Who will win the iPhone 4 race in South Africa ?

Techcentral reported earlier today that MTN would also be offering the iPhone 4 on contracts, when it (finally) launches in South Africa towards the end of September. We all know the iPhone 4 is going to be big in South Africa, I have already had over 3500 views on my iPhone 4 in South Africa post I did a while back. But I still have a pertinent question, which is really bothering me about the iPhone in South Africa.

Which operator, be it MTN, Vodacom or Cell C, will be able to provide the best support for the phone ?

Support, not just being hardware support, but also software and iPhone support. My biggest “gripe” with the iPhone in South Africa, is that people are spending up to 10K on a phone,  without knowing their full capabilities.
The fact that it is so much more than just a phone, and you can install applications and use it for push email, amongst a whole whack of other things, makes me believe that the network operators have to play some part in promoting the phone, instead of just “selling it”.

Vodacom have been selling the iPhone for just short on 2 years, and have already sold around 110k iPhones in South Africa. They have the upper hand I think, with the knowledge and expertise gained, as well as offering services such as Visual Voicemail & dedicated iPhone packages. But yet daily, I get emails from people who need assistance with their iPhones, that’s why I setup SA iPhone Help to try and help people with posing questions about the iPhone.

At the end of the day, for me, it isn’t about the price, or about the best data bundle, which ever cellular network wants to be want to be the market leaders in the iPhone 4 race, they are going to have offer better support & education on the iPhone which will educate the users about the phone and it’s capabilities.

Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below :)

5 replies on “Who will win the iPhone 4 race in South Africa ?”

It comes down to the correct training of there staff… most tech people in Vodacom still cant support the iPhone beyond activating it, and then they just point the finger and say go and ask at the iStores.. which is wrong… they need to spend the time and money training their staff properly…

For me it is about price but I also know how to use my iPhone already. Although it is frustrating phoning Vodacom customer care and telling them what to do it get something working. You make a good point. Might be a market for iPhone training!

iPhone has definitely been treated like the ginger stepchild by Vodacom to date. But the problem extends into the entire Apple eco-system here in South Africa, not just the iPhone.

Part of what makes Apple products so compelling internationally is Apple’s retail strategy. By all accounts, the experience of shopping in an Apple store in (say) the US is extremely pleasant and the geniuses quite clued and helpful. Apple understands that many of the customers are first-time Apple users, and need help understanding their new Apple product. I was horrified when a newly-converted Mac user transited through our offices and came past my desk to ask politely “where is Google?”

My first reaction was “uhm, in Mountainview, California.” I then discovered that this poor soul did not know where the web browser on his Mac could be found. So I pointed them to Safari and said “that compass – that’s the Internet on your Mac.” Laugh all you will. Going from Windows to Mac is scary.

Previously, I’ve mostly dealt with geek iPhone users and my wife (whom I’ve trained up nicely in the ways of the iPhone). This year I’ve seen many, many people having to deal with iPhone because our company policy is: here’s an iPhone, that’s your phone. And it drives me to tears seeing how people never sync, never update their firmware, don’t download apps, don’t set up their mail, don’t sync their contacts to the cloud. Essentially, they have a very, VERY expensive dumbphone.

Point is: Apple is about the eco-system. The iTunes Music Store, TV shows, movies, apps, podcasts, audiobooks. About the way Apple products combine to make your life simple, beautiful and empowered. Without training, it falls flat. But also, we don’t have any of the iTunes eco-system here in South Africa, apart from the crippled app store.

There is no iTunes music store. You cannot buy music or TV shows or rent movies on the iTMS. There is no Apple on-line store. (Whatever on-line retail there is, is NOT Apple but various shades of local distributors.) The app store here is crippled. The content is poorly curated (looking at the featured items, they’re definitely not the best the app store has to offer!). There are no games.

Who’s to blame? The networks, to some extent. Vodacom could have pushed the iPhone more and provided better after-sales service. Part of it is the Core group, who are the local distributors for Apple products (excl. iPhone, apparently). But a big part of the problem is Apple itself.

Apple doesn’t seem to give a flying squirrel about the (South) African market. Sure, to bring iTMS to SA would mean that they’d have to negotiate with the record labels and studios and whatnot other mafioso are involved in the content supply chain. But if Nokia could pull it off, surely Apple could. Also, if Apple could establish their own local presence, that would already help a lot to bring the retail and support chain here in line with their lofty international standards. And why do we pay 40% surcharges on products compared to the UK? That’s a good strategy: make your already expensive product MORE expensive in Africa. Riiiiiight.

Lastly, the iPad and iPhone are products that are ideally suited to the African market. (I’m talking from the user perspective, not the cost, because the price is obviously not Africa-friendly.) People on the sunny continent generally have phones, not computers. I can think of no better way to access the world’s knowledge, read e-books, listen to music and podcast programming, to produce content and to interact with other people than on an iPhone. Or how using iPads could benefit education on the continent. (I checked how many South African schools have libraries. Only around 1 in 10 schools in SA has a stocked library according to stats on the relevant site.)

i* products are made for Africa. Apple, wake up and smell the rooibos tea! I know it doesn’t fit your premium, aspirational vision. But give Africa some love. You can really make a big difference on this continent. (Hell, you brag about iTunes U passing 300 million downloads. Imagine how useful that content could be here…)

I always read but never post my comments. However just wanted to commend Pete on this post.

Dont know you profession but your article is well balance, direct and so true.

Suggest you get it to Steve Jobs and Core Group, seriously – I think they are sitting on a gold field and dont realize it!

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