Most popular smartphones in the Middle East & Africa

This year smartphones are set to outsell feature phones in the Middle East and Africa region for the first time since 2008. Which handsets will prove to be most popular, and why?

The rise in smartphone usage in Middle East and Africa (MEA) region is good news for advertisers and content marketers.

Rich media advertising, responsive websites and user engagement functionalities all perform much better on smartphones, which means marketing messages are more effective and advertisers will see more ROI. says smartphone usage in the MEA is growing steadily, with around 123.7 million owners in the region in 2016, up from 106.4 million last year.

So which smartphones are these 123 million people using?

Data from the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker says  Android's share of the Middle East smartphone market continues to rise, reaching 86.4% in Q1 2016.

Apple's iOS shipments, meanwhile, were down 28.8% during this same quarter, giving them 13% of the market share. Huawei currently holds around 8% of the market. 

From a vendor perspective, Samsung leads the way in the smartphone segment, with shares of 42.1%.

Samsung's growth is largely due to the successful launch of its Galaxy S7 flagship phone that spurred a 6.6% increase in units. Also, the Samsung J series, which is mostly priced under $200, is already responsible for a large portion – about a third – of Samsung's Middle East shipments.

Galaxy S7 and J series' success is in part because they are affordable, lower-end models offered in a region where demand for smartphones is increasing, but cash is tight due to low oil prices, reduced government spending an ongoing political instability.

According to Nabila Popal, IDC's research manager for handsets and display solutions in the Middle East, Africa and Turkey, vendors such as Xiaomi and Lenovo are likely be elbowed out of competition because they cannot continue to compete with the ever-expanding range of Android devices (i.e. Samsung) being sold at ever-decreasing prices.

Research analyst for the IDC Saad Elkhadem, says the extensive ecosystems offered by both iOS and Android are also an obstacle that is proving insurmountable for these handset manufacturers that want to gain ground in MEA.

But, some African mobile operators have formed partnerships with device manufacturers to make lower-priced smartphones – coupled with voice and data bundles – widely available.

One such partnership is between Huawei and Kenya's Safaricom, so don't write them off just yet.

Tecno, based in Africa, also grew its sales by 123 percent, increasing its share of smartphone volume sales by 3.4%.

MEA Smartphone Shipments Market Share

Neil Shah of Counterpoint Research said in a report that the MEA region "is the next frontier and key geography for smartphone growth as growth across some of the major markets across Latin America, Asia continue to slow down."

The Counterpoint Research report noted that region has been dominated by Samsung, which last year accounted for nearly 50 percent of smartphone shipments. The firm credited the company's strong pan-MEA distribution network that has helped Samsung to keep up volumes in the region.