Mobile Applications Market: Opportunities for South

By David SouthDevelopment 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 (

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 ( – 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 (, run by the search engine Google, has more than 60,000 apps on offer. GetJar (, 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 ( 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 (, 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 ( – 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 ( It clocked up over 13 million downloads in four months.

India’s Reliance Communications ( 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 ( – behind the highly successful crisis crowdsourcing Ushahidi application ( – 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 “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 ( or Carsonified (, 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.”

Published: August 2010

Deadline: August 31, 2010


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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Popular Chinese Social Media Chase New Markets

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

New UNOSSC banner Dev Cha 2013


China has a vast and growing market for the Internet and mobile devices. Over the past decade that market has been largely confined to China –  most businesses have had enough domestic demand and opportunities inside the country to keep them busy.

But now companies in China’s dynamic Internet and mobile sector are seeking out new markets outside the country. Both online shopping service Alibaba ( and Weibo (, the Chinese version of Twitter (, are seeking to list on the New York Stock Exchange. The excitement this news has generated shows how many people want to get a piece of the large Chinese market for technology, social networks and online shopping. It is also sending a chill through America’s Silicon Valley – home to the country’s innovative high technology sector – that they are missing out on China’s fast-growing marketplace. Many American services are banned from operating in China. Even more worrying for Silicon Valley, these home-grown Chinese companies, with the market sewn up at home, are now set to compete globally for customers using their increasingly deep pockets.

One example is Tencent (, owner of popular Chinese social messaging application (app) Weixin (, known as WeChat ( outside China. Used on mobile phones and smartphones, Weixin has gained 300 million users in just three years, becoming the dominant social messaging service in the world’s largest smartphone market. Its has been so successful that many rivals are trying to chip away at its customer base.

Weixin, pronounced way-shin, allows smartphone users to send messages and share news, photos, videos and web links with friends. One of its selling points is its claim to not store messages on its servers.

Building on its success in social networking in China, it is looking to expand in other markets, including Southeast Asia, Europe and Latin America. It also wants to grow its offerings in online payment and e-commerce.

One factor in Weixin’s success is the ability to send messages by recording a voice message rather than just typing in characters: very useful for non-Latin script users, and especially for Chinese-language users, who use thousands of characters in everyday communication.

One ambitious forecast claims Weixin could reach 400 million users and make US $500 million revenue within a year.

Cosmetics marketer Jenny Zhao, who uses an iPhone 5, told The New York Times: “I’m probably on Weixin six hours a day. A lot of what I do revolves around it.”

“I use Weixin every day,” said Zhang Shoufeng, a food and drinks seller. “My friends are on it and my boss is on it. We are talking about where to eat, where to hang out and where to meet for company conferences. This is how we communicate.”

Analysts believe Weixin has benefitted from not having to compete with banned-in-China American company Facebook (

“Even if Facebook had permission, it’s probably too late,” said Wang Xiaofeng, an analyst at Forrester Research. “Weixin has all the functionality of Facebook and Twitter, and Chinese have already gotten used to it.”

Tencent is an example of a wider trend: As Chinese companies and offerings have become stronger, wealthier and more innovative, they increasingly look to build their customer base outside China.

Founded in November, 1998, Tencent, Inc. has grown into China’s largest and most used Internet service portal. Its most popular services include QQ (QQ Instant Messenger), WeChat,, QQ Games, Qzone,, SoSo, PaiPai and Tenpay, as well as Weixin.

The company claims to put innovation at the heart of its business, with more than half of its employees devoted to research and development. The Tencent Research Institute, established in 2007 with RMB 100 million (US $16 million), calls itself “China’s first Internet research institute, with campuses in Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen.” It has patents for technologies it has developed for instant messaging, e-commerce, online payment services, search, information security, and gaming.

Tencent was driven to innovate by a fear it could quickly become irrelevant in the information technology space. Weixin is also pioneering ways to book taxis, hotels and airline flights through the service and even ways to control home appliances.

