Microsoft announced it will team up with Huawei of China to sell low-cost Windows smartphones in Africa. The phone will ‘only’ cost $ 150.-, Microsoft said, and it will not be a cheap model. Instead, it will sell ‘real quality innovation.’ In the first place $ 150.- is a lot of money in Africa. Most Africans I have seen use old fashioned cellphones just to call and send text messages. No frills, no apps, no games, but at a price of around $ 10.- they are really affordable. It is true that around 10% of the 445 million cellphone users in sub-Saharan Africa already own smartphones, but the other 400 million users will probably not be able to buy the new smartphones any time soon. In the second place I am affraid Microsoft doesn’t get it when it promises to install apps with soccer results or to focus on entertainment and film industries. Nor is it relevant to install dating sites. What Africans need are apps that inform them about the weather, the water supplies, hygiene, how to avoid malaria, where to find medicine and how to save energy. These apps should be free of charge. A phone as a warning system and a health care assistant…wouldn’t that be great? Instead of only worrying how to beat Samsung, Stephen Ballmer, Microsoft’s CEO, would be better off thinking about how to improve Microsoft’s image. Sales will improve if the 4Africa smartphone becomes the humanitarian instrument it potentially is. The emerging continent deserves intelligent solutions, not just to be seen as a great market. Guys, it’s about people, not just about money. From ‘cheap’ smartphone to almost free lifesavingphone. Now there is a challenge. In order to succeed, Microsoft will have to look for non Chinese partners and for unexpected ones. An oil company (to make up for all the polution?) or the chemical industry (Ciba Geigy, it’s pay back time!). Or a UN organisation? Use more imagination for more and other benefits and be the Microsoft of tomorrow’s generations.

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