Mobile Platforms

27Aug12

Mobile phones have been for some time making a steady climb in supplanting the computer as the major platform for electronic communication, programming, and commerce, and in many areas of the world, already succeeding. Looking at Africa, the mobile phone is the most widespread and reliable electronic tool in use. The ubiquitous use of cell phones across all platforms has given rise to incubators and start up companies developing exclusively for mobile phones.

In Nairobi, iHub offers a collaborative space for tech people to come together, and “has expanded to include a consulting arm, a research department and an incubation space called m:lab, which supports start-ups developing mobile applications.”[1] However these incubators aren’t just located in major cities, but in rural areas too, like Musoma, in Tanzania. Here NGOs have a more established presence and are pairing environmental technologies, like harvesting solar power with a mobile phone payment service.[2]

While mobile money programs are just beginning to enter onto the scene in the U.S. with devices like Square Card Reader, and apps like Google Wallet, they are already big business in East Africa, with Kenya’s M-Pesa leading the way. But along with all the perks of quick and easy access to cash and goods, there are pitfalls to this new technology. Floating money from the mobile money industry has been known to flood the market and give rise to higher levels of inflation. In February of 2012, inflation surges were enough of a market force to tip the hand of the Central Bank of Kenya to raise interest rates and shore up the country’s cash supply.[3] But despite this, mobile money is here to stay, and it will be interesting to see how new startups make use of this platform of payment and even build off of it.
-Emily Wood

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