Why Ugandan Mobile Apps are still struggling to gain the local market

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Every 15 years or so, there’s a new wave of advancement that sweeps the Technology scene. We have morphed from Mainframe computers to Personal computers to PCs with user-friendly Graphical User interfaces (GUI) to the web or the Internet and the Cloud. The current age of computing is no doubt Mobile.

Smartphones are everywhere and we use them to do all kinds of things. In Africa especially, Mobile serves as the entry-point to the world of computing and the Internet which powers all aspects of our lives such e-Commerce, Finance, Agriculture, Governance, Media etc. The recent blockage of messaging services by the Ugandan Government during election time and the subsequent work-around that ensued serves as a reminder of how integral Mobile Apps have become in our daily lives.

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But the thing is Ugandans are mostly using Apps from global players. Home-grown Apps continue to struggle capturing mostly their own local markets as overseas Apps effortlessly gain acceptance of the masses. And this is a sad reality.

Onyait has curate a comprehensive list of Mobile Apps in Uganda. By Apps in Uganda, he looked at Apps developed or owned by  individuals and companies who have business or physical presence in Uganda. That means that an App might not necessarily have been developed in Uganda or by Ugandans but is owned by a company operating in Uganda.

The state of mobile in Uganda is still appealing, but I would understand. Mobile is harder to crack than Web. There are number of reasons why our mobile apps keep hustling.

Distribution Channels

Just pushing an App on the Google Playstore doesn’t guarantee that lots of people will rush to download it. Nobody will know about the App unless you use growth hack tactics like viral marketing, SEO, among others. Even big guns like MTN which provides data through which we all download and use Apps has a mere 10k downloads for its App out of a user base of say 1M data/smartphone customers!!

We need to create home grown distribution channels that should compliment on existent ones. Dignited’s curation of the most prominent apps for instance is a positive step. The Telecoms could also create and promote their mirrors of Apps stores that their subscribers can access even for FREE. Forget this whole net neutrality business.

App Relevance

The second reason is relevance. We are not developing Apps that are relevant to our audience. If they are relevant, there are already hundreds of such Apps developed by the global players. For instance a messaging App or even say a VPN app would be highly relevant in Uganda especially following recent events of govt censorship. However, WhatsApp, Telegram, Twitter have already developed rock-solid messaging Apps that will send your App to the sidelines.

A good example of a locally relevant app is Matatu game. I play the old school cards with family and friends, but when am caught up in a crazy jam and I’ve my phone to stare at, the digital version of Matatu comes in handy. Forget solitaire, never really enjoyed it much. If App developers follow the Matatu model, we stand high chances of Ugandans installing local apps on their devices.

Design and User experience

Thirdly is design – UI/UX – of Apps. Our Apps frankly look and work poorly. Nobody is going to download and use your crappy-looking App especially when there are hundreds of shiny alternatives. Apart from Matatu, Fezah, MyMTN app, Hellofood, Nutshell and a few more, 95% of the apps won’t pass the UI/UX test and that’s because it requires serious specialised skill (which calls for a need to have $$$) to pull off some really great Apps.

Outbox hub has been organising some UI/UX sessions for devs. We need more hackathons, workshops, code jams concentrating specifically on user-centered design so that we can develop apps that give great experiences to end users.

Monetisation

Lastly is Monetisation. How do you make money with Apps? This is the big elephant in the room. There’s still no proven model to make money with Apps in Uganda unless you’re paid by a client to develop one on their behalf. Even if you did, Google for whatever reason doesn’t provide a way of developers in emerging markets to receive money from their Apps. You have to be a registered company in the US to earn from your App. This is simply crazy. So who in their right mind, with bills to pay will burn the midnight oil only to be told you can’t make money from your sleepless nights!

Africa has been fronted as a mobile-first continent. Unfortunately, only a few players such as the Telecoms and Silicon Valley big shots are benefitting from this craze. The big guns aren’t thinking wholestically and as a result those at the end of the food chain (devs and users) suffer. Until we re-think our approach to mobile in emerging markets, we won’t experience the full potential of this digital economy.