The Gap between Mobile Application Developers and Poor Consumers: Lessons from Kenya
With a 75% mobile penetration in Kenya, there has been a flurry of efforts to develop mobile applications for the common citizen who now owns a mobile device. However, the uptake of such mobile phone-based applications has been disappointingly low, especially at the so-called base of the pyramid (BoP). This paper examines the development and use of mobile applications at the BoP in Kenya with a view to establishing the challenges of scaling the uptake of these applications. It is based on findings from data obtained from users and developers, as well as key stakeholders. Specifically, the paper analyses data from a study commissioned by infoDev that involved 796 face-to-face interviews with mobile phone owners, 178 financial diaries of phone usage, 12 focus group discussions with mobile phone users and 10 key informant interviews with stakeholders in the Kenyan telecommunications industry. The paper also relies heavily on a national representative survey by Research ICT Africa (RIA) that involved 1,200 households in Kenya. The paper concludes that the scaling of mobile applications use amongst BoP users has three key challenges. One, the development of applications is not informed by thorough research on the problem space and possible solutions. Two, most developers of mobile applications lack the financial and social capital to market their solutions. Consequently, there is limited awareness of these applications amongst BoP users for scaling to take place, leave alone traction. Finally, most applications do not reach the stage for financial sustainability, especially given the low purchasing power of users at the BoP and their sensitivity to cost. The paper ends with recommendations on how the penetration and diffusion of mobile applications can be accelerated.