How can empathy drive the Mobile Evolution?

Empathy is defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. You won’t find a better starting point when considering mobile ICT (Information and Communications Technology) solutions.

Every solution we design, develop and create is designed for people. For us. To make our lives easier, to add value and to solve problems in the most efficient and enjoyable way. Empathetic solutions.

Understanding the Most Popular Mobile Phones in South Africa

Nothing paints a better picture of the Smart Phone Evolution (rather than Revolution!) than this table below. It lists the Top 10 handsets per mobile network operator in South Africa today. (October 2016)

Of the 36 handsets listed, I count 14 as smart phones.

As expected, the Vodafone Smart Kicka jumps into the lists – noticeably in fourth and first place for MTN and CellC respectively! It’s a great little device for its price tag.


This table is not a surprise as 90% of South Africa’s mobile phone market is still Pre-Paid, with just 5% contract and 5% contract / top-up. This is driven by economic and credit pressures with the majority of consumers unable to successfully apply for credit. (Source: MMA SA Mobile Report – AMPS 2015AB)

How well do you know the mobile capabilities of your audience? Have you ever used a Smart Kicka for a week to understand the limitations and how these shape the behaviour of consumers?

Data Costs and Affordability

A sore point for South African mobile consumers. MyBroadband did a comparison a few months ago and the cheapest 500MB package came in at R39 with the cheapest 2GB package coming in at R99.

Let’s take that and compare it to the roughly 20 million South African mobile consumers who spend less than R110 a month on cell expenditure, and the roughly 10 million who spend no more than R270 a month. (Source: MMA SA Mobile Report – AMPS 2015AB)

Their monthly cell budget will include voice calls and SMS. Empathetic solutions take this into account and considers the consumer cost of every interaction and ideally looks at reverse-billed solutions that incur zero cost to the consumer.

Apps vs USSD?

Let’s now take a practical case study and examine the consumer journey and requirements for purchasing a data bundle through an App versus a USSD service. Let’s go with what seems to be the most popular low end smart phone on the SA market today – the Vodaphone Smart Kicka. On board hard drive space is 4GB – not much at all.

Consider then the choice of this consumer who is presented with these two options to purchase a data bundle:


It might sound like heresy in 2016 but empathetic design would recognise that USSD offers big and obvious advantages for the consumer over the App.

USSD is the “App of Africa” and it is here to stay – this longevity of a mobile channel is not made by the beguiling attributes of newer technology, but by the behaviour of and convenience for consumers.

Start with Empathy

No-one should dispute the relentless cascading effects mobile penetration is having on all aspects of consumer behaviour, consumer marketing and business solutions.

But to make the mistake of assumption by only considering smart phone centric solutions in South Africa today is negligent.

By starting with empathy, we can deliver the most effective mobile ICT solutions.