|iPhone 6s+, part of "Other languages" menu|
But first, how prominently do iPhones figure in the rapidly expanding use of mobile devices in Africa? According to a 2010 Foreign Policy article critiquing Apple's not marketing iPhones in Africa, "for the vast majority of Africans, Apple effectively doesn’t exist" (a statement that in my impression has long been true even in sectors with access to ICT). That picture is changing, at least in some measure. In a March 2014 article on "unauthorized" iPhones in Nigeria, IT News Africa, stated that "Apple’s iPhone is one of the most desirable brands in most parts of Africa." And Apple itself, in its page on "Wireless carrier support and features for iPhone in Africa," lists carriers for 36 of Africa's 54 countries.*
Given the high cost of iPhones, however, even the less-expensive models are still upmarket items (see a discussion of relative cost per income of iPhone 5c in China, India, and Africa). So the benefits of Apple's apparent commitment to localization in African languages will not accrue directly to most people, though it may help raise the bar for other systems.
Here is the list of African languages on iPhone 6s+, 74 in total (extracted manually from the full list of ~240 "Other languages"; names linked mainly to Wikipedia articles; any errors or omissions are mine; see also notes below list):
- English names as used on the iPhone were retained for this list; in a few cases, additional names have been added for clarity.
- Listings for the two languages that are offered each in two different scripts were consolidated (Arabic & Latin for Soninke, and Latin & Vai for Vai).
- Notice different approach to Songhay language(s) in Firefox OS (previous posting), which is localized for "Songhay," and iPhone, which follows Ethnologue and ISO 639-3 listing "Koyra Chiini" and "Koyraboro Senni" separately (as well as "Zarma"). Would be interesting to know how these efforts compare.
- I did not find some major languages on the list, such as Amharic, Hausa, Kongo, and Tigrinya.
- The languages that are in the list include some that are very widely spoken and/or official, and some that are less-widely spoken - this may be a function of response to Apple's encouragement of developers to localize more apps rather than a planned approach (seeking more information).
* The 18 countries not on the list (which had last been updated on 6 Nov. 2015 at time of access) are: Benin, Burundi, Cape Verde, Comoros, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Lesotho, Liberia, Mauritania, Sao Tome e Principe, Seychelles, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, and Swaziland.