The mobile apps business in Africa is laden with huge potentials.

Did you know the global mobile app market is now worth nearly $25 billion but Africa has almost no share of this mouthwatering cake.

Although, our continent is the world’s biggest and fastest growing mobile telephone market after China, we have barely explored the goldmine of apps that are possible on our simple and smart phones.

There is a huge and untapped market for apps ‘made in Africa for Africa and the world’ and almost no one is doing anything about it. Let’s explore the possibilities in this market and how you can become part of it…

A little bit of background…

The 1980s was the era of Personal Computers (PCs) that forever changed the landscape of the global computer industry. The Internet revolution of the 1990s and 2000s totally changed the way we interact with one another and made a lot of young millionaires around the world.

The mobile revolution, which is currently in progress, is likely to outdo the last two revolutions.

The growing demand for smartphones and tablet computers around the world is firing this mobile revolution. In 2012 alone, up to a billion Smartphones were sold around the world and the figure is expected to rise far into this decade.

This increasing number of smartphones has opened a huge door of opportunity for Mobile Apps (short for ‘Mobile applications’). These are computer programs (tools) that are made for mobile devices such as Smartphones and tablet computers (iPad, Kindle, GalaxyTab etc).

More than 40 billion (yes billion!) mobile apps are downloaded and used across the world every year. That’s more than 100 million downloads every day!

The appeal of Mobile apps is in the diversity of their use. Literally, there are pretty much apps for everything you can think of. There are lots of apps for games, information services, news, social networking, chatting and even restaurant and airline bookings.

Apple, Google’s Android (Google), Blackberry a race to build healthy ecosystems that encourage developers to make apps that users will find interesting and useful on their products. So far, Google’s Android holds the lead in this ever competitive race with more than 60 percent of mobile apps downloaded every day.

Nigeria, the most populous African nation has the highest Smartphone penetration rate in Africa (about 41 percent), and is closely followed by South Africa, Kenya and Ghana.

However, since the mobile apps market started to gain prominence in 2008, Africa has remained an under-performer in mobile apps development.

How this 15-year old schoolboy built a simple mobile app and sold it to Yahoo! for £30 million

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Photo credit: telegraph.co.uk

While studying for school exams, Nick D’Aloisio, a 15-year old British boy noticed a problem that would eventually lead to a brilliant idea.

He noticed he was always overloaded with information whenever he searched for simple things online. What if there was a way to get only summaries instead of reading full-length articles? ‘That would be great,’ he thought to himself. So, he set off to do something about it.

Summly is the solution he eventually found to fix this problem. Summly is a mobile app that summarises website content into 400 character previews. It’s longer than a tweet but shorter than a full article.

This way, internet users are able to sort through tens and hundreds of article summaries while choosing to read full versions of only those articles that really appeal to them. Summly has been downloaded more than one million times%than one million times and attracted several early investors including Li Ka-Shing, the world’s 11th richest man (2012).

Nick (now 17 years old) has just sold Summly to Yahoo! the search giant for a rumoured £30 million.

All he had was the determination to fix a problem and a mobile app emerged as the best platform to achieve this. Why, you ask? Mobile apps spread fast, they’re easy to build and you don’t even have to be a programmer to pull this off like Nick.

By the time you’re done reading this article you’ll be armed with the knowledge you need to do the same! You may not fetch £30 million, but you’ll surely surprise yourself!

M-Kazi – How a simple phone app is already solving a common but serious problem in East Africa.

Unemployment is one of Africa’s biggest issues. Businesses and employers are looking for good and suitably qualified people to hire. Many of Africa’s young people are also looking for job vacancies that can afford them the opportunity to earn a decent income.

In this disorderly market where job givers and seekers find it increasingly difficult to meet themselves, a couple of young African entrepreneurs saw a unique opportunity to cash in.

M-Kazi (Kazi is Swahili for ‘job’) is a Kenyan mobile recruitment service that allows job seekers to find the right job opportunities, and helps employers to target the right talents.

This text-based (SMS) information service, which can be used on very basic mobile phones (that have no internet capability), provides job vacancy information to job hunters and allows them to submit an elementary version of their Curriculum Vitae (CV) via text message.

This simple mobile application made it very cheap for employers to find the right people in a very cheap and convenient way. It saved all the time, cost and effort usually spent hiring recruitment agencies or placing vacancy adverts in newspapers or magazines.

Above all, because the app can be used on very basic phones (which are very popular in Africa), more people find it very easy to use.

M-Kazi has been attracting a lot of interest from foreign investors; the most significant of which has been the investment by Jerome Kisting, a Canadian angel investor.

The seed round which closed in late 2012 is believed to have raised thousands of dollars for the new venture.

M-Kazi is proof of the thousands of opportunities to solve common everyday problems with simple mobile apps. Apart from unemployment, there’s hunger, poverty, health, agriculture and many more problems that are not too far to find in many parts of Africa. These problems require solutions, and mobile apps are a great start!

Having examined these few successes, let’s now take a closer look at the opportunities in the African market for mobile apps and how you can take advantage of this early market.

Market Opportunities for developing Mobile Apps in Africa

The most interesting thing about getting into the Mobile apps development business is that entrepreneurs need no programming experience or huge capital to develop and sell apps.

There are dozens of free and inexpensive tools available on the internet that can guide you through the mobile apps development process without writing any line of code. There are several accounts of very successful mobile apps that were developed in weeks (even days)!

Another interesting aspect of the mobile apps opportunity is the access it provides to a wide global market. An app developed in Africa can be successfully distributed across the globe and can favourably compete with apps from other continents. All that matters is that the app is appealing, valuable and useful to the final users.

