Early this month, I pulled the trigger and purchased what is arguably the cheapest 4G smart phone Available anywhere.
Priced at £49.99 including tax and delivery (that’s about $65, AU$90), the Mara X1 was on sale from amazon uk (But it appears to be out of stock at the time of writing.)
There are other cheaper smartphones on the market (via Aliexpress) but the X1 is the only new phone that combines 3GB of RAM and the latest iteration of Google’s ubiquitous Android OS.
Africa, the next frontier?
In this day and age, the last thing you want to do is run an older version of Android with more vulnerabilities and loopholes than Gruyere cheese. The X1 is a very well built phone with Android 10, four cameras, NFC, a fingerprint scanner, a two-year warranty, and it’s proudly displayed on the product box, a big slogan “Made in Africa”.
For a long time, the second largest continent by size was far behind when it came to technology. This proved to be a blessing in disguise somewhat as an entire generation of users went straight to mobile first technology devoid of the kind of old mindset common in more technologically advanced countries, particularly in the West. Fewer landlines, relatively small garden laptop Desktops are certainly not the same as relying on traditional desktop-based user interfaces.
A blank canvas before others tried to beat, namely OLPC XO . laptop From Nicholas Negroponte it was meant to bring ubiquitous computing to Africa and other technology-hungry continents. It never materialized and instead smartphones filled the gap.
In 2018, young businessman, Ashish Thakkar, unveiled the Maraphone X1 and Z1. Thakkar lives in Rwanda, he is a charismatic businessman with many quotes on his Twitter account and Musk attitude towards adversity. China has Huawei, Xiaomi; The US has the iPhone and finally Africa has the Maraphone. This project will demonstrate the potential and capacity that high-quality, affordable smartphones can be produced in Africa, by Africans, by Africans and the rest of the world.”
Things went pear-shaped though. The company hasn’t released a smartphone since then (unless you count the Mara S, with 1GB of RAM and 8GB ROM as worthy of the smartphone moniker). The X1 I bought was almost certainly one that was scaled back to be erased and the whole story serves as a cautionary tale for ambitious newcomers who lack global clout, a near-infinite marketing budget or, in our story, China support.
Impossibly difficult devices
Mara, the company behind Maraphones, had factories in Rwanda and South Africa and in February 2022, a news report It appeared revealing that the South African factory had been closed for good. It turns out that building smartphones is the easy part. Sell it in return… Over the past decade, Chinese manufacturers have gradually consolidated their influence in the otherwise global smartphone market Huawei fall from grace In 2020, they will almost certainly compete with Samsung for the number one spot. The dominance we see in the world of Windows (Lenovo, Dell, HP) is reflected in the world of Android (Oppo, Xiaomi, Samsung).
The current split in the Windows and Android ecosystem is here to stay with companies showing a very strong affinity with the former and consumers showing a very strong preference for Google. Things quickly get interesting in programs and services where barriers to entry are virtually non-existent, allowing many candidates from less developed countries to try new things.
Africans have seen a lot of action lately; A quick look at my news feed attests to this, especially when it comes to fintech. Google’s Sundar Pichai has promised to invest $1 billion to boost African connectivity and accelerate digital transformation. The Nigerian duo, Tingo and Flutterwave, are worth nearly $10 billion based on the latest valuations, and a string of smaller startups have attracted significant investments, a clear indication that Africa is open for business, when it comes to SaaS.
China wants a piece of African pie
a December 2021 feature By Yenka Adegok from The Rest of the World casts a disturbing picture of China’s growing technological influence in Africa. Billions of dollars have been poured since the early 2010s into basic infrastructure as part of a “Digital Silk Road” initiative that is giving China an unparalleled influence over how Africans use technology: thousands of square meters of data center real estate, and miles and miles of fiber optics.
ZTE and Huawei are still two of the largest infrastructure providers on the continent despite their pariah status in the West. It carries Transsion, a little-known phone manufacturer in Europe and the United States 50% of the total smartphone market in Africa With three brands (itel, Infinix and Tecno) and a market capitalization of $12 billion. Perhaps the single most important reason for Mara’s lack of success.
All this to say that when it comes to equipment, China, a global manufacturing powerhouse, has no competitor. If you’re dealing with a mature market (like smartphones) where there are no differentiators – other than price – don’t bother because you will be spending a lot on marketing. If it’s budding, just follow Elon Musk’s guide. It looks like Africa may end up becoming a software powerhouse in the next decade, but China’s shadow looms over its success, through thick and thin.