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In the near future, we expect brands to continue to globalize by expanding their target markets to previously untapped areas, such as Africa and India. A major key to this expansion will be the ability to capture consumer attention via mobile; however, to be truly successful, organizations must look beyond Android and iOS, as the third largest OS market share globally — particularly in growth markets – is emerging as ‘unknown OS.’ This demonstrates that consumers in these areas are not tethered solely to Google and Apple.

Unknown OS devices are not as limited as feature phones, yet they do not offer the true smartphone experience that many Android and iOS devices make possible. Common examples are Chinese manufactured handsets that run a Java-based OS, whose low price makes them popular amongst cost-conscious users. In addition, 35 percent of global consumers consider the price of their device and mobile content to be extremely important. To not take advantage of unknown OS would be a mistake.

Embracing a channel-agnostic approach

The presence of unknown OS devices in growth markets such as China, Brazil, and Nigeria are growing because they are affordable and have more capabilities than a feature phone. However, they do not have the same level of functionality as smartphones, which means brands cannot reach them the same way they reach users in the West. These devices provide consumers with access to content and services that are far richer than SMS-led content, yet do not give users access to more advanced offerings such as those provided by Android and iOS.

The increasing importance of unknown OS in global markets is demonstrated particularly by its presence in India, where it accounts for nearly 10 percent of devices (84 million handsets). Further, one in 10 devices in Africa currently run on unknown OS, meaning there are a high number of mobile users in Africa unable to access content and services from companies relying primarily on Android and iOS.

Informa recently predicted that mobile subscriptions in Africa would reach one billion this year, which naturally has huge implications for brands. Brands looking to expand into global markets will need to recognize mobile users who rely on unknown OS and should adopt a channel agnostic approach, offering content and services that work on the widest variety of devices possible.

Payment in an unknown OS world

The consumers that use unknown OS devices are significantly less likely to have a credit card than a consumer with, for example, a Samsung Galaxy device, making mobile carrier payment a crucial aspect of any channel-agnostic approach. The traditional app store model used today is not feasible for consumers in these potential growth markets, as access to banking facilities remains a widespread barrier to entry — 21 percent of consumers in these areas cannot access credit or banking locations. Recent data from the Worldbank shows that while U.S. penetration of financial services (credit and debit cards) is 72 percent, in Nigeria it is 19 percent, and in Ghana, it is 11 percent. It’s clear that access to financial services in emerging markets are not easy to come by, and so payment models must be adjusted.

For brands and organizations with global aspirations, the rise in unknown OS presents a prime opportunity to expand target markets. For branded mobile content, apps, and services, combined focus on Android, iOS, and unknown OS will open brands up to a wider market, including potential consumers of all global areas. By focusing on the emergence of unknown OS in global smartphones markets, brands can capture truly global attention.

Marco Veremis is founder and CEO of Upstream, where he sets the company’s strategic direction and spearheads expansion. He has also been chairman of the board since 2002. Veremis is a mentor for Endeavor and Openfund, and serves as vice president of the board of HAMAC and as an angel investor and board adviser for Workable HR.


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