Sunday, January 23, 2022

Microsoft bets on African Innovation by opening $100 Million African Development Center

I managed to talk with Phil Spencer, Microsoft’s Executive Vice President, Gaming during the launch of the $100 Million Development Center. This is an initiative the company is setting up in Africa to work with local partners, governments, and to also hire engineers for its platforms. The initial centers are setup in Lagos, Nigeria and Nairobi, Kenya. Which are two cities the company believes present a strategic opportunity to better understand the young continent that is rapidly adopting cloud technology with massive innovations. 

We talked mostly about his department; gaming. Where he said he was super excited about the gaming space in the continent given that most of the population is made up of young people who they want to really tap in to; both in development of new games, and in partaking of their existing offerings.

In their official statement, Microsoft says they believe Africa is ready for innovation at the intelligent edge, and they plan to hire engineering talent across the continent that’ll contribute to their Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and Mixed Reality innovations. They already have some engineers working on some of their plans, but they plan on recruiting 100 full-time engineers by the end of 2019, and expanding to 500 across Nairobi and Lagos by 2023.

“The ADC will be unlike any other existing investment on the continent. It will help us better listen to our customers, develop locally and scale for global impact. Beyond that, it’s an opportunity to engage further with partners, academia, governments and developers – driving impact in sectors important to the continent, such as FinTech, AgriTech and OffGrid energy.” said Phil Spencer, in the official statement.

Project xCloud and African Plans:

In our conversation, he showed me something exciting that’s yet to launch but is planned for Africa and Asia: PROJECT XCLOUD – a vision for game-streaming technology that will complement Microsoft’s console hardware and give gamers more choices in how and where they play.

Basically he was playing a full title XBox game on the smartphone. Project xCloud is a Netflix style idea that aims to bring the XBox experience to devices we currently use. The VP confirmed trials for this new service will be live before the end of the year, but wouldn’t give me any specific timeline.

He said this service was targeting mostly the Sub-Saharan market and that they want the app to be able to run on any phones with decent specs, and a stable internet connection either through 3G/4G or WiFi.

The business model is yet to be worked on but he said if it was to be subscription based, then locally people would be able to pay using M-Pesa. He also talked of a sort of rewards system where people would be able to redeem the points and play games – which is still vague.

On the setting up of Microsoft shops in Kenya to make it easier to buy consoles, he said the company is in talks with the Kenyan government to find a way for this to be done. So I presume taxes, importation etc. But he couldn’t answer me on the possibility of Surface products (including the Surface Go – which I believe would sell well here) being officially brought to the Kenyan market. Instead he said he believes the Surface Team is working on expanding their stores.

Back to the ADC, Microsoft says they’re already empowering many innovators through partners like InterSwitch, SunCulture and M-Kopa. They intend to invest in more cutting-edge solutions suitable for Kenya, Nigeria and the rest of the world. If you’re interested, check out the ADC website.

It is a unique time for Africa as many Cloud technology companies are planning to expand in Africa. Microsoft recently opened data centers in South Africa, Amazon is opening a new cloud center in Africa in 2020, and Huawei also has more plans of expanding their business in the continent.


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Dickson Otieno
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