18 Features an African Smartphone or Tablet Must have

There was an article circulating recently about 2 Kenyans who have "contributed" to making the first african tablet. This was great news. Problem is their contribution was not defined. Maybe they contributed money to the making of the tablet, or design knowledge or knowledge about the smartphone industry in Africa, nobody knows.

This article got me thinking though, about what a truly african smart phone or tablet should have. These are ideas from experiences with the phones that I currently have and are in no particular order.

HP iPaq next to the widely used ZTE-g s213 dual sim phone

  1. Weight, very light or as light as it can be.

  2. Dual sim – has been the absolute minimum, though there are some people with 3 to 4 sim card phones. Different telecom companies offer different call rates on their networks or to other telecom networks. To advantage of these reductions in call rates, a dual sim card phone reduces the hassle of slinging around several phones from different telecom operators. 

  3. String-notch, for keeping phone around the neck while working away in the fields.

  4. Long lasting battery, both charge & battery lifetime, should not be heavy too. 

  5. bright torch light - ZTE-G phone
  6. Torch – very important. In Uganda, less than 5% of the population enjoy electricity out of a population of 34 million!

  7. Memory card slot – ability to store different ringtones of favourite musicians. Also the ability to have favourite music to listen to when stuck in traffic jam or when the local radio are full of unending adverts. To store videos, games, ringtones, mp3 ebooks and lessons.. 

  8. Radio/audio player – this is your only solace when stuck in winding jam such as this... (photo of ugly Kampala traffic jam)

  9. Calculator – very important and easily accessible one. Most people do business when stuck in the traffic jam or by the road side. Having to quickly calculate what you owe with the dizzying sun overhead, at the same time trying to mind not to get hitting by a spending taxi or get your bag snatched by a hungry teenager, you need to be fast with whatever you are doing.

  10. Made of not-so-easy-to-break plastic mobile phone housing no matter how many times it falls down, forget the fancy brittle stuff that is going to break anyway even when a coin is dropped on it, and think of a phone that cannot easily break even when dropped several times. It also has few openings on it that allow moisture to seep in or when dropped in water. 

  11. Easy to understand and use keypad - Do not stuff all the letters, numbers and weird characters all together on the keypad. This appears very confusing and frightening to most people. Instead a single key on the keypad where all the special characters can be accessed is much better. Of these phones, my mother finds the ZTE phone keypad easier to use and understand than the flashy HP iPaq phone.
    1. Above - the widely used ZTE-g phone keypad, middle square scroll button
      HP iPAQ Keypad
  12. Loudspeaker and headphone jack - Loudspeaker is especially important if everybody wants to listen in on whatever is playing, headphones would be limiting sharing in such an event. 

  13. Great signal reception - most rural remote areas have low or no telephone signal coverage. Having a mobile phone with strong signal strength is a great plus

  14. Camera - good enough to produce a clear picture. 

  15. Mobile phone Applications - absolutely the necessary! - phonebook, call center (call history & call settings), file manager (phone and memory card manager), SMS center, Multimedia (Radio, audio player, Games), Phone settings (simcard, network, security and connectivity settings), user profiles (General, Meeting, Outdoor, Silent, Headset), Organizer (Calender, Tasks, Alarm, Calculator)

  16. Screen Display- Must show: battery usage icon, Network strength, Date and time, user profile (General/silent), received messages & missed calls.

  17. Should be affordable - the continued success $80 tablets in Kenya just show that tablets could be the missing link to delivering content that can change lives in many parts of Africa.

  18. Current buzz words: Mobile, social and location - Applications such as gps make it easy to map an area considering that Africa is one of the least mapped places. Interest in mapping local areas in Africa is just about starting to take shape with many young people showing interest to participate. Many africans are very social and love passing on to the others good funny stories fast.

  19. Add in peer-to-peer networking, so that the phones can communicate with each other finding the best and fastest route to the recipient, in some cases without the need for a telephone mast. This would greatly improve reception in low telecom coverage areas since people within same community communicate more together than they do with people outside.

An African Smartphone or table must not have:

Mobile phone Touchpad as scroll button – I currently have an HP iPAQ running windows mobile 6. I received a couple of days back as a gift from a friend. It looks very fancy, very nice gadget. But I could not figure out how to scroll and move around to select different options on the device such as selecting messages option to read and send sms.

My brother, who works with phones everyday for a living, helped me out. The scroll button is right in the centre of the phone. To scroll, you have to move your thumb over it like a you do when using a mouse touchpad to scroll on a laptop. 

Middle round scroll button on HP iPaq smartphone - difficult to use

I know so many other people who would fail to figure this out or find it hard to use this sort of phone. Please do not put any more such buttons on an African smartphone. I have also witnessed first hand so hundreds of times in an Internet cafe people just getting scared of using a laptop touchpad as a mouse, leave alone getting scared to use the laptop. Most people are not comfortable at all at using a laptop touchpad as their mouse.

Do you have features you want to see on your smart phone that are not available, leave it below in the comments. You may also consider subscribing to our feed or Like us on facebook.


  1. In terms of smartphone utilities, I don't really see how Africans have specified "different needs." Just like for any device in any place, the only variance is in pricing.


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