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Africa’s mobile numbers, and where to find them

It’s not a big surprise to see Nokia’s Symbian operating system is the most popular in Africa. We all knew that, but it’s by how much that draws your attention. Royal Pingdom has an excellent post on the web usage (which is what they can measure) of the top OS use around the world. It’s amazing to see the difference between Africa, Asia and South America as opposed to Europe and North America.

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While, as a developer, it’s more sexy to work on the cutting-edge operating systems like iPhone and iPad’s iOS and Android you’d be making a mistake to do that in Africa. Unless you’re developing apps that are global in scale or you’re doing client work, you should be focusing on Symbian (or Samsung’s Bada OS in some countries). It’s where the numbers are.

Reaching Ordinary Africans

This brings to mind something I’ve been thinking about for a while. Mxit, as most people know now, is the mobile social network out of South Africa. It was built about 4 years ago and has 20 million+ users.

Mxit didn’t get big because it tried to build something that was cool and sexy for the middle/upper classes in South Africa (which is what so many try to do there). Instead, the company built one of Africa’s most successful tech companies by focusing on everyday South African youth and fulfilling their needs.

In fact, you can take this one step further. Almost any meaningful success in Africa’s mobile or web space has been from companies focused on meeting the needs of ordinary people. Go ahead, think of the success stories in Africa’s tech space, now name them and see if they’re made for a global market, Africa’s elite, or for the masses.

To reach African tech users requires a shift in headspace from the lofty ideals of smartphones to the practical realities of life for the majority of people.

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