You may have noticed that there is somewhat of an app hype happening in Africa’s tech scene. It is just so cool to build an app. In Nairobi’s iHub, young leaders in the technology space tell us they are trying to move away from that and focus more on apps that can solve real problems (for example, decoding Nairobi’s street map to make the work of home delivery services easier) and business-to-business apps and solutions.
The global mobile app market is now worth over $50 billion. Although Africa currently has the fastest growing mobile phone market in the world, its mobile app market is still hardly developed. Around the world, mobile apps are increasingly used to bridge the gap between the growing needs and demands of the population on the one hand and poor public service provision on the other.
A mobile app is a software application developed specifically to be used on mobile phones. Today, apps provide a wide range of useful services and are also a common source of entertainment. There are apps for almost anything you can think of: information services, news, games, social networking, chatting and even restaurants and airline bookings.
There are a couple of interesting mobile apps that are making waves on the African continent solving African problems:
- M-Farm is a mobile app that allows farmers to access information about retail prices of products, purchase goods directly from manufacturers, and get in contact with potential buyers. This service cuts out the middlemen who make prices higher for farmers.
- Afrinolly, which was developed in 2011, allows users to catch up on the latest entertainment news; follow movies, shows, and celebrities; share thoughts via a host of social networking sites; and discover and review movies and music videos. In less than a year after it was released to the public, Afrinolly was downloaded nearly half a million times.
- Mocality is Kenya’s largest business directory. The app allows users to find relevant local businesses in Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu, Nakuru, Eldoret and Nyeri, with more cities being added every month. With this app, users can also access contact details along with offered products and services.
- SlimTrader allows users to buy or pay for goods and services via SMS or WAP. This app effectively helps its users to shop by text messaging and it is the first platform in Africa to do so. Founded in 2009, the service operates in Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa.
- iCow is an innovative mobile app powered by Safaricom, enabling dairy farmers in Kenya to keep tabs on their cows and find tips on best practices. Data has shown farmers who used this app for up to seven months begin to realise an increase in milk output of between two to three liters a day, which translates into an average increased income of roughly $300 a year.
You will be off to a good start if you create an app around the most popular sectors and industries. Most of the mobile apps in Africa that have enjoyed great success are closely linked to the provision of information. or services in the agricultural, medical, pharmaceutical, or financial industries.
In Africa, mobile apps are also playing a big role in the entertainment industry (music and movies). We advise that you focus your business around a similar context: serving the needs of African consumers that are not currently being met through other public or private service provision.
Mobile apps can work everywhere in Africa, but access to internet connection will be an important enable for your business. Apps will need internet access to be downloaded, but while some apps such as games, fitness apps, or educational apps don’t need to be connected to the internet to work, other apps like news feeds and those that require maps or some kind of live feed do need a continuous connection.
So be aware of that when building your product. Having said that, internet cables are still being laid across Africa. Burundi, for example, is currently working on its broadband connection, so we will see the market for apps increasing each year.
However, we want to also make you aware that the management of Kenya’s technology incubator iHub told us that, although many apps have been hugely successful, they are moving a little away from that and more towards enterprise solutions. This is an area in which young entrepreneurs at Rwanda‘s Klab also got increasingly involved. So be aware of this growing trend.
Action & Tips:
The best approach is to be guided by what works in Africa already. Get familiar with Africa’s most popular apps and recognize patterns that contribute to that success. You could also get inspired by some of the really successful apps elsewhere in the world and see if some of those concepts could be translated into something similar for Africa.
You can build your own simple app online on sites like appify.com, or get a freelancer for example, on elance.com to do it for you.