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Android in Kenya

I mentioned before when discussing DCM’s Android Fund that Android is a truly global opportunity. While Nokia is probably praying that this is untrue, the recent success of Huawei in Kenya with its IDEOS phone illustrates that Android isn’t just doing well in the First World, its particular approach makes it well-suited to tackle the broader global market (HT: MIT Technology Review):

Smart phones surged in popularity in February after Safaricom, Kenya’s dominant telecom, began offering the cheapest smart phone yet on the market—an Android model called Ideos from the Chinese maker Huawei, which has been making inroads in the developing world. In Kenya, the price, approximately $80, was low enough to win more than 350,000 buyers to date.

That’s an impressive number for a region most in the developed world would probably write off as far too developing to be interesting. Now Huawei’s IDEOS line is not going to blow anyone away – its small, has a fairly low quality camera, and is pretty paltry on RAM. But, the fact that this device can hit the right price point to make the market real is a real advantage for the global Android ecosystem:

  • This is 350,000 additional potential Android users – not an earth-shattering number but its always good to have more folks buying devices and using them for new apps/services
  • It’s enticing new developers into the Android community, both from within Kenya as well as from outside of Kenya. As the MIT Technology Review article further points out:

    Over the past year, Hersman has been developing iHub, an organization devoted to bringing together innovators and investors in Nairobi. Earlier this month, a mobile-app event arranged by iHub fielded 100 entrants and 25 finalists for a $25,000 prize for best mobile app. The winner, Medkenya, developed by two entrepreneurs, offers health advice and connects patients with doctors. Its developers have also formed a partnership with the Kenyan health ministry, with a goal of making health-care information affordable and accessible to Kenyans…

    Some other popular apps are in e-commerce, education, and agriculture. In the last group, one organization riding the smart-phone wave is Biovision, a Swiss nonprofit that educates farmers in East Africa about organic farming techniques. Biovision is developing an Android app for its 200 extension field workers in Kenya and other East African countries.

  • Given the carrier-subsidy model and the high price and bulkiness of computers, this means that there could be an entire generation of individuals who’s main experience with the internet is from using Android devices, not from a traditional Windows/MacOS/Linux PC!

This ability to go ultra-low end and experiment with new partners/business models/approaches is an advantage of the fact that Android is a more open horizontal platform that can be adopted by more device manufacturers and partners. I wouldn’t be surprised to see further efforts by other Asian firms to expand into untapped markets like Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia with other interesting go-to-market strategies like low-cost, pre-paid Android devices.

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