Google, Africa, Data Costs And Smartphones

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I literally get torn apart by fanboys each time I write an article about Android’s data-guzzling capabilities. I have been called names, my credentials questioned and even spat on (okay, I added that last one).

I run Africa’s top mobile blog and would be stupid if i didn’t talk about it. why? Our conditions here make it a big issue for the majority.

Here’s an excerpt from a report on what Google’s top man had to say when asked about plans to expand in Africa. I have emphasised the key part in bold. It is informative:

Among the highlights of my Davos week was a media round table with the top management of global giant Google – executive chairman Eric Schmidt plus lieutenants Nikesh Arora, Marissa Mayer and David Drummond. The theme of the hour and a half chat was how rapidly the internet is becoming mobile. In June 2011, for instance for the first time more people accessed Google Maps through their cellphones and iPads than via desktop computers. Half of those accessing Facebook are doing so through mobiles – with the trend suggesting it will reach 80% in five years.

I managed to pop a question around Google’s plans to expand its activities in Africa. Judged by other major corporation hunger for a bigger piece of the African pie, I waited pen at the ready for fresh info about how the “Don’t Be Evil” crowd wants to grab its slice. Instead, Schmidt’s smile turned to a scowl. Google’s not doing anything like as much as it wants to on the continent, he admitted, because it’s just not possible. Africans, he says, are forced to cough up “20 to 30 times what we (i.e. Americans) pay for data.”

See that? Google acknowledges that data costs are a hindrance to their push in mobile in Africa.

A mobile OS that guzzles data (and power) and that requires management to keep both factors within tolerant levels is a real issue in these parts. I recently used an automobile analogy in responding to this issue. Let’s explore that further.

Of Mobiles. And AutoMobiles

The African market (add Asia and South America to that) will remain this unique for a long while. It is the reason why Toyota cars (being as a rule more fuel economical – and cheaper – than most other brands) will outsell BMWs and Mercedes Benz models. With Korean brands stepping up their games too, its the same reason(s) that Hyundai and Kia models sell like hot cake.

That Your Silly Neighbour

Have you seen those silly guys in the neighbourhood who make a little money and go buy a Mercedes Benz right away? Have you observed how after a short while, they cannot keep up with maintaining the car? They spend on fuel like mad, alongside other expenses. Soon, the car is sitting in front of their residence, a monument to their lack of wisdom.

Meanwhile, the truth is that a less expensive and less fuel guzzling model would have served their purposes better.

The Vocal Minority

Those who want to deny Android’s data guzzling can keep sticking their heads in the sand like Ostriches. It is not a real issue for me as an individual. I can afford a 6GB data plan monthly – over $50 (that’s a month’s wage for lots of folks) – though I’d rather not, so I can use some of that amount for something else. It is not an issue for some of you other folks who regularly comment on this blog.

The vocal Android fanboys here are in reality a tiny minority of the market that we live in. They earn much more, are more comfortable, have internet access on their PCs at work and at home. They can afford to turn off data on their devices and nurse them as they wish.

On $2 Per Day. And Hustling!

Not so the vast majority of the African market, who are busy struggling to survive. They have little or no access to power, and nursing a mobile phone is the last thing on their minds. Life is a hustle. They want to just use the darn phone and get on with hustling. Babysitting a phone ain’t on their agenda.

It is a real issue for hundreds of millions of Africans. They earn $2 or N320 or less per day! Think about that. It is why I write about it. It is why I offer tips to manage it. It is also why I must offer alternatives.

Cloud Storage. iPhone, Windows Phone Too

It is the same reason that Cloud storage won’t be taken up in a huff and puff in Africa. It is the reason why I can say that it looks like Nokia is about to lose the smartphone market in Africa if they are shutting Symbian down at this point. It is the reason why iPhones and Windows Phone devices will remain niche here for a while.

It is why whoever sells (or can sell) a smartphone platform that delivers affordable data services on budget devices will take the market. Whoever that is, I don’t care. But that is the truth.

Africa Stuck With FeaturePhones?