“Chinese Internet companies are no longer behind,” said William Bao Bean, a managing director at the venture capital firm SingTel Innov8 ( “Now in some areas, they’re leading the way.”

Published: April 2014


1) Weibo: Sina Weibo is a Chinese microblogging (weibo) website. Akin to a hybrid of Twitter and Facebook, it is one of the most popular sites in China, in use by well over 30 per cent of Internet users, with a market penetration similar to what Twitter has established in the USA. Website:

2) Laiwang: A variation on the WeChat service, its biggest competitor. Website:

3) WhatsApp: WhatsApp Messenger is a cross-platform mobile messaging app which allows you to exchange messages without having to pay for SMS. Website:

4) Southern Innovator Issue 1: Mobile Phones and Information Technology: Pioneering and innovative ways to deploy mobile phones and information technology to tackle poverty. Website: and here:

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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Indian Mobile Phone Application Innovators Empower Citizens

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions


With mobile phones becoming ubiquitous across the global South, the opportunity to make money – and possible fortunes – by providing ‘apps’ for these devices is now a reality.

Apps ( – applications which allow users of new mobile phones to do everything from running a business to banking to navigating chaotic cities – have quickly become a very creative space and a dynamic market for innovators and entrepreneurs. Because they are pieces of software and are relatively inexpensive to create, requiring only time and hard work, an individual working out of their home can develop an app, introduce it to the online marketplace and see if it will succeed.

The only limit is the imagination.

They are also a great way to solve people’s problems and possibly make some money in the process. As economies and cities grow across the South, many everyday difficulties can be tackled with these apps.

Apps are revolutionary because they solve the problem of how to view websites on mobile phones and smartphones ( Apps are designed for a small screen and have simple functionality and design. They often can function without any constant connection to the Internet, updating themselves sporadically when the phone can connect with phone networks or the Internet. They are also either free or inexpensive, using micro-payments to make a profit. The essence of the micro-payment business model is to charge a small amount and turn this into a large amount by having large numbers of people download the app. It is a successful business formula that has made many vast fortunes throughout the age of the mass consumer market, which began in the late 19th century.

Bart Decrem, co-founder of Tapulous, a maker of apps for the iPhone (, told The Economist: “Apps are nuggets of magic.”

Apps are sold in online stores run by companies like Apple (, Google, Sweden’s GetJar (, and South Korea’s SK Telecom. Apple’s store has over 425,000 apps and Google’s Android Market has more than 250,000. Other stores include Mobihand, PocketGear, Mobango, Handango, Blackberry App World and Handster (

Research firm Gartner ( estimated that 18 billion apps have been downloaded since Apple opened its first app store in 2008. Remarkably, it forecasts this number could rise to 49 billion by 2013. The most popular topics include games, weather forecasts, social networks, maps, music and news.

The dynamic documented so far for apps seems to follow the way music charts work. A few apps, out of the many on offer, become big sellers and popular favourites, getting the most users. Partly this reflects the difficulty of quickly searching through all the apps available in the world to find the right one, a process that favours well-marketed apps.

The recent TechSparks 2011 App4India ( contest showcased the creative thinking about apps now happening in India.

One Indian success story is the 1000Lookz ( app, developed by Vasan Sowriraj (, which helps women perform a virtual beauty makeover. A woman can check what shades work best for her skin tone by using her own photos uploaded to the app. The user adds features like foundation, blush, gloss, eye-shadow, eye-liner and lipstick. The app uses facial recognition and skin tone detection technology to assist the virtual makeover. It was developed by VDime Innovative Works headquarterd in Atlanta, Georgia, with its technology developed by its Indian division.

1000Lookz’ mission is to create “innovative products that bring cheer to consumers’ faces.”

Sowriraj got his experience from working as a key member of the team developing special image processing for the Indian Space and Research Organisation (

The same team has also developed another service enabling users to transform standard emoticons – those cartoons used in electronic communications to convey emotions – into emoticons using your own face image. It is called Humecons (, and its slogan is “Emote Yourself”.

