Native app evolution
Despite massive smartphone penetration, native app development is still in its infancy. If local firms are to build successful mobile apps they need to start listening to their users.
These are interesting times for mobile app development in the Middle East. The region has been in the vanguard of the smartphone revolution, but a home-grown app market that addresses the specific needs of local customers has been slow to emerge, regardless of the explosion in smartphone usage.
Users have stuck with a handful of tried and tested international brands, and businesses have been cautious about investing in domestic resources, preferring to outsource, in order to keep down costs and contain the risk of creating a new product.
However, with signs of a new wave of native app development emerging, businesses that have committed to the market must face another challenge: mobile app fatigue from a customer base that does not want to clutter its devices with numerous tools, and is quick to ditch anything that does not deliver immediate value or boost productivity.
“The Middle East tended to look to more mature markets to develop on their behalf, but we’re seeing a developer ecosystem starting to take root,” says Stacy Holland, vice president, digital experience with Du.
“Local firms are now bringing these skills in house — at Du, we’ve already spent a long period of investment, setting up a dedicated user experience team of experts from the MENA region, Europe and Asia.”
According to Holland, in the UAE, government emphasis on innovation and the drive to make Dubai the ‘smartest city in the world’ have given local app development a boost, particularly in the public sector.
“With such a high smartphone penetration, most businesses have learned that apps aren’t just a nice thing to have, but are vital to their success,” she explains.
“The quality is also getting better as businesses are starting to think about their mobile strategy first, and ‘user experience’ is starting to get the focus it deserves. There are still challenges though; resources for developing a good mobile strategy and end user experience isn’t something all businesses are able to invest in appropriately,” Holland adds.
As a telecoms operator, Du is better placed to address those challenges than other businesses, which have taken a less strategic approach to app development.
Omar Kassim, CEO at online electronics marketplace JadoPado, says there has been an “unfortunate culture” of ‘copy/paste’ development, with relatively little thought given to regional needs or nuances.
“A number of projects, both in the private and government sectors, have been contracted out to agencies and development houses, [which have] either sub-contracted back out to lower cost (in terms of price and quality) development locations, and not really taken the time to understand what needs to be, and what should be delivered,” he comments.