If no mobile OS meets that need, we might as well expect the smartphone market in Africa and similar areas to shrink, as people will shy away from smartphones. The small smartphone market will likely then be dominated by Android. But the vast majority of mobile users will stay with feature phones while the rest of the world moves on.

Some people think that I am hating on Android. That’s silly. I provide information to a primary target audience – Africa, most of whom are affected by this issue.

However, as stated already, Blackberry deals with this issue – and if the guys at RIM are any smart, they need to go ballistic now. Not tomorrow. You pick up a BlackBerry, set it up once and just get up and go. That too, for about $9 (N1,500) per month. Nigeria just seems set for a Blackberry outbreak. Africa too.

Of course, whether RIM rises up to the task or not is a different matter.

Am I Biased?

The heck, I am!

I am biased towards the mass market.

For that reason, I was biased towards GSM when the CDMA-GSM debate came up. I was biased towards mobile internet services because I believed that would deliver internet to the mass market, and it is doing just that. I was right.

I was biased towards Symbian OS, because it met the needs of the mass market – good resource management in particular. With Nokia shooting Symbian dead, I am biased towards BlackBerry for the same reasons that I recommended Symbian for years.

Give me any OS that meets the same specifications, and I am biased towards it. This is Nigeria. This is Africa.

I am very, very biased. It is not an OS/brand thing, but it is bias all the same.

Of course, Google might pull a rabbit out of their hat and modify Android’s code such that it becomes more resource efficient out of the box. Who knows?

Back To The Future

Hopefully, we will get rock bottom data tariffs and it won’t be so much of an issue later. Hopefully, standards of living across Africa will improve significantly to reduce the importance of this. Hopefully too, public power supply will become stable and reliable, so we don’t have to carry a charger for our Android smartphones.

Until then, I owe the public that info. I owe them sound advice on choices and options that meet the peculiar circumstances that they live in.

If you cannot live with that, errrr….try a cup of Ice Cream Sandwich 🙂 Toodles!

Check out the full Google story here

14 comments

    1. EyeBeeKay,

      Mr Mobility, if u believe in polygamy, give me a shout.i have this beautiful nubile (not mobile!) Daughter…;-)

      Yes; I do o! Plus, I’m a dashing virile man. Age is still on my side 😉

      When is the introduction, my in-law?

  1. Yes; I do o

    Mr Mobility, i have a sneaking feeling you may need a place to sleep tonight. She just read ur comment! I have a spare room (* keep looking fearfully behind you meanwhile. Mrs Mobility is planning a nice something for you)…:-)

    I would like our most articulate Android Apostle here to explain his usage methodology. How he is able to manage 200megabytes / month on Android.

    Can we have an explanation of ‘turn off background data’

    If we leave data turned off permanently, can we still get push notification? Can i have , say, Nimbuzz, working in the background with background data being off? So, in what instances EXACTLY must you turn ON background data? (*horrors*)
    If i use a third party app to micromanage and control each app’s access to the internet,, does that COMPLETELY solve the data gluttony headache? Asi n- COMPLETELY?

    To disambiguate if i make use of the social networking apps, do push email, , i am constrained in ANY way (data dissipation-wise)?

    http://androidforums.com/samsung-galaxy-nexus/483340-how-turn-off-background-data.html has me beat!

  2. I agree with most of the points raised in this piece. I still hope for the day when internet access in this country (fixed and mobile) would become dirt cheap and without data caps. When we can stream videos and download large files without constantly nursing our data plan.

    For those of us stuck with the “data guzzling” android for now, I shared some opinions on managing your data on my blog a while back. You just might find it useful muyiscoi.com/2012/02/how-to-manage-data-on-your-android-phone/

  3. This is why we are building NigeriaDotCom (http://www.nigeria.com) into a low bandwidth platform that can run as a front end on feature phones, smartphones, tablets, laptops, personal computers, and Internet TV’s focusing primarily on Nigerian content.

    The African/Asian/South American bandwidth situation is not going to change any day soon and as such we need to find solutions to OUR problems because they are different from problems elsewhere.

