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 Americans, Tourists, Reflect on Meaning of Thanksgiving

VOA garnered opinions from several people soon after November 13 Paris attacks, which colored many of their thoughts

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

In northern Thailand, the annual tradition of constructing floating baskets to carry away the year’s bad spirits highlights the Loy Krathong festival

Video Tree Houses - A Branch of American Dream

Workshops aimed at teaching people how to build tree houses have become widely popular in America in recent years

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

By the Numbers

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syriai
November 26, 2015 5:21 AM
Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs