Why the Apple iPhone will fail miserably in Africa (and maybe elsewhere too!)

Here’s my latest on MyDigitalLife Blog: A look at the iPhone in Africa.

Update: Reposting it here for archive purposes.

Apple are lining up for an end of June launch of the much touted and discussed Apple iPhone. I don’t believe it will be a success in Africa. Here’s why:

It was just yesterday that they announced final details of how third party applications will be integrated into the iPhone without “compromising security”. Their solution: use AJAX in a standard web browser operating on the phone, with a custom phone look-and-feel instead of the “browser feel”. What a cop-out. What they’re really saying is

‘You’re gonna have to be online to use custom applications on the iPhone’.

There’s just one small problem. Online all the time is not possible in Africa!!.

For starters the coverage generally sucks. I have just returned from Mozambique where I couldn’t even roam on my own home provider’s network (MTN), despite all the necessary roaming activations being in place. Strangely enough I could roam on an opposition network!

With cellular data the price is also prohibitive. In order to get the cheapest data rates you need to spend over R1000 ($125) a month and you pay R0.20 ($0.02) per megabyte. (P.S. Steve Jobs – some people only earn R1000 a month) That’s the absolute cheapest for the highest end users. It may not seem like much but the cost will add up very quickly when you’re checking contact details, updating your todo list or schedule, sending and receiving email, checking google maps, or using the “killer-app” Youtube integration. So cellular is not really a viable option for connectivity.

What’s more, the iPhone does not have 3G. So you have to access your custom phone apps off the internet using a slow-ass GPRS/EDGE solution. Apple of course will claim that you can use the WiFi capability instead of EDGE, but the general lack of public WiFi access points means you’ll end up checking your mail or updating your schedule once a week while travelling – if you’re lucky.

In another strange move, the iPhone only has a 2 Megapixel camera. What good is that? When we send pictures of our starving children to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation we need really high resolution pictures. Oh, perhaps it’s to save on that scarce African bandwidth.

How should Apple fix this? Simple. It should be an open platform that is customisable with third party apps able to run and store data on the phone. 3G is a must – this is 2007 for heaven’s sake! A 5 megapixel camera is possible. Keep the cool browser and the WiFi and add a GPS – Africa’s an easy place to get lost. Oh wait, I’ve almost completely described the Nokia N95!

All in all the iPhone is a pretty rubbish, expensive deal for anyone in Africa with its price tag of around R8000. It’s below industry spec, short on features and really not what one would expect from Apple.

It’s only coming to South Africa at the end of November so we won’t hold our breath waiting, that’s for sure.

Technorati Tags: mydigitallife, blog, iphone, africa, apple, stevejobs, failure

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8 Comments

  1. You make a good point Paul. I’ll put in a “Contact” page soon…

    In the interim, here’s how to contact me:

    shaun at dewberry dot co dot za

    +27 83 415 5201

  2. Interesting story you just wrote here.

    I live in Johannesburg South Africa and I currently am using my 4th iPhone on my network of choice, MTN. I travel a lot throughout Africa as a club DJ. I’m constantly roaming in Nigeria, Mozambique and most of Southern Africa and surprisingly my iPhone is always online with EDGE. I also get on-screen messages where I choose my preferred network instead of the automatic switching from my previous N95. I was also discouraged my the 2 Megapixel camera but then the picture quality is sharper pixel for pixel on my photoshop CS3 image pixelometer. All my friends have iPhones bought from the states at just R2800 and unlocked using Independence. I have also taken a top up of 100MB Data top up with my network because i’m a heavy user and guess what, i’ve never exceeded the 100 MB allocation. heavy data downloads will be incurred in your mail application but the iPhone is set to just download headers of messages and I can download attachments from my laptop internet connection. It’s sad that the launch date for this phone has been postponed indefinitely for the Africa but in a country like South Africa it would sell like hot cakes.

    ps… the only thing that doesn’t work with my iphone is the visual voice mail because the networks haven’t activated it yet.

    Get one, it will change your life!

  3. Well, Fistaz, thanks for that response – it seems I may stand corrected on some of my opinions.
    It is a bit disappointing that Apple decided to not launch the iPhone here.
    Personally, 100MB data has never been enough and I’ve burnt my bank balance through overuse of GPRS/EDGE on my nokia N95 – If only Apple could bring across one of their AT&T unlimited Data and Text plans to our shores… that would rock.

  4. HI Fistaz,

    I have a question regarding your post on the iphone….you had said that you and your friends purchase their in th u.s. and you have been able to roam on MTN even in Nigeria.

    My question i this..when u purchase in th U.S., did u have to sign up fr the 2 yr At&T plan, or did you purchase from an outside cell dealer (other than ATT or apple) or how did you get around that? I currently reside in the U.S. and had planned to purchase one to use when i head to Nigeria, but i have been discouraged by all the feedback i have been getting about the phone locking if you insert a different sim card and all other tech jargon.

    Your fedback is much appreciated. Thanks and have a nice day.

  5. HI Fistaz,

    I have a question regarding your post on the iphone….you had said that you and your friends purchase their in th u.s. and you have been able to roam on MTN even in Nigeria.

    My question i this..when u purchase in th U.S., did u have to sign up fr the 2 yr At&T plan, or did you purchase from an outside cell dealer (other than ATT or apple) or how did you get around that? I currently reside in the nigeria and had planned to purchase one to use when I head to South Africa, but I have been discouraged by all the feedback i have been getting.

    Where can I purchase an Original, Unlocked Apple (8GB) iPhone in the US at R2800 (46,462.23 NGN)and have it shipped to Nigeria or SA?

    Hope to hear from you soon.

  6. Gee – How wrong were you? Granted, itunes doesn’t work in SA and we have a watered down Appstore. Apart from that, I’m loving my iPhone 3GS on MTN.

  7. @Unskinnybob:
    Bear in mind I wrote this in 2007. The iPhone still took an eternity to be released in South Africa. I’m betting you only got your phone fairly recently. I may have been a little off from a South African perspective, but I maintain my stance.

    The iPhone has always been overpriced and underspecced. Only the 3GS and recent models are slightly improved. Data in Africa is still expensive, so how much web-capability can you afford to use?

    How many iPhones versus other phone models have been sold in Africa as a percentage of the user population? I’d guess two, maybe 3 percent.

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