The time of the App


The app has become the single most significant tool driving the mobile economy in South Africa. The use of apps on phones has shot up from 24% of adult cellphone users in cities and towns in mid-2012 to 43% in late 2013.

The Mobility 2014 research study, conducted by World Wide Worx with the backing of First National Bank, shows that a tipping point in mobile apps use was reached in 2013, with more than half of urban cellphone users – 51% – now using these tools. The rural market, too is growing fast, with its 27% usage level surpassing the overall market of 18 months before.

While data use on phones now represents 16% of the average user’s mobile budget – up from 12% in mid-2012 – cellphone users are also increasingly turning to Wi-Fi hotspots for mobile Internet access. A relatively low proportion of respondents, 14%, currently uses Wi-Fi hotspots, but this is expected to increase to 26% during 2014. As a consequence, both mobile network data use and Internet access via hotspots is expected to boom.

“The rapidly growing penetration of smartphones and the increased ease of use of the Internet on feature phones has changed the way South Africa communicates,” says Arthur Goldstuck, managing director of World Wide Worx. “While SMS remains pervasive, new communication channels are being opened up to the mass market through both social media and instant messaging (IM) apps.”

The most dramatic growth has been seen in IM, particularly in the uptake of WhatsApp, which more than doubled its penetration in the past 18 months, from 26% to 53%. A further 10% of cellphone users say they will use it in the coming year. Facebook Chat is the second most popular chat tool with 45% of respondents using it, followed by Mxit, remaining steady at 25%, and BBM rising from 17% to 21%.

The survey, conducted among adult cellphone users living in cities and towns in South Africa, also underlines the powerful growth of Twitter, which is now being used by 20% of this market, up from 12% in mid-2012. This figure is expected to rise to at least 30% in 2014.

“These findings are clear evidence that consumers are taking control of their own conversations – choosing when, where and how they want to communicate,” says Dione Sankar, Head of Cellphone Banking and Messaging at FNB. “This poses a great challenge to the business world, but we also see it as the greatest opportunity yet to get closer to our customers.”


The Mobility 2014 research was conducted through face-to-face in-home interviews with 1200 South Africans across all age demographics from 16 up, and in all metropolitan and rural areas. It excluded deep-rural population, and represents approximately 20-million South Africans. Fieldwork was conducted by Dashboard Marketing Intelligence in late 2013.

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