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Harry Hare (Kenya) - Mobile Applications Development

From mobile banking, SMS chatting to stock market updates and sharing photos through mobile phones, the catalogue of mobile applications in Africa seems to be growing by the day. Thanks to the mobile phone penetration which has heavily outstripped PC penetration, availability of affordable bandwidth and the demand to do more than voice and text on the mobile phone.

The annual growth rate in mobile subscribers in Africa in 2007 was more than 40%, with more than 80 million new subscribers. Increased mobile penetration boosts economic activity, and recent studies show that increase in mobile penetration can lead to a one to 5% increase in the annual growth rate in a country's GDP.

A new report assessing m-content in Uganda and India by the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation (CTO reveals that the demand for services is not being fully met. The report also shows that, in the future, healthcare and job-related services will top the list of in-demand services in Uganda, while internet over mobile, remittances and m-banking may also be in high demand in the coming years.

This unmet demand and potential in mobile application development space in Africa has been attracting attention of the big boys. In the last year, both Ericcson and Nokia, who are undoubtedly global market leaders, have made significant investments in an effort to tap into this potential.

Ericcson is establishing Innovation Centers in sub-Saharan Africa to develop mobile applications with a special focus on meeting the needs of poor and rural populations. The initiative focuses on solutions in health, education, agriculture and small business development.

The Ericsson Innovation Centers will include three application development hubs, in Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya. At first, the Innovation Center will concentrate on mobile applications, such as m-health that will enable health workers to gather, monitor and share data on things like births, deaths and epidemics, and to use smart mobile decision support tools in their daily work.

Other applications will relate to education, agriculture, business development, finance, government services and the overall improvement of communication capabilities.
Nokia, on the other hand supports the mobile-application labs at Makerere University, Uganda and the University of Nairobi, Kenya. These are the two oldest Universities in the region. The labs allow the universities to attract outsourced work from the corporate sector for mobile-applications development.

Nokia has also been working with startups through their "Innovation Challenge" initiative, where they give guidance and support to innovative applications. Through the initiative, start-up companies with the best applications receive support to further develop their applications to sellable applications. The company has also opened up its OVI store to local applications and developers.

And with other companies such as Google and Microsoft having a big presence in the region and eying a piece of this business, the mobile application space is going to get more interesting and competitive. What is interesting though, is that this has attracted a whole new set of developers, most of whom are straight from the university. Possibly because the Universities were the first to invest in skills development through the mobile development labs.

Harry Hare is a Director at African eDevelopment Resource Centre, a training and consulting firm based in Nairobi, Kenya and the publisher of CIO East Africa.

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