Mobile Communications

Nokia Fatigue is Growing in East Africa's Trend-Setting Cities

Finnish tech giant Nokia’s iconic tune remains the most widely recognized standard phone tune in Africa, a continent of an estimated 1 billion people. However, after a decade of domination, the most popular phone brand in Africa is losing its lustre among East Africa's consumers in Nairobi, Dar Es Salaam and Kampala, and has become a victim of changing mobile habits and its own failures.

In Kampala, Jude Luggya, a media consultant, told me that the Nokia fatigue is a result of desire by Kampalans to be different from their past preferences and the emergence of competing devices from manufacturers like LG, Lenovo, HTC, Samsung, iPhone and the ever-popular Blackberry. This has led to users turning to other brands outside Nokia phones. In Nairobi, Nokia's products were so dominant before 2011 that they accounted for more than half of all devices in the Kenyan capital and the rest of the country. However, mobile internet traffic collected across a network of the top 1,000 websites in Nairobi this March shows Nokia's windows phone share of mobile devices stands at only 6%.

As Nokia continues to tumble, Android devices now account for 69% of the market in Tanzania’s commercial capital of Dar Es Salaam, up from 29% in 2011. In the coastal city of Dar Es Salaam, devices running on Google's Android OS will account for about 80% of the total market share in the next three years – at par with Nairobi and Kampala, and up from about 30% two years ago. Nokia is still viewed by many East Africans as a prestigious brand, but the influx of much cheaper and cooler smartphones in the region means the competition is brutal and only the best will emerge the winner. Where Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania lead as key smart phone markets across fast-growing sub Saharan Africa, they also tend to, from an expert’s point of view, act as leading indicators on which are going to be best-selling brands in other sub Saharan Africa markets outside Nigeria and South Africa. Unless you live in bunkers, you must be aware that Sub Saharan Africa is adopting smartphones at a very fast rate and a study released recently has shown that consumers spent an average 50% more on their smartphones in the first six months of 2013.

According to Pamela Loin Laikera, a Nairobi based procurement expert, a few years ago Nokia phones swamped other brands on the streets of Nairobi, but they are now outnumbered by smartphone brands from Asia notably the Samsung, LG and HTC. Laikera’s observation partly explains the proliferation of Android devices in the Kenyan capital, from the most affordable to the most expensive, there are other signs that Nokia, once the dream phone of most East Africans, has lost followers.

Asian manufacturers, unlike Nokia strategists in the region, are targeting college students and fresh graduates who, research shows, are either already on Android, or are planning to switch over. Android-based phones have really become hard to snub around the East African region and that has prompted the leading mobile network operators to offer discounted Android-based phones with most notable cases being MTN in Uganda, Vodacom in Tanzania and Safaricom in Kenya. Several studies conducted over the past year or so, have found out that highly powered and big screen Android devices suit their preferences, like watching video, and most of them offer popular social and gaming apps available on Android platforms.

The new Nokia phones have also eroded their predecessors’ famed long- lasting battery to a fast-draining battery and the appeal of a bigger screen which most of the Nokia brands lacks has done a lot to dampen the spirits of the younger generation in urban and rural areas. Nokia's drop in popularity in trendy cities of East Africa has also been duplicated in the rural areas. Nokia used to be a cool gadget for many, before smartphones came into the market, but now less and less people are using them.


Contador Harrison is Software Director at Somocon Oy


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