Nine countries in Africa have more cell phones per capita than the U.S. and their youthful programmers are creating more creative apps than here at home.
South Africa, Libya, Botswana, the Seychelles, Gabon, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco and the Congo have a higher per capita cell phone rate than the U.S. In part this is because land lines were never very good in many African countries, but it’s also because the technology of cell towers developed as fast in Africa as in the U.S.
Most European countries also have a higher cell phone per capita than the U.S., but what it means for Africa is that apps that are African specific are appearing in the dozens – sometimes hundreds – every day.
The most widely used cash transfer app in the world, M-Pesa, was first created and launched in Kenya in 2007. Today the app supports 23,000 jobs and has 17 million registered users in just Kenya alone.
But that isn’t even half the story. It was hardly two years that operational control for M-Pesa was ceded by its creators to IBM, which subsequently hired all of that development company’s employees. It was a clever – perhaps necessary way for IBM to avoid difficult worldwide patent contracts, since it is now free to develop the app worldwide.
M-Pesa is simple and complete, and that’s probably why it hit a brick wall in the U.S. Interstate commerce laws, local taxing authorities and most of all, the “cost for the media” (i.e., the price that the app owner wants to command for each use) has bogged down use here and in the rest of the developed world.
GoogleWallet is the closest to M-Pesa, and it’s still cumbersome compared to the beauty of the Kenyan app.
There are many apps as creative and simply beautiful as M-Pesa that Africans have developed, but one very unique app that caught my attention is iCow, and it’s not because I farm.
And that’s the point. Although iCow is most useful to the full-time dairy farmer, there are many Kenyans who are not farmers nevertheless own cows. In the fast paced changing Kenyan culture, professionals working normal 9-to-5 jobs often still own land in rural areas with aspects of farming still undertaken by much of their family.
iCow is a “cow calendar,” remarkable resource for locating vet services and medicines, and a news app that regularly updates the user on the newest science in dairy farming. Most importantly, it tells you when to milk your own unique cow, depending upon its age, feed intake and breed.
A professional in Nairobi recently told the city newspaper that she manages her small dairy farm 150 miles away “through regular [iCow] SMS updates.”
iCow was so successful that it spawned a whole range of other farm apps created and used in Kenya.
Nearly a generation ago we were warned that the “Information Revolution” and “Information Age” would be a pivotal moment in human history.
It’s happening, now.