Zimbabwe doesn’t need apps, it needs bots instead

Nigel Gambanga Avatar
Zimbabwe smartphone penetration, Mobile Phones,

Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference 2016 roared into life yesterday and as expected, it didn’t disappoint with a number of interesting announcements.

These included a renamed operating system, a greater presence of Artifical Intelligence with Siri all over the place (thanks to how its open to app developers), a larger presence for Apple Pay and a faster watch, plus changes to iOS, Apple News, Apple Music.

You can check out the highlights to WWDC 2016 by following this link.

One other important change was the integration of third party apps with its iMessage service.

Developers can now create apps that can be retrieved from an iMessage Apps drawer. These will be extensions to external services that cover things like making payments, sending stickers and even ordering products from e-commerce platforms.

These apps are essentially bots, which are services that users can interact with via simple chat commands.

Just to be clear this isn’t a new idea. WeChat, the dominant messaging service in China has been using such extensions for its platforms for years and has managed to generate significant revenue from this. The same functionality has helped it gain traction in South Africa.

Through bot services that enable this external integration other chat services like Telegram and Kik have also increased their functionality.

Facebook also started tinkering with this type of integration last year when it launched its Messenger service as a platform along with the limited third party integration with similar tricks. Apple has just joined the party, giving another demonstration of how messaging platforms are evolving.

Apple has just joined the party, giving another demonstration of how messaging platforms are evolving.

Messaging apps are the new internet

Facebook, WhatsApp, ChatOn, Messenger

All these companies have embraced the reality that mobile users spend a significant amount of time using messaging apps. Other applications which might have clear value propositions are then forced to compete for attention after this.

Every user of a mobile messaging service can easily confirm this. We’ve already started sharing links to other services through chat platforms, distributing everything from news and information to documents and multimedia.

The value of every chat application is continuously being amplified by new features designed to make it worthwhile to stay within that chat application.

With everything available in these apps, it’s almost as if the chat services are the new internet, leapfrogging the conventional browser that was the primary gateway to the world of connectivity.

A clear example can be noted with WhatsApp, the most popular chat application globally.

In the past year, it has demonstrated this with a slew of improvements that are bringing services that can easily substitute other applications and primary services that at some point dominated mobile device use.

It’s the new reality of iterating chat platforms and the trend of third party apps actually accelerates this.

By integrating with external applications, Facebook’s Messenger, WeChat and now Apple’s iMessage are trying to keep capitalise on the attention retention strengths of their own apps while opening up their ecosystems to other services.

How would this work in Zimbabwe?


The leading applications used by Zimbabweans are WhatsApp and Facebook. WhatsApp contributes to one-third of bandwidth use, followed by Facebook (3%) and all the other internet services and applications share the remaining bandwidth.

These figures are a result of WhatsApp and Facebook bundles that have been introduced by local mobile network operators as a way of “monetising” these Over the Top (OTT) services.

The two apps are popular because of their convenience and cost efficiency in an environment where internet access is still expensive. As such mobile internet users rarely drift from their bundled affordable apps.

Using the same third party integration to maximise on the attention that is given to these specific services, developers catering for Zimbabwe need to create solutions around WhatsApp and Facebook instead of independent applications that would otherwise be overlooked.

This means developing bots that can turn these services into something more than what they are already.

For WhatsApp, some developers have already started to tinker with this, resulting in solutions that have functionalities like browser features, news roundups, weather updates and the delivery of premium content such as information on particular topics.

Service providers like Whatsbroadcast have done this on a large scale offering news delivery via WhatsApp, something that has been embraced by publications like The Financial Times. Other publications like Vogue and the BBC have also used bot services for some of their content.

WhatsApp is yet to open its platform to every type of bot integration, the prominent examples have actually been exceptions and other cases that have tried to gain traction have actually been blocked.

However, Facebook’s Messenger has already opened up its platform to developers that want to integrate their bots.

Facebook’s popularity in Zimbabwe would ensure that bots for Messenger that add value to the Messenger user experience and mobile access would find an audience, especially one that would rather stay within a Facebook bundle budget.

Who would benefit?


A number of  service providers that are trying to take advantage of the opportunity of the internet can use bots to improve their delivery while ensuring that they remain visible to the users themselves.

These can be e-commerce services that are using their online platforms to share price and product information; publications trying to share the best type of content that caters to a user’s tastes; medical services trying to share some health related information, enterprises (including government departments) that are always trying to share information and have only been making limited headway through a rarely visited web page, Facebook page or a newsletter; or even online retailers that are still trying to convince people to come and enjoy their latest clearance sale.

Bots are here, please adapt to that reality

Despite this potential , we still have an apathy from service providers and developers with some still pursuing the case of a mobile app launch instead.

True, there is still some value from mobile applications – after all, they have been shared with the whole world as the best way to tap into mobile’s dominance.

However, that is no longer the has been disrupted by the realities of chat service popularity and in Zimbabwe’s case the cost of internet. Services like bots are able to deliver the same value that every other online service is supposed to with the advantage of doing this in the apps that people actually use.



  1. tinm@n

    Should be “…it needs…” not “it need”

    1. Nigel Gambanga

      Thanks for that Tinman, fixed the typo.

  2. Anonymous

    bots are a fad sort of poorman’s AI wait til real AI gets here

  3. Greg Kawere

    my problem with bots is that they reinforce the market domination of the big players in this case whatsapp (onwed by facebook), facebook messenger (onwed by facebook) & apple messenger (appled owned) – but developers will just have to suck it up & move with the wind

    1. TheHeist

      That’s true. They’ll somehow inhibit progressive development and feature extension as there are terms, conditions and constraints within particular platforms.

  4. Sagitarr

    The real thrill of SW development is, unfortunately, being quickly chewed away as bigger apps become the “containers” and development is delegated to “menu building” tasks. I remember the early MS-DOS and DR-DOS days and the menuing apps coming up those days, simply to load a program from the DOS prompt. Then came Windows ver 1 and voila! program time is now centred on grahics, colours & animation. The exe files are now in some cases larger than data files (inefficiency) and the poor exception handling is so rampant one wonders how coding itself is taught nowadays.

    I’ve been wondering if the 32 seconds that my Windows OS loads (8GB RAM) is even higher than on a 386DX40 with 8MB RAM back way then!!

  5. creativeLEARNINGdifferent Ideas

    We have already started building bots. Checkout Bible_Bot on Telegram. To launch click > http://telegram.me/bibleo_bot

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