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Orange Tunisie to launch Africa’s first apps store

Orange Tunisie to launch Africa’s first apps store at the end of May

May 31st is a date to keep in mind because it is the day Orange Tunisie will launch its apps store. It will be the first apps store to go live in an African country. Isabelle Gross spoke to Nadia Mkhinini, Head of Products and Services at Orange Tunisie about what the apps store will have in for the Tunisian mobile users and how Orange Tunisie will tackle local apps development.

Orange Tunisie’s says that “the development and the commercialisation of apps are central to their 3G strategy”. According to Nadia Mkhinini, it all started last year when Orange Tunisie rolled out an extensive awareness and training program aimed at local developers and engineers students in ICT. They held 8 workshops across the country’s main cities attracting more than 600 people. They also organised training courses in universities and engineering schools. Orange Tunisie organised for example a first training program at the National Engineering School of Tunis (ENIT) in November 2010. 27 participants enrolled for courses and practical sessions. Orange provided a developer user guide, training support brochures, exercises and 3 iMAC 27. The feedback was: “high potential”, “a real interest for this new market”,  “ENIT asked for a second training program and wanted to create a mobile developers club sponsored by Orange Tunisie”. At Supcom, another engineering school, the mobile operator provided training on mobile apps and APIs to 200 students and this program will be integrated in the curriculum thought by the school. Most of the participants to these workshops and training sessions had little knowledge on how to develop an application but were very keen to learn.

In parallel to the launch of the iPhone4 last October, Orange Tunisie also run a competition aimed at supporting local developers to develop apps for the iPhone. For the 100 most promising apps, Orange Tunisie paid the US$99 registration fee that is required by Apple to access its development platform. Most young Tunisians don’t have a bank account or a credit card and therefore it is very difficult for them to enrol on any international apps distribution platform.

At the end of February 2011, the mobile operator also opened a development centre in Tunis with the aim of providing a space to hold training sessions on how to build mobile apps but also to offer access to the equipment needed by developers to develop and test their apps. The centre has 11 MAC, 13PC, a range of smartphones to test the apps on various mobile operating system and 2G and 3G+ mobile internet access. Developers can even book their seat online here. How cool this is!

The launch of the apps store is the next step in Orange Tunisie’s mobile content strategy. It is quite a bold approach if you consider that it is the latest mobile entrant in Tunisia (until recently a duopoly between Tunisie Telecom and Tunisiana). Orange Tunisie launched its 2G and 3G services in February 2010 and today its 3G network covers 71% of the population.  According to Nadia Mkhinini, 42% of the mobile handsets on the network have data capabilities and 15% of the handsets are 3G handsets. The number of smartphones is still small and represents about 5% of the handsets but the number of handsets running the Android operating system is steadily growing.

When Orange Tunisie’s apps store launches on May 31st, it will offer a mix of international and local mobile applications. The international apps are sourced via the Orange’s group apps portfolio. There will be applications in French and in Arabic. Nadia Mkhinini reckons that by the launch date, they will have 50 local applications online. They range from cinema, transport, banking to tourism related applications. Most of the local applications fall in the category of utility and so far there are no local game applications. At the start users will be able to access and download apps via Orange Tunisie mobile portal at m.orange.tn until a built-in apps will come pre-installed on the handsets sold by the mobile operator.

Local developers will get 70% of the revenue generated by the application – the standard revenue share in this industry’s segment. Developers can also choose how they want to sell their applications: free with advertising or as a paid for application. The price of a paid for application will be directly deducted from the mobile subscriber’s calling credits. The ability to offer carrier billing to purchase paid for applications plays in favour of the mobile operator. International apps store still have to solve the problem on how to get payments since an overwhelming majority of African mobile users don’t have a credit card  (some international apps store are trying to resolve this issue: e.g. last week Google announced that 26 African countries could now buy paid applications). Orange Tunisie forecasts it will have 20,000 users by the end of this year with each user downloading between one and two apps per month. The numbers are small but apps developers will also have later on the opportunity to place their products in Orange other operations across the world.

Through this project, it is not only Tunisian developers that will get the opportunity to showcase their technical skills at building apps but local IT companies too. Orange Tunisie’s apps store has been built by a Tunisian IT startup company as the group’s solution follows a scheduled implementation that would have set back the store’s launch in Tunisia. According to Nadia Mkhinini, Orange Tunisie will continue to support local research and development initiatives as part of a wider commitment to the Tunisian government’s strategy to develop further the local ICT sector (which is already active in the outsourcing segment). Unemployment remains high in Tunisia and the ICT sector offers jobs and business opportunities. It is important to help the developers to earn some money so that they can exist.

Orange Tunisie’s apps store represents a significant turning point if you consider that many African mobile operators still don’t really care about how subscribers use the data as long as they buy the data package. African mobile operators will sooner rather then later have to engage more with local developers. Supporting them to develop apps is a first step in the right direction but developers need more to reach customers: they need access to the mobile operator’s network and distribution platform.
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