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Apps for Africa: 3 Reasons To Focus on Mobile

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MXit's Android App

The iTunes App store has had phenomenal success as a content distribution platform starting with music and then moving into magazines, books and software applications. There are currently more than 300,000 apps on offer on the App store and numerous stories of developers who went on to make millions of dollars from publishing the apps to the store. The App store may have been solely responsible for spawning a whole new sub-sector for application development that wasn’t taken very seriously until then.

Does this new interest in mobile apps represent a viable market opportunity in Africa? Not on the iTunes Store it doesn’t. Although Internet penetration is at its highest and investment in infrastructure continues to grow, a great deal more would have to change before models like the iTunes store take off in Africa. There’s no vacuum here though. Other platforms have app stores that are within reach of the African customer. The three most notable ones are the Android Marketplace, Amazon’s Appstore for Android and Nokia’s Ovi Store. In theory then, the basic building blocks of building and distributing mobile apps exist.

In view of the overwhelmingly high number of mobile users compared to PC on the continent and the improvement in the technology to deliver data enabled handsets at price points below $50, consumer software developers should prioritize the mobile platform over PC. Here are three reasons why:

  1. Mobile Applications Are Easier to Adopt
    Designing apps for mobile results in a high level of focus on core functionality due to the constraints of the platform (small display, low processing power, small keyboard etc). MXit, a mobile-based social media network from South Africa has about the same number of users as Facebook in Africa making it the most successful social media platform on the continent. For users joining MXit after an experience on a PC web-based social network, the lean nature of the app probably makes it easier to use and adopt. Kenya’s MPESA mobile money service is a no-frills SIM application toolkit that allows users to send money from user to user and user to vendor. It has 14 million users in Kenya alone. It is has been very easy to adopt.
  2. PC Penetration Continues to be Poor
    PC penetration in Africa is better than it used to be but pales in comparison to mobile phone penetration. In countries like Kenya, Ghana and Nigeria, mobile penetration currently stands at between 50% and 80% while PC penetration is less than 10%. For instance, Kenya’s last population census indicates 63% of households have at least one mobile phone but only 3.6% have a computer. Some reports put South Africa’s PC penetration at approximately 16%, probably the highest on the continent. Mobile penetration on the other hand stands at more than 100%. With the vast majority on the continent experiencing the Internet for the first time via mobile and a large percentage using mobile only and not pc, building mobile apps to suit the market’s requirements is almost a no-brainer.

  3. Mobile Internet Access Is Higher Than Regular Broadband
    Internet penetration has improved exponentially over the last 5 years across the continent with the largest improvement being found in the countries where undersea cables make their landing. In many of those countries, mobile internet access has more than 50% market share and as high as 90% in Kenya leaving regular broadband Internet service providers with a minority share. This makes it easier to distribute mobile applications as the medium is already in the hands of the African customer.

Whereas all the above is true for most markets in Africa, keeping mind the heavy prevalence of prepaid models and poor access to credit is critical as it has direct impact on the commercial viability of the service. If credit card payments determine the success or failure of the service, or if it has highly variable costs or aspects that contribute to unclear running costs it will probably run into fatal headwinds. Commercial apps for Africa need to be highly accessible and easy to pay for thus relevant and appropriate support systems for payment could make or break the business model.


Image source: DanieVDM – Flickr

Related posts:

  1. Africa: Opportunity Awaits
  2. Rebooting Africa and the Semacraft Team
  3. The Mobile Imperative in Social CRM

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