Feature phones made a comeback in Africa as smartphone growth slowed last year

“Say cheese!”
“Say cheese!”
Image: AP Photo/Ben Curtis
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

After a decade of strong growth, the expected crossover of smartphones finally overtaking feature phone usage in Africa did not happen last year. In fact, feature phones had a bit of a surge.

Smartphone shipments to the continent grew by only 3.4% year on year—a sharp slump compared to double-digit growth rates recorded in recent years according to data from IDC, a technology research firm.

The slowdown in smartphone shipments was down to economic headwinds in some of the continent’s leading markets. Nigeria, Africa’s largest market, had a ”particularly tough year”.  Nigeria had its first recession in two decades and the naira devaluation has weakened purchasing power of locals and hurt imports.

There was a slowdown across the board in smartphone shipments to Africa and the overall mobile phone market share of feature phones increase for the first time in six years, growing from 53% in 2015 to 56% in 2016.

In North Africa, total shipments increased in 2016 but the “pace of growth slowed year on year due to exchange-rate fluctuations in Egypt and security issues in Algeria,” says IDC.

In total, mobile phone shipments to Africa grew by 10.1% last year to reach a notable milestone by passing the 200 million mark for the first time.

While Samsung remains market leader on the continent, Chinese-owned Transsion Holdings which boasts mobile phone brands such as Infinix, Tecno and itel, “outperformed its main competitors” in terms of feature phone shipments in 2016, according to IDC. To hold on to its top spot, Samsung has “reworked” its product portfolio and now offers mobile phone models at competitive prices. That tweak will prove crucial in the coming years as lower-priced Chinese brands look to grow market share, Ramazan Yavuz, an IDC research manager, says.

“Price competitiveness has become a key issue in many African markets,” Yavuz says. “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.”