Smartphones in South Africa – Don’t waste your money

Smartphones in South Africa – Don’t waste your money

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2010 is the year of the Smartphone, I don’t know anyone who hasn’t upgraded to one this year whether it be a Blackberry, HTC or IPhone but what do all these people not know about the SA market?

Smartphone’s are great, their main feature being connectivity between your phone and a computer enabling you to sync your phone to your work email, your Gmail, calendar and of course store documents you want to work on at home, cutting out the chunky USB stick. Modern Smartphone’s or ‘super phones’ as they are currently being referred to can even sync your social media networks and of course surf the net at reasonably high speed making them the choice for serious gadget freaks and work-a-holics alike.

The guys at Apple recently upped the ante with a little thing called Apps, not a far cry from what we all expected to happen but non-the-less this little ‘upgrade’ was enough to involve the rest of the world who weren’t buying into Smartphone’s just for work related connectivity, considering your regular handset can browse the web and at a tenth of the price.

So what is an APP and why would you want them?

An APP or software application is not a new concept if we’re talking about computers but when we consider that you can now run pieces of software on your phone it seriously opens doors. These little pieces of software can be downloaded onto your phone and enjoyed for their purpose and let me tell you their purposes vary greatly. Some of the memorable ones include Flick Fishing, a game where you make casting movements with your phone to catch virtual fish to more serious things like Google Earth and music sequencers including that of Propellerhead’s popular DAW Rebirth.

With a huge interest in these APPs garnered on the IPhone platform Google followed suite with the release of the Android platform, an open source platform giving developers a chance to develop APPs more easily and to compete with Apples iron-clad monopoly. One of the benefits of the Android OS is that it is available on more brands of phones, allowing people on a budget to still keep up with the trend.

Android, now still only in the beginning stages has taken up the challenge and won a few hearts already and with a growing amount of APPs being made available everyday they will soon catch up to Apple and most likely provide an equally enjoyable user experience.

So where is the problem you ask?

Simple – these applications are usually acquired by downloading directly to your phone via a service set out by the creators. In Apples case you have the abominable Istore and with Google you’re given the Android Market. The problem being that neither of these stores are available to South African users.

You read that correctly, the two competitors are both overlooking South Africa as a viable market and have therefore not bothered to work on a solution to getting our stores up and running and the worst part of this is that neither have made any assertions as to when ‘us lowly consumers’ can actually get what was sold to us. Thousands of these handsets have sold in South Africa this year and most consumers will overlook the fact that they are getting half of what they were sold.

Both of the providers will let you get a hold of the free APPs but neither has sorted out a method by which SA users can pay. The real screw up being that they already have methods which work perfectly in the States and UK – you link your credit card to your Google/Apple account and Bobs your uncle, so why the delay in getting South Africa online?

Some speculate that both of the main APP providers don’t consider South Africa a market worth tapping at this point, or at least they will get to us once they have finished tapping the more wealthy countries.

To sum up a long story

Blackberry are the only guys who are transparent and have made their Apps available to us but they don’t really cater to the young market so are still not contenders in the 2010 APP war. Apple came to the table just before their launch of the original IPhone in South Africa, making the ITunes store available to us for the first time but skimping on many areas including the long awaited music and video service synonymous with the Apple brand. A lot of the Apps available on the USA store are still not on the SA store so users are still left questioning. Google allows you to download free Apps from their Android Market, including a ton of cool little tit bits but paid Apps are still not available despite the fact that we could easily sort out any payment issues via Pay Pal. Neither Apple nor Google are willing to talk about any of this, Google blatantly ignores emails from around the world every day and there’s no need to bring up what a stickler Steve Jobs can be.

The solution is simple – either except that you are paying the same price (if not more) for your ‘super phone’ but getting half the coolness or just boycott the whole thing until the providers pull finger! I personally think that the developers need to go solo, or maybe even sign their distribution deal with a third party – one which is willing to set up in every country.

by Byron Marais
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