News / Africa

South Africans Enter Phone App Marketplace, Slowly

Anton van Metzinger shows how the SnappCab app, which allows users to hail a cab and pay for it electronically, works on his smartphone. (VOA/Peter Cox)
Anton van Metzinger shows how the SnappCab app, which allows users to hail a cab and pay for it electronically, works on his smartphone. (VOA/Peter Cox)
Hailing a cab in New York is as easy as sticking up your hand on the street corner.

In Johannesburg, thanks to SnappCab, one just has to tap the screen of your phone.

Such smartphone technology has unlocked a new way to do business across the world, and in South Africa, companies are starting to tackle local problems with phone applications.  And more frequently, customers here are making transactions with their phones.

Anton van Metzinger is the managing director of SnappCab. He and two partners launched their cab-hailing app in mid-September.

On a Johannesburg street, he described how the app works.

He said, "You open the app. And you literally with two clicks of a button you can order a cab. Using your GPS, you click the button, you electronically hail the cab, it connects you to the closest cabs in the area. So I get the cab driver's name, I get the company that the cab driver works for, their vehicle registration details and the vehicle description. So I know, as the passenger I know exactly which cab is coming for me and I can now track it on my smartphone."

When the cab arrives, the passenger gets an alert. When the ride is done, the passenger can pay by cash, or as a growing number of customers are doing, paying through their smartphone.

"We've been in the market only for about a month now and we already see that the credit card payment option is very popular, in fact more popular than we expected initially... People are getting used to the idea of online shopping, they're getting used to the idea of mobile, certainly, mobile shopping using their phones or their tablets to access the world and access retailers," van Metzinger said. "We predict that a year down the line, the majority of our transactions will be by credit card."

There are an estimated 14.7 million smartphones registered with South African telecom networks. That number is bound to grow as smartphone prices drop below $100 in the local market and as South African technology companies aim to launch smartphones of their own.

But this country hasn't exactly jumped headfirst into making transactions through smartphone applications - compared to some other African nations.

Arthur Goldstuck, managing director of World Wide Worx, is an author and journalist who specializes South African technology. He says the marketplace has to mature.

"It's still at a very early stage in this country…. By and large South African consumers are not yet ready to make a purchase on their phone," he said.

Goldstuck says people don’t trust or have confidence using their phones to make purchases until they are well-versed in the phone's interface and technology. He says that trust can take years to build.

"There's a phenomenon in this country and probably across Africa, that we call the digital participation curve," he said. "And it shows that the average Internet user needs to have been online for five years or more before they're ready to start transacting online."

But there have already been success stories here. Powertime is an app that was launched in 2009 to sell pre-paid electricity. Prior to the app, power users here would have to go to a fueling station or grocery store to buy pre-paid electricity.

Sebastien Lacour, the managing director of Powertime, which has built a base of 17,000 users, says, "What I find that is working in South Africa, is if you build an app that is relevant to the country because it solves a local problem. Kind of a local app for a local problem," Lacour said. "And I think that was part of the success of Powertime. It was a very, very significant issue in South Africa to buy pre-paid electricity."

He says the success of an app also depends on making the process easy for the user.

 "You must make the payment process as quick and simple as possible.," he said "Because you can't ask a user to enter his credit card details on his cell phone. You need the ability to store credit card details… I think this is a key feature to any successful mobile app - the ability to have a one-step purchase basically."

With a solid group of regular customers, Powertime has now moved into paying other utilities, municipal bills and phone airtime, as well as helping small businesses set up payment systems through their websites, and their phones.

You May Like

Video Russia’s Syrian Escalation Tests Obama’s Crisis Response

Critics once again question whether president has been slow to act on Syrian conflict, thus creating opening for powers like Russia More

Ancient African DNA Shows Mass Migration Back Into Africa

First genetic analysis of ancient human remains in Africa suggests massive migration from north around time of Egyptian empire More

NASA: Pluto Has Blue Sky

New photos also reveal the presence of water ice More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugeesi
Henry Ridgwell
October 08, 2015 8:02 PM
Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

VOA Blogs