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Thursday, May 20, 2010

In Africa an app is not yet an 'app'...

On our recent travels in Africa – with fieldwork taking us to both South Africa and Nigeria in the last couple of months - I’ve been struck by how much young people are using the Internet on their phone to download content: from web browsers like Opera, to IM clients like MSN or eBuddy to just plain ol’ music and movies And what’s really interesting is that they’re doing this on handsets that in the hands of UK consumers probably never really made it past their network’s WAP portal For many of these guys, the lack of easily available reliable web access has made the mobile their primary access point for the net, giving them the impetus to really try to maximise it’s potential So a lot of the young guys and girls that we talked to are making quite heavy use of ‘apps’ on their mobiles – but accessing them directly from the Internet, from distributed sites – in a very different way to the new ‘closed’ systems that we are getting used to in the West. But in the absence of any brand really stepping in and talking about this phenomenon, like Apple has done throughout Europe and the US, there isn’t really yet the vocabulary to pull these different programs together. The term ‘app’ hasn’t caught on and users talk about individual pieces of software as if they were all very distinct. All of which goes to highlight what a clever job Apple has done in the West – by facilitating the delivery of software and pulling it together under an easy to understand ‘catch-all’ they’ve managed to both popularise and stake claim to the whole ‘category’. In Africa on the other hand – where Apple has nowhere near the same share of mind that it does over here - there are still opportunities for someone to step in to ‘name & claim’ the app market. You might wonder whether this would actually be possible - or desirable - given that consumers see the 'apps' as distinct and a range of players clearly already offer them. But hearing other concerns over mobile viruses (again, barely heard of in the West), there is perhaps an opportunity for other mobile brands to pull together and ‘certify’ the software that is already out there under a trusted name, guaranteed virus-free. In doing so there is a chance to not only claim the app market but also gain points as an innovator, before someone else steps in to do it