27 Jul 2011

The $100 smartphone in Tanzania?

The $100 smartphone - IDEOS from Huawei
It's been a while since my last post here - a few weeks off work is the reason. I had been intending to get the blog going again with a post on some of the things I was doing while away from the office (various conferences, seminars, etc.), but that will have to wait. Because I'm completely blown away by the new phone I got while on my travels, and it's worth sharing this more widely.

The phone is Huawei's IDEOS Android (Google) smartphone, bought through Safaricom in Kenya, where they sell for $100, unlocked. This makes them the cheapest smartphone available, a lot cheaper than the Blackberries and other high-end smartphones that currently dominate Tanzania's smartphone market. It's less than a quarter of the price of its closest competitor I could find last week in Dar, and cheaper even than most data-enabled phones I could find (with a lot more features and capability).

At that price, the phone's potential in the African market is clear. It launched in Kenya late last year, since when it has sold very well, rapidly become the top-selling smartphone.

But I'm not just taken by the price. This is not cheap rubbish, it is a decent smartphone, reasonably powerful (much quicker than the Blackberries I've used) and very easy to use. It looks and feels pretty durable too, but only time and a few accidents will tell if that's really the case. But best of all, it has a far quicker internet connection (even on an up-country 2G / EDGE network) than either my previous phones (both Blackberries) or the three mobile internet dongles I've used. I've set it up as a portable wifi hotspot (which was very easy to do), using the phone's internet connection to connect to the internet on my laptop.

It therefore replaces the dongle I was using as well as replacing my Blackberry. They cost me just over 400,000/- in total (my Blackberry was second hand), compared to 160,000/- for the IDEOS. And I don't have to pay Voda's very high monthly fees to use the Blackberry, instead using pay-as-you-go internet, which makes running costs cheaper as well.

So why is it not available yet in Tanzania? It's already on the market in Uganda as well as Kenya. I'm sure there would a lot of demand for it. Google are trying to foster an Android developer community in Dar, which suggests the phone must be coming.

Perhaps the phone companies are trying to squeeze as many Blackberry sales as possible out of the Tanzanian market before switching to the IDEOS? They must have a bigger markup on Blackberries, and would surely lose some customers to a cheaper smartphone. But if any one of the networks were to start selling the IDEOS before the others, they would have a big advantage in sales.

Any news on this from the networks, or from Google or Huawei would be very welcome.