Apr 17 , 2021

A satellite navigation application developed in Ethiopia, allowing users to steer through local roads in the same way Google Maps and Waze do, was launched last week.

The Meri Navigation app, developed by SAN Metropolitan Plc, is now available for download on the Google Play Store for Android users, for a monthly subscription fee of 49 Br.

It comes with added features such as using the app offline, speed-limit indicators, and functionality in both Amharic and English. It also includes rural areas and cities such as Harar, Dire Dawa, Gonder, and Bahir Dar. The app can be downloaded for free for a 15-day free trial offer, but users will need to subscribe after two weeks. SAN Metropolitan has also availed a free, complementary Meri Map application that also features these destinations but lacks the navigation option.

The company took 10 years and spent around 10 million Br to develop the application, with most of the programming carried out by Apponward Technologies Ltd, an Indian firm.

Meri joined an avalanche of apps targeting various users in Ethiopia, slowly edging the local economy through a gig ecosystem.

Over 100 users have downloaded the app up until last week, a far cry from some of the most popular apps with over a million downloads. Amharic keyboards such as Ge'ez and Agerigna have passed the million-downloads threshold, according to allaboutethiopia.com, a website that tracks data on apps developed for the Ethiopia-related market. Calendars too are very popular with half-a-million downloads, although corporations such as Ethiopian Airlines and the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia (CBE) are competing in this league. It is Kana TV that garners that many app users in the media industry.

Meri covers a road network of more than 100,000Km, and the mapping was carried out by driving rather than through satellite photography. SAN Metropolitan had released a navigation app for Addis Abeba and its environs in 2010, which was only compatible with Garmin, an American tech company founded in 1989 and specialising in GPS technology, navigation equipment. The first venture with Garmin attracted mainly construction engineers, geologists, NGOs and other professionals whose work involved site studies, according to Seifesilassie Ayalew (PhD), general manager of SAN metropolitan Plc.

The idea to develop this application stemmed from the prohibitive pricing of Garmin equipment and a scarcity of foreign currency for importing the devices, Seifesilassie told Fortune.

Seifesilassie believes that the Meri app addresses these issues and features more than 100,000 destinations organised into categories.

The app can improve the transport sector, providing more accurate measurements and estimations than other applications, such as Google Maps, expert say.

One of these experts is Tewodros Kassahun, who directs the Ethiopian Cartography Enterprise.

He believes if more thematic mapping applications are developed in the future, they can help attract investment in other sectors and more remote places.

"This can ease work for electronic taxi service providers, who struggle with inaccurate distance measurements and locations," he told Fortune.

A geographic information systems researcher, Tadesse Getachew, is another expert who thinks that the application has potential, but he sees some key features missing.

"The app doesn't show essential places for users, such as hospitals or health centres," he said, "and it only covers main cities."

Managers at SAN Metropolitan are aware of these shortcomings.

"We're also approaching electronic taxi-hailing services like Ride for partnerships," Seifesilassie told Fortune.

Their ultimate goal is to integrate the geography of the country into the application. Meri will soon launch the iOS version, Seifesilassie disclosed.

PUBLISHED ON Apr 17,2021 [ VOL 22 , NO 1094]

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