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Gadget of the Week

Chat gets a super-app

Chat meets news and entertainment in the Ayoba super-app that is spreading across Africa, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

What is it?

For most of us, smartphones are no longer about making calls, but more about chat, cameras, news and music, not to mention shopping and managing our finances. The result is that we have numerous apps for accessing a variety of options in each of these categories.

In response, mobile operators and banks have introduced “super-apps” that incorporate much of this functionality in one app, both simplifying our lives and better managing our devices. Vodacom’s VodaPay focuses on payments and shopping, while Nedbank’s Avo offers grocery delivery, access to essential services, and household services.

Ayoba, backed by MTN but available to any smartphone user, goes a step further, venturing into three heavily contested sectors: chat, news and music. Primarily a chat app, it offers all the functionality of the market leaders, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, and then some. The usual, like text and voice messages, sharing photos and videos, and making calls – yes, voice is still a thing – within the app, are augmented by the ability to send SMS texts from the app to non-Ayoba contacts on any phone or network. As with all chat apps, it promises end-to-end encryption, meaning that messages cannot be intercepted en route to a contact.

While Ayoba is not officially an MTN product, it is closely linked to the operator in a strategic partnership, which allows it to offer free Ayoba data for MTN subscribers. Replies to Ayoba messages are also free for MTN subscribers, whether or not they are using the app.

With chat as the entry point, users quickly discover a rich content offering spread across the app. Curated music playlists, and games across strategy, action, role-play, and education genres, for both children and adults, provide a broad entertainment landscape. An apps section gives in-app access to sports results, the GovChat citizen engagement platform, a FakeNews Checker, and educational content, among other.

The real winner, however, is a curated content section that provides numerous news channels from across Africa. Initially aimed at MTN’s vast subscriber base across the continent, it includes news services from Nigeria, Ghana and South Africa. Scrolla, the local mobile news service, is on board, with both English and isiZulu editions.

We tested the app in the most intensive way possible: launching a Gadget channel in partnership with Ayoba. It went live on 1 February, and within two weeks had more than 12,000 followers. The first half dozen or so stories published in the channel by Gadget have had well over 2,000 views each. Given that the app already has 12-million users across Africa, that shouldn’t have come as a surprise, but it was still startling to see such heavy engagement, so quickly.

“We expect that this channel will quickly prove popular with our users, who appreciate being kept current on news, current affairs, entertainment and more,” says Burak Akinci, CEO of Ayoba.  “Put together with the free data offer for our MTN users, Ayoba offers a well-rounded, Africa-first content offering that our users find compelling.”

Next up, Ayoba plans to integrate MTN’s Mobile Money service, allowing payments and money transfers from within the app.

What does it cost?

It is free to download from the Google Play Store and Apple App Store, and is zero-rated or free for MTN users. Normal data charges apply if used on another network, or when not connected to Wi-Fi.

Why should you care?

With an increasing number of apps we regard as essential now filling up our smartphones – both in storage space and screen display – super apps offer a concise and easy solution. Ayoba incorporates the functionality of numerous news, gaming and entertainment apps, and will soon expand it to financial services, making it the first true super-app for the entire African continent.

What are the biggest negatives?

  • Not yet fully compatible with iPhones, if one wants to read on from a story.
  • The music channel imposes pre-selected playlists, meaning it does not yet compete with the self-curated music collections of the likes of Apple Music, Deezer and Spotify.

What are the biggest positives?

  • Offers up to 1GB free data use.
  • The extensive content and functions to be found in channels and micro-apps turns the Ayoba discovery process into an adventure.
  • Replaces the capabilities of dozens of commonly used apps, in one seamlessly integrated location.

* Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee.

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