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An Eye-Opening Talk: Building Apps for the Next Billion Users in Africa

An Eye-Opening Talk: Building Apps for the Next Billion Users in Africa

William (iChuloo) Imoh, who hails from Lagos, Nigeria, recently embarked on a U.S. speaking tour, February 20-March 12, during which he powwowed with technical and product teams and communities at such renowned enterprises as Netlify, Pluralsight, Lucidchart, Twilio, and more in Salt Lake City, Dallas, Las Vegas, and San Francisco. On March 5, he gave an enlightening talk, entitled International Developers and Development: Building for the Next Billion Users at Cloudinary in Santa Clara, California. Below is a synopsis. For details, see the related slides.

Market Potential and Challenges for Software Development in Africa

Presently, 1.3 billion people live in Africa, approximately 35 percent of whom are on the Internet, a mere 11 percent of the world’s population. The reasons are many, among which are low network speeds, with 3G still the norm; minimal product support; inadequate development tools; and high retail prices.

The market potential for software in Africa is tremendous, however. Your success in reaping that potential rests on resolving the challenges faced by the development of apps tailored for the African population.

Tips and Tools

How to best build apps for Africa and attract the users there? William suggests that you—

  • Adopt PRPL as the development architecture: push the critical resources for the initial URL route; render that route; precache the remaining routes; and lazy-load and create those routes on demand.
  • Optimize the delivery of digital media, specifically images, and videos.
  • Simplify deployment and offer helpful support.
  • Establish, encourage, and advocate community and user groups.

William highly recommends, among other tools, GatsbyJS, Next.js, Hugo, Nuxt.js, and VuePress, all based on JAMstack (JAM as in JavaScript API Markup), as being ideal for app development. That’s because JAMstack embodies security, efficiency, cost-effectiveness, smarts, and intuitiveness, all paramount ingredients for killer apps.

William is a proponent of progressive web apps (PWAs), which, in his words, “cache everything.” Not only do PWAs accommodate offline and low-bandwidth networks, but they also boast a native-looking, mobile app-like UI, complete with push notifications. Note that most Africans like to run apps while on the go.

Optimization of Media

Above all, William contends, optimize the images and videos that accompany your apps. That way, you reduce the load time and data requirements, minimize user drop-offs, cut hosting costs, and alleviate frustration and anxiety on the part of your audience.

Cloudinary is your top choice for optimization, bar none. As a SaaS product, Cloudinary does all of the following:

  • Lazy-loads files.
  • Tweaks media files for size reduction with no visible quality loss and for responsiveness, making for fast loading and accessibility of sophisticated content.
  • Features on-the-fly manipulation capabilities, a free tier for developers, and a smart debugger.
  • Stores digital media securely and delivers them seamlessly through content delivery networks (CDNs).

To try out Cloudinary, start by registering for a free account.

A Focus on Communities

“Do sponsor the developer and user communities in Africa, such as forLoop, GDG, and Devcenter. They are yuuuge!” William urges. Why? Because—

  • Those community members are loyal app builders who will win loyal users for your products.
  • The members are often independent advocates who could promote your products or brands.
  • You stand to forge mutually beneficial relationships with potential users and gain valuable insights on market entry, pricing, and user experience.

A simple win-win to do would be to donate prizes or act as judges at hackathons. Those are good deals for all.

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