Kenyan Phone Industry in 2013 and What to Expect in 2014

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When we did top 10 smartphones in Kenya in 2013, a few questions were raised from some quarters while others were surprised with how well some phones were doing.  After further investigation today I want to give more perspective on the phone industry in 2013 and what to expect in 2014.

Although we listed Tecno Phantom A as the number one selling smartphone in Kenya in 2013, the year was dominated by Samsung in terms of total smartphones sales value and volume. By October 2013 Samsung had 49% of the Smartphone market share followed by Nokia with 23%. There are two phones sold by Samsung which did extremely well in 2013 but unfortunately did not make it our list…that is Samsung Galaxy S duos and Samsung Galaxy Trend. If we were to go back in time to reconstruct that list then they would be competing for the top spot.

What do people like in those two phones? Galaxy S duos, as the name suggest it is dual Sim Card phone. It comes with a 4-inch WVGA screen, 1 Ghz Snapdragon processor, 512MB Memory and 5MP rear camera. It runs on Android’s Ice Cream Sandwich. Are those enough? Not really. The price usually plays a big role especially in Kenya. Galaxy S duos retails at around Ksh.18K.While on the other hand Galaxy trend comes with 4.00-inch 480×800 display powered by 1GHz processor alongside 512MB RAM and 3-megapixel rear camera. Galaxy trend retails for Ksh.16K.

The above two phones explain why Samsung were dominant in Kenya in 2013 in terms of volume. Selling phones at the lower cost usually means high volumes but in most cases means lower margins. That is the reason why Apple does not take the developing market seriously. But Samsung guys have always gone for the double approach. The trick is to put equal effort on both the low end and high end phones at the same time.  In 2013, Samsung cracked Kenyan high end market and were able to sell more than enough of their flagship phone, Galaxy S4 and Galaxy Note 3.  The performance of the two, gave Samsung the huge lead they now enjoy in Kenya in terms of market share.

How about Nokia? What most people don’t know is that Nokia Started the year better than Samsung. More than a year ago, Nokia had 43 percent of the market share compared to Samsung’s 28 Percent. The year before leading to beginning of 2013, Nokia had a very successful campaign dubbed “break the beat”. The idea behind it was to position the Asher phones as the music phones targeting high school and college students. It worked and that prompted Samsung to design Samsung Galaxy Music.  Galaxy music did not do well as expected but the table started to turn after the introduction Samsung Galaxy S4 and Galaxy S duo.

nokia 1020

All in all Nokia did well in terms of the volumes but was so far behind in sales value. The problem for Nokia was the over reliant on lower end smartphones (There are many who believe that Asher phones are not smartphones). But towards the end of the year, Nokia seemed to have discovered the trick as well. They did a huge launch of the Nokia Lumia 1020 on top of KICC and I was impressed by the effort they had put in it to make it a success.

Third of the list with 9% market share at the end of the year was Tecno. For Tecno to be third in Kenya is just amazing considering when they entered the market. They did something well, and the other dismal performing phone companies need to look at what they did closely. Tecno Phamton A is a great phone at Ksh.20K. According to our analysis, the phone is closely matched to Galaxy S2, which at the time of the launch was retailing at Ksh.60,000. And yes, Tecno Phamton A at 20K is a bargain but is Tecno capable of surprising us with another phone like that this year?  At this point I see a problem where they might be a one year hit wonder. I think we have seen the template before with Huawei Idoes . Huawei came in at a time when Android smartphones were not known around here. At Ksh.8500, Huawei Ideos was the perfect budget smartphone in the country and many Kenyans bought it. A year later, others like Samsung learned the trick and brought in cheaper but more quality at almost the same price range. Huawei has struggled since then to replicate the same success and it is the reason why I am worried about them Tecno.

technofront

Moving on, fourth on the list for the year 2013 with 4 % market share was LG. I have said it before that LG is the sleeping giant especially in Kenya.  It does not make sense that LG has had many quality phones at lower price range but are unable to match what the likes of Tecno and Huawei have done in Kenya.  LG L7 currently retailing at 17K, is among the best in terms of specs. They launched at 24K in Kenya but they did not do enough to make it move off the shelves. The same can be said of LG L5, currently retailing at slightly above Ksh.12K and many more. So what is really wrong with LG?  The local branch are run by people who basically have no idea on how to integrate LG within Kenyan community. And since they are not doing that well in the international stage, I would say may be it is just a culture within the LG structure.

Fifth on the list is Huawei with 3% market share. Huawei will always be remembered for introducing Android smartphone in the name of Huawei Ideos. But as mentioned early they have not be able to find the same success they had with Ideos. They have used the same channel ever since, that is Safaricom to introduce their phones in Kenya but still people are not moved.

Another one with 3% market share was Sony. I am not sure what  their plans are in Kenya and where they are heading but I am just glad they are around. I know that they are capable of some amazing things  like that water resistant Xperia Z . At this point I think  they need to get a strong team on the ground and spent some money here if they WANT be taken seriously in  this market. I mean Sony is household name in Kenya, and I think they don’t need much to ensure that people fall in love with their phones.

And Finally Others….Well, God bless them.

As for this year, I think by now we know how Samsung’s pattern looks like.  They will launch Galaxy S5 around May in Kenya. Expect them to launch Note 4 around October but in between watch out for Galaxy s5 mini, Galaxy Trend II, Galaxy S duos II, Galaxy Pocket II or something close to that…..and bla bla

As for Nokia, it will be interesting to see the direction they are going to take now that Microsoft is the daddy of the phone business. With that in mind it is hard to tell what would be their priority this year.

Waiting to see some consistency from the other phone companies. Huawei probably will launch something through Safaricom . As for Tecno, they quietly brought in Tecno Phantom A+ towards the end of last year. Still not sure why they did not follow the same route which brought them success with Tecno Phamtom A.

Whatever your taste, prepare for exciting 2014

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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