Real life needs inspire Kenya's winning apps
Sitting alone in a car at a parking lot waiting for his brother, thoughts of carjackings crossed David Lemayian's mind. He thought about the stories he'd heard of friends or their families getting carjacked and he wondered, “How come they weren't able to call for help?” He figured that because of the surprise and inherent danger of such attacks, most Kenyans have little time to hit any panic buttons or call anyone. So he thought, why not configure the mobile phone which most people carry with them to send out an SOS to as many people as possible?
That is how, Olalashe , Maa for “brother”, one of the winning entries at this years Google Apps Developer Challenge for sub-Sahara Africa, was born. With one push of your phone's button, the application sends an SOS message to all your emergency contacts alerting them that you are in trouble. The application is one of the two winning entries, along with one from Gerald Kibugi, that came from Kenya with the third and final winner coming from Nigeria.
The competition was launched in April this year by Google and sought to encourage developers to come up with brand new applications for the Android platform. Applications were invited for Apps that fell within one of three categories: productivity, social/communication and entertainment/media/games. The Kenyans won for best applications in the productivity and social/communication categories.
Lemayian and Gerald Kibugi's wins, while continuing a streak of Kenyans winning mobile applications development competitions underscored an old saying, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” For Lemaiyan, sitting in the parking lot and probably feeling vulnerable, inspired the 20-year old Strathmore University student to come up with the winning application.
Ditto Kibugi. The lone employee of a two-director company, Elan Telemedia, the inspiration came from his sister. Watching her try to figure out where to go buy certain goods based on the best prices, the prolific programmer came up with Shopper's Delight. The application, as described on the Google Africa blog, “allows shoppers to compare product prices across different area supermarkets. The app also helps shoppers discover bargains and relevant sales, and access maps and health information.”
Awaiting his US$25,000 (Sh2.3million) cash prize for Google, the bespectacled Kibugi, talks rollout. “I'm gonna use part of the money to improve the product then we are probably going to roll it out in supermarkets,” Kibugi, a holder of two IT degrees says somberly as he tugs on his backpack. Kibugi has a degree in Computer Science and Engineering from Maseno University and a Masters from Sunderland University through JKUAT.
He says he has developed over 100 different Apps but mostly for foreign companies.Lemayian on the other hand says his interest in computers came from an early age playing with his elder brother's computer. He enrolled at Strathmore University for a Bachelor's in Business Information Technology but later dropped out of the full-time program to concentrate on his programming. He has a company called Cape Fields.
With a colleague, Lemayian also developed one of the featured applications during the launch of the Kenya open government information portal, Msema Kweli. The application helps monitor usage of Constituency Development Funds. But right now he is basking in the glory of his Ololashe App which is described on Google Africa as “a geo-alert application that can help you communicate when you’re in trouble, through a widget that can send your location and a pre-set message to your ‘In Case of Emergency’ contacts with the push of a button.”
He has yet to figure out how to use his winnings and says he will listen to the advice of his Google mentors. Either way, both developers show that utility, more than fancifulness, should guide people when coming up with Apps. After all, Google was founded by two graduate students who wanted a better search engine to serve their needs.