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iHub By Joseph / July 11, 2012

The Mobile Applications Bubble – will it pop?

20 Comments

Kenya is missing the point when it comes to technology.

Kenyans sometimes forget that they are still in a third world country. But for tech developers and those in the tech industry, to forget this is unacceptable.

A Developer at Work

Application developers in the country are getting carried away by mobile applications and losing sight of the big picture. The “mobile revolution” has gained momentum.

Add to this the number of companies setting up shop in Kenya, numerous competitions, hackathons, ICT conferences and bootcamps being held, and you have a flurry of activity, with little to show for it especially since the first fibre cable landed in the country three years ago.

As of February 2012, Kshs14,617,720 ($174,020) has been given out in tech competitions in Africa.

Blogger Erik Hersman (whiteafrican.com) got it right on a blog post he wrote 2 years ago titled: A Rising Tide: Africa’s Tech Entrepreneurs. The post provided some insight into the then burgeoning mobile development eco-system. His call to technologists then was:

“… build for what people need, not for what tech pundits in the West and upper class Africans idealize about.”

Erik’s argument was that the digital landscape is wide and there are many opportunities for entrepreneurs to use technology to build what people need.

It seems that developers in Kenya missed this point.

As a developing country we lack basic utilities and face inefficiencies: traffic jams, high urban population in poorly planned cities, ineptitudes in government, frequent blackouts and insecurity.

It is okay to build apps to help one find the nearest restaurant and the like, but who is building large-scale systems that can help solve our major problems?

Can we build a system that allows the ministry of urban planning and housing to visualize the current state of urban cities and let them plan and simulate how the city will grow in coming years, allowing them to plan accordingly?

Who is building systems that allow our police officers to be where they are needed and in time? Can we build a system that allows detectives to map crime zones and adjust their strategies accordingly? Can we build for them a system that profiles criminals including where they’re likely to attack and help them plan busts?

Why? Because the eco-system within which the potential of technology can be utilized to solve large-scale problems is full of opportunities and apps are only a part of it. Harnessed effectively technology, which is cross-cutting, can be the driving force through which African countries can solve their problems.

Technology is crosscutting and if the full potential is demanded of it problems that Kenyans have long complained about, can be solved. With a government that understands this potential, a lot can be achieved.

Rwanda’s Case

Take the example of Rwanda: – a small country in the middle of the African continent with a population of only 10 million people and a dark history.  Rwanda’s government has recognized the potential that technology has in accelerating its growth and development. It has turned to technology to maximize what little the country has, focusing on its use for mass efficiency. Those who were following Twitter hashtag, #Rwanda2020, might have come across the interesting discussion that was going on between Kenyans and Rwandese on the latter’s progress in ICT.

According to Rwanda’s official government country information site, www.gove.rw/Infrastructure-ICT, the government has invested in developing ICT infrastructure to enable improved service delivery in both public and private sectors. The best example from this is business registration time – it only takes six hours to register your business because the whole process has been digitized.

That is only one example of how ICT can be effectively utilized to drive a country’s growth and spur development by minimizing inefficiencies and maximizes on the scarce resources available for maximum use.

How much more then can a country with more resources, a bigger budget and skilled labour do with what it has?

As a collective technology community, we are not yet thinking big enough. Due to all the Kenyans winning global competitions, Kenyan developers (devs) are beginning to think that they’re actually better than they really are. There are exceptional devs out there, no doubt. What is most needed though is a re-focus of activities to start centering on developing mass systems and applications that solve real needs for real people – citizens and businesses (and governments!).

What would people pay for?

I’d pay not to go to Sheria House or City Hall to apply for things. And there are services I’d pay for, not only for myself, but also for others. – Conrad Akunga.

When you look at innovations on Kickstarter , TechCrunch or Mashable, it dawns on one just how far we have to go as developers to reach a smidgen of the potential that IT is capable of.

Perhaps the winners of the recently concluded Imagination Cup 2012 Africa might have rightly stumbled upon this concept, with WinSenga. WinSenga is a simple device that looks like a traditional Ugandan midwife’s ‘horn’ used to monitor a fetus’s heartbeat that is attached to a smartphone that records the sound.

The potential of this device was obvious to many – it is simple, and solves a real need – better maternal healthcare. Win Senga is fully scalable, and with enough funding the device can achieve this scalability.

Author : Joseph

A USIU trained journalist & an aspiring animator Joseph thrives behind the camera. He is a still photography and videography aficionado. Joe is currently the director/editor behind African Tech Bits, an iHub production that features start ups in the tech scene. This Canonite can mostly be seen at the iHub in the company of his Canon 550D.


20 Comments
  • Huston at 11:17:41AM Wednesday, July 11, 2012

    Well written, and very true. Without a vision, the people (in this case, developers)
    perish.

    Reply
  • mel at 11:35:09AM Wednesday, July 11, 2012

    This is true. And it’s been said before many times in different ways: research a problem and then build an app that fixes it instead of building an app then looking for a context to fit it into.

