Don’t get me wrong. I love mobile apps. In fact, given that there over 1.3 million mobile apps across all the various mobile platforms out there today, you could say that there is practically a mobile app for anything and everything you could ever think of. However, with so many options, two of the really big challenges out there for African mobile app developers is how do you get your mobile app discovered when there is a sea of 1.3 million apps you are competing against and, at the same time, how do the mobile users who need, or, could use your mobile app actually find it? Its a pickle – trust me on this one. Indeed, yet another mobile app competition has been launched in Kenya last week (i.e. the Safaricom AppStar Competition). Mobile app competitions have become something of a way of life in Africa’s technology scene with some mobile developers specializing in winning them! But even as these competitions are great as catalysts for what is really a very nascent industry, the big question now is how will all those young African mobile app developers, and, mobile app companies actually succeed in building commercially viable and globally competituve mobile app businesses?
The reality is that Africa is a market that is still only getting onto Smartphones as feature phones dominate, and in this respect Nokia and the Symbian OS rule the roost. This is in spite of the fact that since 2007 when Apple’s now iconic iPhone was launched, Nokia’s global marketshare has dipped by a phenomenal 90%. However, at the same time, for the first time in Kenya (and in parts of Africa) we are now seeing high quality but low-cost Android Smartphones retailing for Kes. 6,000.00 (US$ 65.00) which in most cases are highly subsidized by mobile networks. Yes, Smartphones may be out of the reach of most Africans but we are nearing the tipping point when even the lowest income earners will have a Smartphone, or even an Advanced phone (i.e. a high-end feature phone) in one form or another. This in itself is a compelling proposition for African mobile app developers to start investing in building mobile apps for the African masses, now. However, even when considering local mobile apps from this perspective, a big challenge will be finding the right business models that allow one to make money from “the bottom of the pyramid”. To-date, the only mobile app I know of that has that has managed to really grow with the masses, as well as succeed beyond all revenue expectations is Safaricom’s M-Pesa – which is no mean feat and for all intents and purposes is unique for all sorts of reasons.
However, if you look at the numbers, the most money being made today by mobile app developers globally is via Apple’s AppStore followed by Google Play and then the “others” like Microsoft, BlackBerry and Nokia. From this perspective, it therefore goes without saying that if you “follow the money”, any mobile app developer globally, and not just in Africa, should at this point in time focus on building mobile apps that have global appeal on Apple’s AppStore and Google Play. Its as simple as that. Assuming that this is the best route to monetization then the next step would be to figure out how to ensure your mobile apps actually get found by the consumers and businesses who actually need them. Now, this in itself is not a simple process but standing above a sea of 1.3 million other mobile apps requires some investment in terms of time and money. For sure, this is what the world’s leading mobile app developers have done, and continue to do. You need your mobile app to get found, get tried and eventually, used and paid for. There are many routes to monetization in this respect for which I do not have the knowhow or credentials to explore in detail as it can be rocket science, depending on how you approach it. However, one thing is certain, marketing your mobile app via mobile channels is a no brainer. As the saying goes, “fish where the fish are” and, hopefully, get paid!
One way of getting your mobile app found whether your are a business or mobile app developer is to use mobile marketing. InMobi, the company where I work is a leading global mobile ad network and mobile app developers are some of our most active mobile advertisers. There are other good mobile ad networks globally including Admob which is owned by Google. The main thing is that the ads are seen on mobile devices globally and can be targeted using criteria such as geographical location or mobile operating system. This means that you can be “found” by potential customers and not just rely on the mobile app stores being your only access point to consumers.
Assuming that the mobile app you have developed is good and actually has a consumer or business market for it, mobile marketing could actually be a key way to drive your mobile app’s discovery and eventual viability within a global marketplace. The other issue of monetization can be a tricky one. One of the ways a mobile app can become profitable is by running mobile ads through a mobile network such as InMobi. This enables the mobile app developer to earn revenue every time a mobile ad is clicked on it. Many mobile app developers have chosen this route when making money from mobile app sales, in-app purchases or subscriptions are not viable. Another route to monetization is having a mobile app exclusively or partially sponsored by major brands that have an affinity or interest in the mobile app you have developed based on the target consumer base for it.
In concluding, there are many exciting opportunities going forward for Africa’s mobile app developers even as they struggle to find the best ways of ensuring their mobile apps can be found as well as monetized. I am sure that there may be some novel approaches that will only be relevant in an emerging market such as Africa. App discovery in particular could end up being a process that is largely driven by word of mouth. Monetization could end being driven using a similar process to how pre-paid airtime is normally purchased for mobile devices by consumers. Its really hard to tell how this may all come to together but when there are over 700 million active mobile users on the African continent, it goes without saying that there is a major opportunity for locally focussed mobile apps for the masses. In addition, there is also an even larger opportunity to tap into the every growing global market for mobile apps on platforms such as Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android provided the mobile apps appeal to this market. The bottom-line is that mobile app discovery and monetization will be key to realizing the potential.