[Part 2] How are Kenyan mobile apps doing?

Kirui K.
Kirui K.
Jul 14, 2016 · 7 min read

***This is the second part of the post I did about Kenyan apps and how they are faring in the market. If you haven’t read the first part, you can find it here.

In my previous post I only managed to cover banking and news apps. In this post I will look at two other categories — lending apps, and transport-type apps. At the end I will share general thoughts about the mobile app ecosystem in Kenya.

There is the famous ‘kona ya mwezi’ period in Kenya. It known to particularly affect employed people. This is the last week just before companies pay their employees. It is said that most people are broke the most at this time of the month. Roads are usually free of traffic and most people leave their cars at home to take public transport. I am sure you can guess why the jalopy is left at home. Bars are generally empty during this period. You would think the party day in Nairobi isn’t affected but you would be shocked to learn that Friday isn’t excluded.

It is at a time like this when you wish you hadn’t taken that loan from Mshwari, a lending service by Safaricom, as you didn’t need that money. KCB Mpesa, another lending service by KCB bank and Mpesa, stubbornly refuses to extend you a loan because Helb (The Higher Education Loans Board) forwarded you details to the credit reference bureau because you didn’t service your education loan. This is despite the fact that you have already started servicing the loan. You conclude that the developer who worked on the service must have been only good at boolean algebra. He/She just checked whether your details are with the bureau or not. Everything else is unnecessary details; true or false is the only thing we are looking at.

As you are about to lose hope you will remember that your former classmate co-founded a startup that gives out loans via a mobile application! When it rains, it pours: you then notice the billboard advertising a prominent lending app. Casting the privacy concerns aside (they access almost everything on your phone), you go ahead and install a lending app. You can try Shield Finance, Branch App, Tala, or Saida Loans, just to name a few.

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Njui and Kenny from Shield Finance picking their award at Pivot East 2015. They were the winners in the finance category (Photo courtesy: Mlab East Africa)

Tala and Branch App are both in the 100k-500k download range. With a rating of 4.6/5, Tala seems to be the better one. Branch has a rating of 4.1/5. Shield Finance is rated the lowest (3.0/5) and also has the fewest downloads (5k-10k). Saida Loans has a rating of 3.6/5 and falls in the 50k-100k download range.

Having seen the disparity between ratings and reviews, I have learned to trust reviews more than ratings. Sura Mbaya (interesting name I must say) aptly captured this on the first part of this post:

Interesting note on the Chase Mfukoni app — that the reviews are negative yet it has a 4.1 rating. That seems to me more like socio-cultural thing. I have seen it with restaurant reviews and even ratings for drivers on Uber where the driver is a dastardly sod yet he’s pushing a 4.6. We are willing say all these stuff that doesn’t please us but when it comes to submitting a rating, which seems more like a permanent punishment on the party being rated we seem to shy away.

The reviews will tell you that Tala is the best lending app. Almost all the reviews share a positive experience. Branch App has good reviews too. The complaint that seems to be consistent is that they immediately remind you to start paying as soon as you receive the money.

Saida and Shield Finance on the hand are getting a lot of slack. A good number of users faced difficulty installing the apps. For Shield Finance the verification process seems to be a particular pain. For Saida it seems the loan process isn’t very clear.

Generally, Tala and Branch seem to have really figured out this space. Shield Finance and Saida have more to do before they can match these two.

In this category I looked at MaraMoja Transport, Sendy, Little Cab, and KQ Mobile. This post covered Little Cab extensively but I still included it. The number of downloads for the apps in this section are quite low. Sendy, KQ Mobile, Little Cab were all in the 10k-5ok download range. MaraMoja is in the 1k-5k range. This is particularly alarming considering how long they were in the market. For the taxi hailing apps (Little Cab and MaraMoja) you can attribute this to the competitive nature of this particular market.

All the above apps are rated above 4.0/5. The rating system doesn’t seem to be the best way to judge whether an app is good or not.

KQ Mobile isn’t really a mobile application. They put a wrapper on the website and presented it as a mobile app. It is very painful using it. Having used it a lot, I was shocked to find positive reviews about the app. It might just be my opinion though.

Sendy has a fair number of good reviews. The common complaint is that the apps keeps crashing. It also seems that it isn’t compatible with all kinds of Android versions. The team is quite responsive to feedback: they comment on almost all negative feedback.

MaraMoja also has very good reviews. I haven’t heard much about them since they launched; their customers seem to love them. There is an interesting issue highlighted by a user — they can send messages to your contacts without your permission. This is quite appalling. I sincerely hope they have stopped doing that.

The Kenyan tech ecosystem owes a significant part of its fame to the mobile app ecosystem. However, it seems the mobile app space is relatively young. You would expect that for an industry that talks a lot about apps there would be more people using apps and a huge variety of apps. This isn’t the case. Why might this be the case? I will venture a guess and give a few reasons as to why this is the case.

Firstly, I don’t think as Kenyans we have the app culture yet. We are not quick to download and try out apps. Generally, people will only install apps that they use a lot. Whatsapp, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and the likes are common among Kenyans. OLX and Jumia have done a lot of marketing to get people to use their apps. KCB has also done the same resulting in more downloads than all the other banks.

Secondly, a good number of the apps released to the Kenyan market don’t have a clear value proposition. A good example is banking apps. Most banking apps offer the same service I can get on USSD. Why then do I need an app if I can do it without an app? Most companies have internalised the importance of design (different from UI design).

Good design matters. If more companies invested time in figuring out how to match user needs with business goals we would have better apps in the market. Design is about creating a wholesome experience that ensures the customer has a pleasurable experience all through. The app is a very small part of this. Have you factored in how you will handle complaints on the app? How does the app fit in with the vision of the company? How will you market and promote it? The article below captures this more articulately.

Thirdly, bugs. No app is perfect when it is launched. However, it needs to be improved as you get user feedback. No amount of testing will uncover all the bugs on the app. Users are bound to find bugs. Most of the apps I looked at had a significant number of bugs. Development needs to be beyond the launch.

Lastly, user experience. The design thinking culture is yet to take root in Kenya. Apps are designed by management and developed and deployed by the dev team. Best case scenario, it is tested by the marketing team but mostly by the dev team.User Acceptance Tests (UATs) are done but user experience testing isn’t done. If you scour the reviews of the apps I looked at, you will notice that this is a perennial complaint by app users.

Will this change? To be honest, I really don’t know. There are companies who have figured out how to develop a wholesome experience that will ensure the app will be used. There are more that haven’t figured this out or don’t care. Before you commission an app to be developed you might want to spend more time on the design (not to be confused with visual design).

Article by Kirui K. Kennedy, edited by the amazing Mbora the Explorer.

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