It’s a few days to the end of the year. 2016 is almost here. With it comes a lot of expectations for an industry we love dwelling on: the smartphone industry. What’s in it for Kenyans? Here is what you can look out for from the various industry players:
1. Oppo’s first move
Oppo entered the Kenyan smartphone market in 2015 with several devices. The Chinese smartphone device maker’s presence in the market is yet to be felt and with several of its newer devices expected to be availed in the market in 2016, the new year may be when it makes that big first move.
2. Just how far can Infinix go?
The Infinix brand is currently riding high in the wake of impressive sales of several devices it introduced in the Kenyan market in the last one year. Sales of the Infinix Hot Note, one of the most popular budget smartphones locally, hit the half million mark in under a year. With its successor, the Infinix Note 2, already in the market, it looks like Infinix is just getting started.
In 2015, Infinix is reported to have been shipping about 50,000 smartphone units into the Kenyan market monthly (take that figure with a pinch of salt though). With several 4G devices slated for launch next year, things may be just about to get interesting. It looks like the brand’s strategy of cutting out middlemen and selling directly to the customer is working. By doing so, prices that would have otherwise gone up by 20-25% are kept low and we all know how price-sensitive Kenyans are.
Snokor is a new smartphone brand from the same folks that have brought Infinix and Tecno devices into the market only that it goes rock bottom in search of the customer. If my experience with the first Snokor smartphone, the Rocket Z5000, is anything to go by then this is one must-watch brand come the new year. How they are able to piece together an impressive entry-level smartphone and sell it at such a price is beyond me. With ambitions to spread the Snokor brand’s tentacles far and wide, they are not ones to watch just in Kenya but in the several countries in Africa and Asia where they have set their eyes on.
Tecno has had quite a year and 2016 can only be better. It is no longer the brand that targeted first-time smartphone buyers and prided itself in selling the most feature-rich dumb phones. After cannibalizing the low-end market segment and launching a serious assault on the mid-range smartphone market, it is now keen on wooing the premium smartphone buyer.
While I was thoroughly impressed by its only high-end effort this year, the Phantom 5, going by my experiences, it still has quite some way to go. With a new device in the Phantom line expected later in 2016, everyone operating in the mobile space should be scared about how far Tecno is willing to go. Its Camon smartphones changed the game at the mid-range level and what they do next will be interesting to watch. Was the Boom J7 a one-off or will there be a successor? What of those feature phones (the T340 & T347, T631S)? Will Tecno still keep them or will its focus shift entirely to smartphones?
It is already a household name in a number of African countries and it is showing no signs of slowing down in its quest to conquer the continent.
5. Android One dead?
Android One is a noble initiative, at least on paper. In Kenya, while smartphone use is growing, there’s still quite some way to go before smartphone penetration reaches the expected threshold. Feature phones are still king even though they are no longer selling as they did a few years ago. The same is the situation in other emerging markets as well. Why not provide smartphones that can tempt such people to upgrade while still guaranteeing them a permanent shield from the horrors of Android? Perfect!
Only that execution of the Android One program has not matched the good intentions. Two months later and the Infinix Hot 2, the only Android One smartphone available in several African countries, is yet to get its promised upgrade to Android Marshmallow. Yes, that may not be an issue to most people who bought the phone but a promise is a promise and promises have to be kept.
When you use a smartphone that uses altered software like the Snokor Rocket but still performs better than one running pure Android like the Infinix Hot 2 then you begin to understand why Android One has failed to take off over a year since its launch. To be specific, Android One has flopped in its launch market (India) and it remains to be seen if it will fair any better elsewhere. We’ll be keen to see how the Android One smartphone in the Kenyan market fairs in the new year. Will there be a successor?
6. Samsung and Tizen
In 2015, Samsung finally showed the world what it can do on the smartphone with a platform it has aggressively backed to one day replace Android across all its devices. While it may be a while before you see a Samsung Galaxy S something smartphone running Tizen, it is already happening at the entry-level and it has been a huge success so far. Thanks to the low-cost Samsung Z1, Tizen is the second most popular mobile platform in India after, of course, the venerable Android.
We’ve heard from Samsung Electronics East Africa that a 2016 launch of Tizen smartphones may be on the cards and we can’t wait to see what happens. The success of the Samsung Galaxy J1 thanks to its favourable pricing in the Kenyan market means that big blue still got it and it can take the likes of Tecno head on as it tries to make sure it doesn’t lose grip of a market it has dominated for so long since it dethroned Nokia.
