IT enthusiasts are creating lucrative mobile applications that draw domestic and international interest.
Despite comparatively low internet penetration rates, Nepal is experiencing its own share of the global smartphone and applications (apps) revolution. Young IT professionals have started to take a leading role in producing content for iPhones, Android and BlackBerry phones.
Realising the potential of smartphone apps development, Suraj Bhattarai, 25, left his job at an IT company and co-founded Tea Cup Services along with some friends in 2011. Many of his team members moonlight, developing iPhone and Android apps at night after working for other software firms during the day.
"It has been a rewarding job for us," Bhattarai told Khabar South Asia. "Developers who generally start from a monthly salary of around Rs 15,000 ($169.19) start earning more than Rs. 50,000 ($563.92) per month within a year if they are really good."
Innovative and lucrative freelancing
Many of the apps developers are self-taught freelancers, since few formal courses are available.
"Self-learning and the ability to keep oneself updated with latest developments is more necessary for apps developers than formal courses," according to 25-year-old developer Rajan Maharjan. "The supply of good apps developers hasn't been able to match up with the growing demand of apps development."
The ingenuity of Nepal's entrepreneur and developer community -- and its relatively inexpensive and competitive human resources -- attracts foreign companies such as Microsoft.
Its Innovation Centre Nepal provides Windows Phones-targeted apps development training to students. "We have trained over 200 students for apps development and nearly 100 apps have been uploaded into the marketplace on the Windows Phone Platform," said Allen Bailochan Tuladhar, head of the centre.
Some apps have been very successful. "Apps developed by one of our students, Bishal Ghimire, have been downloaded over 16,000 times already," Tuladhar said.
Social responsibility in the digital age
Apps development has gone beyond the borders of commercial purposes. Some youths develop apps for social causes as well. In his Geomatics Engineering programme at Kathmandu University, Nabin Paudel, 24, develops apps offering information pertinent to consumers and to government.
"We are developing an app on GIS data collection," Paudel told Khabar. "The app works on Android-based phones and lets users report crimes and accidents, along with the place of [the] incident which is uploaded on the web.
"We hope the app will help the government in policymaking by providing the necessary information," he added.
Along with the opportunities, the development of smartphone apps is also full of challenges beyond extensive load-shedding periods and unreliable Internet access.
"Most of the developers are more focused on developing apps for others on contract only," developer Bhattarai said. "The concept of developing a product on our own rather than just selling the service is quite new for us. Many developers cannot afford the extensive research needed for developing their own products."
Most popular smartphones in Nepal are "jail-broken" – that is, manipulated to work on non-affiliated cellular networks, Bhattarai said. This eliminates the possibility for owners of such phones to purchase apps online. "Besides, the market for paid apps is very limited in the context of Nepal," he added.
Maharjan said Apple only recently made its online services available to Nepali citizens, allowing its developer community to focus on domestic apps development.
"Credit card restrictions for Nepali citizens prevent us from engaging in transactions with apps platforms such as iTunes and GooglePlay," Maharjan said. "For the time being developers have to focus on the global market only."
Despite the challenges, a lucrative future in apps development in Nepal continues.
"Apps are being used for anything and everything these days and smartphones are becoming common accessories for people," Bhattarai said. "Since apps developers in Nepal are very cost-competitive, we have great potential to benefit from the growth."