Entry of mobile advertising companies into Africa's application developer market, affordable bandwidth and investments by Google and Nokia have spurred application development in sub-Saharan Africa.
Google is involved in several developer-oriented events such as mapping parties and code jams, which involve competitions for student coders. On its part, Nokia has invested in training developers and popularizing its Ovi store. Meanwhile, InMobi's entry into the market with its mobile advertising network has presented new revenue options for developers.
"African Mobile app developers have been drawn to the app stores because of the revenue share model; developers receive 70 percent of all transactions for paid-for apps," said Dadiaus Misiani, VAS manager at Kenyaweb.com, and also gets over $6,000 per month in revenue from apps.
Two weeks ago, developers from Eastern Africa met in Nairobi, presenting their applications to panels of possible investors in an event dubbed "Pivot 25," with most apps geared towards solving local challenges. Most of the apps were optimized for mobile phones, which is in line with the high level of mobile penetration in the continent.
Most of the more successful developers from Pivot 25 had engaged with Nokia at one point or another. Nokia is also the technology partner for the recently launched East Africa Mobile Labs, a partnership between World Bank, Finland government and Nokia.
"For Nokia, it has been a consistent campaign to encourage developers to have locally, relevant applications on Nokia's Ovi Store," said Agatha Gikunda, head of solution sales, East and Southern Africa. "For example, in April 2010 there were only two Kenyan local apps on the store and now we have over 200 local apps with two apps (AroundMe and Gari) passing the over 100,000 download threshold; there we only had two local developers working with us and now we have 70 developers."
For many developers, revenue generation is a major problem, given that only South Africa has operator billing, in other countries, developers have had to depend on in-app advertising because purchases have not caught on in local markets. Developers have been forced to design apps for various markets.
"I have developed mobile apps with an open architecture that can accommodate different revenue models including pay per download and in-app advertising," added Misiani.
Distribution and monetization are key challenges for developers in Africa but InMobi has been holding events with developers in East and Southern Africa to popularize its mobile advertising network.
"As a global mobile ad network, InMobi integrates with mobisites and mobile apps enabling the developers to monetize their mobile content easily; we have several partners across Africa and we would be interested in exploring new ways to promote African apps (and mobisites) on our network," said Isis Nyong'o, InMobi vice president for Africa.
There are hurdles to overcome however. For example, while revenue sharing for app stores is defined, developers face challenges in understanding in-app advertising where revenue is generated from traffic, a topic that has dominated InMobi's sessions with developers.