Africa? There’s an app for that

August 2012

This is a guest post by Vanessa Barnett of City law firm Charles Russell, a leading technology and media lawyer with a focus on internet and mobile business. She blogs and tweets @vanessabarnett.

In June this year Apple CEO Tim Cook shared with the waiting crowd at itsWorldwide Development Conference that Apple would be giving access to the App Store to 32 new countries, bringing the total to 152. Tim Cook also shared some impressive statistics: the App Store now has 400 million accounts; there are 650,000 apps available for download; there have been 30 billion app downloads and more than $5 billion (£3.2 billion) has been paid to developers

Of those 32 new countries there are a number in Africa, ranging from countries like Chad with millions of potential app users to remote São Tomé and Príncipe, with just thousands.

What does this mean for Africa?
This is great news for Africa. Over the last ten years there has been an explosive growth in Africa of mobile devices — much more so than traditional computer based technology which requires a lot of “in the ground” infrastructure. In fact, Africa has very little in the way of legacy infrastructure.

UN Report in 2009 showed African mobile phone take-up rose by 550 percent in five years with a reach across commerce, healthcare and social lives. Between 2003 and 2008 mobile subscriptions in Africa went up from 54 million to just under 350 million — at the time, the quickest growth in the world.

Now imagine all those people who are hungry for communication and information have apps. Imagine what could be unlocked with the power of iOS.

In the film Field of Dreams Kevin Costner’s character hears voices while out walking in his corn field saying “if you build it they will come” — and the rest is baseball cinematic history. Well, the same is true of the App Store. If Apple releases it, the developers will come: there will be an unlocking of grass roots development talent all across Africa. Africans are hungry for technology. Developers will be able to develop for local needs, local cultures and with that will come an economic boost.

What will be interesting to see will be the balance between downloads of big-hitting current apps and newly-developed local apps. It is likely that there will be more “hard” apps being developed — around agriculture, micropayments and education — than “soft” apps of the flinging birds through the air variety.

What is Apple’s strategy likely to be, and will it work in Africa?
Apple’s strategy will be as aggressive in Africa as elsewhere — it will deploy those very slick above-the-line campaigns which will work very very well. The biggest challenge for Apple’s strategy will be how to localise its messages in that context — Africa is a more diverse continent than perhaps any other in which it has already been successful.

Apple is taking steps which show it means business too, in particular by appointing more official resellers for its mobile devices in Africa in July and August. Apple has also shown itself to be conscious of the cost of its mobile devices and is investigating hire purchase structures through its African distributors.

What does it represent for Apple?
Apple’s steps into Africa show confidence. That confidence is well placed, given Apple’s net profit for its last reported quarter was over $8 billion (£5.1 billion).

Apple’s business model is solid — of all the players in the market, it is the most integrated into modern life. Just look at how many people not only use Apple products at home but have also switched from Blackberries to iPhones and iPads in the workplace. What this African expansion represents for Apple is the opportunity to harness significant revenue as African emerging markets flourish.

Image: Shutterstock