Apps for the people by the people

The key word is “easier”. An easier way to find the nearest creche, kota joint or mechanic in a township. An easier way to navigate the daunting minibus taxi system, whether you are a new user who doesn’t know which taxi rank to go to, or whether you’re in a unfamiliar place and are not sure what hand sign to make.

Two new apps, Explore iKasi and Khwela, aim to do just that — make it easier.

Katleho Nyawuza, the creator of Explore iKasi, says the app was born out of frustration after the barber where he used to get R15 haircuts in the East Rand township of Thokoza had closed up shop. Like any millennial would, Nyawuza consulted Google. The search was “barber in Thokoza” — and the results?

“Google shows me something in Sandton. It took the word ‘barber’ and located me somewhere in the urban areas,” he says.

Hence the development of Explore iKasi, a free application, which is a directory of township businesses in the country. It allows formal and informal kasi businesses to register their services under various subcategories, such as beauty, motor care, food and education. Using geolocation technology, it directs you to the closest listed business and gives information about prices, trading hours, contact details and directions.

Nyawuza says Explore iKasi is also about the township experience. “It’s about domestic tourism and it’s about international tourism, you know, to get people out of an area into a new area and you get to experience what’s around you or what you are not familiar with, with convenience.”

Nyawuza began work on the app in May last year and officially launched it for Android and iPhone in April this year. Currently 300 businesses in different townships are listed.

A 2015 Statistics South Africa statement on household expenditure on public transport said taxis are the most commonly used mode of public transport, with 51% of the households that use public transport (76.7%) relying on them.

They are the country’s transport heartbeat but information about how to use the taxis, such as which rank or route to go to, how much they cost, the hand signs to use and how many connections a trip will require, is passed on by word of mouth. Until now.

“Khwela is a virtual taxi-rank experience,” said Skhona Khumalo, the founder of the app, which will be launched at the end of this month.

Once you have downloaded the application, you will log into Khwela, enter your details, which are linked to a map interface. It will note your location and the three closest taxi ranks.

You can then select one and you will be given information such as opening and closing times, the manager on duty, a list of destinations from that rank, the routes the taxis take to get to your destination, and the cost.

“I have been catching taxis since I was about nine years old and it’s been this way since then,” says Khumalo. “I asked myself, is that really the only place it can go and is that really it? The question was: How do I apply the skills that I have to attend to what I am looking at right now?”

“It really was triggered by that, the notion that entrepreneurship isn’t some foreign concept. It’s really using the tools you have to see it differently,” he says.

Khwela does away with the inconvenience of going to a taxi rank only to find that the taxi you’re looking for does not leave from there. It also limits the safety risks that arise from asking strangers for directions.

The app will also feature a forum, where commuters can find out about things such as disruptions or congestion, and raise their concerns and post queries.

“A little change that affects over 10-million people really goes a long way. Any economic study abroad or in First World countries will show you that if you fix the transport system you boost the economy because people aren’t stressed in the morning. It’s not just stress, it’s more efficiency and hours things that convert to revenue,” Khumalo says.

He started work on Khwela in 2015 and, in the beginning, it will cover only Johannesburg central. But he envisages that it will eventually cover all the densely populated areas of South Africa.

Both Nyawuza and Khumalo are conscious about their apps being data-friendly. Both apps are less than 10 megabytes and have a low data demand. Explore iKasi cannot be used offline but Khwela can, although users then won’t have access to all its features. Commuters will also have free wi-fi, provided by the developers, to download Khwela at the taxi ranks.

[Katleho Nyawuza, creator of the Explore iKasi app (Oupa Nkosi/M&G)]

But what’s the likelihood that these apps will be successful? Wayne Berger, chairman of iShack innovation consultancy, said you measure the success of an app by whether it has millions of happy users or is making money.

Developers can make money using multiple models such as freemium content (free content with paid premium content) advertising, in-app purchases and subscriptions.

Explore iKasi has a strip at the top of the homepage where businesses can pay to have their services advertised.

On the other hand, Berger said unsuccessful apps usually have “too many features and trying to be everything to everyone. These type of apps struggle to attract adoption and are often considered too complicated”.

“South Africans are not early technology adopters, unlike other African countries like Kenya. However, if you consider apps like Whatsapp, Facebook and Uber the adoption of these apps by South Africans confirms that if the product or service is appealing enough then people will adopt it”.

Tebogo Tshwane is an Adamela Trust financial reporter at the Mail & Guardian

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Tebogo Tshwane
Tebogo Tshwane

Tebogo Tshwane is an Adamela Trust financial journalism trainee at the Mail & Guardian. She was previously a general news intern at Eyewitness News and a current affairs show presenter at the Voice of Wits FM. Tshwane is passionate about socioeconomic issues and understanding how macroeconomic activities affect ordinary people. She holds a journalism honours degree from Wits University. 

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