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BlackBerry use set to swell

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BlackBerry, which has held steady at 6% penetration for current and previous phones, is expected to rise to 16%. Photograph by Reuters.
BlackBerry, which has held steady at 6% penetration for current and previous phones, is expected to rise to 16%. Photograph by Reuters.

BlackBerry, once the darling of the smartphone world, has been widely positioned as moribund, but a new study of African smartphone users reveals that this is not the case locally.

A survey of mobile phone usage in five African countries has delivered surprising findings on the rise of Internet access via phones, the potential demise of Nokia and the continued appeal of BlackBerry.

The Mobile Africa 2015 study, conducted by mobile surveying company GeoPoll and World Wide Worx, surveyed 3 500 mobile phone users in five of Africa's major markets, namely SA, Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana and Uganda.

One of the most surprising findings was that BlackBerry, which has held steady at 6% penetration for current and previous phones, is expected to rise to 16%. While this flies in the face of international trends, it reveals a hidden dynamic of the aspirations of new smartphone users, says World Wide Worx.

Matt Angus-Hammond, Business Development Lead for GeoPoll in Southern Africa, explains one reason for the possible surge in Blackberry adoption: "BlackBerry introduced most of Africa to the idea of a smartphone, and for the first few years was the flagship brand for the category. They initially hit the market through companies who got contracts for their executives, but as new models were introduced, the old Blackberrys have entered the mass market, and are still regarded as a status symbol in much of Africa."

This suggests BlackBerry will retain its position as the third most popular phone brand in major African markets for now. However, World Wide Worx notes brands that will challenge both BlackBerry and Nokia in the near future include Apple (2% currently, expected to rise to 11%), Huawei (3%, expected to go to 9%), Sony (2% to 5%) and LG (3% to 5%).

Samsung on top

While the study confirms the widely held view that Nokia remains the single biggest phone brand in the major African markets, it also shows its market share is plummeting fast.

While almost half of respondents (46%) reported owning a Nokia as their previous phone, only 34% own one now - and only half of those (18%) intend buying a Nokia next.

The big winner, says World Wide Worx, is Samsung, a brand currently owned by 17% of respondents, up marginally from 14% ownership previously. When asked what phone will be bought next, the Samsung proportion shot up to 26% - more than a quarter of phone users.

Current phone usage varies dramatically by country, with Nokia dominance ranging from a high 43% in Nigeria, 36% in SA and 34% in Uganda to 32% in Kenya and 28% in Ghana. In each of the five countries, however, the data shows it will drop to below 25% when the next phone is acquired, with Kenya least loyal to the brand: only 14% of Kenyans surveyed say they expect to buy a Nokia as their next phone.

Samsung finds its strongest current markets in Ghana (29%) and SA (21%), but is expected to rise in most other countries when the next phone is purchased. While it will remain at a similar level in SA and Ghana, it will rise from 18% to 39% in Kenya, and to 28% in Uganda, where it currently stands at only 10%. Nigeria market share will double, from 8% to 16%.

Apple is the surprise challenger for third place, with 16% of respondents in Ghana, 15% of Nigerians and 14% of South Africans indicating they would buy one next. Uganda at 8% and Kenya at 5% also show surprisingly strong intentions to buy the high-cost iPhone next.

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