Feature phones make huge African comeback

Mobile phone. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)
Mobile phone. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)

Cape Town - Smartphone sales in Africa are slowing down as feature phones drive growth on the continent.

According to data provided by industry tracker International Data Corporation (IDC) the smartphone market totalled 95.37 million units by the end of 2016.

While this represents growth of 3.4% year-on-year, it is significantly less than the double-digit growth trends of previous years.

However, the main driver of mobile phone sales have been feature phones which grew by a whopping 16.1%, taking the devices to 56% of the total African handset market.

"Africa has always been a tough market for mobile phone companies to crack, and in 2016 that challenge got even harder," said Simon Baker, programme director for mobile devices at IDC CEMA.

He added that currency fluctuations in North Africa and the devaluation of the Nigerian naira contributed negatively to the growth of smartphones.

But price also plays a key role in smartphone adoption in Africa.

"To grow significantly in these markets, vendors have to be able to address the continent's large low-income population by providing phones that are priced very competitively. As such, global vendors are cautious of the lower-priced Chinese brands now entering the market and are keeping a close eye on them," said Ramazan Yavuz, research manager for mobile devices in Africa at IDC CEMA.

Samsung leads the African market with 26 million units, followed by Transsion and Huawei.

IDC said that 3G handsets accounted for more than half of new smartphone shipments, but 4G devices increased their sales by 50%, leading the organisation to predict that 4G devices will dominate Africa by 2018.

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