ZTE is the latest smartphone company to establish a strong presence in the Kenyan mobile phone market. ZTE as a brand was popular in the early days of Android smartphones in Kenya. Back when the Huawei U8150 IDEOS was king. ZTE’s flag was being flown by its Blade range of smartphones. On the feature phone market, it had partnered with network provider Safaricom and Multichoice (DSTv) to sell its TV phones. The Blade I and the Blade II smartphones both did well but the company has been a no-show locally since then. Globally, it is doing well but facing strong competition from compatriots Lenovo, Huawei and Xiaomi.
ZTE’s absence at the low end smartphone segment it once dominated in 2010 is testament to how things have changed since then. Samsung went on to upset the market with a range of budget smartphone offerings starting with the Galaxy mini and moving on to the Galaxy Young and then the Galaxy Pocket. The competitive nature of the Kenyan mobile market has seen the rise of new players interested in a share of the pie. Tecno is now the second largest mobile phone brand in the country after Samsung.
While as things stand the two still have a hold of the local mobile phone market, new entrants both big and small are angling themselves for a share and established players like Microsoft aren’t going anywhere anytime soon and remain second when it comes to smartphone sales. The likes of Obi, Wiko, Lenovo, Infinix, Fly and others each want a share of the pie and they have attractive budget smartphone offers to plead their cases.
We had a sit down with Samsung Electronics East Africa Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Robert Ngeru three weeks ago to seek his opinion on the competitive smartphone market in the country as well as his take on emerging issues in the Kenyan tech space.
According to Mr Ngeru, the low end smartphone segment is the most competitive in the Kenyan market. That particular portion of the market accounts for at least 160,000 units every month. Samsung currently has a sizeable share of the low end smartphone thanks to its Galaxy J1. At least 500 J1s are sold daily in the country.
The Galaxy J1 has the distinction of being the cheapest LTE device in the Kenyan market at the moment and with network provider Safaricom expanding its LTE coverage to cover more parts of the capital, Nairobi and Kenya’s second largest city, Mombasa, there’s increasing demand for LTE devices. The Galaxy J1 sits in a pretty position and is the subject of envy by the competition.
In fact, Samsung’s competitors are all set to unveil LTE devices before the year ends in order to effectively compete. The Galaxy J1 has a 3G-only sibling that is also popular because of the pricing (it’s a few bucks cheaper than the already cheap LTE variant).
Does Samsung feel threatened by the many competitors that the entry level smartphone market in Kenya has been able to attract? Of course yes, Mr Ngeru says. The company is very much alive to the fact that its dominant position is threatened and is keen on holding onto it with better offerings going forward. It is currently pushing aggressively the Galaxy J1 to the youth in colleges and everyone else and cites the affordable pricing as a key factor.
What makes Samsung confident about its offering is what Mr Ngeru calls “the complete package”. Samsung doesn’t abandon you once you purchase its smartphones at whichever price point. Be it $100 or less or upwards of $700 and more. That is something that Samsung’s competitors in the space are struggling to keep up with. At least according to Mr Ngeru. He is very proud of Samsung’s 24 month warranty service that users activate via a short code upon purchasing their Samsung smartphone and Samsung’s wide network of service centres where customers can always go to have their phone issues sorted. One good example is the mega experience shop recently opened in Nairobi that is the largest of its kind in the East African region.
The wearables market is not yet strong in the country. Samsung currently has the Gear S, the Gear Fit and the Gear 2 smartwatches in the Kenyan market. However, according to Samsung, interest is not as high as would’ve been anticipated. Much of it can be blamed on the pricing of the said devices. We’re not at a point where the average Kenyan would cough Ksh 25,000 for a smartwatch. At the moment such devices are only targeted at the high end customer; most likely the upper middle class and higher Kenyans.
If you take a stroll in downtown Nairobi today, you’ll be overwhelmed by the number of mobile phone accessories being sold. Powerbanks, spare batteries, flip covers, silicon cases, battery extender packs, earphones… name them. The list is long. However, as most customers have come to find out the hard way, most of these accessories are very fake. A powerbank that performs for just a month then drops dead, a battery that starts leaking on its first charge, earphones that snap when Maroon 5’s Sugar starts playing and S View covers that are only good for viewing the paw prints on your smartphone screen and nothing more. Such experiences have been a blessing in disguise for Samsung.
According to the Samsung boss, the accessories business is booming. After nasty experiences with pretenders-to-the-throne, customers always go back to Samsung for original accessories. This has forced vendors to stock the originals while those who were already doing so are reaping big. To capitalize on that trend, the company has slowly increased its accessory portfolio in the country with its top of the range Level On and Level Over headsets already available in the market at competitive prices.