MicrosoftOnce upon a time, Microsoft could count on platform dominance around the world, because Windows ruled in the age of the desktop. In emerging economies, that platform dominance was usually maintained through rampant ‘piracy’ of Windows – a fact that Microsoft could never openly condone, but from which it clearly benefited.

That was then, this is now. Mobile computing is now the growth business and, for those in emerging economies who previously never managed to get their hands on PC hardware, smartphones are their first computers. And what’s running on such handsets in Africa, the most untapped market of them all? Not Windows – which is why Microsoft has just launched a concerted campaign, called 4Afrika, to change that.

Windows Phones for Africa

The lynchpin of this scheme is the Huawei “4Afrika with Windows Phone 8” device. Microsoft has already released lower-end Windows phones in African markets, such as the Nokia Lumia 620, but those are relatively expensive – in Nigeria, for example, that device is expected to cost around $250. The Huawei 4Afrika phone will cost $150.

It would be interesting to know how heavily Microsoft is subsidizing this phone, because the Huawei 4Afrika is a variant of the $300 Ascend W1, which targets the European market. The 4Afrika phone has a 480×800-pixel screen, a dual-core 1.2GHz Snapdragon processor, a 10-mm-thick case and 4GB internal storage, along with front- and rear-facing cameras. Standby time – a big deal in markets where power can be unreliable or hard to come by – is rated at 420 hours.

According to a Microsoft blog post, the handset also comes preloaded with “custom apps created by African developers for African consumers.”

Not bad for the price, you may think. But look at the local prices for cheap smartphones – and by this I mean the likes of Nokia’s semi-smart Asha devices but also BlackBerry and Android phones – and you’ll see handsets priced around $80. That’s almost half the price of the Huawei 4Afrika.

According to Ian Fogg, senior principal analyst at IHS Screen Digest, that discrepancy could take the Huawei 4Afrika out of reach for many:

“This is a cheap smartphone for Windows Phone, but it’s still significantly more expensive than the entry-level Android smartphones in the market or the Nokia Asha devices, which Nokia is putting head-to-head with entry-level Android.”

However, Fogg pointed out that Microsoft’s tight reference platform for Windows Phone 8 meant the Huawei 4Afrika would give a much better experience than those cheaper Android phones, which may use cheaper and less powerful components…

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