The India TV Guide, based in Bangalore, India’s software hub (,_Bangalore), is a mobile phone application developed by Jini Labs ( offering programme listings for 150 television channels broadcast in India, and allows viewers to save reminders for favourite shows and build favourites lists.

Jini Labs also makes Jini Books (, a clever app to display books, magazines and journals that are hard to find in conventional shops. It is free and promises to have “indie book authors and publishers – including small size, mid-size independent publishers, university presses, e-book publishers, and self-published authors.”

A very useful app improving people’s lives is the Indian Railway Lite app. India’s railways are a critical part of the country’s economy, and the world’s largest railway system. The complexity of trying to work out the train schedule has been made easier with the app.

Founded by Srinath Reddy, the app’s chief technology officer at RSG Software Services (, the app enables users to discover train connections between stations, and find which trains pass through stations, while navigating the Indian Railways website. It is a good example of how an app can quickly become a big hit. It became the second most popular on the Apple India app store and is downloaded more than 1,000 times a day.

One of the advantages of the app is its ability to function without access to the Internet. It draws on its own database of information and offers a friendlier user interface than the Indian State Railways website.

“This feature has proved to be very popular as users can access train information even while they are travelling and are out of network range,” Reddy told “We update the app at regular intervals and the user has to download a new version of the app to get updated information. Trains are generally added once in a few months and the timetable does not change significantly, so the user can use the same version until the next one is released.”

The app’s creators initially found it difficult to get information and updates from Indian Railways.

“We took around four to five months to build the app,” Reddy said. “Significant effort went into compiling the train and station data as this was not easily available. Refining the UI (user interface) took quite some time as well.”

The company saw a market for the app because there were so many iPhone ( users in India. The app was downloaded 45,000 times between June and September, and other versions, including one for Google Android ( are in the works to broaden access to people without an iPhone.

The company has its headquarters in Ranchi, India and has four development centers in India located in Delhi, Pune, Ranchi and Hyderabad. Currently, the company has approximately 250 employees with core competencies in Apple, Filemaker and Open Source technologies.

The Tuk Tuk 2 app is a clever and practical application for users of India’s ubiquitous motorized and bicycle rickshaws. They are an important part of the country’s transport infrastructure – but a journey in one can be a stressful experience for many reasons. This app seeks to lesson the stress.

Tuk Tuk 2 app ( is designed to introduce fairness to the auto rickshaw marketplace. It empowers travellers to track where they are on a journey, check the fare and find the distance covered. It helps to reduce exploitation of travellers and makes sure they know where they are at all times: a powerful resource in crowded, busy and confusing cities.

It was developed by Mind Helix Technologies (, founded in 2009 as a dedicated application development company with a mission to empower people with its apps. And that is really what apps are all about!


1) Mobile phone boot camp: Entrepreneurial Programming and Research on Mobiles: Website:

2) Mobile Active: connects people, organizations, and resources using mobile technology for social change. Website:

3) Teams of motorcyclists with mobile phones in Lagos, Nigeria take pictures of traffic gridlock and open road, send it to central control, who grade it “slow”, “moving” or “free” and in turn send the message to subscribers. Website:

4) Southern Innovator magazine: New global magazine’s first issue tackles the boom in mobile phone and information technologies across the global South. Website:

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Mobile Phone Peacekeeping

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions


Last month UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon pointed out the urgent need for interesting and relevant content to attract Africans to the internet. Official statistics can make for grim reading: the continent has less bandwidth than Ireland (World Economic Forum). While it is true Africa is restricted by serious technological and economic disadvantages, African ingenuity, creativity and hard work are bypassing these impediments to get things done nonetheless. While word has got out about the impressive take-up of mobile phones in Africa, the new world of Web 2.0 is also spawning a new generation of inspiring African technology whizzes transforming perceptions and grabbing the world’s attention.

