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Why there’s need for more homegrown mobile applications

A girl using a mobile phone
A girl using a mobile phone. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

In the past three months, more than five high end devices have been launched in Kenya by different mobile phone manufacturers. This trend is likely to continue as the African smartphone market continues to grow, with global manufacturers setting up shop across the continent.

The growing demand for smartphones and tablet computers in Africa, and the rest of the world, is firing this mobile revolution. In 2012 alone, up to a billion smartphones were sold around the world. This figure is expected to rise further in the coming decade.

According to research firm Ovum, the smartphone penetration rate in Africa will grow at 52.9 percent year-on-year. Currently, there are 293.8 million smartphone users across the continent.

According to the GSMA report, Nigeria, Kenya and Ghana alongside South Africa are leading the pack with at least 50 percent penetration by the top ten smartphones in each of these countries. Not that there are different purchase habits in Africa.

Certainly, like elsewhere in the world, we all have reservations when it comes to brands, especially with smartphones. We have loyalists who consistently purchase a given brand; and then we have the functional ones, who make their decisions based entirely on how much value they can squeeze from a device.

All these smart devices run on apps. With such large numbers of smartphone users in Africa, it is only fair that we also audit how many apps originate from this great continent. According to mobile data and analytics provider App Annie in its annual The State of Mobile in 2019 Report, the Global app store consumer spend reached $101 billion in 2018, up 75 percent from 2016. This figure is expected to exceed $120 billion in 2019, but Africa has almost no share of this mouthwatering cake.

Although our continent is the world’s largest and fastest growing smartphone market after China, we have barely explored the goldmine that is localised apps which can be used on our smartphones.

In all honesty, there is a huge and untapped market for apps made in Africa for Africa and even the world. There is beauty in technology meeting local knowledge and expertise.

Unfortunately, with keen observation, one finds that nothing is being done to address the lack of homegrown apps, apart from the effort of budding developers, who are battling funding challenges. But what’s the opportunity for the continent? More than 40 billion mobile apps are downloaded and used across the world every year. That’s more than 100 million downloads every day.

The appeal for mobile apps is in the diversity of their use. Literally, there are apps for everything you can think of. There are lots of apps for games, information services, news, social networking, health, business, weather, financial services and even travel just to mention a few. All this spells opportunity.

The explosive growth of Africa’s app scene is informed by growing levels of access to mobile internet. Internet penetration in the Africa region is 15.6 percent with 167 million internet users. Mobile ownership in Africa is high – 90 percent of South Africans, 82 percent of Nigerians and 60 percent Kenyans have at least one mobile phone, according to the market research firm TNS Global.

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