Why Android it not (really) the future of mobile apps

I have been wondering in the past year were Josh Nesbit (blogging here) was, after stepping back from FrontlineSMS and finally concentrating fully on Medic Mobile. Then, one week ego, he suddenly appeared in Nairobi, and I could not miss the opportunity for a chat and an update on his last adventures.

Of course it turns out I was just not paying enough attention, but let’s skip the cause and go for the content. On June 6th, 2011 Medic Mobile announced the development of the first SIM Application for healthcare.  According to their announce “SIM apps can operate on 80% of the world’s phones from $15 handsets to Android smartphones – and Medic’s new implementation of this technology brings data collection to a new level of accessibility and affordability.”

So what is a SimApp really? Well the best way to explain it is to actually look at where the name comes from: App that sit on the SIM card. Normally apps are built on platform (iPhone apps, Android Apps and so on), which means also that if you want an app to work on any phone you have to create an app for each platform. Also, apps are most used by smart phones, when for features phones you max can have an SMS platform/USSD support.

The SIMapp solve this problem, by using the same system that mobile banking have been using for some time now: create an app that sit on the sim card and that basically “self-shape” itself according to the phone where the sim card is used. In this way you don’t need to build an app for each platform but just to put your app on your SIM. Depending on the phone the app will have have a different look and format, but the same content.

What this means is that with SIM apps, Mobile Medic is creating simple menu-based applications that can function on handsets four times less expensive and operable in the hardest to reach areas as well as on super expensive – high tech mobile phones (or tablets).

I know that the question here will be: ok so how do you get the mobile provides to give you SIM card space? – cause ultimately they have to do that. Well, this is where I think that the Mobile Medic team is seriously one of the most cutting edge and innovative group ever. They created a separate parallel SIM cards to run the application The card is as thin as possible (almost a 4th of the actual SIM card) that can be sliced on the top of the SIM card and that had its own processor running on it. This parallel SIM fit underneath users’ standard mobile operator SIM cards, maintaining connectivity to the mobile network.

So, why the hell are we waisting out time on the building Android, IPhone or Java apps? Why should I choose which share of the market I want, if I can have it all?

What Mobile Medic got is that today you cannot think about only working on feature phones or only working on smart phones: as long as feature phones are growing, the growth of the middle class, especially in developing countries, is corresponding to the growth of smart phones too. Platforms, as well as typologies of phones will also grow: from an economical point of view it make no sense for us to continue focusing on one of another platform: we should think  global and big..why try to get the right phone is you can get them all?

Medic’s first official SIM app is Kuvela, developed for PSI with support from the Maternal Health Task Force, and the company plans to develop many more. The combination of a SIM application and a reporting dashboard allows for the power of a mobile app to be combined with the power of a full features online platform.

From Josh (source here) “People get excited about the iPhone apps because of profit potential. We’re excited about designing SIM applications because of the impact potential, I can imagine all eight million global community health workers utilizing SIM applications to support their work and improve the lives of their patients.” In the future, Medic hopes to build applications for patients to help them manage their own health by scheduling appointments, accessing remote consultations, alerting the nearest clinic in medical emergencies, and more.

Now the question is: outside Health, how much potential there is in this application? What about if we have a SIMapp with a form in it for emergency situation, so that where there is an emergency everyone one can use USSD to send a form with his/her data to a central system that can immediately find out who is there who is not, if you are injured, what injuries you have, how many people there are with you. The advantage of this is that this system will be free (USSD and not SMS) so you don’t need a short code; everyone can have it already in their SIM card, so no need to have people phone numbers to blast them with SMS, and that you can send/receive structured information.

I am incredibly excited to see how we could use this in emergency situations and how this can affect the development of mobile apps, especially for emergencies!!


  1. Anahi – thanks for sharing! And great work, Josh! I’m really excited for the potential when you have large-scale development objectives that could get MNO backing! There is precedent and I think there is great potential outside of health including emergencies, but also governance (e.g. service delivery), education, finance, etc. I’m excited with you both!

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