Is this the beginning of the end for the dumbphone in Africa?

Is this the beginning of the end for the dumbphone in Africa?

The rise of mobile in Africa has been one of the hot topics in communications on the continent for some time. Greater mobile use is having a massive impact on communications across the continent. With more people on mobile devices, we’re seeing more people accessing web content on phones, apps and web tools being developed specifically for African audiences, and a massive growth in social media use.

To date, the full potential of digital communications in Africa has been limited by hardware. Feature phones – dumbphones – continue to dominate the market. Smartphones have remained too expensive for the majority in all emerging markets.

But it looks like this might be changing.

Last week saw the mobile technology world come together in Barcelona for Mobile World Congress (MWC). Every year, the gadget geeks of the world descend on Barcelona to play with the latest and greatest in mobile tech. Past MWCs have seen major names like HTC, Nokia and Sony release their new flagship devices and push the boundaries of consumer gadgetry.

This year, companies at MWC took a slightly different tack. Some still let their new top-of-the-line toys out of the box – Samsung’s Galaxy S5 and the new additions to its wearable family, for example. But the major story coming out of MWC this year wasn’t big screens, white-hot processors and DSLR-quality cameras – – in fact, it was pretty much the opposite.

The world’s mobile heavy-hitters took their time at the most recent MWC to announce leaner, simpler and – most importantly – cheaper phones, targeted specifically at emerging markets. From Nokia’s Asha 220 (€29) and the X family of Android phones (from $122), to BlackBerry’s Z3 (under $200) and the unbelievable $25 phone from Mozilla and chipmaker Spreadtrum, emerging markets will soon be inundated with a range of affordable smartphone options.

Depending on how quickly these phones can be delivered to consumers, we could be on the cusp on an explosion of smartphones in Africa. Operators like Millicom have been offering affordable phones for some time but a $25 phone would be a massive leap in the move to get smartphones into the hands of users across the continent, replacing feature phones as the go-to devices.

This explosion of smartphones will have an immediate and tremendous impact on communications in Africa. Greater access to mobile-friendly web content will enable customers to research and engage with their favourite brands (and require brands to put more effort into mobile), give governments a whole new suite of tools to engage with their citizens and drive the use of social media – already surging in emerging markets around the world – to whole new levels.

Back in 2012, we released How Africa Tweets – the first comprehensive analysis of how Twitter is used across Africa. The study showed that, at that point, over half of all geo-located tweets coming out of Africa were from mobile devices. With easier access to smartphones, that number can only rise.

Next week, on 12 March, we’ll be releasing our follow-up study – an overview of how Twitter use has evolved in recent years.

While our first study focused on which countries were tweeting the most and the demographics of Africa’s top tweeps, this year we’re taking a closer look at which cities are leading the conversations on Twitter, what exactly they’re talking about, and in which languages those conversations are taking place.

So check back in next week to see How Africa Tweets today – and let us know how you think the explosion of smartphones in Africa might see things change over the coming months using #AfricaTweets.

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