Africa Tech Trends is a fortnightly column by Tom Jackson focusing on the most important developments in Africa’s technology industry.
Apple Music up against local competitors
Apple launched its own music streaming service this week, confirming what has been one of the worst kept secrets in global technology since it acquired audio products firm Beats last year. The company that introduced the idea of portable digital music for the mass market in the first place is taking the challenge to Spotify’s door with a subscription-only streaming service, and a 24-hour online radio station.
How does it affect African consumers? Well, to be honest, it probably doesn’t. Spotify doesn’t have a presence in Africa, and even Apple is relatively small. Launching in places such as Kenya and Nigeria would require serious manpower to be put into making sure a large number of African artists were available on the platform. Though Apple seems to be quietly building up its African presence, there are no strong signs yet it is going to become a focus.
When Apple Music finally lands in Africa, it will enter an already overcrowded music streaming space. iROKING, Simfy, Mdundo, Spinlet and MyMusic.com.ng are just five of the equivalents active on the continent, established with their users and with a greater focus on African content. Apple will find this one a hard nut to crack if that is what it intends to do.
Airtel fires first major shots in operators-OTT battle
In this column last November, I wrote about the cooperation taking place between mobile network operators and over-the-top (OTT) service providers such as Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp. With both parties in a customer acquisition stage, this cooperation makes perfect sense. Operators gain customers based on the services they can offer on their network, and service providers attract customers based on the operator rolling them out to subscribers. Collaboration has typically been in the form of operators zero-rating certain services – that is to say, making sure they don’t use any of a user’s data. South Africa’s Cell C has zero-rated WhatsApp, and various services such as Facebook and BBC News are zero-rated through the Internet.org app.
The only fly in the ointment with all this is revenues – and how they will be shared in this world where both parties need each other in order to gain users. Sustainability has become a hot topic, with a number of players urging both parties to establish the revenue sharing models now to avoid antagonism in the future. Operators and OTT players have been working together well thus far – Facebook’s Internet.org app is a good example – but for how long will this relationship remain mutually beneficial?
Not long, it seems, with Airtel this week firing the first shots by calling for regulation of OTT providers as they use operator infrastructure to make money. Airtel has done particularly well out of the cooperation between the two, with Internet.org rolled out in Kenya using its network. But the comments from its CEO this week show at the very least it is already looking beyond the customer acquisition phase to how revenues will be shared. The sustainability question was postponed while both parties were hoovering up customers, but Airtel now looks like it has put it back on the agenda.
Tech for social good
To end on a lighter note, there were a couple of examples in the last fortnight of technology being utilised to alleviate social problems. What is nice about the below two examples, however, is that they are not the usual non-profit formulae, but rather organisations and companies looking to tackle problems using for-profit social entrepreneurship.
CauseTech is looking to crowdsource breakthrough ideas, products and emerging technologies, and this week launched its first contest. The contest focuses on Burundi, and is looking for renewable energy solutions for what is the most energy-poor country in the world. The winner of the challenge will have the opportunity to test their solution in the field in Burundi and potentially roll it out to other regions.
Meanwhile, social shopping portal Friend Africa has also gone live, allowing users to purchase goods from the likes of Amazon, Argos, Groupon Global, Living Social and O2 in order to support anti-poverty programmes in rural Africa. The portal is aiming to finance self-sustainability programmes, and works by providing discounted goods and services from merchandisers. Friend Africa takes 20% of the profits from the referral commission, the rest goes towards funding family and community projects in rural Africa.