Electronics producers target low-cost smart phones to Africans | Environment| All topics from climate change to conservation | DW | 06.09.2011
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Environment

Electronics producers target low-cost smart phones to Africans

Africa is the fastest-growing market for mobile communications after Asia. Manufacturers offer more and more low-cost phone models for emerging markets, as demonstrated at the IFA consumer electronics show in Berlin.

An Ethiopian man using a cell phone

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South Korean electronics manufacturer Samsung is one of the top players at the 2011 IFA consumer electronics show in Berlin.

Products in the spotlight include mobile devices, tablet PCs and smart phones. Things are moving fast in the cell phone world, with markets in the emerging and developing world growing rapidly.

Samsung is keen not to miss out - it presented four cheaper, stripped-down models, which could be successful in China or in African countries.

Cheap but functional

"When it comes to the menu navigation and applications, these phones are very similar to regular smart phones," Samsung Product Manager Lars Rabach told Deutsche Welle.

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A stripped-down model should offer the functionality of a computer-like smart phone, despite its lower price, Rabach said, noting that externally, there should also be no visible distinction between the cheaper and more expensive devices.

"Some of the functions are scaled down to make them affordable," he said.

But they retain the prestige aspects of big-ticket smart phones.

Nearly half a billion cell phones in Africa

There were more than 400 million cell phone contracts in Africa as of last year. Even in remote areas, mobile phones can be found - and they're not just used as a means of communication, but also for payment.

Money, salaries or rent can all be transferred using the M-Pesa service, which operates over mobile phones.

It's no surprise that manufacturers are keen to tap into this rapidly growing market. Industry experts say that Apple is due to soon launch a cheaper version of the iPhone 4.

Nokia introduced two kinds of mobile phones in Kenya this August, with a dual SIM card functionality allowing users to connect to two different kinds of networks.

This means users can select the cheapest available network when using the phone, in turn getting more coverage by using two different networks.

An app for every country

IFA flags

Emerging markets are ever more targeted by manufacturers

In African countries like Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria and Tanzania, 80 percent of all cell phones operated can connect to the Internet.

However, users there have to make do with networks that operate at much lower speeds than in Europe.

That's why mobile phone applications, or apps, should be able to operate in such countries without transfering large amounts of data, Rabach said.

"Data [transfer] rates can be scaled up, depending on the infrastructure," he explained, noting that high data speeds are not required for automatic updates.

Two years ago, Samsung launched its own mobile phone operating system called Bada. The system can be used for low-end cell phones to develop specific apps for countries and regions.

"The app doesn't even appear on the menu if I'm not in that region," Rabach said.

Nut farmers benefit from app

German software giant SAP is also focusing on markets in emerging and developing countries.

The company has developed an app aimed at cashew nut farmers in Ghana, who can use it to compare trader bid prices.

"This is a genuine attempt by SAP to tap into the market from the bottom of the pyramid," said SAP employee Christian Merz.

A man repairing a cell phone at a market in Abuja, Nigeria

Cell phones can be found in every corner of Africa

A new approach was necessary in its development, and the company had to go about sales and training differently, he added.

In South Africa, a mobile app allows small retailers of foodstuffs to plan deliveries and place orders with a discount from wholesalers.

In the past, they had to travel to the nearest city to arrange for the delivery of the goods.

Within the countries, the new technologies could make everyday life easier – and increase entrepreneurial freedom.

Author: Sabine Kinkartz / Friedel Taube / cc
Editor: Sonya Angelica Diehn

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