Africa Offers Great Mobile Opportunities

Developers build mobile apps for people first. Profits come later, depending on quality, usefulness, fun, and popularity of the apps. With that in mind, Molly Holzschlag, a senior Web access strategist for Knowbility and author of 35 books, touted Africa as particularly fertile ground for mobile apps developers.

Holzschlag,  speaking at the Future Insights Live conference in Las Vegas on “Learning from Mobile Gone Global: Mobile apps development in the real, real world,” made several notable observations.

“African economies are amongst the fastest growing in the world. Today, the continent is poised to transform the global economic landscape,” Holzschlag said, quoting from an IBM document. She noted that Africa accounts for 14 percent of the world’s population.

In Africa, there’s a new rise of the middle class and we see many of the similar growth patterns that occured in the U.S., said Holzschlag, such as broadband in urban areas, iOS-centricity, and people being able to afford the technology.

Apps For a Connected, But Not Broadband, Mobile Audience

Mobile access is growing in Africa, but broadband use is still very low, said Holzschlag. For example, in Kenya, it’s expected that by 2016, 83.1 percent of the country’s 39.5 million people will have a mobile phone. Broadband, however, only became available in Kenya in August 2011 and its estimated penetration is expected to reach a mere 1.8 percent by 2016.

This is a huge opportunity for developers, but it will require low bandwidth app development. As a result, it should force techies to learn how to build sleeker, faster apps. You shouldn’t be thinking iPhone, because iOS is not an option for low bandwidth, under-funded rural environments. In these situations, you must look to HTML5 and the Open Web Stack for inspiration. Consider looking to web browsers as the application front-end, said Holzschlag.

Don’t discount this audience just because they’re not on broadband. Close to 18 million Kenyans use mobile phones as a bank account, depositing and transferring money remotely to avoid excessive travel and wait times.

Due to consumer products reaching broad markets, most web app development in Africa and rural Asia requires a hybrid approach, said Holzschlag. To empower the high and low bandwidth audiences, look towards using a combination of Web and telecom technology.

SMS is one of the most heavily used forms of communication in all parts of the world. Consider hybrid offerings when developing apps. Not difficult to do as we have ever-increasing wrappers for HTML5-to-native app development such as PhoneGap, said Holzschlag.

More People Who Can Use Your App Means More Profit

We have to get ourselves away from the iOS, Android, Windows Phone, BlackBerry debate and start thinking about what markets your app could operate in. Most apps are used in a local context, but what works locally in the U.S. is very different than what would work in Kenya. Cultural issues play into communications and usefulness.

Go beyond the platform debate, said Holzschlag, and always be thinking how to localize, internationalize, and globalize your mobile apps.