By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions
As the number of mobile phone users around the world mushrooms, so does the mobile phone applications market. Revenue from downloads of applications, or apps, topped US $10 billion in 2009, according to market analyst firm Juniper (http://juniperresearch.com).
Applications have two distinct advantages for the poor in the South. Apps targeted at the poor can boost incomes and increase health and education. And they are an emerging way to make money.
Somebody who develops an application can expect to make up to 70 percent of the download cost. Apple (http://www.apple.com/iphone/apps-for-iphone) – owner of the iPhone application store – claims it has already given developers over US $1 billion in revenues.
It is a growing industry. The market-leading Apple App Store now boasts more than 225,000 applications for download and sale. It says they have been downloaded an impressive 5 billion times.
Android Market (http://www.android.com/market/#app=com.com2us.HG), run by the search engine Google, has more than 60,000 apps on offer. GetJar (www.getjar.com), an independent mobile phone application store from Sweden, says it has 72,000 apps available and has had 1 billion downloads.
Now that the apps economy has been running for a couple years, it is possible to divine what increases a developer’s success. Some believe the apps marketplace mimics the dynamics of the music business, rather than the traditional software business.
GetJar chief executive Ilja Laurs told the Economist that it takes as long to write an app as a song. Apps on average cost about the same as a music download: US $1.90. And just like the pop music charts, a few become big hits but most never make it. Apps are also a quick hit: even after becoming successful they can quickly fade back to obscurity again. In short, they are fad and trend driven and are very much about the moment and a current need.
That means they are wide open to newcomers from the South.
With mobile phones now the main channel for information in East Africa, for example, and mobile penetration exceeding 40 percent of the population there, vast markets have opened for apps. East Africa has more than 120 million citizens, with a large majority living in rural areas: many needing poverty-fighting apps to change their lives.
Various new applications show the creative thinking already coming out of the South. South Africa’s Afridoctor (www.afridoctor.com) is Africa’s first personal mobile health clinic. Users submit photos of ailments and receive advice from a panel of professionals, or use the mapping feature to find doctors, clinics and all health industry related services nearby. The emergency feature notifies next of kin of your distress and location. Features include symptom checkers, first-aid information, health calculators and quizzes. Afridoctor hopes to make health care affordable and accessible to Africans. It is made by 24.com (http://store.ovi.com/publisher/24.com), South Africa’s largest digital brands group.
In Mexico, the tragedy of migrants dying as they try to cross the border to the United States is being addressed by Mexican professor Ricardo Dominguez, with funding from charities. He has developed an app tool to help people who cross the US-Mexico border find drinking water in the desert, churches with shelter, and human right groups offering them help. Immigrants download the app – being called a “platform for Migrant Border” – onto their mobile phones.
“The purpose is to provide a platform to travel safely through the desert,” said Dominguez, who led the design team.
App action has heated up in India, where Spice Mobiles (http://www.spiceglobal.com/SpiceMobiles/SpiceMobiles.aspx) – a wing of the Spice Group – is launching an application store with 250 content providers. India’s Bharti Airtel launched its first home-grown mobile application store in February of this year – Airtel App Central (http://www.airtel.in/apps). It clocked up over 13 million downloads in four months.
India’s Reliance Communications (http://www.rcom.co.in/Rcom/personal/home/index.html) also launched an application called Socially. It has been designed to enable users to follow the recent activity of friends, and also allows the user to update their status on different social networks like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn through a single client.
Jon Gosier, from Appfrica Labs (http://appfrica.net/blog) – behind the highly successful crisis crowdsourcing Ushahidi application (http://www.ushahidi.com) – explained the thinking behind apps in Africa:
“Our goal is to show the world that Africa is capable of solving some of its own problems,” he told CP-Africa.com. “Too often Africans aren’t even considered as a resource when discussing how to improve their own quality of life.”
He has the following advice for would-be app developers: “Think global. Too many entrepreneurs here (Africa) think of themselves as competing with peers within their school or country. That’s not true. You’re competing in the global market now. If your website or web app doesn’t look as flashy or polished as the stuff from 37 Signals (www.37signals.com) or Carsonified (www.carsonified.com), you’ve still got work to do.
“You don’t get a pass on the web because you’re African. You get the challenge of working harder.”
NEW: Apps4Africa Competition: Apps 4 Africa is a regional competition with the goal of promoting local technology entrepreneurs as they build tools to serve the needs of NGOs and the local community. This unprecedented partnership meshes civil society with developers and designers to create technical solutions to local challenges. The competition will ask civil society and citizens throughout the region to submit local community challenges on issues like transparency and better governance, health, education and more where technology can be a part of the solution. The burgeoning ranks of innovative techies in the region will then use this list of community challenges as the basis of their work, thus creating “an app for that.” Website:www.apps4africa.org
Published: August 2010
Deadline: August 31, 2010
- Mobile Active: MobileActive.org connects people, organizations, and resources using mobile technology for social change. Website: www.mobileactive.org
- Android: Apps and tools for download. Website: www.android.com
- SMS Boot Camp: Entrepreneurial Programming and Research on Mobiles run by MIT in Nairobi, Kenya. Website:http://www.media.mit.edu/ventures/EPROM/entrepreneurship.html#entrep
- The Innovative Use of Mobile Applications in East Africa by Johan Hellström. Website: http://upgraid.files.wordpress.com/2010/06/sr2010-12_sida_hellstrom.pdf
- Women and Mobile: A Global Opportunity: A Study on the Mobile Phone Gender Gap in Low and Middle-Income Countries. Website:http://mobileactive.org/files/file_uploads/women_and_mobile_a_global_opportunity.pdf
- New Technologies in Emergencies: The Role of Information and Social Networks by the United Nations Foundation and Vodafone Foundation Technology. Website:http://www.unfoundation.org/press-center/publications/new-technologies-emergencies-conflicts.html
Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator.
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