    Who knows, if we do it well, we’ll put the data guzzlers to shame, just like the Japanese and Korean car makers did to their American counterparts.

  4. Wow. you get paid for saying this and U’ve I’ve been doing the same for free. my priorities are sooo mixed up 😀

    But I have to say that not all countries are equal. The one thing Africa, Asia/Middle East and Latin America have in common: Nokia and Blackberrys are the dominant phones. In Nigeria there may be a proliferation of Chinese-manufactured phones, even in Asia, but not necessarily so in Latin America. These are the phones people have and want. As on the African continent, Windows Phones, iOS and Android are in the minority.

    I totally agree, this is a golden opportunity for Blackberry to dominate in these markets with the demise of Symbian. The only obstacle is the cost of the handset locally. OR…it’s an opportunity for the used Blackberry market to thrive. But I’m still convinced that somehow, Nokia may end up producing some non-Symbian feature phones in future.

  5. Mr Mobility analysis are done professionally, but most readers especially people running android always coment based on sentiment and they see android as a symbol of class sort of but thank God for etisalat gaga and some cheaper droid. Don’t really know why android user hate Blackberry to the point of using gutter language against it. I want to thank Mr Mobility for a Profesional review like this. More grease to your review

  6. Bravo Mr Mobility. Fact on. That is what i call a reality report. If you remember when you asked what smartphone we would go för if we had money i chose blackberry cause of the data plan with android becoming second. This is due to the fact that i have limited cash for data. When networks bring data down to N1000 for 1GB then and only then will android make sense to use. The problem with blackberry is the cost of handset but thank God for used phones. Great article.

  7. I truly agree with Yomi in this piece. You cannot have any of the data guzzling OS dominating the African continent. Until we have cheap and quality internet service, the feature phones will be dominating. I will be happy to see android do better with data mgt. Just like I will like on WP7, IOS and Nokia. Yes I said it, Nokia. I used the E7 yesterday and its not as data efficient as symbian fans make it sound here. I am not saying this as a fact but from a user’s view. I had it for a little above an hour and just browsed MN for 20% of the time. Checked my data and 3mb was gone. A more data efficient system on all the OSs will be to our good in Africa.

    Yomi has also pointed it out. Some of us can afford =N=1,300/ 250mb/ month. To some in this same Africa that is luxury. I didn’t not choose android over other OSs without considering the data issue. But its the overall experience that I (Belushi) will get on my SGS2 that made me decide to use it. Still loving it. But if there comes tomorrow another OS that will give me the same experience with less data usage, I will get it.

    @Eye.Bee.Kay, I dont use Nimbuzz but ebuddy does the same job. The difference there is that it does not support voip calls. Which we hardly use anyway. My background data is always off unless I want to go to the market. My ebuddy is there running and I chat at will. I use my whatsapp more and its always connected. Anyone buzzes me and it pops on my device. My emails too sync ans scheduled. Push or periodical. I don’t need my tweets and Facebook updating automatically. I click them and they sync manually.

    I hope for a more data efficient android but till then, I will keep enjoying everything else it offers.

  8. @ eyebeekay
    we can liken Android to a pc which by default every thing is turned on and syncs automatically. eg windows update,antivirus update etc. which in itself is not a problem unless one is using Internet with data cap.
    then you have to configure your pc not to update automatically.

    Android by default not only wants you to always be online but also wants every part of itself to be online too. updating every thing and syncing every thing in the background. so turning off background data its just like turning off windows update. does not affect your browsing,chatting etc. with background data turned off, I still do every thing I wanna do on the Internet except using Google market.
    that had been my experience.
    with an app like droidwall, where u can select only what you want to have Internet access regardless of background data being on or off, completely solved the data guzzling problem

  9. this can pass for a Havard university lecture. For such premuim analysis i have been around the mobility blog since 2010.For such as these expositions i have recommend this site to the high heavens.
    I hear silence in the groove.Truth brings calm!

  10. And when we all decide to go the feature phone way, let us remember that some like Sony Ericssons do multitasking (to some extent) while others don’t.

    But which feature phone does copy and paste?

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