Over the past two days, contributors from Equity Group Foundation, Digital Divide Data, LakeHub, the Mozilla Kenya community took part in Tamasha Hack, using their talent, creativity, and enthusiasm to create designs and prototypes for Android apps that will help new smartphone users in Kenya improve their digital skills.
Addressing concerns about WiFi connectivity, obscure or confusing technical language, data usage, and overall smartphone discomfort, these prototypes are an opportunity to leverage the unique qualities of smartphones—devices that are becoming ubiquitous, yet are still difficult to understand and navigate—and give people the skills they need to have comfort and agency with their devices and the Internet connection they provide.
The hackathon’s participants formed small teams to address ideas from recent workshops and survey data. Here are some of the their projects, which will become the foundations for future digital skills software projects this year.
Team Duma dreamed up a user named Linder who has recently received a new smartphone, but she doesn't understand the meaning behind the icons on the screen, or what functionality they represent. To help her, Duma designed Nifunze (Swahili for “teach me”), an on-screen virtual assistant that lets users ask for help and clarification regarding the features of their device and the ways it accesses the Internet.
To start, Nifunze would address two digital skills areas: connectivity and navigation. The app would help new smartphone owners like Linder discover the full set of features their smartphone provides and accomplish important basic tasks with those features. Imagined as an on-screen character akin to Facebook's Chat Heads, Nifunze would help users realize their connectivity options and their smartphone's potential to access the Internet through features like WiFi, thereby avoiding reliance on data bundles or airtime. (Kenyan telcos allow customers to consume airtime when their data bundles run out, but this is often rather costly, and is sometimes a mistake or misunderstanding.)
While creating Nifunze, team Duma kept connectivity and language issues in mind. The app would not require an active connection to the Internet to work, but would rely on an updatable knowledge-base to provide information to its users. To deploy the app successfully across Kenya's variety of culture and language, the team recommended translating Nifunze's content into local dialects apart from Kiswahili.
Jisort! is team Kiboko's personalized Android assistant for users—old and new—who might face some difficulty trying to execute common tasks. It also helps users troubleshoot their problems before needing to seek help from others—an important problem-solving digital skill.
For Jisort!, team Kiboko picked the tasks that Android users use most frequently. Specifically, the app covers App Installation, Internet Connectivity, Digital Financial Services, and Social Media Applications.
Understanding a key constraint of Kenya's smartphone users, the team decided to make Jisort! work offline so its users don't need an Internet connection to receive help from it. The app is also optimized for low storage capacity to be compatible with older Android versions like Gingerbread.
With a potentially overwhelmed new smartphone user in mind, Jisort! is well organized app and structured to show inexperienced users how to interact with conventional UX features.
Ndovu: MAicons & Data Usage
Seeing opportunity in two problem areas, team Ndovu decided to use their resources to create more than one project, each focused on a specific smartphone-oriented digital skill.
The first, called MAicons helps new smartphone owners understand the menagerie of icons and terminology needed to use their devices. MAicons is a memorization game with a built-in glossary that Ndovu's developers designed for low data consumption and offline usage.
Meeting new Kenyan smartphone users where they're comfortable, MAicon's glossary is written in Sheng, using Swahili wherever possible to make smartphone features more approachable. Ndovu hoped to address literacy problems as well, by complementing each textual glossary entry with an equivalent audio recording.
Simply titled Data Usage, Ndovu's other creation helps users understand their relationship with data usage and data bundles—the subscription program Kenyan telcos use to usher their customers onto the Internet through mobile data connection.
As a native feature of recent versions of Android, users are able to see how much data they have used over a period of time, and a ranked list of apps that consume that data. However, Data Usage would allow users to understand the relationship between data usage and the bundles they buy, by showing them real-time graphical usage information juxtaposed with recent data bundle purchases.
While some operators give Android developers access to usage and bundle information through native APIs, Ndovu's developers were aware that Safaricom—one of Kenya's most popular telcos—might not support that option. However, with access to SMS, Data Usage would be able to read messages from Safaricom pertaining to data bundle purchases, and process them.
Msituni: App Helper
Team Msituni decided to help new smartphone users understand the landscape of app installation and usage. Aptly titled App Helper, their solution explains how much data apps use, and how that relates to the amount of money users spend on purchasing data bundles.
Using a combination of illustrated tutorials, notifications and interactive graphs and record-keeping, team Msituni's app covers the basics of maintaining a healthy, secure, and economically comfortable Android environment for new smartphone users.
By reading standard SMS messages from telcos like Safaricom, Airtel, Equitel or Orange, App Helper's breakdown of Bundle usage would be a helpful tool in understanding exactly how much data each app consumes and how much money (KES) that translates into.