Posted by Jeevan Jayaprakash
In this issue, we look at the mobile search war taking place between Google and Facebook, the mobile revolution that is changing Africa in more ways than one and what is likely to be another hard fought mobile OS war.
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Hi Mum! Said Dad
Google AMP 1 Facebook Instant Articles 0
Google seems to have stolen a march on Facebook after confirming that all future mobile search results will be powered by Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages. AMP are essentially streamlined versions of websites that are optimised to load quickly on mobile devices. Previously, only a small number of selected articles in a carousel at the top of a search results page were powered by AMP (see GIF below).
Facebook’s Instant Articles feature only works via the official Facebook app and so it is already hampered in the race to become the standard. However, given that Facebook owns Instagram, WhatsApp, Messenger and of course, the Facebook platform itself, one would be foolish to call this a foregone conclusion.
So why is this important? Well, given this is Google, it could well become the standard on mobile, eventually replacing responsive design in the long run. This means we could end up in a situation in the short run where developers will need to build a responsive page, a Facebook Instant Articles page and a Google AMP page. Given that one of the factors that Google ranks webpages by is speed, the onus is certainly on websites to AMP up. To compound matters further, making an AMP version of a webpage can lead to significant extra work, depending on a website’s backend framework.
What a time to be alive if you are a web developer.
Mobile promises much for Africa
The introduction of M-Pesa in Kenya in 2007 hinted at just how powerful mobile could be for the continent of Africa. 75% of Kenyan adults today are now banked thanks to the mobile money transfer system (the corresponding figure for 2009 was 26.1%).
This piece by the Guardian illustrates just how deep-rooted mobile has become in African society, penetrating areas such as healthcare and education in ways that mobile has not in other places. This mobile penetration can partly be explained by the fact Africa was a late bloomer technologically and that feature phones/low-fi Android devices are cheap and plentiful.
Democracy has also been a beneficiary of the mobile revolution. John Githongo, one of Kenya’s leading anti-corruption activists, has argued that the pervasiveness of mobile has provided citizens with the ability to mobilise support for a cause and to make their voice heard by their governments. The startup economy is also being driven by mobile. Innovative startups like Eneza, which provide educational courses via mobile and iCow, which allows farmers to track fertility cycles are providing solutions to localised problems. Mobile is facilitating a new breed of entrepreneurs and the hope is that they could be quite a force to reckoned with when they eventually turn their attention to the digital challenges in foreign markets.
However, the focus for many entrepreneurs is in the here and now, given the abundance of opportunity that exists on the African continent. This talent is also significant. Many of Africa’s entrepreneurs are described as being among the ‘elite’ in society, with either world-class educations from leading institutions or having enough motivation to self learn and master the skills needed through massive online open courses. Even the African diaspora are returning to their homelands in anticipation of such opportunities.
Despite this, leading tech VC, Andreessen Horowitz, has warned that the winners will be those who are willing to play the long game. Collaboration can be difficult and understanding the local context (culture, social norms, mindsets etc) takes time — something which may put the returning African diaspora at an immediate disadvantage relative to local entrepreneurs.
Plenty of opportunity then but clearly a lot of work to be done.
Is the Android-first era upon us?
In VisionMobile’s recent State of The Developer Nation Q3, 2016 report, Android has overtaken iOS in terms of developer mindshare, with a rise in the percentage of professional developers prioritising the platform. Android has always traditionally been ahead of iOS, largely thanks to hobbyists. However, with professional developers showing a greater inclination towards the platform, this suggests that the mobile OS landscape may be shifting.
VisionMobile executive, Mark Wilcox, says potential explanations for the findings include faster growth in markets dominated by Android (primarily the East), a change in the type of apps being developed as well as the increased complexity of UI-related development on iOS.
The report is not necessarily suggesting that developers are abandoning iOS but instead it shows that priorities are shifting. Given the popularity of iPhones in Western markets in particular, iOS should remain strong for the foreseeable future. Despite this, these latest figures will be a slight cause for concern for Apple and the onus will be on them to make iOS as attractive as possible for developers going forward.
Originally written as part of Hi Mum! Said Dad’s Weekly Digest.
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