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Google turns to African youth for expansion project

Africa is the next frontier for technology and tech giants plan to leverage this in their plans to reach one billion users

Watching videos on YouTube is at times a painstakingly frustrating process for Grace Ochieng.  About two minutes into a video, the loading speeds decrease before the annoying network error notice appears. When she runs out of data bundles the 20-year-old occasionally resorts to using free public Wi-Fi, even though she is aware of the security threats it poses.  To access her emails and research on her school work on phone, the Kenyatta University student has to purchase bundles worth Sh50 daily. “It is never enough. I stay online intermittently for about 10 hours to regulate data usage,” she adds. 

Like many cellphone users in the country, the second-year student grapples with high cost of data, regularly runs out of phone storage and predominantly accesses Internet via a phone rather than a computer. Tech giant Google sees this category of mobile phone users as the key to achieving its Next Billion Users.

Emerging markets

With online access almost reaching its peak in developed countries, where the tech company enjoys a large market, Google is responding to this shift by turning to emerging markets in Asia and Africa to widen its customer base.

Just 10 years ago about 1.5 billion people accounting for 22 per cent of the global population were connected to the Internet, with only 13 per cent of them living in low and low-middle economies. Today, close to half of the global population of 7.7 billion people is online.  Internet World Stats estimates that currently one in every three people in Africa has Internet access.

Demographics are a key factor in Africa that Google is leveraging on. The continent’s population is estimated at 1.2 billion, with 60 per cent being under 24 and the United Nations projects that it will grow to 2.4 billion by 2050. Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa particularly hold great strategic significance in Google’s quest. “These countries represent a huge population and a lot of growth in terms of digital adoption. They have a combined estimated population of 290 million people.  The three economies present a great opportunity for growth given that they have many people that are still offline,” says Juliet Ehimuan- Chaizor, Google Country Director, Nigeria.

But unlike online users in developed countries, those in new markets have unique characteristics that shape their Internet use. Research by Google shows that users in these markets use low specs phones as they are more affordable; experience poor Internet connectivity and high cost of data;  want local content; and rely on mobile phones for most of their computing work. 

Amid a growing smart phone penetration in new markets estimated to exceed 60 per cent in developing countries by 2020, Google has tailored products to cater for these unique user needs. Increased connectivity offers numerous opportunities for the continent’s economy.

Next Billion Users

To date, Google has unveiled eight Next Billion Users products in sub-Saharan Africa that take into account the access challenges faced by users in the region. Gmail Go enables users access emails in a light and fast way, allows them read emails online and offline and has extra 15 GB of storage. Watching videos in a limited data setting has been made easier with YouTube Go as it allows users to load videos fast with slow Internet speeds and enables them to preview videos to determine the amount of data they require to watch. 

Smartphone users can organise their files and manage their storage faster with Files Go while Datally helps users control their data by tracking the apps that drain data. Users can save up to 40 per cent of their data by searching the web using Google Go compared to the regular app. With information of more than 100 million places in 70 languages Maps Go offers a better experience in tracing locations.  A product that is only found around the continent in Nigeria, Google Station offers fast and secure free Wi-Fi spots in populated areas.

Optimised apps

A slimmed version of Android Operating system released on entry level devices, Android Go provides better performance on low spec phones and saves data. Aside from Datally and Google Stations, the rest are improved versions of existing apps and are are smaller compared to their predecessors.

“We optimised our existing apps and made them perform 15 per cent faster on Android Go. The new apps are preinstalled in Android Go smartphones but can also be downloaded on other phones. We are working with different partners to launch Android Go devices across the markets,” says Tobechukwu Arize, Android’s Associate Product Marketing Manager, Africa. Last year a partnership between Google and Safaricom led to the launch of Neon Kicka 4 phone into the Kenyan market. The phone runs on Android Go operating system.

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