Three things Microsoft East Africa new General Manager can do to rekindle our love for Nokia

You might have read the news that Microsoft appointed Mariam Abdullahi as the new general manager for Microsoft East Africa. If not, then here below is a press release we received yesterday from H+K Strategies to that effect:

Nairobi, Kenya – 8th October 2014 – Microsoft is happy to announce the appointment of Mariam Abdullahi as the new general manager for East Africa, taking over from Bruce Howe who moved on to another post within Microsoft based in Malaysia. Prior to her new post, Ms. Abdullahi was the head of operator channel for Sub Saharan Africa at Microsoft.

Ms. Abdullahi assumes overall responsibility for Microsoft’s Mobile Device sales in East Africa, guiding the team in areas such as marketing, sales and retail execution in key markets like Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Ethiopia.

“The East African mobile device market is dynamic, and we are seeing a real shift from traditional mobile phones to smartphones. Microsoft are aggressively targeting this opportunity with Lumia, and we recently introduced fantastic devices like the Lumia 530 and 630, as well as the flagship 930. With the combination of great Lumia features, along with the power of Windows and key Microsoft services, we are very well placed to be a major player in the market,” said Abdullahi.

Ms. Abdullahi holds a Bachelor of Science with a special focus in Computer Science and Business from Brunel University – United Kingdom and has more than 15 years’ experience in the information, communication and technology sector. She has worked in Europe, US, Asia and Africa.

Personally I have been looking forward to the time the new GM for Microsoft East Africa would come and take up her duties. This is because I have asked Microsoft, through H+K Strategies, to do one or two things for us to once again fall in love with Nokia as we once did. The response was, “Nice suggestions but Microsoft East Africa doesn’t have a GM yet to make such decisions”.

Now that the excuse has been taken out of the way, I would like the new GM to address the one or two things I have wished were done and I do take this opportunity to share them with the general public in this forum. So let’s go straight to the issues that need the new Microsoft East Africa GM, Ms Mariam Abdullahi , should give immediate attention for the sake of our love for Nokia devices.

1. Introduce Nokia very low end smartphones for Shs 3K to 5K

There are two main players that have taken away Nokia’s lead in Kenya and East Africa. These two are Samsung and Tecno. From around 2011 to mid last year every phone owner had a Samsung or Tecno phone. Those with Samsung are the guys who could afford to buy the low end smartphones priced from between shs 10K and 20K. People owned the Samsung Galaxy Pocket, Samsung Galaxy Music, Samsung Galaxy Young and Samsung Galaxy Ace in droves. For a time the phones priced at shs 5K owned by kenyans were Nokia feature phones, but then came in Tecno.

For some reason Tecno was able to introduce low end smartphones for prices as low as shs 3K. Since then (2012 to mid last year), low end smartphone ownership was shared almost equally between Samsung and Tecno. This trend clearly indicated that Kenyans (hoping the distribution of the trend is same across the rest of East Africa) longed for highly affordable smartphones away from those priced shs 10K and above.

Then came in the cheap Nokia Lumia series. From mid 2013 to current day Nokia/Microsoft introduced low range Nokia Lumia series including the likes of Nokia Lumia 520 and 525, Nokia Lumia X and X2 and now the Nokia Lumia 530 (that sadly will be taken out of the market) and some other Nokia feature phones for price points below shs 13K.  A significant number of people bought them.

However, what is still lucking is good quality very low end smartphones for price ranges below 5,000. This is where Microsoft can gain a huge advantage over Samsung and Tecno. We all know that Nokia phones are always of superior quality compared to competition at any given price range; thus if Microsoft were to introduce in the market very low end smartphones with the same quality standards at prices of 3 to 5K shillings, the the competition will have to play very hard to catch up with them.

By very low end smartphones I mean phones with the simplest touch screen technology but having a good glass protection (even if it is corning gorilla glass 3); a phone capable of 3G Internet surfing, but a phone that doesn’t need Apps downloads. The basic Apps such as WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, Internet Explorer, and any other App that Kenyans deem important for basic Internet experience can come pre-installed. One or two games can also be included. Things like high resolution screens, high end touch screen technology, huge RAM and storage, and even camera and FM radio can be excluded. I see phones come with cameras below 1MP and I wonder who takes photos with those types of cameras anymore.

Once the very basic minimum specs are defined for a very low end smartphone, and the price for such a phone is set at around shs 4,000, I am positive very many Kenyans would rush for that phone.

2. Speed up launching phones locally

This year Microsoft has launched its phones locally three to four or five months after the International launch date. For example, Nokia Lumia 930 and 630 were launched in April 2nd 2014 in Francisco yet the official launch in Kenya happened on August 5th 2014 in Westlands Nairobi – four months down the line. The Nokia 530 that was launched in Kenya on October 3rd has been in the Market since July this year.

Contrast those launch dates with Samsung’s. Ever since Samsung Galaxy S3, Samsung has ensured that all its flagship devices launches in Kenya at least within three to six weeks after International launch date. With Samsung Galaxy S5, Samsung ensured that the local launches globally happened almost simultaneously.

Ensuring that locals get the latest device speaks a lot to the local minds. When a phone that has been used elsewhere for three, four, five months is introduced as a new device, the local consumer will reason that the manufacturer considers them a third, fourth or even fifth class customers. Microsoft and any other gadget makers should understand the craze with which people long to be the first to own a new device, especially a flagship device.

If therefore the new GM for Microsoft East Africa can work to ensure that most phones are launched locally in the same month of International launching, then the love for Microsoft devices will automatically go up. There is no magic to that, that’s just how things are.

3. Engage with the community

Nokia had the charm to engage with the locals. Talk about having projects running for the local communities to working with local developers to create local content to engaging local bloggers in the day to day events, no one came close to Nokia.

On the other hand Microsoft has had close to zero touch with the locals. I know there are numerous local projects and startups being funded by Microsoft (see: African Startups accelerated by Microsoft’s 2nd round Innovation grant), but the type of engagement Microsoft needs to pursue is that which encourages interaction with the very consumer of the devices.

Microsoft as a device manufacturer and distributor should now come out and create conversations with the consumers. They should organize for events where consumers participate in, forums and workshops and street promotions. Samsung and Tecno have perfected these especially the street promotions.

It would be of great news to hear that Microsoft is planning to restart the closed Nokia research facility in Nairobi.


I hope Ms Mariam Abdullahi considers my two cent advice and implements, if not all, at least one or two of those. I’m specifically interested to see how Microsoft wants to catch the millions of East Africans who can’t afford phones priced above 5,000 Kenya Shillings but still want to access basic smartphone capabilities like touch screen, use WhatsApp, Facebook and a few other apps and also boast of possessing a high quality device.

Odipo Riaga1827 Posts

Film Director, Tech and Business Blogger, Chess Player, and Photographer. God is Science.


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