There is nothing you can do with a Dumb phone

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Samsung Launched Galaxy Pocket Phone with theme of boosting the number of Kenyans online. Galaxy Pocket gives you all that you need from a Smartphone. At a price range of less than 10,000 and reasonably good specifications, I believe Samsung is on course to shake the low end Smartphone market as much as Safaricom did with Ideos phones. Ideos became the entry point for most Android  users in Kenya but with Galaxy Pocket, you get much better phone at almost the same price range.

The latest stats by Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK)  for Kenya’s  mobile usage and subscribers for the last quarter. The  period covered is the quarter 2 of 2011/12 i.e. the period from 1st October to 31st December 2011:

Mobile Subscribers

  • At the end of the quarter under review, there were 28.08 million mobile phone subscriptions in Kenya up from 26.4 million recorded during the previous period. This represents an increase of 6.0 per cent during the period, and an increase of 12.46 relative to same period of the previous year.
  • Mobile penetration was recorded as 71.3 per cent during the period up from 67.2 per cent recorded during the previous period.

I am always excited by the number of mobile phone subscribers in Kenya but in the last few days I have been thinking and thinking. You see, I have been talking a lot about Kenyan tech developers taking advantage of the opportunity presented by the mobile usage in Kenya. Innovation has been a repeated theme, whenever these numbers come out.

At one point I realized that probably the point is never the number  of the subscribers as a whole but what people do with the devices like a phone.  On top of that what type of phones do these 28 million subscribers have and then there is the  issue of functionality of those phones. For  a start, does each of  the 28 million plus people in Kenya has a mobile phone? I  don’t think so.  A number of people in Kenya have more than one sim cards, one card in particular would be the primary phone number while the other one or the others are for taking advantage of the latest offer in the market by mobile phone operators. If you take that into consideration, then probably the exact number of the mobile phone users in Kenya could be around 20 million. I have settled on the 20 million figure based on the approximate number of adults in Kenya.

So if we have 20 million mobile phones in Kenya, then the next question would be what are the capabilities of those phones. I tried to get the number of the smartphones in Kenya, but the phone manufacturers are not willing to go public with them… they are not allowed by the powers at the Head quarters or the numbers are too small to talk about.I am still pressing on this issue with a number of manufacturers and I hope to get the numbers soon.

The primary use of a phone is to communicate and in the case of Kenya and Africa, that has already been achieved. The question now is what else do you do with a phone? How can the developers take advantage of this piece of technology. That has left me with two similar questions, first, what can one do with a dumb phone? The other one being what can one do with a smartphone?

The reason why I have been particularly looking for the number of the Smartphones in Kenya is because one can’t do much with so called  internet enabled feature phones. Yes, you can call, you can text, and you can Mpesa but other than they are crap when come to online usage. Most sites I have seen are never build specifically for the low end feature phones and the people who own such phones.

There are no many successful apps, innovation around the feature phones. Yes you can talk about the success of the mobile money transfer and banking. But when you look at Mpesa for example, then you find out that it is a technology which can be used under the range of all phone gadgets and it came down from the mobile phone operator Safaricom. Outside that I don’t see any great piece of innovation that can be counted as made for and used by feature phones. Yes, I know there some but here I am talking about something which has gained the famous critical mass of users in Kenya and anywhere else in Africa. The innovation around feature phones are very limited to say the least, and the fact that the users have to remember the USSD code all the time makes it worst. It is the same reason that people can not remember how to load the credit cards on the network they are not used to. At least the functions like loading credit card is forced on the users to extent that they can’t avoid it. But in other cases the users just can’t remember the USSD codes and in the end avoid using the system running under such.  I can compare the use of USSD code  back to the days when people had to use DOS as operating system. When windows came into the picture, people realized how limited they were under DOS. Since then even sky can not be the limit in terms of what people can do.

And that brings me to what smartphones can do. With the Smartphone you have access to the web on its full force and without any limitation. That is why I think Samsung has hit the right theme with their new launch of Galaxy Pocket.. Head to the shop and grab one

What is your opinion on the topic?
Kennedy Kachwanya
Lead Blogger at Kachwanya.com
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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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