by By MICHAEL OUMA in the Tech section of today’s Nation
The quest by the youth for local content on their mobile phones is driving handset vendors in Kenya into forming partnerships with software developers that will help them devise these applications.
Consumers have been buying phones with foreign applications and features, some of which they are unable to use or are simply irrelevant.
Mobile phone applications (or apps), are software programmes which mobile phone owners can download.
The apps have either a functional use, entertainment or other unique purpose.
Already, mobile phone users are able to download two locally developed applications — “Afro Hot or Not” (developed by Fred Omondi) and “Wazzup!” (developed by Ken Muiruri) — onto their handsets.
The two applications that mainly target the youth are available through Nokia’s Ovi Store, an online display and marketing facility, and Samsung Apps.
“Afro Hot or Not” is an entertainment feature that people use to rate each other based on their looks and also meet new people, while “Wazzup!” provides information on fun events taking place in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Mozambique.
Samsung’s recently unveiled handset — Samsung Wave — also comes fitted with locally developed applications.
The handset, to be marketed exclusively at Safaricom’s 32 retail outlets in the first two months of its launch, has two applications “Mpango” and “Sasa,” developed by a local firm, Verviant Consulting.
The two applications are specifically designed for the Kenyan market, with “Mpango” featuring lists of events with up to date information on movies, theatre and parties, while “Sasa” provides news updates on politics, sports, business, arts, travel and entertainment.
To enhance its collaboration with local developers, Nokia has been hosting events and competitions where promising apps are recognised then displayed and marketed via the firm’s Ovi Store.
Revenue from content and applications sold through Ovi Store is shared between Nokia and the developer, with Nokia retaining 30 per cent of it.
Nokia’s developer competition, dubbed “Calling All Innovators,” has been instrumental in highlighting the efforts and raising profiles of promising mobile applications developers in the region.
This is evident from the fact that “Afro Hot or Not” and “Wazzup!” were entered into the 2009 edition of the competition and emerged in the 20 top positions.
Nokia has also launched the Ovi Application Wizard, a free online application to help online publishers, bloggers and consumers in East Africa to rapidly mobilise their content or brand on a mobile phone.
“No programming skills are required to use this tool; we have made it easy to use for everyone. Applications created using Ovi App Wizard will appear on Ovi Store within 24 hours,” said Dorothy Ooko, Nokia’s communications manager for East and Southern Africa. “This move is set to offer a fresh impetus to the software development sector in East Africa and we encourage everyone to make use of it.”
The new tool is attracting interest from developers who want to utilise it to create mobile applications.
A new application “Collepoa” by Ken Macharia and which aims at addressing the needs of university and college students in Kenya, has been created using Ovi App Wizard.
“The Ovi App wizard has the potential to spawn a completely new industry of third-party applications for even those with no programming skills, a positive trend that may place East Africa as a region at vanguard of technological innovation,” said Ms Ooko, adding that by supporting application developers, the firm aims at building a local development community in the region.
Nokia has also scheduled a developers’ boot camp for this month, that targets institutions of higher learning .
Samsung too plans to host a “local developers day,” where local applications can be showcased.
“On this day we will sit down with applications developers and agree on what they need in order to drive innovations. We have already sent out 40 applications to developers to attend the event,” said Robert Ngeru, the deputy managing director, Samsung Electronics, Nairobi office.
Network operators and handset vendors will also attend the event.