Mobile App Report Shows African Market Challenges, Opportunities

Mobile Phone User in Nigeria

For mobile app developers working or selling in sub-Saharan Africa, a new report from Internet Society (ISOC) chief economist Michael Kende illustrates some of the challenges and opportunities in those markets—and provides an excellent survey of how developers can monetize their apps beyond the traditional paid app model.

Kende’s report, “The Mobile App Divide,” looks at whether African end users can download—and whether app developers in African countries can upload—all apps, only free apps or no apps through the Google Play app store. The survey results offer a mixed picture.

Of 49 countries surveyed, only in Nigeria can users both upload and download all apps, while users in 23 countries have no upload or download access. In 22 countries, including South Africa, any app can be downloaded, but only free apps can be uploaded. The others permit varying levels of uploads or downloads only.

As for how developers can monetize their apps, Kende suggests six alternate ways:

  • Freemium. Allowing a free download with optional in-app purchases accounts for 98 percent of all Google Play store revenue, Kende says, although he notes this model is generally unavailable to developers in places where paid apps are unavailable.
  • Alternative app stores. Venues such as the open source SlideMe platform permit developers to sell worldwide and to accept a variety of payment options.
  • Mobile payments. Though not currently available, Kende suggests telecommunications companies could open a new app marketplace allowing the use of mobile payments, particularly in Africa, which Kende says is at the mobile-payment cutting edge with systems such as Kenya’s M-PESA.
  • Mobile operator distribution. Developers can offer their apps to local telecommunications companies for a flat fee to allow unlimited downloads to users. This may be especially useful for local content or material in local languages.
  • App ads. Kende says this is a small but growing opportunity, although it may be limited by the reach of apps that are not targeted to the global market.
  • Brand partnerships. Rather than ads that can disrupt the experience of using an app, developers can partner with well-known brands to incorporate branded content more naturally into the app experience.