Like digital, smartphones are now beginning to matter

November 6, 2015 at 11:53 am  •  Posted in Pencil Shavings by

In April this year, Google announced that it was changing its ranking system to favor those with mobile friendly websites – the ones that can be easily read on smartphones, without tons of graphics and flash to slow things down. “Users will find it easier to get relevant, high quality search results optimized for their devices,” Google wrote in a note to publishers.

While mobile-readiness (or responsiveness) was already a key consideration for most web developers and website project managers, Google’s move, which took effect on April 21st was the single biggest endorsement for mobile-ready websites.

It was also the search giant’s way of re-emphasizing what was slowly but surely becoming obvious: that a bigger percentage of most website traffic was now coming from mobile devices. In fact, a number of web publishers were already observing falling ad revenues due to web banners that were not responsive.

Overall, 2015 will be remembered as a breakthrough year for lovers of technology and innovation; especially in Uganda. It’s the year in which Uganda’s internet penetration crossed the 30% mark, with over 12 million users now estimated to be connected, according to communications regulator, UCC.

It’s the year in which a presidential candidate launched a campaign declaration online, managing to reach more people than he probably could have pulled to a rally. “…the video itself gathered enough traction to score more than 15,000 views that first day alone – fully half of the biggest newspaper’s (in Uganda) daily circulation, and perhaps even more if one counts the additional YouTube sites that carried the announcement,” wrote Simon Kaheru on this column. “Even more, the declaration was also turned into a WhatsApp video that went viral…” he continued.

In 2015, telecom operators in Uganda started introducing smartphone-based alternatives to most services originally available over USSD.

“Everyone’s using our Mobile Money app and going, ‘Wow!’ and we’re still on Version 1.1,” joked Brian Gouldie, the CEO of MTN Uganda at an informal session last month. He was referring to MyMTN, a recently announced USSD-alternative to Self Service options and MTN Mobile Money, both of which were previously only available through Mobile Money.

Based on conversation on social media, MyMTN has been a remarkable success. But the story that tells is the transformation that’s seen smartphones replace the “traditional” feature phones. Traditional because the less tech-savvy population will have tried to argue that mobile phones are for making phones and sending text messages.

Not in 2015.

It’s the year in which Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) called time on analog television broadcasting, embracing digital. And after a number of trials, the major broadcasters in Uganda finally cracked live-streaming, more notably, NTV and NBS.

UCC estimated that by the end of the first quarter, there were about 11,924,927  Internet users in Uganda, with about 5,905,016 of those being mobile internet users. That was according to Q1 (January – March) data which, by the time of writing this article, might have changed significantly. That statistic carries significance both in terms of the total number of users – a substantial 34.2% of the total population – and those that are connecting through mobile devices.

Internet adoption statistics for Uganda. Source: UCC Market report, Q1 2015 (latest).

Internet adoption statistics for Uganda. Source: UCC Market report, Q1 2015 (latest).

These numbers do offer an opportunity for technology lead innovation and entrepreneurship.

“With our growing focus on harnessing the power of digital media to bring fresh content to our customers, MTN is excited by the opportunity to bring premium and relevant news content,” said Albert Fernandez, MTN Group‘s Chief Consumer Officer. Fernandez’s comment was quoted in a media release as CNN launched “Africa View”, a news app for smartphones that’s a result of a partnership with MTN. That’s the second smartphone app Uganda’s the telecom industry leader is introducing this year!

“From education and energy to technology and innovation, Africa View explores the trends, figures and initiatives shaping the African continent, stories about Africa’s inspirational cultural, social and economic stories from CNN,” read the press release.

It’s no surprise therefore that key stakeholders are emphasizing digital innovation and mobile [phone] based solutions as we head into the connected era. The revolution which some people expected to see in the early 2000’s may just have arrived.

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