Google Search on mobile beats desktop, and Africa could soon to be at forefront of the action

Smartphone penetration in Africa is about 20%, but mobile companies are determined to get more – if not all – subscribers using smartphones.

GOOGLE Inc. users in the U.S., Japan and other key countries have shifted more than half their Internet searches to handheld devices from personal computers, driving the company’s investments in features for mobile gadgets.

Africa is the fastest-growing market for smartphones, and is likely to be at the forefront of driving Google searches on mobile. By 2020, more than half of all mobile handsets in the region (at 525 million) are expected to be  smartphones, according to the latest Mobile Economy report by the GSM Association (GSMA).

The entry-level smartphone, typically retailing at $100, is the new benchmark of mobile connectivity, says George Ferreira, Chief Operating Officer and Vice President of Samsung Electronics Africa. Shipments of mobile devices to Africa are expected to grow to around 115 million units from 2014’s 100 million units.

Smartphone penetration in Africa is about 20%, but mobile companies are determined to get more – if not all – subscribers using smartphones. 

Smartphones mean data, and data means money – MTN Nigeria reports that the average revenue per smartphone user is 3.5 times more than non-smartphone user, and the trend is similar among other African telcos.

According to Ferreira, tablet sales will grow significantly in the next two years to overtake traditional computing platforms. Nearly 250,000 tablets are currently sold on the continent in a month. South Africa is the single biggest market accounting for sales at around 100,000 units a month, while the rest of Africa buys roughly 150,000.

Google says it has seen the change in 10 countries, according to Jerry Dischler, vice president of search ads, and also unveiled tools to help advertisers highlight their services next to mobile-query results. 

Google, which is grappling with competition in digital ads from Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc., is expanding services to reach consumers who are increasingly using mobile devices to look up information on a restaurant, connect with friends or view photos. 

Google’s share of mobile advertising will decline to 35 percent this year from 38 percent in 2014, EMarketer Inc. estimates. 

“We think it’s a real turning point in digital,” Dischler said, referring to the shift to mobile searches. “We’ve seen the trend coming for several years now—and we’ve been investing ahead of the opportunity.” 

The new ad tools include features specifically designed for industries using mobile to promote their wares. In automotive, mobile users can see a carousel of car images that show how a vehicle looks with different options—and tap the picture for extra information. People looking up hotels can see a variety of prices and book the location through a partner service.

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