BlackBerry opens third Apps Lab in South Africa

Third facility for software developers and training has opened its doors in Johannesburg, aiming to forge contacts with local startups and nearby universities.

BlackBerry has opened a new training and business centre for BlackBerry app developers in South Africa.

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The Johannesburg hub, launched on Wednesday, will be the third of its Apps Labs based in the country, following the creation of others in Cape Town and Pretoria last year.

Members of the new Apps Lab will be able to use the shared workspace, which will be equipped with BlackBerry kit, get help and training, and attend events aimed at BlackBerry World developers.

The Johannesburg Apps Lab will be based at JoziHub, a shared workspace and tech hub in the city centre. BlackBerry's managing director for South Africa and Southern Africa, Alexandra Zagury, said JoziHub was chosen both for its existing community of startups and developers as well as its proximity to the University of Johannesburg and the University of the Wittswaterrand.

BlackBerry also operates Apps Labs in Egypt, Nigeria and is looking to expand into Kenya. The entire African program is managed by Venture Solutions, which provides dedicated staff and organises on-the-spot support for developers and access to handsets, as well training sessions organised around app development and business skills.

"We're currently looking to recruit a manager for the JoziHub Apps Lab," Venture Solutions' CEO Stephan Lamprecht said. "Our initial focus will be on making contacts with the universities and focussing on event and hackathons, before moving more equipment in here and a full-time member of staff."

According to BlackBerry's Zagury, 80 percent of those who have become Apps Labs members so far had no previous experience coding for BlackBerry.

"The African economy is growing fast, and along with it is the continent’s mobile market," Zagury said. "We’re seeing a dramatic rise in data among youth and business markets. Demand for apps is growing for entertainment and in key areas like health, education and government services. This trend is creating some incredible opportunities for developers in South Africa and across the continent."

apps lab
Mitch Dart. Image: Adam Oxford/ZDNet

Mitch Dart, a graduate of the Pretoria Apps Lab, joined the BlackBerry program while a student, and says that writing apps helped to pay for his final year of studies. He now works full time for Limitless Virtual, a software firm he met through Apps Lab.

Africa is one of the last remaining strongholds for BlackBerry, and a territory that the company is keen to invest in in order to maintain its presence there. According a recent report by analysts World Wide Worx, the company still makes the most popular smartphone platform in South Africa, with around five million BlackBerry devices currently in use in the country, compared to four million Symbian handsets and two million Android  devices.

Recent changes to how South African operators sell BIS in the country, however, may affect its marketshare: MTN for example dropped inclusive data packages in favour of limited bundles for pay-as-you-go users.

Rival handset manufactures Microsoft and Google also operate similar outreach programs around the continent.