The number of Arabic-language mobile applications is expected to grow significantly over the next year as regional organisations invest in the development of new content. The value of the global market for apps development will be US$6.2 billion (Dh22.77bn) this year and should grow to $22.1bn in 2013, according to figures from the technology research company Gartner.
Sales of smartphones, the devices that are ideally suited to run mobile apps, are expected to increase 39 per cent annually, according to a recent report by Pyramid Research. As of April, at least 185,000 applications were available on the iTunes App Store, with more than 4 billion copies of applications downloaded. It is unknown how many apps are in Arabic, but many were made outside the region. There is only one Arabic application ranked among the top 10 paid apps in the UAE's iTunes App Store.
Given the dearth of quality and quantity in Arabic-language apps, it is no surprise that several organisations see a market that needs to be supplied. Programmes from Egypt's Information Technology Industry Development Agency (ITIDA) and Twofour54 ibtikar, the business-incubation arm of Abu Dhabi's media zone, have recently been introduced to foster the creation of Arabic mobile apps in the region.
The Mobile Entertainment Forum (MEF), an industry lobbying group, has also chosen to set up a new "innovation" office in Doha that aims to put a larger spotlight on Arabic content for phones. "The objective is to help to create a sustainable industry for app development in the MENA region," said David Ashford, the general manager for AppsArabia, the mobile app fund controlled by Twofour54. "If you break that down, what do we have to do to make that sustainable? We have to help [developers make] money out of apps. Whether they're designers, directors, project managers, consultants, all these people need to be paid a fair price for their services."
Since launching last month, AppsArabia has signed up 165 members and has received 13 investment applications. The programme will provide training, seed funding, marketing assistance and other mentoring. "The thing that excites me most is that 13 people have come to me with ideas for me to invest in them, and I'm on track to make my first investment in a couple of weeks," Mr Ashford said. ITIDA, a Cairo-based technology hub, has also expressed interest in getting entrepreneurs to build apps. Its programme, called Mobile Apps Academy, will be open to Egyptian youths who have good applications ideas and will provide training, funding and subsidies to support technology start-ups.
"We are going to provide independent entrepreneurship courses that will give developers a flavour of how they can drive a single mobile app to a company," said Ahmed Laiali, who will manage the technology incubation programme for ITIDA. There is also an opportunity to get locally made apps recognised on an international level, said Sarah Roberts, MEF's general manager for Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
Ms Roberts recently opened a mobile innovation centre in Doha that will bring together network operators and content creators to discuss ways to improve the apps environment in the region. "Apps are certainly a buzz topic, and we're looking to partner with Gitex [the annual technology show in Dubai] to publicise and promote that aspect of the industry," Ms Roberts said. Network operators have also made some nascent forays into the Arabic-apps world. Etisalat has already released three iPhone apps including a local business directory.