Tech challengers

Homegrown Talent Poses Challenge to US Tech Giant Apps

By  |  July 6, 2021

Giving tough competition to US-heavy weights like Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, YouTube, African countries are now seeing African and Asian apps like M-Pesa, Shein Fashion, Audiomack, making it to the top 10 highest downloads.

In many countries like Kenya, South Africa, Nigeria, and Angola, homegrown apps have broken into the top league or moved up the rankings, as per data from App Annie.

For instance, take the case of Angola, apart from the usual US social media giants, one also sees two financial apps — Multicaixa Express and BAI Directo.

Multicaixa Express allows for mobile banking for those who own the Multicaixa debit cards; the one and only brand name operating in Angola.

While the cards can be issued by any bank, the inter-operable network is operated by EMIS (English Interbank Service Company). BAI Directo, on the other hand, is the mobile banking app of BAI (Banco Angolano de Investimentos), which was the first Angolan bank created after the country’s independence.

Analysts say the digital revolution in Africa is marked by growing affordability and accessibility.

“A great advantage Africa has over other continents in riding the disruptive wave is that there’s far less legacy to get in the way than in other regions, creating a clean sheet on which companies can develop their own distinctive business models,” say analysts at PriceWaterCoopers.

With many African countries leapfrogging technology — skipping the desktop-broadband era to go straight to mobile — it should be no surprise that Africa has many financial apps in the top 10. At No.1 position in Kenya for highest downloads is M-Pesa; while a newer app offering of Safaricom is at No.9 position.

In Botswana, it is the official BSafe contact tracking application post-Covid that has made it to the top-10. But also in its top 20s are homegrown financial apps like that of First National Bank and then music heavyweight Audiomack — Africa’s biggest rival to Spotify. In fact, Audiomack is not just in Botswana, but in 10 other countries including Nigeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Gambia, DRC that Audiomack has made it to the top-10 app list.

Users say Audiomack’s success above the likes of Spotify is primarily because it’s a free app. “The fact that one doesn’t need a premium subscription to listen to music is a big draw (one pays only for downloads). Also, their promotion of fresh talent with new African artists makes it an exciting space for music lovers,” says an Audiomack and Spotify user.

Apart from Audiomack, another big name in the African entertainment scene seems to be StarTimes On – a video streaming service for watching serials, films, football matches, etc. With the entertainment app being highly popular in countries like Ghana, Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania.  

Among Asian apps that are popular – apart from the obvious TikTok — is clothing app Shein Fashion in South Africa; Viber Messenger in Libya; My Airtel Africa in Malawi; file-sharing Xender, photo and video editor Lomotif in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Gabon, Niger; and VidMate, which can be used to download videos and songs from YouTube, Dailymotion, Vimeo, in countries like Guinea.

The biggest success story of “home-grown-is-best” can be seen in South Africa; with as high as four SA-based apps in its top 20 app downloads. In the second position in SA after WhatsApp, one can see SA’s second-largest retail bank Capitec Bank’s mobile app. At No.4 is Shoprite’s Checkers Sixty60; followed by food delivery service Mr D Food at No. 12 and shopping app TakeaLot at No.19.

But why are certain apps dominating only in their country of origin and not have pan-African reach? Audiomack is among the few which has succeeded. But why have the others failed? Developers say one of the major hurdles they face is regulatory red tape – as they would need multiple agreements with multiple telecom companies in different countries. Each African country brings with it – its own set of business regulations, anti-competition laws, and rules of engagement.

There is also the question of whether homegrown African financial apps, e-commerce, food tech apps, others made it big only because of the absence of Google Pay and Amazon delivery?

In many countries like India, the entry of Google Pay and Amazon delivery seriously hurt the bottom-lines of players like Paytm, PhonePe, Flipkart, others. In India, currently, as per App Annie data, Google Pay is at No.5; ahead of PhonePe (No.9) and Paytm (No.17); and Amazon India is again at No.12; ahead of homegrown Flipkart at No. 20.

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