It has been over eight years since Android devices launched in South Africa, and Google still doesn’t allow local developers to sell their apps.
When the first Android smartphones from HTC launched in SA in 2009, Google’s official app marketplace was not available locally.
This was rectified by the distributor for HTC products at the time, Leaf International Communications.
However, access to paid-for applications was blocked for years, until Google put the necessary systems in place to bill South Africans for apps and services.
In this regard, Android was not unique. iPhone users could also only access a limited subset of the App Store and iTunes, but it was trivial to “trick” Apple into letting you buy from the US store.
By 2012, both iOS and Android supported purchases in rand.
Apple also allowed South African developers to list their iOS apps and charge money for them. Google has still not done this for Android developers.
The companies’ streaming music subscription services are also available in South Africa. In fact, South Africa was one of the launch countries for Apple Music.
Google has also had to deal with the FPB and other bureaucracy unique to our market to launch its products here.
No love for developers from Google
Yet, after all these years, Google has not made it possible for South African developers to charge for their apps – as local merchant registration is not supported.
You can upload your app and make it available for free, no problem. If you want to sell it, or use in-app purchases, you will have to make an alternative plan.
Pieter Loubser, the founder of Inventit, is one example of developers who took matters into their own hands.
Loubser has developed mobile applications and games since the days of Mxit, and in 2015 he decided to port one of his early game concepts to Android.
“The original reason behind this game idea was to help young people understand the basics of how the economy works,” said Loubser.
Loubser said he thought he could port the game in six months if he worked at it full-time.
In the end, he lived off his savings for 14 months. With the assistance of a friend, he was able to launch the first version of the game in September 2016.
To monetise it, Loubser said he had to jump through hoops.
He was forced to create a UK entity for his company, which he used to open a bank account in London. It took two months to set it up, said Loubser.
There was a lot of legal and administrative work, as the UK also has a FICA-like system you must comply with to open an account.
To set up the entity and open the account cost R9,000 – essentially all of the revenue the app earned in its first four months on the store.
“But help from Google is nonexistent, though they take 30% of all revenue,” said Loubser.
Currently, Loubser’s game Farm Wars has over 1,000 installs from Google Play and a rating of 4.7 out of 5 . It uses a freemium model, with in-app purchases available.
African countries which support Google Play merchant registration include Egypt and Nigeria.