Disproving commonly held misconceptions about mobile technology in Africa, mobile social network 2go has achieved over 2 million monthly active users on its Android app in just over a year.
Head of Product at 2go Peter Lockhart says the milestone reached by 2go for Android, which was launched mid-2013, is yet again positive proof that the African smartphone marketplace is not only viable, but thriving.
Launched in 2009 2go has 50 million registered users, over 10 million of which are active on a monthly basis, sending 6 billion messages a month across Africa with the majority of users in Nigeria. 2go’s primary target market is Africa and emerging market countries where communication costs are high, users are price sensitive and feature phones dominate.
According to Lockhart 80% of African users own a feature phone and building for these devices will still be important in emerging markets for several years to come. But Lockhart explains that the landscape is changing largely due to the introduction of low-end smartphones powered by Google’s Android operating system.
“Though nowhere near an iPhone in terms of capacity, these low-end smartphones – sometimes retailing for less than US$50 – have radically changed the marketplace. This is why when we decided to launch a 2go smartphone app we decided to develop for Android.”
“With no marketing effort behind it, the massive success of our Android app shows just how popular smartphones are in the African marketplace. Too often the common thought is that smartphones are only relevant for high-end consumers in Africa,” Lockhart says.
Lockhart adds that the app’s success is due to 2go being cognizant of the realities of developing for the African marketplace.
“Our understanding of the market – price sensitive users, expensive mobile data, low bandwidth networks and a fragmented Android base – means that 2go is purpose-built for emerging markets. Our technology and ability to build technology that addresses these realities has been key to 2go for Android’s success.”
Despite the limitations of these phones, users still expect the functionality of high-end smartphones.
“We therefore innovate constantly to ensure that 2go uses mobile data sparingly, is light and responsive, and delivers features expected of high-end social networking apps. Our latest version adds voice notes that enable users to send very compressed audio clips to one another – an important feature for users wanting to reduce expensive voice calls.
Lockhart believes that companies that want to make the most of this changing landscape need to be preparing now.
“While today 2go users are mostly on feature phone – which is a key differentiator for us -smartphones, especially low-end Android devices, are a critical part of 2go’s future strategy. As users migrate from their feature phones, 2go is well positioned to migrate these users to its smartphone apps,” Lockhart concluded.