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Building mobile apps that are relevant to African consumers

Building mobile apps that are relevant to African consumers

According to the latest report from GSMA, almost half the population of Africa subscribed to mobile services in 2015. Africa’s fast growing population, combined with a rising middle class, offers mobile developers an enormous opportunity. 

Yannick Lefang of Kasi Insight, who will speak at Africa Tech Summit London on September 29th, shares some important insights for those looking to build the next generation of apps. The framework for each business will depend on various factors, but there are some implications that every mobile app developer should consider.

Yannick Lefang1. Develop power & data efficient apps
The mobile infrastructure requires setup and maintaining a mobile network and a mobile phone is often underestimated when analysts use the mobile penetration as a driver for mobile app adoption. As the number of features and apps increases on a mobile phone so does the power consumption. To succeed, mobile app developers must build power and data efficient apps. With open access to foreign apps, the local developer faces another challenge in the form of competition as most customers seek to rationalize storage space in phones.

Our research shows 46 percent of surveyed people in Ghana said that battery life is a very important feature. This is not surprising given the power/energy crisis the country has been facing for the past 2 years. For example, Facebook tested a feature that will let internet users in India view videos without having to put up with the country’s slow internet speeds. People can download videos to Facebook while they’re online using a good internet connection to view the video at any time, online or offline, without using extra mobile data.

The same is true for data consumption. Mobile app developers should think about data usage before they even start coding an app. Performing testing to ensure battery usage, data consumption, and storage space are optimum should be a priority for mobile app agencies.

2. Build Android Apps First
In Africa, Android phones lead in terms of market share of phones and smartphones. Android phones are affordable and provide great value for Africans. To succeed, mobile app developers would decide where to launch their app and choose between Google Play (Android), iTunes (iOS) and Windows. The rule of thumb in mobile development suggests that developers build and deploy apps in as many platforms as possible. In the African context where financial resources are scarce and data is expensive, mobile app developers should pick one platform and track early adoption before moving onto additional platforms. Our research finds that 51 percent of respondents in Kenya download apps from Google Play followed by iTunes and Windows at 20 percent.

Therefore, it is recommended that mobile app developers build Android apps first, get feedback, and then roll out to other platforms.  If your app doesn’t succeed on Google Play, it won’t succeed on iTunes or Windows. The Android platform seems to provide less restrictions in terms of available countries, app registration, and sales.

3. Build quick transactions and interactive apps
Despite the relative affordability of mobile phones in Africa, data is not cheap. Therefore, demand for phones doesn’t necessarily translate into demand for apps, unless these apps are very efficient and provide quick transaction and interaction capabilities to reduce the data usage

Our research finds that 72 percent of surveyed respondents in Kenya have prepaid arrangements, which has implications when it comes to how long they can afford to stay online and use data before their credit runs out.

Furthermore, only 11 percent of surveyed mobile users find the data cost to be cheap. These two findings mean that for any app developer it is important to factor in the time spent on the app to provide value to the consumer.



Any messaging app is a good example of an app that provides quick interactions and uses relatively small amounts of bandwidth. On the contrary, gaming apps require more bandwidth and power usage, which is an issue with consumers because of battery life and data cost.

4. Build for value
The majority of mobile app developers build games or entertainment apps. It’s not surprising since the most popular apps on Google Play or iTunes are gaming apps. Companies should resist the temptation to copy and paste because the local market in Africa is very different than most other developed markets.

Our research shows that users are not willing to pay for every app. In fact, in Kenya there are gaps between the apps users already have on their mobile phones and apps they are willing to pay for. For example, 17 percent of surveyed respondents have gaming apps on their mobile phones, but only 11 percent are willing to pay for gaming apps – a 6 percent gap. For mobile users, gaming apps should be free.

On the other hand, 10 percent of surveyed respondents have health-related apps while 17 percent of respondents are willing to pay for health-related apps. Our findings will prove to be very useful to companies or mobile agencies during the selection process of the type of apps they should build in a specific market.

5. Focus where it matters
Africa has 54 countries with more than 2000 languages and urban Africa is very different from rural Africa. As a result, it is very unlikely that apps can be built to meet the need of all Africans. Companies and developers will have to decide where they can play at scale and how they can efficiently deploy their apps and reach their target. Urban Africa is a compelling opportunity. By 2050, Africa will account for 50 percent of the world population and half of these people will live in urban centers. While the mega cities of Cairo, Johannesburg, and Lagos are front of mind for developers and marketers, there are also underdog cities such as Douala, Abidjan, and Accra.

Beyond the cities and the general demographics, companies must understand consumers and mobile users in each of these places. Other factors to consider include app stores restrictions for app availability and seller options, the business model (paid or free), and the internet and communication infrastructure that allows for fast adoption.

Having an urban center strategy will provide a more realistic estimate of market size and real market adoption as opposed to looking at the overall picture on the continent.

Apps are the future, but the market still maturing
It is clear that the app economy in Africa represents a tremendous opportunity for developers and users. Mobile phones can contribute to the economic and social development in Africa. The GSMA report estimated that the mobile industry will contribute $214 billion to the GDP. In 2015, the mobile phone ecosystem employed 1.3 million people on the continent. However, for local app developers, this opportunity has yet to materialize. Worse still, local users don’t consume or support locally made apps. The issue for mobile app agencies and developers is how to better understand the mobile phone ecosystem and mobile phone users going forward.

Yannick is the Founder & CEO at KASI Insight, Africa’s most innovative research and advisory company that empower business leaders and organizations with reliable consumer data and actionable insights.



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