Mobile-first is the buzzword of our technological time. The era of the mobile is never more apparent than in emerging economies, where many people’s first experience of the interest is on mobile. A growing middle class in much of the emerging world has meant an increased appetite for mobile phones – both for connectivity and leisure. This trend will only continue – arguably at a speedier rate with the release of cheap Android handsets. Mozilla, for example, announced in June that it will start selling $25 dollar Firefox OS handsets in India in the coming months.
But all the old rules of apps no longer apply. Large technology companies such as Facebook are realising that launching apps as they are into countries and cultures further afield is not a winning recipe.
Marco Veremis, CEO of mobile monetisation platform Upstream states that “blindly approaching new markets without obtaining granular insights into what people in these regions actually want and acknowledging what is important to them will lead to challenges along the way. Only when each player truly understands the audience of each region – being able to answer the questions of ‘what’s affordable’, ‘what content do consumers want’ and ‘what functionality is preferred’ – will they be able to connect with the consumers they are trying to reach”.
4 key issues need to be addressed when planning to release an app in emerging markets:
While thirst for social media, music apps and news will be just as important in the emerging world, they will take on a different guise. A report, undertaken by mobile monetization company Upstream, found that one in five emerging market consumers found that content is not in their local language.
App developers should therefore be carefully thinking about which languages to translate their apps into. In addition, people will also be looking for localised content, that is, informative content relevant for their every day lives and immediate environment.
In emerging markets, there is a greater role for creating community-specific apps, which address unique needs. Al Jazeera have produced a fascinating series documenting how talented programmers are creating innovative solutions to help communities, ranging from nomadic Namibian groups to Brazilian favela dwellers.
Most app stores require payment by credit or debit card, even though many emerging market consumers do not have access to banking facilities. Yet to drive revenues app developers need to monetize through either charging for the initial download or in-app purchases. According to App Annie Index Statistics, Brazil and India dominate app downloads, yet in terms of revenue, the usual suspects come on top (US, South Korea, UK and Germany). A key reason for this is the dearth of viable ways for people to pay.
One alternative payment method for emerging market consumers is carrier billing, which allows purchases of digital content to be levied on a person’s regular phone bill. Companies, such as Bango, have penetrated numerous middle income countries by partnering with local operators across the world to offer carrier billing.
In emerging markets, data is not cheap. Large download sizes will results in clunky apps that are prohibitive for people with limited data allowances. For existing app developers looking to launch in emerging markets, it is important to make a light version of the app, shedding any unnecessary data-heavy features.
There is also a growing trend for mobile operators to preload handsets with apps, games and content. This ensures maximum exposure. Facebook is currently working with Chinese chipmaker Spreadtrum to embed Facebook software into the Android platform. This means that the software will be optimized for low-end handsets.
Apple’s app store and Google Play aren’t the only way apps are distributed to the world. Many markets have their own localised versions (eg. Yandex in Russia or TIM App Shop in Brazil). The flexibility of Android as an operating system has led to a proliferation and fragmentation of the way apps are distributed in the emerging world.
“Users are looking towards other services to provide this content discovery gateway for their smartphone,” says Wang Junyu, CEO and co-founder of Wandoujia, the third-largest app store in China. In China, this has led to app stores negotiating exclusive distribution with developers in exchange for special promotional support of the app. In general, developers will need to be more strategic in their approach to selecting distribution channels in emerging markets in order to maximise returns.