Last week I was privileged to have a talk with John Muiruri, one of the top Apps developers in Kenya. Here is how the talk went.
Odipo: If I were to be your friend, a close friend, what should I know about you?
Muiruri: Basically that would be knowing my name of which you already know, meeting me which you have already done, and probably knowing that I am a man with one wife and a kid – and I love tech. Oh yeah, I think you should also know that I love good design – the type of design you get from BMW and Apple
Odipo: Maybe I should also have a feel of your career path?
Muiruri: Well yeah; now that you have mentioned it, I am an apps developer based in Nairobi. I hold a Bachelor of Science (Hons) degree in Computer Science from University of Nairobi and currently I am pursuing a Masters degree in Business Administration from the same university.
Odipo: You have talked of good design, the type of design Apple provides, does that mean you hate Google?
Muiruri: No I don’t hate Google. Google has been improving a lot ever since both in the web and in Android. For instance the latest Android 4.4.2 is really well designed. As you can see, although my phone is an iPhone, I use Samsung tab to work on Android Apps.
Odipo: By good design you mean appealing to the eyes?
Muiruru: Not only that. A product that is well designed has a great appeal and feel, easy to use, has top notch features, and is excellent in functionality.
Odipo: In the mobile world, how would you rate the top smartphones in terms of design
Muiruri: Credit will go to Apple. Google has done a lot of catch up although Samsung has some work to do to match the efforts Google has made. Nokia Lumia has has also come along way. One doesn’t have to dig deep into the phone to find some commonly used features – that’s the greatest undoing of Nokia.
Odipo: How did you become an Apps developer?
Muiruri: I was employed, then someone asked me if I could develop an App for him. I said yes, made him an App, and he loved it. From there I thought I should start my own venture and that’s how Upsilon Technologies was born.
Odipo: Was that your first App?
Muiriru: No not all. I am a Catholic and I developed this App meant to help Catholic faithfuls access their mass readings easily.
Odipo: How many Apps have you done so far?
Muiruri: We have developed a total of 33 Apps
Odipo: How successful are they?
Muiruri: All Apps by Upsilon have registered over 1.5 million downloads mostly from Nokia ecosystem. We are now coming strong in Windows, iOS and Android.
Odipo: Which App would you consider your most successful?
Muiruri: That will be WordPlay, a word based game application for online gaming that I developed with help from Intel. It has received over 200,000 downloads on Nokia.
Odipo: How does WordPlay work?
Muiruri: After you have downloaded it and registered an account or signed in with Facebook, you invite your Facebook friends to play with you. You can also play against computer.
Odipo: What are the rules of the game?
Muiruri: The application selects a letter randomly which player 1 uses to create the first word. The last letter of that word is used by player 2 to create a word. Each word as points based on the points on each letter.
Odipo: You have said you developed the App with help from Intel, what role did Intel play?
Muiruri: Intel has a number of high end App development tools. They showed me how to use the tools and allowed me to use them to create the App.
Odipo: Can any App developer access the tools?
Muiruri: Intel organizes competitions for developers, workshops to showcase their tools and get together events like gaming events every now and then from where they choose a few developers to work with.
Odipo: How much do you earn from WordPlay per year?
Muiruri: We have not monetized Wordplay or any of our mobile apps. We use the apps as marketing tools to corporate clients. We make our money by developing enterprise applications.
Odipo: It has been said Kenyans don’t like Apps developed by Kenyans, do you have the same experience?
Muiruri: I would say so. Very few Kenyans don’t just not like Apps developed by fellow Kenyans but paid Apps too.
Odipo: That could be because Kenyan App developers don’t know what Kenyans really want? That is, Kenyan App developers come up with App ideas with foreign markets in mind?
Muiruri: That is partly true. Personally I have identified a unique need of Kenyans and I am working on an App to address that need.
Odipo: Is there something that should be done to make Kenyans love their own Apps?
Muiruri: Media hype. When Facebook or Twitter does a minor update, our media houses want to be the first to cover those updates. None however is interested in telling Kenyans that a new App by a Kenyan is out. It is just the same case that has been witnessed in the film and music industry. It is only recently that the media houses have been trying to give some airtime to local music and films.
Secondly, I would encourage Kenyan tech firms to emulate Intel in supporting App developers come up with great ideas. Safaricom has tried by organizing the Safaricom App competitions but I think more should be done.
Odipo: Any advise you would like to give up coming App developers?
Muiruri: What I would like to say is that coding is a very small part in Apps development. What an App developer ought to acquire is the understanding of the entire process of App development. An important part of the process is having a thorough understanding of the idea the App is meant for. Then the developer must understand the tools available in the market and choose appropriate tools to use. Some Apps are better done using specific tools. Lastly the developer must put a lot of effort in coming up with great design. Personally I engage third parties to do my designs.