The final quarter of 2015 saw Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi finally set foot on the African continent. Xiaomi smartphones, which are already selling in South Africa, are expected in over a dozen countries soon. Modes of distribution, which will be handled by Mobile Africa Limited, will vary. Like in the case of South Africa where a partnership with local carriers is in place, there will also be online sales, something that Xiaomi is well-known for in Asia.
With Kenyans being tried and tested when it comes to buying devices online thanks to the apparent success of Infinix, it may not be long before Xiaomi smartphones show up either at Safaricom shops, FoneXpress or on Jumia, Kilimall and the likes. ChinaBuy is already the go-to place for all things Xiaomi in Kenya with the e-commerce site promising shipments direct from China.
8. Mi-Fone rebound?
Last time we heard from Mi-Fone CEO Alpesh Patel, he was upbeat that we hadn’t heard the last of Mi-Fone yet. The “first African Mobile Devices brand“ has not been that visible in the market and whatever it touts as “new” devices are nothing to impress the average customer considering the many options they have to choose from. With a fresh round of funding and a 6-month turnaround target, maybe 2016 is the year we’ll see Mi-Fone all over the place again.
You may not have heard about them a lot but they are around and whatever they’ve been cooking this past year may be visible in the new year. I’ve interacted with one GTel smartphone and it blew me away. I can’t wait to see how they navigate the Kenyan smartphone market in 2016. With Tecno Mobile currently encroaching on its turf, it may have some inspiration to “go ham”.
10. Alcatel OneTouch
The Alcatel OneTouch brand has several devices out in the Kenyan market that are targeting all segments of the market from entry-level through to upper mid-range. With a foot on the local market, we can expect to see new Alcatel OneTouch devices available locally as soon as they go on sale in the global market.
Huawei is targeting gaining between 20 to 25% share of the local smartphone market. In 2015, the company has managed to sell 100 million smartphones globally with a huge chunk of those being budget devices in emerging markets like Kenya. It declared its intent by opening a flagship brand store in Nairobi and announcing a partnership with Telkom Kenya (Orange) to have the telco sell Huawei devices in its shops.
In a first, Huawei has in 2015 availed all its high-end smartphones except the new Mate 8 (which will be available in January 2016) and the Mate S Premium in the Kenyan market further making clear its intentions in the market. To take on the Infinix and Tecnos in the market, its budget smartphone offerings have been boosted by a wide-range of sub-Kshs 10,000 devices including the new Y5C. If this is anything to go by then 2016 will be fire for the Chinese device maker that pioneered the Android smartphone revolution in East Africa’s largest economy with the IDEOS U8150 five years ago.
Early this year, former Apple CEO John Sculley jetted into the country to officially launch his newest pet project, Obi smartphones. With a mission to provide quality to the masses in emerging markets without breaking the bank, Obi smartphones and their Silicon Valley roots were to counter the huge influx of Chinese-designed smartphones that have taken over. 2016 will see the brand mark one year since it launched locally and maybe then we’ll hear something new like how it is fairing. Its new Worldphones, SF1 and SJ1 are yet to be officially available in the Kenyan market many months after launch.
Lenovo smartphones started officially retailing in Kenya in 2015. 2016 is expected to be the year when they become available everywhere in the country and compete with players who’ve been in the market for long. However, with Lenovo’s global smartphone strategy changing as it consolidates parts of its business for better alignment, we’ll have to see what happens to its East African business. With all smartphone designing and stuff being handled by Motorola Mobility which Lenovo bought from Google, what will change? Will devices shipping to this part of the world have that iconic Motorola design visible on devices like the Moto X but retain Lenovo branding or what?
I understand that those new Lumias are not meant for everyone as Microsoft’s interest is no longer in keeping up with the Joneses of the mobile world but to provide a desirable experience for its hardcore fanbase while luring businesses but there’s that budget Lumia 550. It should follow in the footsteps of its senior sibling, the Lumia 950 in becoming available locally in early 2016.
The Kenyan smartphone market is flooded by tens of smartphone brands you’ve likely never heard of. Yet they are all over the place. Some even make some really nice devices. You may find them on Jumia, Kilimall or some other online marketplace. You will definitely bump into them in the streets and even in some stores in any town in Kenya. Cubot, Pantech etc. 2016 may be that year when you finally see them scale up and become a big threat to the status quo. Tecno did it, anyone can.