SMARTPHONE applications developed in Africa will have to be locally relevant and solve the problems of local communities to be profitable and viable, according to Pratapa Bernard, vice-president and head of solutions at Vodafone.

On Wednesday, Vodacom held the first award ceremony for its App Star Challenge in Johannesburg, where smartphone applications produced by Africans for Africans were rewarded for their “innovation and relevance”.

Vodacom considers the competition vital in developing local content for smartphones in Africa, a continent that has among the world’s highest rates of mobile penetration, with more than 700-million subscriptions.

However, Western applications have dominated the market, including the popular Angry Birds game by Finnish app developer Ravio Entertainment.

Mr Bernard said the Vodafone App Star Challenge was an ideal platform for African developers.

“The key value that the Vodafone app store brings from a developer’s point of view is that it is platform agnostic. It doesn’t matter if you’re building for a Google device, an Android device, an iPhone or for Java or Symbian, there is one destination that you can come to and reach all the users you would like to reach,” he said.

He added: “One of the main challenges for local developers has been the lack of quality content. In the Western market there are granular street maps with all the details included. I bet beyond immediate streets in bigger cities you wouldn’t have that information for any part of Africa.”

The top two prizes of the evening were both won by Kenyan app developers. Gerald Kibugi won the $25,000 first prize for his app Tough Jungle, an adventure game promoting Kenyan tourism. Gilbert Rono won $15,000 in second place for his educational app, Eureka, which solves calculus and algebra problems.

Rudolph Joubert, Prezence Digital and Ster-Kinekor won $10,000 in third place for an app that helps South African users buy movie tickets. The app has already been downloaded more than 300,000 times.

Lynette Hundermark, head of product strategy at Prezence Digital, said the movie-ticketing app was well received by users and was used on Blackberry, iPhone, Android and Nokia handsets.

“We had a good mobi site, and meeting the demand for an app was the next logical step. It’s more than the website and has value-add benefits,” she said.

A total of 3,600 developers registered for the App Star Challenge from countries including Egypt, Tanzania, South Africa and Lesotho. Of the 500 applications submitted, 300 were accepted for the challenge. Mr Bernard said more than half of the entrants were individual or small-scale app developers.

Apps entered into the challenge are available in the Vodafone app store.

This article was first published on BDLive.co.za