Safaricom’s decision was announced by its director of corporate affairs Nzioka Waita, while speaking at last week’s Mobile Web East Africa in Nairobi.
As much as the reason motivating the move is good, especially for the techies and the general public, it could take a long time before its effects are felt in the market. Safaricom says the shift in the type of phones it sells will promote smartphone adoption in the East African country.
With more smartphones in the market, people will be able to access more services on their phones, including the numerous apps and other digital content being developed in the country. The telco hopes to promote developers by increasing the market for their products.
The company has good intentions in the move. However, the main question is, will its effect be felt across the country in the near future? This is unlikely. Many phone dealers exist across the nation, where both low-cost smartphones and feature phones alike are readily available.
The fact on the ground is that as soon as Safaricom stops selling these feature phones, customers looking to buy them will easily access them from other dealers across the country.
This means it will take quite some time for Safaricom to make good sales on the low-cost smartphones it will be stocking.
Mobile phone penetration in the country stood at 30.4 million as at December 2012, according to a CCK report, with the majority of these being feature phones.
To ensure that the market understands the need for having smartphones, the telecoms industry stakeholders, including telcos, the government and phone manufacturers, must come together to engage the public on why they should not buy feature phones and instead acquire low-cost smartphones.
The other phone dealers who are still selling feature phones could also be educated and persuaded to shift to selling the smartphones, just to ensure the effect is felt across the board. Smartphone manufacturers should also be encouraged to come up with more low-cost phones that the public can afford, and increase the competition.
Unless this is done, Safaricom will remain a lone sailor in the ocean full of cheap feature phones, and it will take them quite a long time to contribute to projections that say smartphones are the future of Africa.