Text messages and QR codes seem so yesterday but in fact they never went away. It has even become trendy in some circles to travel with a feature phone that can't access the internet. It's a way, apparently, to avoid information overload. The formidable researcher Niti Bhan is mapping each era of Nokia phones on a timeline, and she remarks that the ubiquity of candybar Nokias in East Africa helped to make the Mpesa culture possible. A paper written in 2009 notes that Nokia had almost 90 percent of the market. There have been changes in the meantime. Shenzhen Transsion Holdings is an unusual Africa-focused Chinese manufacturer which in 2011 established a factory in Ethiopia. Transsion considers itself a model overseas-focused Chinese business, and according to its latest filing, it shipped 94.44 million mobile phones to Africa in 2018, out of a total of 124 million global shipments. Now Transsion is going to IPO in Shanghai at an earning multiple twice that of Apple. What's going on? Just as Nokia's ubiquity led to Mpesa's success, Transsion represents the next wave of mobile payments in Africa, only this time led by inexpensive smartphones and ten dollar feature phones. The success of Transsion - which started out with five employees building mobile phones in Addis Ababa - has drawn in Huawei and Xaoimi. In a curiously representative state of affairs, the low-cost Tecno phones serve perfectly for Whatsapp and the other tools of everyday communication. While the US sees Huawei, rightly or wrongly, as a proto-Chinese state business, Transsion is practically under the US radar. It may suit it to stay that way.
Ever find yourself staring at a wall of products and feeling overwhelmed by choice? Now try doing it online. Search for, say, a bike helmet, and then watch as the Internet produces 50,000 choices. Often the new trend is the old trend coming around again. Text-based e-commerce is the new trend, says the head of JetBlack, Walmart's text-based personalised shopping service. Jetblack chief executive Jennifer Fleiss says that e-commerce offers shoppers too much choice. So Walmart uses text messages as a funnel to narrow the choice. "Over the past year," writes the Observer, "Fleiss has helped co-found and head Jetblack, a text-to-shop service and the first company to launch from Store No 8, Walmart's tech incubator." Yes, we've been writing a lot about Walmart's technology plays. Is simplicity having a moment?
In its day, Alipay was a giant disruptor in the payments business. Jack Ma is retired these days but you get the feeling that Ant Financial, formerly known as Alipay, is just getting started. Alibaba will take a 33 percent share in Ant Financial under a restructuring of the businesses, which has become a global leader. "The restructuring, confirmed on Tuesday, paves the way for the long-awaited stock market listing of Ant," reports the FT. "Maggie Wu, chief financial officer of Alibaba, said following the deal that "we expect to see greater synergy coming from the whole Alibaba economy". Earlier on Tuesday, Eric Jing, chairman and chief executive of Ant, said its Alipay payments platform alongside its ewallet partners currently serve a collective 1.2bn users globally -- a 20 per cent increase since the end of December 2018. Of these, 300m users are outside of China."