Recently, TechCrunch made the bold prediction that in five years’ time, most sub-Saharan Africans will have smartphones. At first I thought this just more mobile phone hyperbole. That feature phones will be with us for a long time – “dumb” phones are still 40% of new handset sales in the USA.
But then I started to think about numbers. Whenever you multiply something by 1 Billion Africans, you can find a market in a niche others don’t notice. Just listen to what Kachwanya says:
“People talk of developing for the right market using the right technology based on the right access point , which in the case of Kenya would mean the use of USSD and feature phones (dumb phones). That is very encouraging talk, but then after that the developers have to go and look for the foreign investors who think SMS is a 19th century technology.
On the surface it might look like it is not the right time [to develop smartphone apps] but I believe the time is now. The first question people would be asking is, how many people have Smartphones in Kenya. My guess is over 500,000…
Now let say you develop a system that only 10,000 Kenyans use regularly. If you can convince each of the 10k people to pay you Ksh.1 daily, then you will be earning 10k daily…mmmh tell me any of the apps in the Kenyan market today earning that amount? Very few.”
And he has a very good point. Smartphone owners have cash flow and by the mere act of owning a smartphone, they show that they value and will spend on quality ICT. So while we can debate the full smartphone penetration in 5 years time, it’s obvious that there is no debate on the opportunity in reaching whatever percentage of Africans have smartphones today.