will drive users away very quickly.