7 keys to foster mobile apps development in the Caribbean

As a follow up to the post, Where is the Caribbean on the apps bandwagon?, key elements that might be necessary to promote mobile apps development in the region are identified and discussed.

Mobile applications (m-apps) are a major growth industry in the telecoms/ICT sector. In an earlier post, Where is the Caribbean on the apps bandwagon?, it was suggested that the known efforts in region, while commendable, seemed a bit disjointed. Discussed below are some considerations that could promote m-apps development and inherently increase the usefulness of our mobile phones in our daily lives.

1. Identify potential needs. Identifying truly viable needs, i.e. ideas that can satisfy clearly specified needs, and which can be translated into a workable application (app), is a key starting point for any app development project. Although there are hundreds of thousands of apps available, pundits are of the view that the market is still in its infancy.

While there is scope for app development across all sectors and levels of society, worldwide, special emphasis is being given to issues and needs at the “Bottom of the Pyramid” (BoP). BoP refers to the lowest socio-economic group in the society, which generally comprises the largest segment of a country’s population. The availability of low cost mobile service within the Caribbean has already begun to have an impact on the outlook and lifestyle of those at the BoP. Generally, it has allowed them (and everyone else) to be more connected, and so better informed to make decisions. However, the technology could more directly improve their lives and livelihoods if more relevant information and tools are created and made available. The key is to identify the need and to formulate an approach that addresses that situation, and which in turn can be developed into an m-app.

2. Ensure solid knowledgebase. Apps development requires an intimate knowledge of the area of focus. It would not only include the technicalities of the subject area, but an understanding of the context, needs and limitations of the proposed target market. Further, even before one is ready to write the code for the proposed app, major processes must be broken down and key steps must be understood.

3. Appreciate that ideas and development skills are not synonymous. The building of clean, efficient and effective apps, require good programming skills and experience. Within the Caribbean, much of that expertise is developed and resides at universities and other tertiary level institutions. However, the needs and situations that could be translated into apps are not limited to those environments. Hence it is increasingly necessary to establish a bridge between the code-building expertise and the ideas could be developed into apps.

4. Identify technology of users. As part of the research and due diligence that is conducted even before coding begins, consideration should be given to the handset and/or technology available to consumers. For example, if entry-level phones are predominant in a proposed market, it may dictate that the app be developed for an SMS platform, since those devices have limited features and functionality. On the other hand, if more sophisticated mobile phones with broadband capability predominate but that facility is not widely used in the market, then again, the developers must consider this and decide how to best proceed.

5. Recognise that success is not guaranteed. Altruism aside, most persons involved in app development hope their apps can be profitable, or at the very least, cover their development costs.  Although an app might satisfy a demand, its financial viability might not be readily evident nor is the app’s popularity assured.

Within the apps market, a considerable number of them are available for free, or for a nominal cost. Moreover, within that context, prospective users might not be inclined to pay premium prices for apps. Further, due to the huge number of apps available, it may only be the truly unique ones that gain a sizeable following with the potential to earn its creators measureable income.

With these issues as a starting point and depending on the market, developer teams should take the time to:

  • ensure that they understand the circumstances within which they are operating
  • consider what the desired and likely outcome of their efforts should be, and
  • devise possible strategies through which those outcomes might be realised.

6. Pay attention to networking and marketing. With the multitude of apps that are available, useful apps do not necessarily get the exposure they deserve, and as a result the anticipated take-up. Depending on the market, those opportunities can be widened if a conscious effort is made to market apps and to establish linkages through which they can be promoted.

For apps that are being developed for markets in the Caribbean, for example, supplementary methods to promote the apps, apart from just an app store, should be explored. Such apps are frequently conceptualised with regard to one specific country, but the extent to which they could be used in other countries in the region is not always considered or actively pursued. Depending on the anticipated need or demand for a proposed app, networking and marketing could lead to opportunities to develop strategic alliances, which could result in funding and other forms of support. Ultimately, although developing a quality app is vital, there are other issues that must be addressed to facilitate some degree of success.

7.  Create greater support for the industry. Finally, the capacity to identify needs; to propose methods to address those needs that can be converted into a workable m-app; to create the app; and finally to promote it, can be an involved exercise. More importantly, the knowledge, skills and expertise required might be served best by a team rather than an individual. Assembling teams, ensuring that projects are properly managed, adequately resourced and have the requisite due diligence and testing performed, is of itself a considerable undertaking. The extent to which an enabling environment can be created in individual countries or ideally across the region, to assist in the development process, would give a needed boost to the m-app industry in the Caribbean.

This support could be viewed as an ICT for development (ICT4D) initiative, with the objective of assisting m-app proposals that could benefit wide cross-sections of the population. As currently obtains, relatively few skilled persons in the region are employed as computer programmers, although considerable numbers enrol in IT and Computer Science courses annually and would have developed some proficiency. Providing opportunities to build a cadre of programmers in the region could result in greater innovation, as well as increased prospects for investment and development.