The rise of the HTML5 web standard, paired with the growing penetration of smartphones into South Africa, will help to bring rich self-service applications to a mass market via their cellphones.
This will give South African consumers the flexibility and convenience to interact with companies wherever they are using highly interactive mobile services, says Consology co-founder Kevin Meltzer.
Many companies already enjoy major business benefits by allowing customers to transact with them, perform routine service tasks, manage their own accounts and conduct research through web-based self-service systems, says Meltzer.
But the fact that online self-service has addressed mostly consumers with Internet connected PCs, has limited its reach in a country with low Internet penetration. That picture is beginning to change as the number of smartphones in consumers' hands ramps up, with some estimates placing penetration at between 18% and 22%.
Web offerings are feature-rich
Meltzer says that with a range of low-cost smartphones on the market and low-cost mobile data bundles, the mobile phone is opening up a vast new self-service market. Customers could be allowed to activate mobile services, check their airtime and data bundles, view a bill, order a new handset, and update their details from their handsets.
Says Meltzer: "Though companies have been able to offer mobile self-service using options such as USSD and Interactive Voice Response, these are not as feature-rich and engaging as their web offerings. The limitations of cellphones and feature phones traditionally restrained what companies could do with mobile self-service.
"With their larger colour displays and friendly touchscreen or Qwerty keyboard input methods, smartphones allow for deep interactivity and functionality simply not possible on other mobile channels. The rapid growth of South Africa's tablet market is also spurring demand for mobile access to self-service solutions, " says Meltzer.
No need to write different apps
He believes that HTML5 rather than native mobile apps for the different mobile operating systems will turn out to be the optimal platform for creating self-service solutions for the South African mobile consumer. With HTML5, it finally becomes possible to offer friendly and attractive interfaces across a range of devices due to the app like experience that the mobile web can now deliver. This also means that developers do not need to write different apps for different platforms at great expense. It's also a great way of providing a consistent experience to users irrespective of the device they are using at a given time.
"The functionality that HTML5 supports is starting to offer rich mobile experiences which are similar in look, feel and navigation to native apps. The advantage however is that you are creating your application offering just once for the entire smartphone and tablet population rather than custom-developing for every platform," says Meltzer.
Some additional benefits the cellphone offers as a self-service channel include portability, location awareness, ubiquitous connectivity and higher market penetration. To make the most of these advantages and to ensure rapid adoption of the mobile service channel, companies need to design HTML5 applications that cater for the mobile user's needs and the devices that they carry.
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