Local app maker yearns to grow wings

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Johannesburg - Anton van Netzinger has many reasons to be proud of Snappcab, the app he created with two of his mates back in October.

The first of its kind in South Africa, Snappcab is a free smartphone app that lets users hail nearby taxis at the push of a button. In just six months, it has become the nation’s largest purveyor of metered cabs, with over 10 000 users in Joburg alone.

Snappcab boasts an average waiting time of just 15 minutes, compared with an estimated 45-minute national average, and it’s safer for passengers than other taxi services thanks to a “ride tracking” GPS system that monitors the point-A-to-point-B journey of each passenger. It even features “Snappmiles”, the app’s equivalent of frequent flier miles.

Yet Van Netzinger wants more from his business, and for good reason. Next to the rapid growth of the mobile industry, his app’s accomplishments look routine.

Over the past two years, mobile app usage has nearly doubled in South Africa’s cities, from 24 percent of urban phone users in mid-2012 to 43 percent at the end of 2013, according to research firm World Wide Worx.

“The most recent calculation is 14 million users in South Africa, and we’re a population of 52 million people,” Van Netzinger said.

The cellphone industry added 600 000 users this quarter alone, according to a growth rate that makes Snappcab’s 10 000-person reach feel little more than satisfactory.

Snappcab’s greatest hindrance may lie in its niche appeal. Although an estimated 15 million South Africans use taxis daily, according to the South African National Taxi Council, 90 percent are minibuses.

So far, Van Netzinger’s app has appealed primarily to young urban professionals, high schoolers and “a small segment of committed expats”.

The app’s many features may yet draw in more sections of South Africa’s rapidly expanding middle class, potentially catalysing the growth of the metered cab sector itself.

For now, Van Netzinger is focusing on conquering territory rather than populations, saying he hopes to draw in cabs in Pretoria and the Western Cape, and eventually Kenya and Nigeria.

These goals, he says, “should keep us busy for the rest of the year”. - The Star

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