A Big Year Ahead For The Phone Manufacturers with Samsung Leading the pack in Kenya

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When the history of Smartphones in Kenya will be written, Huawei Idoes would definitely take some special mentions as the phone which introduced majority of Kenyans to the World of Smartphones. Before introduction of  Ideos or Idiot as some call it, Kenya was predominantly for Nokia with its series 40 phones.  I remember back in January 2011, the day after attending Ideos launch in Kenya I wrote the following:

The launch of Huawei IDEOS could possibly mark the beginning of a new revolution on the phone industry in Kenya. The dawn of smartphones to the common man and woman   Money is everything when comes to buying anything in Kenya and that means the selling point of any product lies on the pricing, particularly when targeting the mass market.  At Ksh.8500 Huawei Ideos is aimed at the budget end of the smartphone  and could be perfect for the market. The prices of most smartphones in Kenya are way above majority of people and that is why it will be interesting to watch how the newly launched IDEOS phone fair in the market.  I got the sense earlier on that quite a number of people are eager to get hold of the phone or somehow as a  matter of curiosity are talking about it.

And the rest is history. Unfortunately Huawei paved the way but was not able to keep up the momentum after taking the market by storm. The other Manufacturers  quickly learned the secret and soon enough the market had numerous entry point Android smartphones.  Huawei second version of Ideos, ascend Y100 was disappointing to say the least and never took off.  Yes..they came..they saw..they conquered briefly and disappeared… I don’t see them having any impact in Kenya this year and for that I say Good luck to them wherever they are right now

In 2012 , Kenya was  firmly in the hands of Samsung. Samsung ended the year both as the world’s top Mobile vendor  and the leading manufacturer in Kenya.  According to Robert Ngeru, of  Samsung East Africa, Samsung had the highest market share of all the mobile manufacturers in Kenya in  2012:

The Mobile Manufacturers in Kenya are mean with their local stats to the extent that when we saw that tweet, we had full discussion trying to understand how true it is. Since Ngeru is the head of Samsung Business in East Africa, if he is wrong then we had expected the other manufacturers to call him out

That aside, I think  nobody should be  surprised by that statement considering their strong push for the Samsung Galaxy Pocket, Galaxy S3 and Galaxy Note II in 2012. The three ensured that Samsung captured both the smartphone entry level point (Galaxy Pocket for Ksh.9999) and the high end side of the market( S3 and Note II). Samsung Galaxy pocket became the default successor of Huawei Ideos in terms of popularity in Kenya in 2012. According to Google Worldwide Trends in 2012, the popularity of Samsung Galaxy Pocket in Kenya  was second only to that of Philippines’s.

So will Samsung repeat the same trick this year?  Hard to tell but the  first order of  business for them at the smartphone  entry level would be to get out Samsung Galaxy Music to the market . Galaxy Music  runs on Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) and  has two  pronounced speakers on the front both at the top and bottom of the device, covering the whole width. The focus is on the music for the Kenyan youth audience. Samsung expect  Galaxy Music phone to take over from Galaxy Pocket. It is important to note that  Nokia’s had a great success selling the phones focusing on the music (Don’t Break the Beat campaign) and I think Samsung  is not ready to be left behind.

On the high end, the rumors about Galaxy S4 is already at the fiver pitch. Looking forward to seeing it  in Kenya shortly after the announcement, may be around May. Before that, as it stands now Galaxy S2, S3 and the NoteII are still  hot cakes around here

Overall  I think Samsung will still remain on top in 2013 in Kenya but I expect them not to have it easy this time round as there are a number of rumored phones expected to be launched in Kenya which might change everything. And also don’t forget the expected  fight back from Nokia

Yes Nokia. It should be a hard one to take for Nokia. Being knocked off the lane even in places like Kenya should be worrying indeed for them. They did well selling Nokia Asha semi-smartphones in Kenya in 2012. Nokia Asha 305 especially did quite well and was almost at par with Samsung Galaxy Pocket.  But as they say almost is not enough . The good news is  if there is a time for them to fight back then this is the year.  Nokia is now in a position to fight in all the levels after the introduction of Lumia Smartphones.  They already have Lumia 510 in the market and I think it is a decent phone capable of competing with the likes of Galaxy Music or Tecno N3 (More on Tecno later). This should get rid of the pretense that Asha series are smartphones. They are not but the  pretense has worked well so far in Kenya and other emerging markets. I think it is just a matter of time before people realize that there are better options, just like what happened to Ideos.

On the high end side Nokia Should be well served with Lumia 920. I think Lumia 920 is a phone capable of going head to head with Samsung Galaxy S3 and iPhone5. Another one to look out for is Lumia 620. Lumia 620 is mid range phone which I think would retail at between Ksh.20K and Ksh.30K in Kenya while I guess Lumia 920 will go for Ksh.60K.

Nokia problem is not compounded by Samsung alone but other new entrants like Tecno are also having a field day.. There used to be a time when the branding of shops in Luthuli, Tom Mboya Street or  River Road were predominately Nokia.  At the same time it used to be Nokia phones everywhere on the counters with a few traces of Samsung phones. That is no more. The main player for the feature phones in Kenya now is Tecno. Nokia still have some say on this but at this point if you get time to walk  along Tom Mboya Street, you would think that every phone shop there is a Tecno shop.

Tecno is not restricting its business to feature phones only. Late last year they launched Android based Tecno N3 and so far I think it is gaining traction. Tecno N3 is retailing at around Ksh.8K.

I would have liked to talk about the likes of LG before I go but I don’t see them offering much this year unless they change their marketing tactics and how they integrate with Kenyan community.

And finally I want to start a rumour here, stay tuned for big announcement next week of a phone which has potential to change the whole equation especially for the smartphone entry level market.



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Kennedy Kachwanya
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Kennedy Kachwanya is a technology blogger interested in mobile phones both smart and dumb, mobile apps, mobile money, social media, startups ecosystem and digital Savannah. New media must not forget the strength of old tech.
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