News came in yesterday that Microsoft and Huawei unveiled a new Windows Phone designed specifically for Africa, one of the most rapidly-growing technology markets in the world. The phone, which is called the Huawei 4Afrika, is said to be the first in a series of smart devices being custom developed for the continent and released as part of Microsoft's sweeping new 4Afrika Initiative, which also kicked off yesterday. Designed specifically as an affordable option for students, small businesses, developers, and first-time smartphone owners, the Huawei 4Afrika with Windows Phone 8 will make its debut later this month in seven countries including Angola, Egypt, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, and South Africa.
While the name indicates that this is a new phone, under the hood, it's just a variant of the Huawei Ascend W1, Huawei announced during last month's CES in Las Vegas. Running Windows Phone 8, it sports a 4" 480 x 800 display, a 1.2 GHz dual-core Snapdragon CPU, front and rear-facing cameras and 4GB of internal storage. All squeezed, as said, into a 10 millimeter-thin case. According to Huawei, the phone delivers a whopping 420 hours of standby time (which translates into over two straight weeks), thanks to Huawei's built-in power-saving technology.
The phone also comes preloaded with custom apps created by African developers for African consumers and feature a market-specific store within the larger Windows Phone Store for downloading locally-relevant apps and content.
And as Microsoft mentioned, this isn't the only Windows Phone making inroads in Africa. Windows Phone already has a presence in Africa with devices from HTC, Samsung, and Nokia, but as a matter of fact this presence isn't that strong as Microsoft said in its press release. Nevertheless, another part of this broad 4Afrika initiative is a joint Nokia and Microsoft customer training program in Kenya and Nigeria to help accelerate adoption of Nokia Lumia 510 and 620 phones. More than 90% of phones sold today in those markets are feature phones, so Microsoft and Nokia are teaming up to provide free in-store training for customers to help them get the most from their new Lumias and manage their new data plans.
I'm not exactly sure how good Windows Phone 8 is now to be used in Africa but it's clear that Windows Phone 7 was far away from anything ready for the African market, as I noticed myself when I spent 3 months in Angola back in 2011. Microsoft maps where everything but useable, only indicating a handful "main roads" per country and also the firmware upgrade process was hardly useable in a country, where personal computers are not really common at all. However, these main issues are now fixed since Microsoft is using Nokia's excellent maps and firmware updates are finally distributed over the air (OTA). Nevertheless, it's a long way for Microsoft and its partners to get the feed on the ground, in countries where US$ 18 phones are more common than anything else.
Cheers ~ Arne