The Rise Of The ‘Unknown OS’

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Mobile payments, money, pounds, smartphone © Stuart Miles Shutterstock 2012

Marco Veremis, founder & CEO at Upstream, tells TechWeekEurope why businesses need to appeal to all mobile users, not just Android and iOS

Brands, content businesses and even social networks are looking to new markets to continue growth in their user-base in the coming years. For example, last month Facebook announced its latest end of year results for 2014, which revealed the social giant is reaching saturation point in the US and many other ‘Western’ markets. As a result, Facebook is turning its attention to high growth markets to find its next billion users and these regions are already showing potential – with usage in Asia Pacific increasing by 43 percent over the last 2 years and ‘Rest of the World’ by 51 percent.


Reports have pointed to the importance of Android in these potential growth markets, with estimates that it now has over 40 percent of the mobile market share in Africa. However, a closer look at the mobile OS usage figures in these markets reveals that in 3rd position in many markets (behind Nokia’s Series 40 OS for feature phones) is ‘unknown OS’. These are believed to largely be cheap Chinese produced handsets that run a Java based OS. These devices are not as limited as feature phones, yet they do not offer a true smartphone experience, but their low-cost and smartphone aping design make them popular amongst cost conscious users.

Looking at the importance of this ‘unknown OS’ in more detail, in India it accounts for 9 percent of devices, which is over 84 million handsets. The total number of mobile subscriptions in Africa is not precisely known, but a recent report from Informa suggested it would reach 1 billion in 2015 and with 10 percent of devices on the continent currently on ‘unknown OS’ there are potentially 100 million users in Africa that are not able to access content and services from businesses that have focused their attention on Android alone.

4G, Mobile, Smartphone © Digital Storm Shutterstock 2012Pay up

Devices that use an ‘unknown OS’ are what many consumers in developing markets are using as a stepping stone between feature phones and smartphones. They offer consumers access to content and services that are richer than the long standing SMS-based options, but for whom smartphones running Android or other OSes are not accessible or affordable yet. For this reason, it’s imperative that businesses wanting to find their next billion customers in these potential growth markets have a channel agnostic approach. Offering content and services that work on any device, from 0G to 4G, offers the potential to engage any and all of these increasingly mobile consumers, not just the 40 percent odd that use Android handsets.

Even when it comes to paying for content and services, the traditional app store model that has worked in ‘Western’ markets simply does not really work for many consumers in these new markets. Consumers using ‘unknown OS’ devices are much less likely to have access to a credit card or the banking facilities needed to pay for mobile content and services in the same way. To illustrate, recent data from the Worldbank shows that the US penetration of financial services (credit and debit cards) is 72 percent, whereas in Nigeria it is 19 percent and Ghana only 11 percent. Therefore, it’s important that businesses continue to be open in their approach when it comes to payment options, for example by ensuring the right mobile carrier partnerships are in place to allow for carrier billing payments.

New markets are a fantastic opportunity for many brands, content businesses and social networks to grow and engage the next billion consumers in these territories. However, to have success it’s important that businesses have a channel agnostic approach to these new markets. This ensures that businesses are able to maximise the opportunity new territories offer, rather than restricting their offering to only half the market.

Marco Veremis, is founder & CEO at Upstream

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