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An estimated 10% of Zimbabwean smartphone users to be affected as WhatsApp ends support for Blackberry, Nokia

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If you are using WhatsApp on a feature phone or any device that’s on the fringe of mobile popularity it’s time to upgrade and catch up with rest of the world. That’s the less than subtle message that came from WhatsApp in its recent blog post.

According to the Instant Messaging platform, by the end of 2016, it will have stopped supporting  BlackBerry, including BlackBerry 10, Nokia S40, Nokia Symbian S60, Android 2.1 (Eclair) and Android 2.2 (Froyo) and Windows Phone 7.1

WhatsApp has explained that the change is necessary because the soon to be dropped operating systems are unable to support some of the features that are going to be introduced on the platform.

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It’s a fair enough reason for WhatsApp to do this. After all, the changing landscape of instant messaging and mobile media was bound to affect earlier technology. WhatsApp, which now boasts of 1 billion users needs to add value to its growing user market, even if it means leaving behind some not-so-recent systems.

The decision to not support operating systems like Blackberry 10, Nokia’s legacy systems and Windows also suggests that WhatsApp is looking beyond the fancies of device manufacturers that still want to take on the Android+iOS dominance but don’t really stand a chance. Rather than figure out how to evolve its service for that limited segment, it decided to just embrace the majority.

However, all this doesn’t take away the fact that WhatsApp users in markets where the holding off on device upgrades is influenced less by the latest consumer trends and more by economics, will have to make sacrifices just to stay on the free chat service.

It’s an even more significant change considering how WhatsApp is dominant in emerging markets where disposable incomes are lower and devices changeover is not as frequent.

A breakdown of mobile OS uptake in Zimbabwe as at February 2016 - credit GSStatcounter
A breakdown of mobile OS uptake in Zimbabwe as at February 2016 – credit GSStatcounter

In Zimbabwe, for example, while the market has gravitated towards Android devices over the past 2 years, there are still some users, remnants of a bygone Nokia dominated era, who still rely on devices running S40 and S60. According to GS.Statcounter, S40 and standard Symbian devices make up 9.09% of the market.

There are also Android Eclair and Froyo users who are incorporated into the 71.58% of users who make up Android Zimbabwe market, and the Blackberry and Windows Phone users who are unquantified but are plugged somewhere in other less prominent categories like the 1.84% that makes up “Other”  and Windows Phone’s 4.85%.

That’s an estimated 10% of Zimbabwean smartphone users that will be looking for replacement devices before the year is out just to stay on WhatsApp and they will in all likelihood be at a disadvantage, even if all this is a consequence of WhatsApp’s progressive stance.

Still, not everyone will complain, though. With the way the instant message service is extremely popular in local mobile communication, phone distributors could benefit from this upgrade, steering people to all that inventory of entry-level smartphones that are WhatsApp compliant.


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