    Reply
  • jacktheduck at 15:07:52PM Wednesday, July 11, 2012

    I trust that the Internet allows developers to export solutions. I believe this is what most skilled developers in Kenya are or should be doing. Building apps for a confused government and corrupt society is not a very attractive prospect.

    You should look at the entire situational context before passing misinformed judgment on people trying to escape bureaucracy, corruption, crony-ism and nepotism.

    Nevertheless I admire your efforts to champion for local solutions to local problems, perhaps your energies are better spent addressing those who have seen it fit to block all channels to address these problems that you have been so kind to identify.

    Until then expect the status quo to remain put!

    Reply
  • Innovation Africa;The Mobile Applications Bubble – will it pop? at 00:20:41AM Monday, July 16, 2012

    [...] Go to Source /* Tagged developer, ict, kenya, mobile applications [...]

    Reply
  • Joseph Kaizzi at 11:40:41AM Tuesday, July 17, 2012

    Well written article! Its time to Resurrect crimex. WinSenga is indeed a winner!

    Reply
  • Ben Wachira at 22:07:01PM Tuesday, July 17, 2012

    Sometimes developers follow where the money is, and right now the money is in the competitions described above. The reason for this mainly is to get capital easily. This is all good but its not sustainable. It is time as developers we started looking at other options as described in this article.

    Reply
  • kevin ombaso at 15:17:26PM Wednesday, July 18, 2012

    have u guys have any program to bring the program to local unversity colleges

    Reply
  • 88mph to Invest $200k in Mobile/Web markets | *iHub_ at 13:44:20PM Thursday, July 19, 2012

    [...] The combination of a large market, young population and opportunities within the mobile/web industry makes this accelerator attractive to any tech entrepreneurs who are looking to solve real challenges. [...]

    Reply
  • Steve at 20:02:50PM Thursday, July 19, 2012

    Well written and Well thought of..I believe the biggest problem that we have in Kenya is the sudden emergence of the Cntrl+C and Cntrl+V programmers.People who never take time to think outside their comfort zone..

    Glad you wrote about this..

    Reply
  • Lazro at 21:02:34PM Thursday, July 19, 2012

    We said. Most devs are ‘competition’ oriented. Lets change this n take our country to the next level..

    Reply
  • eric at 06:20:53AM Saturday, July 21, 2012

    You nailed it!.
    As developers we need to create solutions that are creating efficiency, solving a problem and cutting cost.

    Reply
  • iHub Admin at 09:55:30AM Saturday, July 21, 2012

    That’s true Eric.

    Reply
  • Lillian Nduati at 10:00:33AM Saturday, July 21, 2012

    Steve, indeed there is a need to challenge the developers in the country some more.

    Reply
  • Lillian Nduati at 10:02:15AM Saturday, July 21, 2012

    Kevin, while no formal program exists yet, we encourage students to take the initiative to come and get involved with the tech community at iHub, which is a good way of getting practical advice from those already in the industry, as well as get a chance to participate in some of the activities here.

    Reply
  • 88mph to Invest $200k in Mobile/Web markets | InnovationAfrica at 18:30:26PM Saturday, July 21, 2012

    [...] industry makes this accelerator attractive to any tech entrepreneurs who are looking to solve real challenges. “We believe there is an outstanding opportunity for commercial mobile/web companies in this [...]

    Reply
  • Living in Cocoons: Understanding User Centered Research and Design | *iHub_ at 20:48:37PM Sunday, August 5, 2012

    [...] of sitting in our own cocoons within the iHub or in our bedrooms and developing for an imagined need and customer base. So, before you decide to make that next ‘amazing’ app that does wonders, [...]

    Reply
  • Living in Cocoons: Understanding User Centered Research and Design | InnovationAfrica at 00:36:38AM Monday, August 6, 2012

    [...] of sitting in our own cocoons within the iHub or in our bedrooms and developing for an imagined need and customer base. So, before you decide to make that next ‘amazing’ app that does wonders, [...]

    Reply
  • Living in Cocoons: Understanding User Centered Research and Design | Code4Kenya Blog at 09:03:08AM Monday, August 6, 2012

    [...] of sitting in our own cocoons within the iHub or in our bedrooms and developing for an imagined need and customer base. So, before you decide to make that next ‘amazing’ app that does wonders, [...]

    Reply
  • Tech In Kenya – Industry Woes | *iHub_ at 17:49:51PM Thursday, September 6, 2012

    [...] of February 2012, Kshs14,617,720 ($174,020) has been given out in tech competitions in Africa. (Mobile Apps Bubble, Will it Burst, July [...]

    Reply
  • Lessons from the South | DEMO Africa 2012 | *iHub_ at 19:31:17PM Wednesday, October 31, 2012

    [...] that the tech pundits have been having with mobile app developers in East Africa, and with the tech bubble which they feel has stemmed from a perhaps too early baptized ‘Silicon [...]

    Reply

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