Alongside the combination of innovation and affordability that has made Africa the fastest growing mobile phone market in the world, there is a home-grown technology boom underway: “African firms are already participating in the forefront of technological developments and investment opportunities,” according to the Africa Competitiveness Report 2007.

Powerful and easy-to-use Web 2.0 tools are being used by Africans during times of crisis. Among the most innovative are “mash-ups” – a term once used to refer to the musical style of combining two or more song tracks that has come to mean the blending together of various software programmes. These Web 2.0 software mashups combine weather information, maps, webcams, population figures, even restaurant locations – in fact any application that can be easily added to a website. The possibilities are limitless, and this is what is causing so much excitement for development in the South.

In Kenya, a website called Ushahidi (Swahili for testimony), is using ICT (information and communications technology) and mobile phones to save lives in the post-election violence. People on the ground can send in live situation reports and alerts through the web and mobile phones to the website, which then maps violence in real time.

According to the site’s originator, Kenyan Ory Okolloh, “is a tool for people who witness acts of violence in Kenya in these post-election times. You can report the incident that you have seen, and it will appear on a map-based view for others to see.”

It has been put together by Kenyan web developer David Kobia (also the developer of Mashada, an online African community), and inspired by African blogger Erik “Hash” Hersman and other Kenyan bloggers and activists.

At the start of the violence, Okolloh had put out a message for help on the web. “Google Earth supposedly shows in great detail where the damage is being done on the ground,” Okolloh said on the site. “It occurs to me that it will be useful to keep a record of this, if one is thinking long-term. For the reconciliation process to occur at the local level the truth of what happened will first have to come out. Guys looking to do something – any techies out there willing to do a mashup of where the violence and destruction is occurring using Google Maps?”

The website came together quite quickly: after initial discussions amongst the team of five on January 5, it was live by January 9 (they estimate 40 hours for development and 20 to 30 hours for testing and promotion).

For others who want to do the same, the key is good relationships, not necessarily technology, the Ushahidi team says. “My advice is to make sure you’re well networked with the right people before something like this is needed,” said Erik Hersman, who runs Afrigadget and White African blogs. “By the time you need a site like Ushahidi, it’s too late to start making connections, it’s time to build … everyone needs the passion to fulfill the vision of the project.”

And to keep it going is not that time consuming, they say. The largest part of their time is spent keeping in contact with NGOs and a volunteer network in Kenya, and verifying the information.

“My advice would be to keep things as simple as possible.,” said Kenyan David Kobia. “Mashups are basically methods of relaying data, so simplicity is absolutely key.”

“The feedback has been phenomenal. Ushahidi’s graphical representation of events illustrates to some degree the magnitude of the events to people outside Kenya. The enormity of the situation can be understood better as events unfold, keeping everyone in the loop with a point of reference – people tend to become apathetic when regular news moves from the front page.”

Ushahidi has been praised for providing NGOs, the international community and humanitarian agencies with vital information they can use to help people.

Kobia has also launched a new mashup to promote Kenyan unity called  ihavenotribe. has also been turning to mobile phones to get the news out on the Kenyan crisis. The agency’s reporters use internet-enabled mobile phones with portable keyboards to transmit photos, video and text for reports. All of it is uploaded to the website. Some are calling this the first use of mobile phone journalism in Africa.


  • Pambazuka News Action Alert blog for Kenya updates.
  • Web 2.0 tools that are for free and how to use them: an excellent resource from San Francisco’s  Techsoup.
  • An excellent set of links to Web 2.0 tools and which ones are free, is here:
  • has the latest news and links to get involved in this new internet phenomenon:
  • Programmable Web: This outstanding website links to all active mashups on the web by category and gives real-time reports on progress and lots of links and support to get started.
  • African Web 2.0: 2007 was a busy year for African Web 2.0 sites, as they have grown in number and sophistication. Here you can see an at-a-glance collage of the sites’ logos and links to them:
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