Has Apple lost its love for emerging markets?

Another Apple event has come and gone with the company showing no real effort to enter Africa and other emerging markets. On Wednesday night, South African time, Apple held its annual event where it launched the new iPhone 6s, 6s Plus, Apple TV, iPad Pro and Apple Pencil. All premium devices perfect for matured markets in which Apple already has a stake in.

Though the event was not by any means a strategic conference, in which a company shared details of its long-term mission, it was without any hardware devices and software tailored for the developing markets.

When Apple launched the iPhone 5C in 2013, the Cupertino-based giant appeared to be lowering the barriers of entry for ownership of its products. Yesterday’s could hardly have contrasted that more sharply if it tried.

Read more: Why we can expect Apple to ‘revolutionise’ the TV space as we know it

Apple’s strategy in contrast to other manufacturers that have tailored their devices for emerging markets and have made forceful entries into those markets. The likes of Samsung, Microsoft, Huawei and Xiaomi have all made serious ground in exploiting emerging markets. In Africa meanwhile Nokia, a perilous warning elsewhere in the tech world, remains dominant.

World Wide Worx published a research paper earlier this year, in which it looked at 3 500 mobile phone users in five of Africa’s major markets, namely South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana and Uganda. The research found that Nokia dominance ranged from a high 43% in Nigeria, 36% in South Africa and 34% in Uganda to 32% in Kenya and 28% in Ghana.

Right now, Apple’s strategy of high-end, aspirational devices is working. It’s the most valuable company on the planet. But should it be hedging its bets and trying to grow the number of people not currently using its products?

Read more: 8 facts about mobile life in Sub-Saharan Africa

The potential is certainly there. On Tuesday, Apple introduced a feature that could be useful for emerging markets. The feature, Airstrip, is an iOS app that monitors patients and allows doctors to have access to their patients without the patients coming to the clinic or hospital. Using the Apple Watch, doctors can monitor their patients in real time. Say, a pregnant woman is home, with the Apple Watch she can transfer data to her doctors and have the doctor read her heart beat in real time.

With the Apple Watch retailing from US$349 to US$17 000, people in the countries where it’s needed most probably can’t afford it. Imagine how much of difference it could make for people who battle to travel to clinics and hospitals for check-ups.

Read more: 16 graphs that shed new light on the South African smartphone space

The Chinese threat

And if Apple doesn’t make the most of those opportunities, others will. Xiaomi, the world’s third biggest smartphone distributor. Often described as the “Apple of China”, it’s going to be selling its smartphones in Africa from mid September. The Chinese giant will launch its Red Mi 2 (US$160) and M4 (US$320) devices into the market. While they may not be the cheapest smartphones out there, they do at least offer a semblance of aspiration at a reasonable price.

Earlier this year, Apple set up an office in South Africa. Perhaps it is too early to expect an overhaul of its global strategy and begin to see a truly African strategy but what remains clear after Tuesday’s event is that, outside of the elite minority who can afford its devices, Apple appears not to be too concerned with the African continent.

Feature image: textlad via Flickr



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