This evening the Nairobi Chapter of MobileMonday held its first meeting for mobile application developers at the iHub. MobileMonday is a global community of mobile industry visionaries, developers and influentials fostering cooperation and cross-border business development through virtual and live networking events to share ideas, best practices and trends from global markets. This is post is a summary of what was discussed at the meeting:
- In terms of mobile platforms for applications for Kenya, Symbian (via Nokia Handsets) and Nokia’s OVI have the largest penetration in the marketplace. Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Android are yet to gain use in Kenya as the penetration is very minimal at this juncture.
- When building for the PC web, applications tend to be expensive. faster to deploy and have more control when deployed. On the Mobile web, its cheaper to deploy, access tends to be slower, requires a smaller skill base but is not good at handling rich content such as Flash. Mobile applications tend to be faster at accessing online content than the mobile web as well as synchronizing to the cloud.
- John Karanja is behind Whive is a Kenyan social network that started in 2008 on the PC web which recently has deployed a mobi web site following the realization that lots of local traffic comes from mobile handsets. The mobi Whive web site is Whive.mobi. Going forward it felt that location-based services will become popular in Kenya.
- SIM Card-based applications could be the way for mobile applications in Kenya. In the case of Safaricom’s M-Pesa however they do not let application developers direct access to an API. This will need to change in the future so as to create an ecosystem as is the case with many global and leading platforms but for the time being workarounds are required.
- Everyone seems to be talking about mobile applications but SMS is by far the most used form of communication on mobile phones in general (from an apps perspective). John Wesonga pointed out how his firm is building mobile SMS-based applications working with the United Nation’s Rapid SMS with structured SMS messages on the platform. However, structured SMS applications have limitations in that people think and use SMS differently so this represents challenges for widespread deployment and service convenience.
- Mixit is very popular in South Africa which is a mobile based application that enables instant messaging at very low-cost. Mixit works on low-end feature phones that have basic internet connectivity (2G) and does not have to work on high-end smart phones and 2.5G or 3G. Kenya has a similar platform called Sembuse which works in more or less in the same way as Mixit but it has not gained major adoption in the marketplace (yet). The question that was left lingering is what did it take or how was it achieved in South Africa that Mixit has millions of users and is making good revenues? What can Kenya learn from the same?
- Joshua Musau asked how can mobile application developers in Kenya come up with applications that can succeed to the same level as Safaricom’s M-Pesa. John Wesonga noted that the real reason for building mobile applications that would appeal to a large market with a big problem. The applications need to address a problem or else they may not be that successful, even if they are really “cool”. Its not the technology that holds back opportunity – its about find the right balance.
- One of the big issues for mobile application developers is how they can market their offerings considering that they do not have the marketing muscle of Safaricom. How can the existing technology firms that are succeeding help these developers make headway. Liko Agosta from Verviant suggested that aspiring developers and technology entrepreneurs should get jobs for 5 years so that they can build their experiences and financial resources before stepping out on their own. They will also be able to approach financial institutions for support.
- The smart phone (read iPhone and Android) business model and the feature phone business model greatly differ. In the smart phone model its all about enabling almost limitless possibilities. In the feature phone business model its about a fairly narrow and specific set of services being enabled. Since Africa and Kenya for that matter are largely feature phone markets and even then low-end feature phones application developers need to pay attention to this reality. An example was given of how an Indian developer built a B2B mobile application for the textile industry that has become really successful. Therefore, the challenge is how can Kenyan mobile application developers come up with applications that solve big problems and therefore can create business success – they key is to pay attention to the environment.
- Can a “cool” app be profitable in Kenya? This is possible if application developers can think of how they plan to monetize their applications (for instance using Admob ads running in the application). Liko noted that we should stop focusing on the “bottom of the pyramid” when they can aim for the top and middle of the pyramid to make profits. One idea passed on was what if one could create an application that tracks Twitter trending topics in Kenya. Why was M-Pesa successful? It reaches everyone! Top, middle and bottom of the pyramid, all at once. However, it seems that getting the foot through the door in most cases for popular applications and web sites is to be free when launching.
- Mixit was used during the latest Big Brother Africa for viewers to vote. It was also used to collect views during President Obama’s visit to West Africa not too long ago. The verdict is that mobile applications can make money in this manner so what can we learn in Kenya. Incidentally, Mixit plan to open begin marketing their application and services in Kenya. Ultimately, having a business model of sorts is key. Liko added that application developers need to have a value proposition that appeals to investors – “what’s in it for them before what’s in it for you”.
This is all I was able to capture before having leave. Hope you enjoyed reading the summary. You can also view a few pictures from this meeting here>