/// Africa’s apps: farming to gaming
While M-Pesa is the dominant form of mobile money in east Africa, accounting for 80% of global mobile transactions, the new PesaPal offers more features and payment options. It uses mobile phones to buy and sell goods, printable receipts, a payment history and email or text notifications when payments are due.
Arguably the most famous African app, along with M-Pesa, this app uses mobiles and texts to gather and distribute information. It was built to report violence during the disputed 2008 Kenyan elections. Ushahidi means “witness” in Swahili. Using Google Maps and SMS, the app presented a map of violence hotspots. It has since been used in other real-time situations, such as the recent Haiti earthquake.
With more than 840,000 downloads in 200 countries since its launch in August 2011, this is Kenya’s answer to Angry Birds. The game is based on driving a Matatu minibus on Kenya’s chaotic roads It won the highly regarded Pivot East launchpad competition for East African mobile startups earlier this year.
Small-scale farmers can use this to monitor the gestation periods of dairy cows, and likely birth dates of calves. The app, which runs on basic-feature phones, collects and stores milking and breeding records, sends farmers best-practice advice and the location of the nearest vets. The service calls itself “the world’s first mobile phone cow calendar”.
Africa can be a dumping ground for counterfeit pharmaceuticals, which often arrive with genuine-looking labels and even holograms. The app uses short text codes to verify the legitimacy of medicines, and checks for expiry dates.
This provides information relevant to farmers, including management practices tailored to particular locations and the crops grown. Farmerline.org can also get the food prices for nearby markets, thus reducing farmers’ travelling.
An instant messaging app that lets users chat for free. At one point, given its 20 million registered users, it was thought more popular than Facebook in Nigeria, where the bulk of 2go users live. The site lets people put up profiles of themselves, chat with friends, meet others, and share pictures. The Java-based app uses small amounts of data, so keeps costs down.
Calling itself the largest social network in Africa, Mxit has about 44 million registered and 10 million “highly active” users. Based in Stellenbosch, South Africa, it is a vast messaging app that works on feature phones. It costs pennies to send messages. Unlike most advertising funded apps Mxit charges its users for content, from which it makes 70% of its income. It is particularly popular in South Africa but is widely used across the continent.
Recently sold to Mxit, Motribe was the first app launched under the Silicon Cape initiative in Cape Town. Motribe’s software creates mobile communities using a simple drag-and-drop layout. Used by Guinness in Nigeria, it lets mini-social media networks communicate with each other. Two of Motribe’s own apps on Mxit – an Instragram-like photo-sharing service called MxPix, and the rate-and-date app JudgeMe – both garnered more than a million followers each in under 40 days.
The brainchild of Ken Banks, a Briton, this is open-source software that allows grassroots organisations to send and receive information among people who do not have internet access. It has its headquarters in Nairobi and was first used by conservationists in the Kruger national park. It has since been adopted by NGOs and community radio stations. Frontlinesms has a number of spinoff projects providing educational, medical and legal advice.