Why it’s a good time to be developing mobile apps in Africa

Pic: Yutaka TsutanoThe African mobile developer community should be smiling right now, what with being ideally placed to take advantage of a number of factors that currently make the region one of the most exciting digital spaces on the planet.

Mobile is massive

Mobile take-up across Africa took a lot of people by surprise; in hindsight it was obvious. Infrastructure-lag left a gaping chasm of consumer demand wide enough for mobile technology to swoop in and satisfy the need for telecommunications. South Africa now has more active SIMs than it has people. Across the region communication, banking, healthcare, education and many more facets of everyday life have been positively affected by the proliferation of text and voice apps and services.

But as the available hardware continues to improve and come down in price, so the development will get more sophisticated, increasing the positive impact that mobile technology can have on the people and businesses of Africa. The prices of smartphone handsets are also falling, with $100 devices already available, and $50 Android handsets touted for the near future.

Last year Nokia reported triple digit growth in the number of downloads from its Ovi app store, with instant messaging and health related apps by far the most popular. Projects are underway across the region, looking at using mobile and smartphone apps for disease prevention, patient care, treatment support and health data collection.

Leading South African healthcare provider Sanlam, for instance, is currently involved with telecommunications giant MTN to roll out a number of self-diagnosis, medication and consultation products across the 22 separate countries it operates in. The trend is snowballing.

International interest

The phenomenal growth of the market has caught the attention of the world’s leading communications and digital brands. Many key players are investing in the skills and knowledge of local developers. Corporations from Google to Samsung are running initiatives aimed at nurturing local talent.

In partnership with Samsung, Cape Town University recently launched a multi-million rand mobile Africa innovation lab. The three year project demonstrates the potential that has been identified in the region.

“Opportunities for innovative African mobile applications have been identified both in the individual user and social development markets,” said Professor Gary Marsden, CTU associate professor of computer science. “In addition, there is a need to move the most promising applications from prototype to commercially viable opportunities by means of a business incubator.”

Wanted: unique local knowledge

Social, economic and geographical challenges exist in Africa like nowhere else in the world. No other place boasts the wealth of cultural and linguistic diversity, disparate geographic populations and infrastructural inconsistency.

So for both western and Chinese multinationals, used to working in more standardised market environments, cracking this vibrant African mobile market would be impossible without good developers, using their local knowledge and insight to crack problems and invent apps that can significantly change peoples’ lives. The leading multinationals know this; they need eyes on the ground.

Education and opportunity

On 1-2 June, Google Android is running ‘Droid World’, a series of free-to-attend developer workshops, at Apps World Africa 2011 in Cape Town, the same day as the Developer Challenge opens for entries.

‘Droid World’, forms just part of a raft of expert developer content on offer at the event, with brands including Nokia and Blackberry also hosting free developer sessions, a full industry exhibition and more in-depth paid for conference tracks. For more information visit the Apps World Africa website.

Hendri Lategan


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