It seems that Econet is working on an app store of its own.

One of the major innovations that made the smartphone what it is today is the app store. With that move, phones were no longer limited in functionality to what the manufacturer intended. Developers flexed their creative muscles and built the craziest apps, from fart noise simulators to full-fledged IDEs.

Today we found out that our apps and games are not made by phone manufacturers. Facebook, WhatsApp, Candy Crush, ShareIt, and most of the apps we rush to install on new phones are made by independent developers.

This has made the app store quite an important tool. We are left with 2 major mobile operating systems and each has its own app store with millions of apps.

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The two main app stores available are Google’s Play Store and Apple’s App Store. On the iPhone side of the world, the App Store is all there is. On Android there are alternatives to the Play Store.

The Play Store remains the most popular, especially since it comes pre-installed on most Android phones. Popular third-party alternatives include the Amazon Appstore, APKMirror, the Samsung Galaxy Store, and Huawei’s AppGallery.

These are just a few in a crowded market. However, it looks like we are going to add the Econet app store to that list.

Econet App Store

They’re trying to keep it a secret, but the cat is out of the bag, Econet is working on an app store of its own. Or so our sources would have us believe.

The reaction of most people upon hearing such information is to ask why. As we discussed earlier, we have no shortage of app stores. Do we really need a Buddie App Store?

It’s not as far-fetched an idea as you might think. Such an app store could have its uses.

Econet distributing its own apps

Here, when I say Econet, I include all other companies owned by Econet Global. Now they have several applications. You may know of My Econet, EcoCash, YoMix, Sasai, MaGrossa, Vaya, and Buddie Beatz, but there are more, including one from Mbira.

As successful as Econet and its siblings have been, most of their apps haven’t really set the country on fire.

We understand why an app like EcoCash can have a low number of downloads. Users can use USSD or WhatsApp instead of the app.

What’s not so great is that Buddie Beatz has 50,000 installs and Wow has 100,000.

A low number of downloads could mean several things. It could be that the apps are garbage, it could be that they are fluff and not really useful. Or it could just be that asking people to buy data to download your app is a great question.

If Econet has their own app store, they can rate it zero and allow people to download their apps. That solves that particular problem.

One could argue that if people wanted those apps, they would get their friends to submit the APKs. Which means that people just don’t want those apps.

We know that people can share apps through ShareIt or our own Techzim app, which means when people really want an app, they get it, data or no data. However, we can’t expect people to have that kind of enthusiasm for apps they haven’t used yet.

Lifeline for local developers

Google and Apple have tight control over their app stores and that is being questioned in some countries. The main issue is the 15-30% cut they get for all app purchases. They force developers to use their own payment solutions, which allows them to charge that big chunk.

The Zimbabwean developers aren’t too worried about all that. Not much is collected through in-app purchases anyway.

It’s hard enough for Zim developers to list their apps on the Play Store. It is almost impossible to get authorization to make in-app purchases.

Then there is the fact that Zimbabweans are cut off from the global financial system for the most part. Ask and find out how many of your contacts have VISA and Mastercard information in their app stores.

As a result, we have seen Zimbabwean developers resort to some workarounds. Some paid apps will ask you to download them for free and then pay through EcoCash. It’s not pretty, but it gets the job done even though it doesn’t work for subscriptions.

A Zimbabwean Econet app store would change all that. For payments, we know you’d have EcoCash as an option and hopefully we’ll get Zimswitch integration as well. It would make paying for apps easier for Zimbabweans.

We don’t know how much Econet would charge as a cut, but even if they match what Google is doing, it’s a better deal.

How to distribute the Econet app store

This is where I think the real fight is. How will you convince people to download the Econet App Store?

There’s that whole data problem. You can zero-rate apps in the app store, but what about the app store itself? They could make the APK downloadable from one of their zero-rated websites.

That doesn’t answer the question why one would go to all that trouble to download the Econet app store in the first place. How many people are waiting for a local app store so they can download and use Sasai?

Let’s also not forget that these apps will likely retain their dual listing on the Play Store. Which means that the number of people interested in this new app store is limited. However, there could still be room to push people to get the Econet app store.

There may be features that are only available in the app downloaded from the Econet app store, especially when it comes to purchases and subscriptions. I don’t know what kind of demand there is for this, but it is something.

In any case. We could be talking about a nothing burger here. There is a chance that the Econet app store will never see the light of day. However, if it does, I wonder what the message will be. What will they say is the value proposition?

We’ll know before the year is out apparently. The plan is to launch the app store within a few months. So we don’t have to wait too long.

What do you think about this? I’m especially interested in hearing what local developers think. Let us know in the comments below.

Also read:

US courts tell Apple they can’t stop developers from using alternative payment systems

Apple pays developers in a bid to buy them

Google is ditching the APK format for apps on the Play Store

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