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Cheap smartphones spell death knell for feature handsets

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Feature phones are on their deathbed in Kenya, with time running out for the gadgets that have been on sale in the country for close to 20 years.

The gadgets, mainly used by low-income earners currently, are being edged out of the market by low cost, multifunctional smartphones, whose sale has been on the rise in Kenya.

Industry data indicates that feature phones may not be in the Kenyan market in the next two years as manufacturers continue to unveil new low cost smartphones.

Most of the low cost smartphones are mainly from Chinese manufacturers including Tecno, Itel, X-Tigo, Wiko, Neon and Huawei.

The gadgets are priced between Ksh 2,588 and Ksh 5,180 (US$25-50), making them affordable to the bottom-end segment of the market.

Kenyans have embraced the smartphones that come with a camera for selfies, a torch, internet and radio in droves, leaving no room for feature phones considered dumb and outdated.

Most of those currently using feature phones in the country are mobile money agents because of the nature of their work.

“I have kept this feature phone for use in my business because it is efficient. Myself I have smartphone but for mobile money transactions, I use the feature phone because its battery lasts even for a week as long as it is fully charged, enabling me to serve several customers without interruptions,” David Nzule, a mobile money shop operator in Nairobi said Wednesday.

Vincent Mwaniki, another mobile money operator, noted that he has stuck with a feature phone because for most smartphones, mobile money menu is hidden among the numerous apps, making access difficult.

“Feature phones are straightforward, the problem is that if you go looking for them right now you will not get any, especially in shops run by telecoms in the city centre unless you go to small dealers downtown Nairobi,” he said.

A survey in several shops of the telecoms operating in Nairobi on Wednesday revealed that the companies stopped stocking the feature phones about two years ago.

“We no longer sell feature phones in this shop. We stopped several years, about two years ago. If you want a smartphone, then we can talk,” an attendant at a Safaricom shop on Moi Avenue said.

Safaricom, the leading telco, in a recent report noted that over 100,000 smart phones are sold in Kenya each month.

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The company noted that two thirds of all mobile phones sold in its outlets were smartphones, both high and low cost, lifting penetration of the gadgets in Kenya to over 70%, up from 1% in 2009.

In a new survey, GlobalData Mobile Broadband Forecast paints a grim picture of the future of feature phones in Kenya.

The company noted in a survey released Monday that by the end of 2022, over 80% of mobile phone subscribers in Kenya, which are about 31 million, would be using smartphones.

The company predicted that the number of active smartphone subscriptions in Kenya would hit 20 million by the end of the year, signifying a major increase from last year.

“This increase in smartphone numbers matters as Kenya is also home to some of Africa’s most innovative software developers,” said Simon Anderson, GlobalData analyst for the Africa and Middle East market.

Bernard Mwaso, an information technology consultant with Edell IT Solutions in Nairobi, reckoned that time is up for feature phones in Kenya.

“Few people want to be caught with a feature phone today because the options for smartphones are wide. You cannot resist change, we said bye to the landline, why not feature phones?” he said.

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