Feature Phones Still Rule In Africa, As Smartphone Sales Slow

Feature phones have been a key driver in Africa being a mobile-first continent

– now making up 56% of market share – and continue to outsell smartphones, according to researchers IDC. 

As smartphone sales in Africa slowed from double-digits (to 3.4% year-on-year), more basic feature phones continue to sell strongly, growing 16.1% year-on-year in 2016 and increasing their overall market share 56% last year (from 53% the year before).

Feature phones sold 119.97-million units compared to smartphone’s 95.37-million, for a total of 215.33-million handsets shipped in 2016. This is a 10.1% increase over the year before

The reduction in smartphone sales “represents a considerable deceleration from the double-digit growth rates seen in the previous two years, with demand being hampered by the currency fluctuations that are affecting the continent,” according to a new International Data Corporation (IDC) report.

“Africa has always been a tough market for mobile phone companies to crack, and in 2016 that challenge got even harder. Many African economies struggled throughout 2016, and this had an inevitable knock-on effect on the smartphone market, which had previously experienced a very strong 2015,” IDC’s Simon Baker said in a statement.

“It was a particularly tough year in Nigeria, with the devaluation of the naira causing a drop in confidence in the distribution channel. And while North African markets saw an increase in overall handset shipments in 2016, the pace of growth slowed year on year due to exchange-rate fluctuations in Egypt and security issues in Algeria,” said Baker, the program director for mobile devices at IDC CEMA.

The World Bank says there has been economic slowdown in Sub-Saharan Africa, with growth dipping in 2015 to 3.7% from 4.6% in 2014, according to its Africa’s Pulse report.

Africa is the world’s second largest mobile market, but also the least penetrated, says the GSM Association, the umbrella body for the mobile industry. It predicts smartphone numbers will triple in the next five years.

Africa has 557-million mobile users, and the mobile ecosystem added $153-billion to the African economy in 2015, according to the GSMA’s The Mobile Economy: Africa 2016 report. “At the end of 2015, 46% of the population in Africa subscribed to mobile services, equivalent to more than half a billion people,” the GSMA found.