MENA millennials' insatiable mobile app-etites driving tech innovation
There are many challenges for small app developers in the region such as competition and funding. (Shutterstock)
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The growing popularity of mobile applications among users has caused a surge in the demand for more powerful smartphones in the region and is, in turn, fuelling innovation among SMEs in the UAE.
Experts in the UAE have noted that the popularity of mobile apps is not only restricted to young millennials but has also spilled over to businesses eager to utilise the platform to reach out to consumers.
"What we are seeing today is that even traditionally non-technology based services and lifestyle aspects are being transformed by the technology industry. It is almost a cliché now, but there really is an app for everything; whether you want to send flowers, book a hair appointment or gym session, or even manage your bank account; you can do it from the palm of your hand, without dialling a single number," said Tarek Sabbagh, head of IT and mobile division at Samsung Gulf Electronics.
Sabbagh explained that the app-first culture that we are living in derives from the simple fact that smartphones have become the most important tool that we use during our day. Consequently, app developers are leveraging on that trend by creating applications to improve the user experience.
"Consumers need only to pick up their phone, and within seconds can have seamlessly completed a transaction without needing to speak to anyone or wait on hold," Sabbagh said. "Of course, these apps are only available on smartphones, which, in turn, is driving the adoption of these devices. Today's digital pioneers are looking for a value proposition that delivers on all aspects - the technology of the device, the quality, design and functionality - as well as its capabilities of running the applications."
Fahad Al Bannai, CEO of Axiom Telecom, said the insatiable appetite for mobile apps among the UAE's tech-savvy millennials is fuelling the growth of technology start-ups.
"What we are witnessing now is a lifestyle evolution, one in which errands are transforming into services, all with the help of mobile apps," said Al Bannai. "In the UAE, where app developers are widely available, and entrepreneurship is encouraged, this technology is creating fertile ground for the country's digital innovators. Many are already reaping the benefits, and many more will follow."
According to Go-Gulf, the Mena region now accounts for 10 per cent of global mobile traffic and revenue generation. The UAE leads the list of countries in the Mena region by number of app downloads, with 51 per cent of respondents saying that they have downloaded more than five apps. At 60 per cent, games were found to be the most popular apps category in the Mena, followed by social media and music at 37 per cent and 28 per cent respectively.
"For today's busy and career-driven millennials, these apps serve as time-saving tools, enabling users to multi-task and complete errands with minimal effort. We will continue to see significant developments in how these apps are developed and their functional capabilities. One thing is for certain - the race is on to build tomorrow's most coveted mobile app," Al Bannai said.
Tarek AlZubair, managing director of Synergistics, noted that the GCC has one of the youngest tech-savvy populations in the world, with high Internet penetration rates.
"For many people, a smartphone is the first object that they reach for in the morning, and the last thing they look at before they sleep," he said. "Today, the challenge for many companies is not how to bring consumers to their products, but how to bring their products to the consumers. For this, they are looking at creating websites and apps that will help them, and this is presenting an opportunity for app developers."
However, AlZubair noted that there are many challenges for small app developers in the region such as competition and funding. "Gone are the days when an app developer would have to compete with a few hundred apps on the App Store. Today, there are millions of apps available for download; competition is fierce and you have to have the funds ready if you want to market your app properly and stand out from competition."
According to local app developer, Flagship Projects, the UAE has captured 60 per cent of the Middle East's smartphone mobile apps business. The cost of app development depends on each app's individual technical and design requirements. However, it is estimated that the development cost range for small apps ranges between $3,000 to $8,000, and that more complex or recognised brand apps can cost between $50,000 to $150,000.
Numerous UAE-based tech start-ups have shown early signs of success. According to technology market intelligence provider CB Insights, the country's most well-funded tech start-ups include the car-booking service company Careem, valued at $350 million in 2016, delivery service provider Fetchr!, valued at $11 million in 2015, and online restaurant reservations platform ReserveOut at $4 million in 2016.
Still, dozens of other innovative UAE-based start-up apps are making a strong presence in the market, from on-demand laundry service provider Washmen, and grocery delivery app InstaShop to numerous online food delivery platforms such as Talabat, Eat Easily and Food on Click.
A recent report from Accenture indicated that digital entrepreneurs and tech start-ups have the potential to contribute significantly to the UAE's economy. Figures from the consultancy show that digital transformation, or optimising the use of digital skills and technologies, can add nearly Dh51.4 billion to the country's GDP.
By Rohma Sadaqat