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Past, present, future: How mobile applications shape Nigerian lives

  • Mobile apps are shaping the future” – Oluwatobi Akinpelu

    You might not realize it, but our lives are more or less governed by mobile applications. Perhaps this is an oversimplified perspective but analyze it: if you learn that money problems are looming in the horizon, you get a budgeting app; you want to stay fit, you get a fitness app; you are trying to plan your day; you get a daily planner, or you need directions to your destination, who else do you turn to but trusted Google Maps? I bet you see where I am going with this.

    It is only recently that I became fully aware of how integral mobile apps have become to our lives as long as we use smartphones. A cursory look at the apps on my phone showed me that I had an app for almost everything.

    This led me to question further why mobile apps have come to play such a pivotal role in our lives and if our increased reliance on them may have specific effects on our life as we know it. Of course, I am not worried that something as apocalyptic or dramatic as the rise of the machines like in the Terminator movies would occur (though, we should probably keep a close eye on AI) but then, we have all got to stop and ponder on certain things every now and then, right?

    Amusingly, at the peak of my enquiries, I stumbled on Oluwatobi Akinpelu, a young developer, on Twitter. His mobile app, ‘Gingered’ was trending on Google’s Play Store at the time and upon downloading it, I was impressed at the seamless fusion of past, present and future on one platform. Beyond my interest in the application, I saw this as a chance to take a look at the technological landscape of Nigeria as it relates to mobile app building - the past, present and future.

    According to a publication on the impact of mobile applications in people’s lives, currently apps tremendous aid in learning, navigation, security, providing entertainment and social media.

    With mobile apps, it has become much easier to learn new things. For example, FluentU is one app that makes learning an entirely new language almost effortless. Looking at navigation, the example I gave about Google Maps is a typical instance. Security on the other hand as it relates to mobile apps may be relatively unfamiliar to you. Well, we all know that the new gold is data. Advertising agencies are constantly mining billions of data and hiring 20-something-year-old analysts who are tech-savvy to breakdown multitudes of raw information, but with certain mobile apps, your data can be kept secure. Information that you do not want to give out can be prevented from the prying eyes of spyware or hackers.

    In terms of entertainment, apps are on a roll when it comes to giving us a variety of options. From immersive games to access to diverse interests, apps are taking the lead. Social media is another world on its own. Thanks to mobile apps, talking to loved ones from far and near as well as sharing bits of one’s life with varied audiences is all possible at the touch of a button. In fact, these days there is barely any separation between real life and the virtual world.

    Related: Six amazing educational mobile apps for kids

    However, in as much as these forms of impact are seen all over the world, considering how much Nigeria has been lagging in terms of adopting certain technologies, is the result of mobile apps being felt as much here?

    Akinpelu was quick to tell me that the impact may perhaps be felt even more in this part of the world because of the average Nigerian’s attachment to entertainment as a portal for escapism. Indeed, according to the Global Mobile Market Report by NewZoo, a digital media analytics company, Nigeria is ranked 24th on the list of countries with the highest number of smartphone users in the world.

    In spite of this high figure, the Nigerian approach to teaching technology has not allowed many to pursue full careers in app development. Even though several universities offer courses like Computer Science and the likes, many like Akinpelu who have had a measure of success in the field broke out by sheer tenacity and determination. The web developer shared his experience:

    “I’ve always loved playing around with computers from my childhood. My first computer was, of course, a big screen desktop. When I learnt how to type fast, I helped my brother complete his university project work by typing at 40 words per minute. I was about 13/14 at the time.

    After secondary school, I was fascinated by hardware engineering and went to a tech class for it. Then, I grew an interest in web development. About 2 years after, I heard about Nick D’Aloisio, and his story inspired me to move into mobile phones since they are used more often than laptops.

    I was self-taught by my second year in university. When I got to my fourth year, I was teaching Computer Science students though I studied Agriculture. In my fifth year, I helped a master’s student to complete his project by building an app for him.”

    When I asked why he had not studied Computer Science instead, he explained, “I applied for Computer Science, but the school gave me Agriculture. I didn’t want to stay at home, so I took the course.”

    Despite the failure of the educational system to grant Akinpelu the opportunity to study his passion, he has four years of experience in web development under his belt and now works at Farmcrowdy Limited, a start-up engaged in empowering farmers to gain access to investment and their target markets.

    Oluwatobi Akinpelu, Developer, Gingered app

    Throwing insight into the unique design of Gingered, he noted that it was born out of the realization that lots of people know so much about the present but barely know what happened in the past or of tools that will equip them for the future. He added that some of these people do not even understand the importance of documenting what happens to them on a daily basis. Through a bit of user research and engineering, he decided that the best strategic solution would be to build an easy-to-use app that tells of the richness of the past, gives a glimpse of the future through podcasts and allows the user to privately chronicle his or her story that might become a bestseller someday.

