Homegrown Smartphones Cater to African Needs, Pave Way for Global Leadership

Nigeria Regulates Mobile Devices via 5% Tax

In the most recent quarterly report published by the International Data Corporation (IDC) to assess the state of the global mobile phone market, it was reported that smartphone shipments across Africa declined 7.9% quarter-on-quarter in the second quarter of 2022, continuing a trend that has been ongoing since Q2 2021.

The report cited “a negative economic outlook, increasing inflation and component shortages impacting markets across the region” as the primary drivers of Africa’s declining smartphone market, but a more in-depth analysis reveals more.

For example, while the IDC observed that smartphone shipments to Egypt declined 62.7% quarter-over-quarter, that statistic likely fails to take into account that Egypt is more than just a passive receiver of smartphones from China and other leading technology exporters. Rather, the North African country increasingly manufactures and exports its own smartphones, as PYMNTS reported last month.

Read more: How Mobile Device Manufacturing Is Boosting Growth in Egypt’s Electronics Sector

And although Egypt’s domestic manufacturing capacity is unlikely to have any meaningful impact on the IDC’s numbers considering the industry is still in its infancy, the point remains that in 2022, Egypt, alongside several other African countries, is no longer limited to importing smartphones from other countries.

For example, last month saw the launch of the Open G smartphone in Cote d’Ivoire designed with specific Ivorian requirements in mind. The locally manufactured Open G was created with the intention of increasing digital inclusion and accessibility with voice commands in local languages for users who can’t read or write.

The Open G smartphone’s innovation is mainly in its operating system, which is what allows the phone to respond to commands in 16 of Cote d’Ivoire’s approximately 60 spoken languages. But on the hardware side of things, only the final assembly takes place in the country, with the components being brought in from abroad.

One company that claims to have manufactured the first smartphone on African soil, as opposed to merely assembling them, is the Rwandan firm Mara Phones.

Upon the launch of its first manufacturing facility in the country, Eddy Sebera, Mara’s country manager for Rwanda, told CNN that “the entire manufacturing process, from the motherboard all the way to the packaging of the phone is done in our newly-opened factory.”

Since then, Mara Phones has opened a second factory in South Africa. And earlier this year, Ventures Africa reported that the Rwandan firm had put in a bid to acquire the mobile business of the Korean technology giant, LG Electronics.

Other notable businesses helping to cultivate Africa’s young electronics manufacturing industry include the South African startup Onyx Connect, Nigeria’s Afrione and the Ugandan company SIMI.

Battery Life, Affordability Over New Features

When comparing the market for “made in Africa” smartphones, one thing stands out.

Whereas the biggest players in international tech tend to compete with new features and ever-better performance in areas like camera and screen resolution, Africa’s homegrown smartphones are more likely to base their advertising campaigns on battery life, affordability and ease of repair.

Catering to a different consumer group than Apple or the high-end Samsung devices, Africa’s smartphone manufacturers have their eyes on increasing smartphone ownership and usage before they venture into rolling out more expensive models.

The point is critical because smartphones are a cornerstone of the digital economy. In a continent where wired broadband connections are often limited to urban centers, mobile internet is many people’s only way of getting online, and smartphones are one of the biggest drivers of this increasing digital literacy.

See also: Uganda’s Telcos, Smartphone Ownership Drive Digital Inclusion in East Africa

What’s more, the need for the kind of affordable, functional devices being manufactured in Africa isn’t unique to the continent. There is therefore an opportunity for homegrown electronics industries and export markets on the continent to grow into world-leading manufacturers and global technology innovators.

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