Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Kenya has a bright future in mobile

A while back, I argued that there was limited innovation in Kenya.

After, attending the closing ceremony of the Safaricom Developer Challenge last week, I must however concede that indeed Kenyan youth are among the best in the world in terms of generating innovating software products for the mobile platform.

The Safaricom Developers Challenge seeks to identify and incubate software talent among university students in Kenya.

Basically, students are invited to submit ideas and mobile-based solutions that address unique Kenyan problems.

Over one thousand ideas were submitted, and about 100 shortlisted for the next stage, which involved testing the capacity of the students to develop those ideas into viable, mobile-based software products.

The groups of student who demonstrated this capacity - by way of programming mobile applications - where then selected for the incubation stage.

For three months, thirty teams of software developers were incubated at the Strathmore iLab, where they fine-tuned their solutions and learned about the business side of taking products from the lab to the market.

Very interesting products that targeted Agriculture, Finance, Health amongst other sectors made it to the final list.

Students from Multimedia University of Kenya developed a mobile health application called the "Bud Doctor". This app provides an online list of doctors and links patients with the doctor or specialist appropriate for a given disease or ailment.

Using a simple mobile phone, users type in the name of an ailment, and the system lists local specialists and their contacts, linking patients to specialists who would otherwise remain unknown to them.

Students from JKUAT developed, Tichaa, an interactive game that teaches young children the Swahili language.

The Tichaa interface is based on the traditional puzzle game that older folks would remember as requiring one to manually re-arrange a set of tiles in order to complete a picture within a frame.

However, this mobile version concludes by spelling and sounding the name of the completed picture. Pictures to be completed are selected from categories of animals, food, games among others.

It is impossible to describe each application that made it to the final list. But one common thread among all of them is their dual nature of simplicity and scalability.

The idea that a simple software solution can be accessed simultaneously by millions of users over the mobile telecommunication network continues to unlock innovative ways of doing old things - a classic tale of MPESA "reloaded".

The mobile industry has spawned a new frontier for the Kenyan and indeed the African software developer to rise up and stake their claim on the international software arena.

The Safaricom Developer Challenge is a great way of actualizing this potential. It should be emulated by other industry players on one condition; that the intellectual property rights and rewards for these ideas must be attributed to, and retained by, the Kenyan youth.

by John Walubengo
Daily Nation


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