Efforts to Boost Smartphone Adoption in Africa Spark Opportunities and Concerns

In Ghana’s capital, Anita Akpeere relies on her smartphone to receive orders for her food business. Professor Jenny Aker says internet-enabled phones play a transformative role in sub-Saharan Africa where infrastructure lags, even providing mobile money access to the unbanked.

However, only 25% of adults in the 1.3 billion population region can access mobile internet due to costs – the cheapest smartphone amounts to 95% of the poorest’s monthly income. Low literacy rates and lack of local language support also hinder adoption.

Uniti Networks aims to bridge this digital divide, providing affordable device financing and user training on its app platform. 64-year-old farmer Cyril Fianyo paid a deposit for a Uniti smartphone and was guided on apps like Cocoa Link with crop advice.

While recognizing the potential, Aker says evidence of paid apps’ benefits is limited beyond medication reminders. The dearth of relevant content deters uptake too. Uniti iterates based on feedback, like simplifying app interfaces.

Some see advantages like period tracking, but Aker warns of data privacy risks as digital IDs roll out. Uniti rejects predatory industries like gambling, but Aker says technology could transform areas like education and insurance if risks are weighed.

Fianyo’s new smartphone has piqued neighbors’ curiosity about joining the digital frontier.