Algerians find smartphones are a lockdown essential

Consumer demand for the devices is likely to grow.

Since the onset of the global coronavirus pandemic, smartphones have become increasingly popular in Algeria, as many people across the country use their time in lockdown to connect with each other and the outside world, new research shows. 

Others are using smartphones to carry out their work remotely, especially since internet cafes have been closed.

“The smartphone becomes efficient because it is becoming more convenient and easy to use, especially in this period of health crisis,” said Abdenour Arezki, dean of the faculty of sociology at the University of Bouira.

A recent study by Jumia, Africa’s leading e-commerce company, found that the penetration and use rates for smartphones is growing in Algeria. As of 2016, more than 18 million Algerians used the internet and smartphones out of a population of 40.72 million. 

The increased use of smartphones has led to an uptick in mobile phone sales in the country since the beginning of 2020, retailers said.

‘The COVID-19 crisis and confinement pushed people to buy mobile phones, including smartphones, before the goods expired, as the importation of phones is at a standstill,” said Samir Abidine, who owns a mobile phone store in the center of Bouira, a city in northern Algeria.

Smartphone sales are likely to continue going up, as costs decrease, according to the Jumia report. For one, the cost of mobile service has decreased 5-10% since the end of 2019 to encourage more people to use the internet.

“The second key factor is the diversification of mobile manufacturers on Algerian soil and the multiplication of their offers adapted to the specificities of the Algerian market,” the report states.

The use of mobile internet has seen a strong growth in Algeria over the last two years. Four out of 10 consumers now use their applications more than 30 times a day, according to a recent study presented in Algiers by Ericsson.

The same study, conducted through an online questionnaire and direct interviews, found that the share of smartphone users who watch short videos on a daily basis has tripled in two years. Other popular activities include connecting to social networks, surfing the internet and instant messaging.

“Algerians spend more time connecting to the virtual world with their smartphones to stay in touch with family, relatives and friends, especially in this period of social distancing and the prohibition of family visits,” Arezki said.

He warned that there are some disadvantages of technology—particularly mobile phones and smartphones—on children’s health. And too much screen time has also been linked to eye trouble and can lead to wasting time and social isolation, he said.

However, the way it enables people to connect with each other is “a good thing, despite the negative aspects that can come from this technological instrument,” he said. 

People of all ages have been driving the growth of smartphone usage in Algeria.

Fadhma Salmi, 78, in Aguadilla Pueblo, Algeria was able to acquire a mobile phone recently so that she could maintain contact with her son, who is stuck in the city of Blida during the pandemic on May 5, 2020. (Farid Sait/Zenger)

In the landlocked, mountainous village of Aguouillal northeast of Bouria, many young people who are unemployed and socioeconomically disadvantaged still manage to have smartphones to communicate with the outside world, which can serve as a distraction. They spend several hours connected on social networks to forget the bitter difficulties they experience on a daily basis, especially with the repeated extension of COVID-19 containment measures.

Also in Aguouillal, Fadhma Salmi, 78, recently acquired mobile phone so she could maintain contact with her son, who is stuck in the city of Blida because of the pandemic.

With tears in her eyes, Salmi said the separation is difficult to handle. 

“I live alone at home and in an isolated area,” Salmi said. “I have only one boy. He works away from me.”

Despite her age, Salmi places great importance on her mobile device, which also allows her to stay in touch with her brothers and family members living far away in another village.

“My brother bought this mobile phone for me, and it’s thanks to this device that I manage to call my only son, Meziane, and keep in touch with him and see his photos on social networks,” Salmi told Zenger News. “It relieves me a little.”

(Editing by Natalie Gross and Allison Elyse Gualtieri)