WhatsApp Faces Major Competition in Africa as MTN Releases New Instant Messaging App ‘Ayoba’ with Instagram-like Features

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According to MTN, Ayoba will soon be fitted with its artificial intelligence mobile money ‘assistant’ or chatbot which will help people to make payments across social media platforms

Telecommunications group, MTN has taken its telco services one step further in Africa with the release of an instant messaging mobile app called ‘Ayoba’. The primary function of Ayoba is to send and receive messages however, it comes with a truckload of additional services that make it a significant rival to popular chat mobile app, WhatsApp.

Before I delve into the features of the new app, it is worthy of mention that about ten years ago MTN started a social media campaign using the slogan ‘Ayoba’. According to the company, Ayoba means ‘super cool’ which is to say that every MTN service and product is super cool now and we can cut to the chase.

chat interface

Ayoba is optimised for memory efficiency as its size is drastically small when compared to WhatsApp. You can check it out here.

The installation process is relatively easy too. All you require is the pin that has been sent to the phone number you registered with. The pin is received much faster if the phone number is an MTN line. Upon launching, a simple interface pops up and prompts you to begin a chat by adding people from your contact list.

The chat interface is similar to what we are used to on WhatsApp and users can import contacts from their phone contact list. They can also send messages and media items including pictures, documents and images.

A major difference from other instant messaging apps is that Ayoba has SMS integration. What this means is that you can send a message to anyone even if they are not using Ayoba. Your message gets sent as an SMS.

According to Group President and CEO of MTN Group, Rob Shuter, people that can use data to communicate increasingly need to reach people that cannot or do not.

The existing instant messaging apps only really work from a data subscriber to a data subscriber. As the penetration of data customers increases in our market, increasingly they will be conversing with non-data subscribers, so this is going to be an important differential between the existing instant messaging apps and the one we are building.

Rob Shuter

Perhaps the most important section of the Ayoba messaging app is the sidebar. From this pane, users have access to a wide and robust assortment of services designed to interest and occupy the user. A major service that can be accessed from the sidebar is the channel option. By clicking on that option, users have access to a wide range of topics much like in LinkedIn but in a much more colourful format. The channel option has an Instagram appeal to it – it can be constantly updated with exciting articles and videos. On my channel, I even had recipes of interesting dishes with videos showing me how to make them!

Another cool thing about the app is how it allows you to set a download limit. Based on your data budget, you can set it such that it does not download media that is greater than say 20MB and you can also compress files if you want. Of course, the regular backing up your chats to the cloud and end-to-end encryption is provided with the app.

Another thing MTN has tried to achieve with Ayoba to make it distinct is giving the user the chance to customise his or her app and make it speak the preferred language. Currently, there are a host of language options ranging from Francais to Cameroonian pidgin and Xhosa all so you can feel right at home.

With all these nice features, MTN says it has a strategic partnership with Ayoba and may offer free Ayoba data for subscribers on the MTN network. However, that is not all there is to the messaging app.

Recently, MTN obtained a Super Agent Licence from the Central Bank of Nigeria to aid its Fintech cause in the country through its subsidiary Yello Digital Financial Services Limited. It plans to launch Mobile Money (MoMo) that will enable people to make mobile payments through the Ayoba app.

According to MTN, Ayoba will soon be fitted with its artificial intelligence mobile money ‘assistant‘ features such that it can be used to make payments across social media platforms as well as provide them with useful information about MTN’s MoMo services.

With all of these new features being rolled out by MTN and with a rich subscriber base of over 60 Million in Nigeria, the telecommunication group is repositioning itself in Africa as a Fintech brand for everyday activities.


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