SA’s mobile operators are piling into app game, starting with Vodacom

By Sipho Hlongwane 2 September 2011

In a move that hardly surprised anybody, Vodacom announced that its application store will be launching on 1 September. MTN’s one is “coming soon”. Local app stores were always going to follow in the wake of iTunes and Android’s marketplace. By SIPHO HLONGWANE.

You can’t say that we never told you that this was going to happen.

This is the fault of Steve Jobs.  He started it, with his app stores. It gave people the idea that consuming web content in the safety of Apple’s curatorship and protection was better than doing it old-school, where you were on your own out there. The idea caught on. Google launched an app store for their Android devices, Nokia has one too, and so does Blackberry.

Vodacom is taking a slightly different approach to app stores. The mobile operator’s store, to be launched on 1 September, will work across devices. The apps will be focused on cellphones, obviously.

“The launch of this app store is just the beginning. We’re building an entire community that will supply home-grown apps relevant to the South African environment,” said a statement by Pieter Uys, Vodacom’s CEO. “With all the talent available in this country there’s no reason we can’t create our own application industry. The great part about this store is that it caters for so many users – in fact, more than 10 million cellphones on our network can run at least Java apps.”

Vodacom said that they would be opening up the store to developers to write their own apps. The company said that it would be setting up a programme to train and support app developers. “The Vodacom Developer Programme would provide the developer community with technical and commercial support, including training, workshops and innovation incentives over the coming months,” Vodacom said. “This would further stimulate the local development of apps by allowing developers to upload their own developed applications and generate revenue from this.”

Mobile operating systems that will be supported by Vodacom’s app store include Android, Blackberry, Java, Symbian and Windows Mobile. Vodacom’s app store will be powered by Appia, an open source marketplace.

What this immediately shows is that Vodacom is opening up a space for developers to build apps for whichever operating system they prefer, as programming a single app to work across all these platforms is out of the question. It is like a grocery store, where Vodacom will allow developers to fill the shelves with wares for different devices.

Vodacom’s corporate affairs chief officer Portia Maurice said that Vodacom would be pushing forward locally relevant apps in their store. “We also understand the issues of noise and clutter local developers face in distributing their Apps through other stores, for this reason Vodacom will dedicate promotional space to locally relevant Apps,” she said.

Vodacom would generate revenues through data and revenue sales (normal data rates apply when downloading applications – even the free ones), and the company also has a deal with Appia to share in revenue from app sales. Maurice declined to say how much Vodacom expected to make from this product, and also declined to say how much it had cost the company to build.

There will be policing of apps. “There will be spot testing procedures as well as full testing of all content to manage the quality of Apps supplied,” Maurice said. According to information posted on Vodacom’s website, more information for developers will become available on the site from 1 September (where pressing questions such as whether they’ll allow porn apps will hopefully be answered).

What Vodacom is bringing to the table is its hoards of smartphone and Java-enabled-phone users. It is letting Appia act as the actual marketplace, where they collect the revenues, and distribute the funds to Vodacom and developers as per the respective agreements.
MTN also announced that they were soon to launch their own app store (within six months). “The MTN App Store, which is currently in the works, is shaping up to be the largest in the two regions with ‘killer applications’ that speak to the needs and aspirations of users in MTN’s 21 markets across Africa and the Middle East,” it said in a statement.

App stores that belong to the likes of Apple and Google’s Android will probably win this round for consumer technology dominance simply because they have more financial clout behind them, have a massive head start on everyone else and cater for mobile devices, tablets and PCs. Vodacom and MTN aren’t wrong to focus on cellphones – this is Africa’s most omnipresent piece of consumer electronics. But they are entering a very crowded market, and one which will get even more crowded if the trend continues as it is.

Those app stores that will eventually succeed will do so because they will be better than everyone else. In this stage where app stores are multiplying, and afterwards when the crap ones fall away leaving the giants to fill up the space, the consumer wins. DM

Read more:

  • Vodacom Apps launched in iAfrica.

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