Microsoft has partnered with Chinese handset maker Huawei to sell a range of low-cost Windows-powered smartphones for Africa’s market.
The customised devices will help Huawei get a larger foothold of Kenya’s smart phone market, at present dominated by Nokia and Samsung, and will sell at about Sh10,200 exclusively in Safaricom retail shops.
The two firms are banking on the smartphones’ pricing, long battery life, high speed processors, a store with locally made apps, and Microsoft Windows’ functions — such as email, Word, Excel and PowerPoint — to drive sales.
Africa has many lower-end users who only make calls and send text messages, but its young and tech-savvy population is buying higher-end handsets.
“We want to ensure that we put into the hands of young Africans smart and affordable devices,” said Louis Otieno, the legal and corporate affairs director for Africa Initiatives at Microsoft.
“The availability of broadband access makes a case for smartphones,” said Mr Otieno at Tuesday’s launch of Huawei smartphone branded 4Afrika in Nairobi, which happened concurrently in Cairo, Abidjan, Lagos and Johannesburg.
The phone is a customised version of the Huawei Ascend W1 that was displayed at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last month. It has a four inch (10cm) touch screen and five megapixel camera and can be on stand-by for up to 420 hours.
By targeting Africa, Microsoft is trying to build on momentum it recently gained through its partnership with Nokia. The company sold 4.4 million Lumia Windows smartphones in the fourth quarter of last year, up from 2.9 million the previous quarter.
(Read: Smartphone hunger pushes electronics revenues to $204bn)
Among the four smartphone operating systems, including Google’s Android, Apple’s iOS and BlackBerry, Windows has the smallest market share.
Microsoft is seeking to expand the device portfolio of its Windows Phone mobile operating system currently used by Nokia in its Lumia series and Taiwanese maker HTC to cut the dominance of Android-powered devices in the market.
“We hope to expand our partnership with other device manufacturers,” said Paul Garnett, the director of technology policy at Microsoft.
Data from consumer research firm GfK shows that about 366,000 smartphones were sold in Kenya in the six months to November 2012, accounting for 16 per cent of total handset sales, which stood at 2.3 million.
Nokia is still the market leader with about 43 per cent of the market, selling about 1.7 million devices in Kenya in the 11 months to November last year. Samsung accounts for a fifth or about 780,000 devices sold last year followed by Chinese brand Tecno at 16 per cent.