What lies behind the success of TECNO’s smartphones in Africa? General manager Stephen Ha shares his insights on what gives the company its leading edge.
How do you see the evolution of mobile phones and devices on the continent?
Worldwide sales of smartphones to end users are on track to reach 1.57bn units in 2020, an increase of 3% year over year, according to a report by Gartner. The same report states that smartphone shipments to Africa continue to increase. More than 90m units will be sold in 2020 in sub-Saharan Africa alone and sales are expected to continue to grow with a further 93m handsets expected to be sold in 2021.
As a company and brand that has been dedicated to the continent, these trends do not surprise us and it is in line with our expectations. We’ve seen the market grow and it’s about serving a need, and today that means smartphones are a product which people desire but also need.
But it’s more than that, and I can modestly say that our success has been about providing innovations that are in line with the needs of the continent. For example, we were the first brand to launch phones with dual SIM cards in Africa over 10 years ago. We understood quickly the need to have enhanced camera phones and pioneered solutions for Africans and the African market.
We have kept our leadership position, I would say, by studying and understanding the end user preferences and bringing to them the best product to meet the need.
How has that need changed?
Looking at today’s mobile phone market in Africa, the demand has evolved from “connecting to the world” to “connecting to a more achieved life”.
We look at it from two perspectives: on one side it’s demand led, that is, what it is that the end user wants. And on the other side, it’s supply led, that is developments within the industry.
Undoubtedly in terms of demand the growth of economies and the growth of a middle class are contributing factors towards this growing demand and the gradual upgrades we are seeing to better and more sophisticated handsets.
This has been accompanied by a real upgrade in telco infrastructure, evolving from two to three to 4G. Lastly mobile technology is evolving rapidly.
Are you targeting any particular markets for growth?
We don’t discriminate. Our goal is to continue to expand our global footprint in emerging markets and we’ll compete in every market around the quality of our products and the features that we can offer.
Our guiding principle is to think globally and act locally. Therefore, all consumers in our different markets are important to us. We’ve grown to become an international company and Africa is core to our business and our strategy, so each market is important to us. And this focus will not change.
We are making significant breakthroughs in other emerging markets such as India, Pakistan, Thailand, Colombia, and Ukraine, all very different markets. And we hope to take our African experience and know-how to these other markets.
Can you talk us through your R&D process?
We currently have two research centres, four manufacturing centres, more than 2,000 service contact points and many large after-sales repair centres all over the world. That allows us to have both a local and global perspective.
I cannot stress enough the importance of investing in R&D, which has increased every year both in nominal and percentage terms. And given we are launching new products and services, it remains a critical part of our business.
For example, we have recently developed an imaging system that allows for smart shooting and smart “shadow” experience. We’re also using artificial intelligence to detect scenes and skin tones to enhance image quality. Innovation can’t have a finish line, it’s a continuous process but you can be scientific about it.
This is what gives any company its edge. Battery life is another example. It is a key differentiator in Africa, and we spent a lot of time on this. We developed a technology that gives you 72-hour battery life and up to six days in standby mode. The secret isn’t necessarily in the battery itself but the chips in our AI-based smartphones have very low power consumption. And these chips enable faster processing speeds that support many advanced features.
In terms of our company, new developments will include opening up flagship stores and factories across Africa. And with the growth of 4G and 5G we are able to introduce latest technologies and innovations in AI, IoT [internet of things] and big data.
You’ve managed to offer your products at a very competitive price. How can you bring costs down further?
Markets, including those in Africa, have many different segments. We see ourselves as bringing mid- to high-end mobile devices to consumers.
While cost to performance ratio is one significant factor for all mobile brands, our focus is on the user experience and our R&D is focused on continuously upgrading and innovating the experience. But of course, we understand the need to do so at a very competitive price.
Is Africa’s infrastructure sufficient for future growth?
It’s easy to criticise but when you look at what has been done, the infrastructure development is actually remarkable. We’ve witnessed it first-hand and there have been significant changes and improvement.
The world is undergoing a digital revolution that could lead to changes on an unprecedented scale and Africa is on the cusp for radical transformation. Today [in Africa] consumers have access to 3 or 4G in most countries. The network is relatively fast and people are running their businesses online.
We’re very positive about the future and the digital revolution that’s taking place across Africa. Yes it can do better but our projections are that Africa can become a global tech hub.
Sceptics may well point out the inadequacy of Africa’s infrastructure and believe that it is not ready to enter the digital age, but they are mistaken; on the contrary, it is very well placed and at TECNO, we’re happy to support it to take off thanks to technology.
There has been a global debate around trust and ownership of data. Are there any guarantees regarding the hardware and software you provide?
It’s an important question. Here at TECNO we attach great importance to consumers’ data security and the safety of our products. Every single piece of software installed on each device runs through a series of rigorous security checks, such as our own security scan platform as well as external ones such as Google Play Protect, GMS BTS and VirusTotal test. In addition, a 90-day security patch update is periodically delivered to TECNO mobile phone users to ensure that the security of our products and protection of consumers’ devices from malware infection are not compromised. I agree that it’s of paramount importance and an issue we take very seriously.