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iHub By Joseph / June 1, 2014

Sms and USSD VS Native Applications


By Kelvin Mbugua

Is going for sms based solutions opposed to using native apps offering half backed “convenient solutions” good for us? How sustainable is it? Should we continue with things the way they are or try our hand in disruptive innovation as the tech community in Kenya. We have had fun with sms and ussd I think that it is time to move on to better things and that is native mobile applications. Sms seems to be supported by the fact that it can be used across the board by each and every mobile phone available in the market today hence making it accessible to the millions of Kenyans who own a phone. However the sms and ussd applications have limited functionalities for instance one can’t share images using this platforms, which is really important when it comes to communication. Another argument is that smart phones are costly, but my question is the difference really worth it? There are smart phones in the market that go for as low as 5000 shillings while buying a new non smartphone will cost 2000 shillings not much of a difference compared to the quality of solutions you offer. However I do recognize that smart phones in this price category may not offer a smooth experience in terms of screen clarity & cpu speeds, but that doesn’t change the fact that users can still send & receive multimedia content.


I would like to look at this from two perspectives the producer who is the the developer and the consumers who are the clients. To the developer developing for ussd and sms is way simpler than developing for the native applications however other logistics are at play for instance you have to get in touch with the service providers, get a code and many other obligations you have to meet, while with native applications all you need to do is develope and put it up on the various stores. Another aspect is the cost implications, to the developer it is much cheaper to develop for sms and ussd than it is for native applications, however set up costs when it comes to sms and ussd are higher than when developing for most native applications. Revenue is another factor with sms and ussd there are methods with which one can collect revenue however with this methods one has to share the revenue with the government, service providers and other third parties. As much as there is no revenue collection method yet for native applications apart from the ads it is a potential gold mine that we in the tech community should strive and try to crack it. To the client side a smart phone is better for me as a user in that it has more content and it can accommodate many applications. At the end of the day people will switch to smart phones just as they switched from landlines and i think it is our duty as the tech community to fast track that change.

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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.

  • gilo at 11:35:17AM Monday, June 2, 2014

    Nice article. The biggest consideration, as I see it, is the target market segment. If your solution is targeted to the urbaner, young, either working or student, etc then a solution in the form of an app is suitable. While if the target is slightly older age bracket or rural-resident, BoP.. etc then an sms or ussd will work best. Eg is OLX seems to target urbaners as the early adopters hence built an app while iCow targeted rural farmers hence did a USSD platform.

  • Ted Rheingold at 21:22:21PM Monday, June 2, 2014

    Great Post. We at InVenture have decided to commit 100% to Android in Kenya (vs our previous SMS) product even though we still use and develop our SMS products for other countries like India. We use M-Pesa for payments instead of trying to do anything directly through the app.

    I strongly consider anyone building an app now for the Kenya market to not try and monetize from advertising, but rather focus on providing a service people are willing to pay for.

  • Neville at 00:35:21AM Tuesday, June 3, 2014

    You are a hard hitter and that I admire , but as far as the issue of SMS & USSD vs Native Applications go, ure kinda walking in uncharted waters. One thing we all know for sure is that the percentage of people who own smartphones is significantly smaller than that of people who do, and that generally , since u are working with a broad spectrum of processing technologies if u considered creating an app it would take time and alot of manpower, also in check is the fact that smart phone tech is doubling in perfomance after significantly short periods of time.
    When u look at the number of people with sms and USSD capability u pretty much have covered the whole ground.


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