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The Mobile Economy in Africa – Talking Apps with Matthew Dawes

By Tefo Mohapi

The number one method that most of us in Africa access the internet is by using a mobile phone. Thus mobile phones and mobile internet present great economic opportunities to phone vendors and application developers alike.

Tefo Mohapi: Given that Symbian (Nokia) holds a large chunk of the mobile Operating System (OS) market share in Africa. What does Nokia’s move to Microsoft Windows Mobile mean for the African Mobile Economy?

Matthew Dawes: There’s been so much confusion around Nokia’s OS that I don’t think it will have a dramatic effect, it’s just another ecosystem to take into account for Developers, Nokia have a big market share for mobile phones on the continent, but they have suffered recently and there are a lot of different alternatives entering very cost sensitive markets across the continent.

TM: Given that the Nokia mobile application store ranks way below Apple and Android in terms of number of Apps, and taking into consideration their market share, could this signal a lost opportunity for Nokia when they move to Microsoft Windows Mobile (MS WM)? Considering it (MS WM) ranks way below the above in terms of mobile Apps?

MD: Yes probably, but it’s easy to forget that at Nokia’s core they are a hardware company and they are in an extremely innovative and fast moving industry.  They have suffered in the mobile Apps opportunity on a global basis, whether that can also be applied to Africa I’m not too sure.  What’s the success of projects like Nokia Life Tools, which was for feature phones?  What about the work they have been doing for years with start-up laboratories and NGO’s (Non-Governmental Organisations)?  So yes a missed opportunity, especially with the explosion of Android, but not exactly the sound of the death knell – the development of the mobile phone in Africa isn’t completely dictated by mobile Apps, far from it.

TM: Therefore, are the criteria for choosing a mobile platform – to develop mobile Apps for – in Africa different (or should they be different) considering that more affordable mobile phones will have higher market penetration irrespective of OS or manufacturer?

MD: The criteria for choosing a platform is definitely different in Africa, not a lot of point creating Apps for an iPhone is there?  The rise of Android really does need to have attention paid to it, especially with the effect that companies like Huawei are having with their cheaper Smart Phones, take Kenya for example.  I think there are different considerations as well – namely what sort of App that you’re producing – who is it targeted for?

TM: What does all this mean for BlackBerry whose main selling point in Africa has been the affordability of the BlackBerry Internet Service (BIS)?

MD: Personally I think BlackBerry has a good position in the smartphone market, they’ve got almost half the Smart Phone market in South Africa, so for example, if you want to develop an app in South Africa it’s not a bad OS to target.  They will come under increasing pressure from the different competitors but having 2 million users in South Africa isn’t too bad, especially when you consider the demographics that they target.

TM: Top Apps across the board (Paid & Free) seem to be mainly social media, communications and information / news apps. Does this present an untapped market as far as businesses are concerned? I.e. business centric Apps?

MD: From the people who have entered Apps into the competitions we run at our events I wouldn’t say that there is one specific untapped market for apps – developers are producing apps across the board.  The whole thing is one big opportunity, but you just need to take into account different elements in your decision making process around the type of app and the OS or OSs that you are going to target.  If I was going to develop an App relevant to Kenya I’d probably go for Android as Huawei have a strong market share there, however, if that App was business centric then I’d consider going for BlackBerry.  In the end it’s about producing a high quality product and making sure that it gets discovered by consumers.  If you create a good, relevant app but no one knows about it then you’re not going to succeed.  It might be better to think of it as ‘I’m going to produce a service/content and I want to make it available on all OS and also make it available through on the mobile web.’  Cover as many of your bases as possible.

Matthew Dawes is the Managing Director at All Amber Ltd, a company that produces interactive, discussion-based events specifically aimed at high-level strategists in mobile technology across Africa.  To date, All Amber events are industry leading and highly acclaimed. The events provide abundant networking opportunities, which have been proven to lead to growing business and new partnerships. One such event is “Mobile Web Africa”. Follow them on Twitter:


Post Author: Tefo Mohapi

Entrepreneur | Business Analyst | Technology Journalist Passionate about Technology and Africa. Analytical, Articulate and Meticulous Analyst of Information Systems and Business Processes. For more visit

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