More interesting is the relatively low barriers to enter this vast global market. There are no ‘big players’ or geographical, educational, gender or age barriers to take part in the vast mobile apps marketplace. Anyone can become a success in this venture – anyone!

There are thousands of innovative mobile app developers around the world who have released very successful apps on the global market from their college dormitories and garages. Africans have been missing out of this party. It’s time to take a huge bite out of the rapidly expanding mobile apps cake!

The global mobile apps market is still very young and only starting to pick up. There is tremendous room for early African starters to take advantage of the largely undeveloped mobile apps market in Africa. Aspiring African mobile app developers need to focus on ‘Afro-centric’ apps and content that are unique to the culture, tastes and uniqueness of our continent.

There is no doubt that mobile devices and apps will have a huge influence on the way we live, interact and do business in the near future.

How to successfully build and make money from mobile apps in Africa

Now, to the 1-million-dollar question: how can an entrepreneur successfully build and make money from mobile apps?

(1) How to build mobile apps

There are essentially two ways to build a mobile app; you can build it yourself, or get a professional to do it for you. The option you choose depends a whole lot on your situation and expectations.

If you would like to build apps yourself, there couldn’t have been a better time to start. There are some great tools out there that allow you to build an app by yourself without knowing how to write any computer code!

One of our favourites in this regard is Buzztouch. This FREE online resource allows people who know absolutely nothing about building mobile apps to start from scratch to successful launch. It has a good tutorial course that helps you learn fast. It’s certainly a good place to start if you want to build an app yourself.

According to Buzztouch, “All you need to get started is some enthusiasm, a little patience, and a genuine interest in making something great.”

Another great option to building mobile apps is to use professional developers who do this for a living. Outsourcing mobile app development allows you to focus on other business, avoids simple mistakes that come with inexperience and allows you to produce more apps in a very short time!

Some of the professionals you will hire are likely to have built hundreds of apps and know all the pitfalls and challenges. All you need to do is provide them with the idea behind your mobile app and these guys can help you bring it to life. While this sounds easy, choosing the right people to work with here is very very essential.

You need to hire people who can do a great job at a price you can afford.

The authors, Quoc Bul & Michael Moon, are two young entrepreneurs who have used the power of outsourcing through Elance.com to start multiple iPhone App companies including Free the Apps, Hipposoft, and Pici Apps all in the span of a year and a half!

(2) How to make money from mobile apps

(a) Advertisements

There are quite a number of ways you can make money from mobile apps. One common income source is advertising. However, success with advertising hugely depends on how often your mobile app users will use it.

The higher the frequency of use, the more advert income, the lower the frequency, you would have to consider another income approach.

For example, if an app is for breaking news, weather information, games, sports scores or social feeds which require constant use and interaction, advertisements will be a very effective way to make money.

Businesses around the world are becoming very keen on mobile advertising and tend to pay top dollar for mobile advert space.

(b) Give out a free version with the option to upgrade to a paid version

On the other hand, if your app will not require such constant use (such as reference materials like dictionaries or maps), a good strategy will be to charge for it upfront (usually between $1 to $5).

Another popular variant of this strategy, which has proved to be very effective, is to give out basic versions of your apps for free (‘Freemium’) and allow users to upgrade to a higher paid version with more features.

People love free apps because they are much less risky and allow them to have a taste and feel of the apps before spending any money.

(c) Get paid to build apps for other people

Another good source of income in this venture is to help small and big businesses build apps. As more businesses are noticing higher numbers of customers buying through mobile internet channels, the need to develop a mobile app that provides convenience to customers is becoming very important.

Communities like Elance.com and ODesk.com are great places to find mobile app development jobs. If you’re confident in your ability to build apps, you can sign up and join these services so you can bid for mobile app jobs.

Remember, if you’re willing to learn how to build apps yourself, Buzztouch is a great place to start.

(3) A word about distribution…

More important than how much you will be asking for your app is how it will be ‘pushed’ (distributed) to the market (final users).

Apps have to be compatible with the major smartphone brands and can be distributed through the iTunes App Store (for Apple devices), Google Play (for Android apps), Amazon Appstore (for Android apps too), Blackberry Appworld (for Blackberries) and the Windows 7 Marketplace (for Windows OS).

However, as brands like Apple can sometimes take a long and winding process before apps are approved for distribution on the Appstore, many mobile app developers are resorting to other creative channels (such as social media) to distribute their apps.

Most consumers are likely to download apps based on the recommendations or reviews they have received. A focus on creativity, quality and utility are necessary to set a successful entrepreneur apart in this market.

Some things you should consider before you start developing and selling your mobile apps in Africa…

Before you decide to build an app for that brilliant idea of yours, you will need to assess your target market and determine that users will find your app useful, entertaining or interesting enough. Most entrepreneurs go ahead and spend time developing apps only to find out that the products are not that useful to the final consumer.

A successful app will fill a real need and solve an existing problem. You seriously need to spend a lot of time to think up a winning app idea.

Another common mistake is to treat this mobile app venture as a get-rich-quick scheme. Yes, mobile apps can become an overnight financial success. However, a lot of apps on the market do not make any money and the competition is very tough; only the merit in your product will take you far in this market.

Smallstarter recommends that entrepreneurs start off with very simple apps in order to test their skills and the market. As you improve your mobile apps development skills and knowledge of your target market, it becomes easier to take on tougher challenges.

We look forward to your sharing in your challenges and successes. Don’t forget to leave a comment below!

Remember, you can find more interesting success stories and business opportunities like this one in the Business ideas section of Smallstarter.