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Emerging markets accounted for the majority of growth in global app downloads in 2021. Data AI’s most recent State of Mobile Report showed that last year India came second only to China with more than 26 billion app downloads. Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Turkey, Turkey, Vietnam, Philippines, Egypt and Pakistan also showed particularly strong growth. This data is clearly good news for everyone in the app industry: developers & marketers, device manufacturers and telcos.

When we look back over the last 10 years, it is obvious that the challenges in emerging markets are very different from those in established markets. Marketers hoping to launch apps successfully must be mindful of obstacles such as consumers’ lower spending power and problems that arise from limited coverage. Emerging markets are more frequently affected by a lack of telecommunications infrastructure. In these circumstances, localization in new app offerings is vital. Notwithstanding these economic and structural challenges, emerging markets are now the brightest spot on the horizon of the global app economy.

Emerging markets are already mobile-first: populations that leapfrogged the desktop computer revolution became increasingly dependent on their mobiles amid the growth of internet penetration. Such markets have become fertile ground for both fintech and super-apps. The absence of traditional banking industries and lower credit card usage have opened a gap in the market that was occupied by mobile technology. Industry estimates indicate that the popularity of fintech is not slowing in emerging markets. A 60% rise in the total value of mobile money transactions is projected by 2026 when transactions are expected to reach $870 billion.

Fintech has facilitated the rapid proliferation of super-apps in emerging markets over the past decade. Factors such as low internet and data costs and the mobile-first functionality of these types of apps have paved the way for this growth. Industry trends show an enthusiastic uptake of fintech in emerging markets which is expected to continue to drive the growth of super-apps in the future. Data gatherer PYMNTS has predicted Africa will witness a surge in demand for these all-in-one offerings. The insights company observes that mobile network operators have launched a variety of telco-driven super-apps. Telcos are able to fast-track the success of the apps by utilizing key data already accumulated by mobile network operators, such as pre-existing subscriber bases, merchant relationships and critical customer insights. Discussing the rise of the super-app in telecoms, Lloyds Ventures partner Jay Johhar suggests providers are entering this digital arena to catch up on the ground they lost during the internet boom. Johhar observes that providers are able to “leverage the access to customers they have, trusted billing relationships, managed security, and other aspects. For telcos, it might become a great play to go beyond connectivity since they weren’t successful in the internet boom.”

The marriage between telcos and mid-range device manufacturers is another area that is resulting in a boost to the apps market in developing economies. Chinese manufacturer Tecno Mobile created a buzz in 2020 when it announced a partnership with service provider MTN Uganda for the launch of its smartphone, the Tecno Camon 15. Ugandans purchasing the Camon 15 were given a free MTN SIM card with three complimentary gigabytes of data every month for the first three months. Partnerships with telcos do not simply benefit manufacturers; developers can also reap the rewards of these relationships. Developers are able to capitalize on the user data to which telcos have access. Data deriving from browsing history, purchasing behavior and installed apps can be collated to develop customer profiles that can be mined to serve accurate recommendations for particular services.

Developers should also bear in mind the current saturation of the apps industry in established markets such as North America and Europe. The saturation of such markets combined with high costs associated with launching and running a new app illustrates why developers might want to look further afield. Creating a mini app is one way to benefit from the super-app boom. It allows developers to gain access to an already established user base and to bypass app store competition. Another way of breaking into emerging markets is for developers to consider how to make an existing app more suitable. Existing apps can be optimized by language localization in countries where numerous languages and dialects are spoken and by shrinking the app size to suit locations where there are connectivity issues.

Across emerging markets, the digital revolution is showing no signs of slowing. Internet penetration is improving, smartphone shippings are increasing and app downloads are surging. These previously overlooked locations present unlimited opportunities for the digital industry.

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