    He summarized, “Basically an app that helps you gain deep insights of the past, knowledge of today to give a proper view of what the future brings.”

    The Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta graduate predicts that in the near future, mobile apps would be better utilized in Nigeria, in three (3) important areas— consumer applications like commerce and service, enterprise collaboration and decision support systems (DSS).

    Consumer applications are the typical mobile apps that you and I know such as WhatsApp, Subway Surfer, Canva, dictionaries etc. They are mobile software used by the average person to ease processes, most often for leisure. This is the most basic use of mobile apps, but a further step can be taken to anticipate and solve problems revolving around day-to-day activities in ways never seen before.

    Enterprise collaboration refers to a system of communication that facilitates both internal and external cooperation in organizations. Due to the evolving corporate landscape, consumers are increasingly demanding more sophisticated goods and services that draw on an eclectic mix of skill sets. Hence, companies require a diverse talent pool which may not be found in one company. The management then relies on the social networking abilities of the employees to collaborate with their counterparts in other companies that may be able to provide some of the needed skill sets. Therefore, in the long run, mobile apps may be used for this purpose of simplifying business-to-business processes. Unlike consumer applications, enterprise collaboration apps do not have to bank on designs that appeal to the emotions. Rather, they are more utilitarian and focus on enhancing productivity.

    You may also want to read: Great tips to making money with social media

    Meanwhile, decision support systems are computer-based databases that serve as resource materials that help upper management to make informed decisions. Through raw data, business models, employee information and a host of other bits of information, mobile apps can serve as a conservatory of such relevant information.

    Akinpelu added, “Mobile apps will simplify the way we go about our daily activities and investments. Farmcrowdy started it in Agriculture, tens of other start-ups rose up to do the same. Andela started it, making brilliance equally distributed to the tech space, tens of others followed. But this time, a rise will occur in targeting the hinterlands, villages and the uneducated which makes up the larger population of Nigeria.”

    In spite of this forecast, he identified certain improvements that must be made in the educational and technological space to foster the development of socially impactful apps.

    First, he emphasised that the barriers to Internet use have to be removed. As it stands, the cost of Internet service is so high that most people cannot afford to spend so much time online, both app developers and users.

    Secondly, he highlighted the fact that the government ought to provide a conducive educational environment that esteems technological advancements and allows individuals with potentials to find expression. He was specific in observing that essential facilities must be made available to learn at least, the basics at tertiary institutions.

    Third, there must be widespread sensitization of the fact that mobile apps go beyond entertainment and can be used to solve major, real-life problems by empowering individuals with practical knowledge for businesses.

    Speaking on what developing an app requires, he remarked, “The efforts that go into developing apps are enormous, and only the passionate and skilled can get it right. It all begins with an idea. You then analyse it and determine if it is relevant, then you code, test and distribute. This is a summarized version of the process.”

    Therefore, it goes without saying that there is more to be done in terms of improving the educational terrain for the advancement of technology. Mobile app development is still in its infantile stages in Nigeria, in spite of the strides already being made all over the globe to interweave computers and apps with everyday life.

    On closer inspection, the problem goes deeper than the failed educational system in this country but is more about the fact that priority is not placed on technology as a whole. If the large applications of technology were better understood and appreciated in Nigeria, then measures would be put in place to ensure that every individual is granted access to the tools that will make the adoption of technology for daily use possible.

    Where so many nations have moved to more incisive uses of technology, we are relegated to the past, struggling to claw our way out of the cesspool of an analogue form of life. There is no question of the fact that we have embraced mobile apps or that they are here to stay for routine use but then with such a sluggish and nonchalant attitude to creating the right environment for full-on embrace of technology, when will we begin having more mobile apps built for Nigerians, by Nigerians to capture our daily needs?

    Considering the current state of our educational institutions, one might be forced to say that we cannot expect much improvement. Nevertheless, there might be hope. With the new crop of budding developers found across the country- radical developers who seize the day to carve niches for themselves- the Nigerian technological landscape is sure to enjoy a facelift in the near future.

    More so, Akinpelu says, “Mobile apps are shaping the future. We need to accept that it is impossible now to spend a day without smart mobile applications and the impact is massive."

    Ultimately, this assertion may be the hope of this nation yet.  We may seem stuck in the past for now, but the present speaks of advancements in mobile application development in the future.

    Also, check out: Five remarkable apps that can make your life so much easier

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