[Part 1] How are Kenyan mobile apps doing?

Kirui K.
Kirui K.
Jul 8, 2016 · 6 min read

Technology, just like fashion, has phases when a particular thing is the in-thing. Mobile apps have been quite fashionable in our Kenya. We had a time when almost every mobile app or mobile based service built locally had the postfix m-something. Think M-farm, M-Kesho, M-Lipa, M-shamba, M-Benki, Mshwari, Mkopa, and the one that came before all of the others — Mpesa. This lead to the famous phrase ‘m-vitu’ which was a pun on how everyone was naming their app in that way.

A Maasai using a phone. Such photos have become a permanent slide on presentations about tech in Kenya (Photo by Sven Torfinn)

The Kenyan mobile app ecosystem has grown over time and we can now see diversity in naming. Corporates have joined the bandwagon too aiming to use mobile apps to serve their customers better. This has particularly been the case in the banking sector. The likes of Jumia and OLX have also been aggressively marketing their apps and as a result educated the population on how to use apps.

Has this resulted in more Kenyans downloading and using local apps? I sought to find out if it is the case or not.

What didn’t I include?

Unlike the Little Cabs app review I did previously, this post isn’t a review. It doesn’t take into consideration the user experience of each app. I haven’t accounted for metrics like Daily Active Users (DAU), Monthly Active Users (MAU), retention rate, churn rate, time in app, and other key mobile app metrics. Metrics like these are usually more important as they give a clearer idea of how an app is performing. Users can download an app and never use it. The post looks at download stats, user reviews, and app ratings.

Which apps are Kenyan apps?

Kenyan apps? By that, I am talking about apps that were built specifically for the Kenyan market. I have excluded apps like OLX and Jumia as they are apps that launched elsewhere and were introduced in Kenyan market.

How did I pick the apps included in the ‘study’?

First, I would like to point out that this isn’t a proper research study. It is more of an opinion piece than anything else. A proper research would require more resources. Know anyone who might be interested in commissioning such a study? The peeps at iHub Research can carry out such a study.

To identify the apps to include I first identified local apps I have on my phone. This gave me Safaricom MLedger, Bungoma Hangman, KCB, Sendy, Little Cab, KQ Mobile, and PrittyNote.

Next, I talked to a couple of guys who were at the iHub on the day I started writing. From the exercise, I got a couple more. I also talked to friends on Whatsapp. Last but not least I tweeted and received more suggestions.

A list of the apps recommended to me

It turns out there are more Kenyan apps than I had thought! I tried clustering them.

  • Banking apps — KCB, NIC, Chase Mfukoni, Equity, Barclays, DTB, CBA, Stanchart, and Family Bank
  • News apps — The Star, Mpasho, Citizen News, The Standard, KTN News, Kenya News Tuko, Capital FM Kenya
  • Lending apps — Shield Finance, Tala (formerly Mkopo Rahisi), Branch App
  • Games — Bungoma Hangman, Ma3Racer
  • Other finance-related apps — Safaricom’s Mledger, Pesacalc, KopoKopo, Abacus Finance, TumaPesa
  • Customer support — MySafaricom, UAP, Safaricom Appstore
  • Transport related apps — Mara Moja, Little Cab, Sendy, KQ
  • Ones I couldn’t get enough to cluster — Chef’s Delight, KnownAfrique, Mobar, Waabeh
  • Agriculture related — iCow, M-Farm, Mkulima Young,

Seeing the sheer number of apps out there I quickly realised I couldn’t review all of them. I then decided to identify one or two from each group and review those. Banking apps seemed to be popular among the people who gave me feedback so I started with that.

Banking apps

It seems every bank in Kenya has an app. I only managed to look at KCB, Equity, NIC, Family Bank’s PesaPap,Barclays, Chase, Stanchart, and I&M.

KCB seems to the most popular app. With the download range 100k-500k, it is the most downloaded banking app on Google Play. Rated 4.4/5, it has fairly good reviews. KCB allows both KCB account holders and non-account holders to use the app. This might have contributed to the number of downloads. You get more value if you have an account with KCB. You can clearly see that a lot of thought was put into the design of the app.

The second most downloaded app is Chase Mfukoni. It is in the 50k-100k download range. Chase has always been touted as a youthful bank and so I expected their app to be the most downloaded. The reviews are quite negative and so it was a surprise to see that it is rated 4.1/5.

All the other banking apps I looked at have downloads in the 10k-50k range. This is quite low considering the number of clients most of these banks have. The common challenges faced by banking app users fell into three categories:

  • The user experience doesn’t seem to match up to the users’ expectations. On KCB’s app one of the app users is complaining about having to reactivate the app after every update. On Equity’s app there is an option to use it to transfer money across countries. This has lead to a longer registration process and created confusion and frustration among users. The feedback is clear but Equity has stood its ground and decided to keep it that way.
  • Bugs — quite a number of the apps seem to be buggy. Things expected to work in a certain way don’t work as expected
  • Compatibility — a common frustration among banking app users is that the app doesn’t work on their phone. The general trend is that the apps work for later versions of Android and not the older ones.

Banking apps are easy to sell to users as they enable you to do things that you would have to do anyway. Banks, therefore need to work on improving them so that more customers use them. I am a Barclays customer but I don’t use the app at all. Instead, I use the USSD service as it offers the same service as the app.

News/tabloid apps

While looking at apps in this category I was sure the big media houses would be the ones with the most downloads. It therefore came as a shock when I realised that an app called Kenya News Tuko.co.ke has the most downloads. With downloads in the 500k-1m range, it blows the other apps out of the water.

I also looked at The Star Kenya, Mpasho, Citizen News, The Standard Kenya, and Capital FM Kenya. Both Citizen News and The Standard are in the 100k-500k download range. Mpasho had the lowest number of downloads (10k-50k). The others were in the 50k-100k range. Capital FM was the highest rated (4.3) while Mpasho (3.9) was the lowest rated. The Star Kenya has a huge number of reviews and quite a significant number of them are positive.

It looks like news apps users don’t like leaving reviews, though. Only The Star and Mpasho had a significant number of reviews on their pages. The rest had one or two reviews at best. I saw one (I won’t say which one it is) that had two reviews and they were both from the development team :-) Are the users who downloaded these apps actually using them? Only if I could get more data…

Seeing how long this post is becoming I have decided to break it into two parts. You can read the second part by following the link provided below.

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