Can mobile app developers tackle Africa’s biggest problems?

The African mobile developer community should be smiling right now. Mobile application developers are 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.

Increase in telecommunications infrastructure, ICT education and knowledge has seen Africa grow significantly in the ICT field. Mobile take-up across Africa took a lot of people by surprise; in hindsight it was obvious. There are more than 500 million mobile subscribers in Africa at the moment.

South Africa now has more active SIMs than it has people. Zimbabwe has over 5 million mobile users according to recent statistics. Across the region communication, banking, healthcare, education and many more facets of everyday life have been positively affected by the proliferation of text, voice apps and services.

Mobile application development is the process by which application software is developed for small low-power handheld devices such as personal digital assistants, enterprise digital assistants or mobile phones. These applications are either pre-installed on phones during manufacture, or downloaded by customers from various mobile software distribution platforms.

Each of the platforms for mobile applications also has an integrated development environment which provides tools to allow a developer to write, test and deploy applications into the target platform environment. Examples of mobile applications include the Facebook app, Mxit app, Whatapp just to name a few. Examples of platforms include Android, iOS, Symbian and Windows Mobile.

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. Cheap Chinese made phones have flooded the market – including Zimbabwe.

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. Kenya has developed a vibrant mobile application development industry. The trend is snowballing and we believe there is more to come.

International interest

The phenomenal growth of the market has caught the attention of the worlds 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.

Zimbabwe has to learn from fellow countries like Kenya and South Africa which have a matured mobile application development industry. The telecommunications companies, government, academic institutions and other players in the technology industry have to play a crucial role in facilitating for mobile application development. There are a lot of social, economic and political problems that can be solved by mobile applications.

Post published in: News
  1. WalterSimon

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