The African smartphone market is gaining rapid traction. According to predictions, smartphones sold this year will outnumber feature phone sales, and mobile penetration is far higher than line-based internet access.
Currently, most people in Africa use text messages to send money with a service called M-Pesa from the largest tech start-up in Kenya.
Now, chatbots could potentially replace text-based transactions altogether.
Budapest-based Hungarian start-up UXstudio has created a chatbot called Nuru. The app can help smartphone users in Kenya and Ghana in four different ways: Agriculture, classified ads, finances, and healthcare.
It wants users to interact with a chatbot and see a familiar conversational interface. Africa has 5.3 million Facebook users, and 78 percent of smartphone owners use their device for social networking and chatting.
However, currently, text-based interactions still dominate mobile user transactions in Kenya and Ghana.
Ghanan start-up Esoko offers text-based market price information for farmers, so they can sell their crops at a fair price. Users send a code by text and get back the information they require.
If a farmer uses the Nuru chatbot to help sell their product, they do not need to set a price. It can calculate the price based on the type of produce and the quantity they have to sell. The farmer can change the price if required or get a fair price suggestion via the app.
Kenya is a world leader in mobile money transactions, due to the widespread use of M-Pesa across the country.
Nuru secures the transaction by asking for your password to be repeated before any transaction can be made.
If you use the app to purchase something, select the seller, type in the amount you want to pay them, and press confirm to complete the transaction.
The app can also provide users with health information, and it aims to bring empathy into the digital conversation.
The Kenyan TotoHealth service helps women with text message notifications and advice during their pregnancy.
Nuru will ask you whether you have seen a doctor and If you have not seen one, it can suggest doctors in your area.
If women want to get health tips during pregnancy, it will ask questions like which week of the pregnancy it is before giving tips and advice.
If the user asks for job suggestions, the app will list all the opportunities nearby. Further information on the job can be acquired via text or a phone call.
Since chatbots work like the current services already in use in Africa, the technology can streamline solving day-to-day problems and make information more accessible for users. Chatbots can also connect people that use basic entry level smartphones.
UXstudio thinks that the chatbot is faster than asking people. It says that most people do not see Google as a way of problem solving, as they would rather ask a friend. With a chatbot, they can quickly access the information they need.
Chatbots are also perceived to be more trustworthy. A friend might not be the most reliable source of information, whereas a chatbot can get accurate information rapidly.
Mark Zuckerberg visited Nairobi in September 2016 to learn about mobile money and payments to build businesses and help communities.
The chatbot revolution in Africa could certainly make it a "future hub of global growth" as former US President Barack Obama pointed out in July 2016. The growth of smartphones in Africa shows that this is now a real possibility.
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