AfricaCom 2018: Africa Joins the Digital Revolution with First-ever Smart Feature Phones

AfricaCom 2018 may be over, but the excitement and innovation from the show continue to energize those who attended, including the KaiOS Technologies team. It was a groundbreaking event, not just for us and our partners, but for all the leaders that brought new ideas to the table, and for the African continent which has so much potential for growth.

Read on for the highlights of my experience at the show, including news from the Kai team and what makes me optimistic about Africa’s future.

 

Kai announced two partnerships to bring smart feature phones to Africa for the first time

There couldn’t have been a better setting to announce two exciting new partnerships that will introduce the first 3G and 4G smart feature phones to Africa: One with MTN, China Mobile, and Unisoc, and the other with Orange.

Both collaborations will bring a new wave of affordable mobile devices to users in the region, all of which will boast the rich functionality that KaiOS is known for. This includes services like The Google Assistant, Facebook, and Google Maps, as well as functionalities such as the KaiStore, Bluetooth, and GPS. Users will have access to these and other advanced digital services starting from Q1 2019 onwards.

(From right) MTN CEO Rob Shuter, China Mobile Executive Vice President Li Huidi, Unisoc CEO Adam Zeng and KaiOS Technologies CEO Sebastien Codeville display the new KaiOS-powered MTN device coming to South Africa and Nigeria in Q1 2019.

 

These partnerships are meaningful as we look ahead to 2019 and beyond. After the success of the JioPhone in India, we believe Africa is the next frontier for a smart feature phone revolution. Though there are certainly obstacles to overcome, the potential to connect the more than 800 million African people who still lack basic internet access today is highly motivating. Through collaborations with partners—carriers, device manufacturers, chipset makers, content creators—we feel confident we can bring valuable and relevant digital services to communities across the continent.

 

We met outstanding local app developers at the AppsAfrica Innovation Awards

Kai was among the prestigious sponsors of the AppsAfrica Innovation Awards, a gathering of the best and brightest app developers Africa has to offer.

KaiOS Technologies CEO Sebastien Codeville presents award to stand-in for Best African App winner, SafeBoda, at the AppsAfrica Innovation Awards

 

I was honored to present the Best African App to SafeBoda, a Uganda-based app whose goal is to modernize and overhaul informal transportation in African countries to be more safe and reliable. The variety of solutions on display was impressive, as was the thoughtful approach developers took to solving real-world problems for local communities.

Kai’s participation in the AppsAfrica awards was of particular importance because the success of smart feature phones relies on the ability to provide apps and digital services that users actually want and need. To do this, we must not only offer the latest international apps to African consumers, but also provide an attractive, simple platform that draws in local developers with fresh and locally relevent ideas.

We achieve this goal with the KaiStore, the first app store for smart feature phones, and our top priority is building a local community of developers. I can certainly say that the AppsAfrica gathering was a great showcase of the best apps Africa has to offer. After attending the event and meeting many of the participants, I’m convinced there is enough amazing talent on the continent to fill the KaiStore with relevant, locally produced content.

 

The suite of KaiOS-powered devices was on full display

On top of announcing new partnerships and engaging with the next wave of app developers, we were thrilled to welcome attendees of the show to the KaiOS Technologies booth. The space featured a lineup of each and every KaiOS-powered device available to users today.

 

It was great to see the instant “click” people here had with the smart feature phone concept. Whereas show attendees on other continents sometimes need some additional explanation and convincing to understand why KaiOS still makes sense in a world of smartphones, this is not the case in Africa.

At out booth we met a diverse crowd, including local carriers, universities, distributors, government officials, and consumers. Most of them instantly got the relevance and transformational power of creating a next generation of feature phones. Nothing gets more more excited and energized than talking to people directly and hearing their thoughts on how closing the digital divide can help them, their communities, or their customers.

 

And a few parting thoughts on what lies ahead

In the midst of discussions around cutting-edge technology and pushing the bounds of mobile internet, we must remember that many emerging markets—especially in Africa—don’t have the network infrastructure to support those advancements. While other regions soon start deployment of 5G networks, many countries in Africa still don’t have 4G or even 3G coverage.

While we can play a meaningful part in solving the challenges of device affordability and reducing data costs, KaiOS can’t solve the network infrastructure issue. For this reason it was great to see many other parties working on that piece of the puzzle, and it was a big motivation to see “connecting the unconnected” and “closing the digital divide” as a recurring theme across the show.

 

Innovation cannot have an impact if it is developed without the target audience in mind, and we at Kai recognize that affordability, functionality, and existing infrastructure are critical to designing realistic solutions. This was one of several tenants I discussed in my keynote speech, which I delivered near the conclusion of the show. A successful digital revolution in Africa will be a multi-tiered effort beyond just developing and offering affordable devices. We must also work to lower data costs, expand and overhaul infrastructure, and enhance our localized content offerings.

The next step for Kai and all the companies that attended AfricaCom 2018 is to put our ideas and innovation to work. I believe we must focus on driving digitalization of public services offered by the government and social organizations, and educating the public on the importance of using online services — these are two critical components of bridging the digital divide in Africa. We at Kai, alongside our valued partners, are excited to play a part in building a mobile internet ecosystem that will help make this happen.

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