What the Middle East needs – to be apply

Just as there has been a spurt in the growth of smartphones across the region, it has been accompanied by a plethora of new apps to suit every screen size, style, and specification. But despite the availability – and usage – of handy apps across personal, social and commercial spaces, it is still too early to call the Middle East a truly ‘appy’ landscape.

It is important to check whether mobile apps truly reach beyond eager developers and enthusiastic tech-geeks, and reach out to the consumers who use them. Every time a brand introduces a new model, it is worth considering if it is being chosen or considered for its app-readiness. What does it signal when customers residing in the region are familiar with an app but don’t know how to access it? Or worse still, don’t even know that it exists.

Apparently, mobile app usage in the Middle East is catching on fast even if the pace is much slower than in many parts of the world. Earlier this year, Effective Measure and Spot On PR conducted a survey of close to 13,000 internet users in the region, and discovered that almost 50 percent of respondents had used their mobiles to access the internet.

Of these mobile users, a staggering 85 percent had downloaded mobile applications for their devices, and 27 percent claimed to download more than one mobile app every week, according to the survey titled ‘Mobile data usage and habits of MENA internet users’.

Women were found to more active on social networking sites while using their mobiles (40 percent in comparison to 33 percent of men) and were interested in photo and video sharing and information on hobbies. They were also more likely to use online gaming. Men, on the other hand, were far more interested in news and weather information.

Although paid-for mobile apps in the region is still restricted, 20 percent of mobile internet users said they had paid for a mobile application download – a revealing fact that leaves many doors open for growth.

 Historically, the Middle East’s mobile phone market has been approximately 80 percent Nokia Symbian. As it now shifts to smartphone users - many of who are still getting accustomed to apps and downloading apps - there are unlimited opportunities for developers, manufactures and marketers alike, for providing information and education in equal measure.

Take the case of Samsung’s bada, whose self proclaimed goal is not to compete with other smartphone platforms but instead, to convert conventional customers into smartphone users by providing efficient yet cost-effective choices. And the facts substantiate it: In 2010, over 280 million global customers bought Samsung mobile phones, and Samsung Apps expanded services to 110 countries, specifically for bada.

 Powerful enough for a staggering range of applications, bada as a mobile platform fully utilises hardware for powerful features and superior experiences even in mid-range or economical models. While features such as multiple UI controls, Flash support and sensors’ support help developers plan more interactive applications, it also fosters service-centricity with multipoint-touch, 3D graphics, in-app-purchasing, social networking service (SNS) integration and help applications.

As one of its preferred platforms, Samsung not only plans to roll out new bada-based models, but also, to support developers in making and marketing apps for bada devices.

As bada opens up a brand new smartphone universe in the region, the launch of the bada developer challenge augurs goodwill and great potential across the board. Working with Sfonge, they plan to reward the most talented application developers in the region, and through a process of elimination, award the best among them.

 The organisers are confident of receiving as many entries in each of the challenge’s two categories – Business and Consumer - and that the winning entries will be fresh and unique. They also expect that a large number of entries will be in direct response to some of the region’s specific needs, which will benefit consumers just as well as the participating developers.

 While professional and amateur developers can rejoice in this opportunity to showcase their talents, it also means that smartphone users in the Middle East can look forward to an ‘appier’ digital landscape.

Details of the bada challenge for the Middle East are available at http://bada.sfonge.com