As more Zimbabweans join the rest of the world on the internet, local developers are similarly striving to build online solutions for their communities. However in what are seemingly bids to be better able to call themselves “world-class”, they end up building applications which are severely out of touch with the markets which they are trying to serve.
By keeping all these and other factors in mind a good developer is better able to build applications that can efficiently deliver services to the end-user using a reasonable amount of resources. Some developers might ignore these common-sense practices, declaring that they are targeting the middle to upper-income earners but at the end of the day most of those people use the same networks as their “poor” counterparts. Also, if you can improve the user experience for the lowest performance device running your app or visiting your site, that performance boost will be felt by those running higher-end devices. Not only that but most online business models require you to have a sizable audience, which may be challenging if you establish an audience based on the ill-defined niche of better performing devices.
Zimbabwe is mobile
It is strange that in this day and age it is still necessary to remind developers to build websites and web apps that are responsive. This is not just a third world issue; most of the internet traffic nowadays is coming from mobile phones. However developing countries are still a special issue because most people do not have access to a computer at all, so mobile phones are still their only method of accessing the internet. This makes it necessary for developers to develop web apps that are robust, well-designed and have extensive functionality even when accessed via mobile devices.
SMS trumps email
Some developers underestimate the power of traditional SMS. I think one of the factors that contributed toward the growth and popularity of services such as Whatsapp, Gmail and Facebook in developing countries is their healthy reliance on SMS for authenticating users when they are signing up. You may be prematurely losing a lot of potential users during the signup stage of your app because you are demanding an email address they do not have. SMS simplifies everything because, as I have mentioned earlier, most of your users will already be accessing your websites through phones.
Don’t leave out low-end phones
Most developers use and test their creations on high-end devices and this shows. As frameworks continue to make programming complex tasks much easier, the average web surfer is assaulted by merciless pop-ups, redirections and animations which slow browsers to a crawl. What many developers do not realise is that these are far more problematic on some devices. Your site or app can become so unusable that some people will continue to avoid it even when they are on better performing devices. So as a developer you have to remember that no matter how animations and high-resolution images make your site pretty, they are not worth it if they ruin the user experience for over half of your visitors. There is absolutely no need for your news or gossip site to rival a multiplayer game in its demand for computing resources.
In Zimbabwe, internet connections are not only expensive but are generally slow. Therefore you should always strive to make your web pages use less data. Unfortunately, as time goes by and software developers gain more experience and “sophistication”, they tend to develop a less accurate image of the typical Zimbabwean web surfer. For one, developers have to remember that in most parts of Zimbabwe the infrastructure through which the internet is delivered to the final consumer is still backward, which results in poor, slow and unreliable connections. Even more importantly, the internet is widely considered to be expensive in a country that has more than half its population living below the poverty datum line. In short, except for the spotty, overloaded networks provided by employers and academic institutions the internet is still a luxury for many people.
This means that you should really minimise the use of certain client-side web frameworks and templates as most of these contain redundant and useless code which ends up eating into your users’ data unnecessarily. Popular media apps such as Youtube will, by default, use more data as the available internet speeds increase. Apps created for lower-income users and areas should instead have more options for limiting how much bandwidth they can consume.
What is more concerning is that a lot of third party developers do not really build apps with the end-user in mind. Instead, they create flashy, bandwidth-hungry monsters that are meant to more easily impress their unsuspecting clients. It is the developer’s job to dissuade their clients from demanding pretty but resource-intensive features that end up chasing away users anyway.