If you are looking solely at Western countries for new mobile innovations, you are looking in the wrong place.
Asia is where to look for new and interesting insights into our mobile future.
China and India, in particular, with their large populations and geographies are seeing new mobile innovations take off. We can learn a lot from Asia, which is the largest mobile market in the world.
Here are just a few examples…
1. Social messaging apps
Line is a smartphone app produced in Japan that allows users to connect with each other for free through voice calls, video calls and text messages.
The success of the app is reflected in the following stats:
- 400m registered users.
- Usage across 10 countries.
- 10 bn messages sent per day.
- 1.8 bn stickers sent per day.
- More than 12m online calls per day.
- In 2013 Line reached $338m in revenue, making its money from stickers and social gaming.
As well as communicating with friends, users can add official accounts of brands and celebrities to receive news and promotions. Users can also efficiently connect with others in an innovative way, including through a “Shake It!” function or a QR code.
Line’s success demonstrates the need to keep it simple, and how mobile serves to connect us all.
Weixin is China’s popular social messaging app developed by Tencent, and is available outside of China as WeChat.
It is extremely successful with approximately 300m users and estimated to make nearly $500m in revenue in 2014.
Weixin does not allow any advertising on the platform, and instead makes money from in-game add-ons and its payment system that encourages shopping within the app.
Like other messaging apps, Weixin allows users to connect with friends and family to share news, photos, videos and to send voice and text messages.
However, it doesn’t stop here as it is also a place to connect businesses, bloggers and media outlets. Businesses can share press releases and advertise jobs, and bloggers can publish posts through a public account.
The possibilities of Weixin seem endless as on one hand it has elements of social media sites such as Instagram and Twitter, and on the other hand the app can be used for payments, for example to pay for taxis and cinema tickets.
Weixin also makes great use of QR codes by using it to add a new contact or entering into a group chat.
Weixin is much more than a messaging app and traditional messaging apps can learn a lot from it. A focus on commerce rather than advertising looks to be paying off.
2. Healthcare apps
Mobile is improving people’s lives, and a great example is Blink Control, which is an Android app developed by Indonesian company Aibilities.
The app is designed to help victims of paralysis to communicate, for example to communicate with others out loud or to send SMS messages. The technology uses the front-facing camera built into a standard 10 inch Android device, which then detects the individual’s eye-blinking movements.
Blinking of the left eye moves the cursor to the left, the right eye moves to the right and blinking both eyes together sends the information, just like clicking ‘enter’.
This technology can help paralysis victims control their environment too, for example the ability to control Bluetooth-enabled TVs is being developed.
Just Shake It
Another health care mobile innovation is Just Shake It developed in Singapore by Healint.
The app is available on Android and iOS and is used by those susceptible to strokes to alert others if an attack occurs.
If the victim suffers a stroke and are unable to dial a number to call for help, they can shake their phone to alert the app; the app runs in the background and works without needing to unlock the phone.
The Just Shake It app contacts the emergency services, alerts family members or close friends through an SMS message, and also reveals the victim’s location.
These health apps, amongst others, demonstrate that Asia is working to improve quality of life. In the future maybe apps will help you to live longer!
3. Computer vision technologies
Eyedeus Labs is an innovative start-up based in Pakistan that develops computer vision technologies for smartphones.
It has developed Groopic, which is a smartphone app that allows the photographer to be a part of the picture.
It works by merging two images into a single frame; you take a photo, then a friend takes a photo with you in the scene, the app then merges the two photos to include everyone together in one photo.
How smart is that?
Eyes on the Road
Interacting with a mobile device whilst driving is illegal and dangerous, for example texting while driving increases the risk of an accident by 23%.
Despite this, globally many of us still interact with our phones whilst driving, and apps designed to prevent the temptation to use our phones can be lifesaving.
Samsung has launched the Eyes on the Road app in order to tackle this issue. A survey in Singapore, commissioned by Samsung, found that 83% of Singapore drivers had in fact interacted with their mobile devices whilst driving in the last year, these interactions included checking alerts, text messaging, using GPS and dialing a phone number.
The Eyes on the Road app is activated when the car is travelling above 20km/hour, which then silences notifications, text messages and calls.
Drivers are rewarded for their safe driving by receiving insurance or Shell fuel vouchers. This is a clever example of empathy.
5. Universal payment systems
Tootpay is a mobile payment service developed in Malaysia. It works by placing a sticker on the SIM card of a mobile phone, which then allows the user to make a payment.
The sticker sends relevant details to the company’s mobile payment platform and will connect with the relevant bank, all without use of the internet.
Western mobile payment systems, such as using NFC technology and iBeacon, are innovative and effective but require users to have smartphones that specifically facilitate those services.
Not only can Tootpay be used with virtually any smartphone, it is also compatible with regular mobile phones; therefore Tootpay reaches out to a wider audience than Western mobile payment services allow.
Pinco is an app available in China that’s all about conspicuous consumption. It allows users to take a selfie, add a filter and show off the brands they own by tagging the brands in their environment, from clothes to computers.
Users can also follow relevant streams based on their favourite brands.
Nice is another app developed in China based on the same principles as Pinco.
The difference is that Nice supports Facebook, is available to users around the world, and allows users to tag not only brands but also anything in their environment such as the city they are in.
Both Pinco and Nice do not contain adverts or promotions, but could make money if they were to introduce these marketing campaigns.
Western apps can learn from these Chinese apps in terms of combining selfies and showing off your swag.
7. Price comparison apps
Based in S.E. Asia, PricePanda is a free price comparison website and iOS app that is available in Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia and Singapore.
It enables users to compare prices of a wide variety of products in order to find the best deal, through either searching for the product or browsing and discovering offers.
The co-founder of Price Panda believes that m-commerce will be an integral role in the future of retail in Asia due to the high smartphone usage in the region, particularly in the Southeast.
This claim is backed by a report by Nielsen that found that markets in Singapore and Malaysia have higher smartphone usage than in the US, with smartphone users spending on average at least three hours a day on their phone.
Alibaba is a large internet conglomerate based in China, it controls 80% of the Chinese e-commerce market, and has the aim to become the global leader in ecommerce competing with the likes of Amazon and eBay.
Alibaba’s success consists of more than 320m mobile customers and reported sales in 2012 of $170bn (with estimated sales for 2014 being $420bn).
Putting this in perspective, in 2013 Amazon sales reached just over $74bn and eBay’s sales were $16bn.
In addition, China’s biggest online shopping day known as ‘Singles Day’ recorded sales of nearly $4bn more than the equivalent day in the US, Cyber Monday, 21% of which were from mobile.
The landscape of shopping in China is being transformed as a result of the constant focus on mobile.
Asian mobile marketing is riding high on the back of some inspiring new innovations, from saving your life (Samsung), to saving you money (PricePanda), to staying in touch (Weixin & Line), to bragging about your swag (Pinco & Nice). It’s all happening.
So, it’s time to look East next time you are looking for mobile inspiration.