Nokia hopes to lure African developers into creating apps that can be used locally. Kenyan developers are gaining international recognition for developing a number of apps including mobile banking services that have revolutionized the approach to banking in the region.
Nokia, Microsoft and Intel are all trying to bring lower-priced smartphones to Africa because Africans are upgrading to data-enabled handsets from basic phones. But of the three companies, Microsoft seems to have an edge over the other two companies on the side of distribution.
Microsoft's partner, Huawei Technologies, already has a presence in many African countries where it has been working with governments to implement e-government projects. The Chinese company has also been active in the making and distribution of low-cost customized handsets to operators in the region and has further been laying fiber-optic networks in countries including Zambia, Zimbabwe, Uganda and Kenya.
Distribution of the 4Africa smartphones will therefore not be a big problem for Microsoft. Microsoft phones will for a start be available in seven African countries including South Africa, Morocco, Egypt, Ivory Coast, Angola, Kenya and Nigeria.
The 4Africa Initiative is part of Microsoft's plans to have tens of millions of smart devices in the hands of African youths by 2016. Microsoft also wants to bring one million African small and medium scale enterprises (SMEs) online, train 100,000 members of Africa's existing workforce in addition to helping 100,000 recent graduates develop skills to improve their employability.
Although Intel was the first to launch its Yolo smartphones, it has so far not expanded the distribution of the phones to other countries in the region apart from Kenya, where the phones were launched.
Like Microsoft, Nokia will also not likely have problems with distribution because of the company's partnership with MTN, which has operations in more than 18 countries in Africa.
Interestingly though, Microsoft is fighting on two fronts. Another part of the 4Africa initiative is a joint Nokia and Microsoft customer training program in Nigeria and Kenya to help accelerate the adoption of Nokia Lumia 510 and 620 phones.
Last week, meanwhile, South Africa largest operator, Vodacom, released figures showing that its active smartphone users have grown to over 29 percent of its subscriber base at the end of the fourth quarter in 2012.
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