Mobile applications development remains a key growth opportunity for East Africa’s technology sector driven by an emerging middle-class population with potential to buy smartphones and rising industry investment by players, leading global mobile phones and solutions manufacturer, Nokia, has said.
Kenneth Oyolla, General Manager, Nokia East and Southern Africa, said demand for mobile apps presents a huge potential to developers, brands and end-users but players will need to invest time and resources if they are to fully gain from the fast-growing mobile marketing global industry, expected to be worth US$17.5 billion by 2012.
“Mobile application marketing is a rapidly growing engagement and advertising channel for local and international brands today. Increase in use of apps by young population and emerging middle-class is spurning an unprecedented growth which may help companies focus on more eye-balls of their target markets in a totally new dimension,” said Mr. Oyolla.
Speaking during the Pivot 25 Conference, Mr Oyolla said although mobile app marketing is a fairly new phenomenon in East Africa, companies are increasingly investing in it as developers seek to create more relevant solutions and consumers more responsive from online interactions. Pivot 25 is focusing on the mobile developer and entrepreneur community in East Africa. It is an initiative of M-lab, an incubator and testing facility for mobile application and services companies.
Mr. Oyolla noted that East African brands, from retail and manufacturing to banking and technology now know they need to be online and are, therefore, reshaping their marketing strategies to incorporate mobile marketing.
He said digital channels drive downloads and retention and companies prefer them because online advertising are cost effective and dynamic with track-able results. Currently, Symbian operating system, for instance, has an installed base of 200 million while Series 40 has 600 million. 150 million Symbian devices are to be shipped in future.
Locally, the growth of mobile internet subscription coupled with a significant adoption smartphones are key factors driving the mobile application segment in Kenya. In its January 2011 report, Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK) noted between July and September 2010 that 98 percent of the Internet market share being through mobile devices.
Nokia has made a big leap with cumulative downloads in Middle East and Africa (MEA) region, crossing a remarkable 1 billion-mark in March 2011 from Ovi Store. Consumers are also downloading 500,000 apps daily in MEA region, indicating the explosion in use of mobile apps.
According to Agatha Gikunda, Head of Solutions Sales, Nokia East and Southern Africa, in Kenya, local downloads from Ovi Store have grown from 2 apps in April 2010 to over 200 currently- a 9900 percent increase. Two of the local apps have already passed the over 100,000 downloads mark.
Said Ms Gikunda: “As Nokia, we recognise that there are significant benefits in building a developers’ community that can endlessly provide new applications that are relevant and tailored to local markets. We have over 190 million active Nokia services users around the world (majority of those are Ovi) and more than 250,000 new Ovi accounts set up every day. These apps will help, with among other things, providing easy access, payment methods and extend commercialisation opportunities including commissioned apps from brands, micropayments and ad-funded models.”
“Today we have publishers from more than 90 countries accessing over 1,000 apps from MEA developers. Consumers can browse and purchase content from Ovi Store in more than 190 countries through credit-card billing. Over 100 operators in 29 countries support integrated mobile billing with Ovi Store and about 90 per cent of the daily traffic to Ovi Store converts to downloads,” revealed Ms Gikunda.
But these opportunities come with challenges, said Ms Gikunda. Mobile applications are relatively new and few in East Africa where smartphones are just beginning to reach a significant number of users.
“The fact that apps are new to many local users means that players in mobile application industry have to invest heavily in educating users in order to stimulate demand and drive more interaction with the captive audience. This will need a concerted effort from all players in the value chain potentially resulting to industry-wide growth. This has happened in other regions and East Africa should, too, take this chance.”
He added that although Nokia channels drive significant distribution, companies and brand will need to drive cross-marketing initiatives to helping drive traffic to the store.
“In the end, we expect to have win-win situation. Developers will have full local support to develop and sell in a global marketplace to millions of consumers while brands will be able to engage their customers via immersive mobile apps for continuous relevance and loyalty. And consumers will have easy access to favourite apps and content bringing increased opportunities and enjoyment,” concluded Mr Oyolla.
By bringing together players from across the region, Pivot 25 is, among other things, seeking to provide a forum that can offer industry solutions to tackle some of these challenges. The event will give visibility to projects from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Somalia, Sudan and Rwanda. Entrepreneurs will also pitch their ideas and have the possibility to win prizes.