With millions of smartphones in South Africa, where are all the apps?

There are millions (and millions) of smartphones in South Africa. And growth is accelerating.

Vodacom’s latest financial results disclose some interesting numbers:

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  • Between April and June, it added 406 000 smartphones
  • 70 percent of smartphones sold in the quarter were BlackBerry
  • As of 30 June, there are 3.7-million active smartphones on its network
  • 33 percent of its smartphone subscribers use data bundles

MTN, the second-largest network in the country, has 2.6-million smartphones on its network at the end of June. And Cell C, latecomer to the BlackBerry party, has over 100 000 BlackBerry customers.

That’s a total of 6.5-million (adding in 8ta and other smartphones on Cell C’s network). And remember, these numbers are all dated. We’re already at the end of September!

In the absence of any official figures, and based on some conversations with senior executives in the industry, here are a few (very) educated guesstimates for this market as of September 2011:

  • There are over 2 million BlackBerrys
  • About 2-million Android devices
  • A good many devices running Samsung’s Bada OS and
  • Around 250 000 iPhones in South Africa.

Nokia too is still a massive contender with its N-series and E-series devices, popular among business users. It still has a big installed base (well over a million).

So, 6.5-million smartphones. By the end of this month, that number will be around 8 million. In September last year there were fewer than half of that.

Let me repeat that: The number of smartphones in South Africa has more than doubled over the past 12 months.

Yes, the first thing we do on our new smartphones is install Facebook, Twitter, a few news apps, maybe a game or three…

But where are the great local South African apps?

Nokia has been the leader in sourcing, highlighting and growing local content for its Ovi (now called Nokia) Store. Sure, some of the drivers of the other platforms in this market are starting to commission local content, but there’s just not enough innovation happening.

Corporates are hiring agencies and development houses to build apps, but this is largely a box that the marketing department wants to tick, rather than something that offers a solution or attraction to customers.

Vodacom has launched an app store (piggybacking on what parent Vodafone offers in other global markets) and MTN is building an ambitious app store for its markets across Africa and the Middle East. But, despite what they might think, operator-run app stores are not the logical place to find apps.

Where are the slick, innovative, really great apps for the iTunes App Store, for the Android Market, for BlackBerry App World (and the soon-to-be-very-relevant Windows Marketplace)?

The new SuperSport App for the iPad is a step in the right direction. So too FNB’s Banking App available for iOS, Android and BlackBerry devices.

Let’s stop with the rehashed, stripped-down webpages that barely pass as an app.

Don’t tell me the market is too small.

If you cannot build a business (or a business case if you’re in a corporate) with a potential customer base of 8-million, then you shouldn’t be in business. That number will be 10-million by the time your app reaches the market.

And I haven’t even mentioned tablets.

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