“There are more posts in Instagram of #nailart than #cars. A vibrant relationship already exists between nail art, social apps, and mobile tech,” says Australian designer and entrepreneur Thea Baumann. That’s part of the reason her startup is trying something new with nails.

What the team has created is nail art which triggers holographic, augmented reality visualizations using an accompanying app. The startup is called MM Nails. People pay about US$50 for the stick-on nail art, which is designed by artists – and the app is of course free. That app has in-app purchases for further 3D, AR visualizations.

It’s not exactly “wearable tech” as most people think of it, but there is a lot of tech involved.

And there’s a lot more to come, as Baumann plans to turn MM Nails into something broader where the nails and the AR fire up content, or tie in with social media or brands. Baumann is tight-lipped on those other plans, but it’s easy to see how a brand could make use of something like this. She describes the idea as a unique wearable content distribution platform.

Shanghai glam

The Sino-Australian startup – called Metaverse Makeovers in full – is focusing first on the China market, which is why it’s largely based in Shanghai. “We’ve quantified our total target market as 31 million young girls in China who actively get their nails done and are expressive on social media,” she explains.

There’s a MM Nails shop in Chinese, which ships across mainland China as well as internationally.

“For me, I wanted to further augment the more ‘traditional blingy qualities’ of nail art. I wanted to embed augmented reality amongst a vibrant nail art culture – and design new products and experiences that would connect my end users’ fingers to social networks,” says Baumann.

She says the plan after China is to head to other markets where a lot of young women tend to do their nails, like Japan and South Korea. “And then seeing how our hologram tech designs fly in markets such as Brazil and Russia,” she adds.

Aside from taking the AR nail art to more countries, the startup is also working on using the same pattern recognition technology and AR features in clothing. Plus, Baumann wants to add 3D interactive gaming in the MM Nails app.

Anyone renting out a property in Malaysia knows the easiest way to do it is through brokers, who, unfortunately, charge a sum for doing so little.

Wong Whei Meng experienced this first-hand when he was renting out his condo unit in 2013. Being tech-savvy, he thought he could rent it out himself by advertising on real estate listing sites iProperty and PropertyGuru. To his surprise, the sites only accepted agent listings. “I was forced to look for agents to help me. I SMS-ed 50 agents and only two bothered to help me advertise my property.”

Wong went through the motions and waited for calls from the brokers who set viewing appointments with prospective clients. After three viewings, he struck a deal and paid his agent a commission equivalent to a month’s rent, which in his opinion, was too much for a “passive” and “easy” job.

It was a problem that turned into an opportunity. If not for that experience, he wouldn’t have gotten the idea for Speedrent, an app that connects landlords directly with renters and cuts out the middlemen. Speedrent launched as Saywa in March, but recently rebranded in line with its planned regional expansion.

Matches vs listings

Wong says Speedrent is a compelling alternative for landlords and a tool that empowers them to get rid of the costly brokerage layer.

“Based on a survey we did, over 87 percent of users dislike dealing with agents. Our goal is to fill in the gap and create a hassle-free leasing service.”

An agent’s job, he explains, represents repetitive work that can be automated and scaled through technology.

Speedrent does more than you’d expect. It allows property owners and renters to chat, and facilitates appointment scheduling between them. It also sets itself apart by offering electronic tenancy agreement, which completes the renting lifecycle. Wong says other platforms operating in this space in Malaysia, such as Mudah and Propwall, stop at listings.

“Our job ends when we’ve helped both parties to match. Our ultimate KPI is number of matches versus listings, which most other classified sites love to boast of.”

Wong says they’re not planning to monetize Speedrent in the next 12 months. But when they do, it’ll be through two things: a small fee for the tenancy agreement, and commission from other services that renters may want to avail of, including moving-in and cleaning services, broadband and cable TV installations. “The tenants do not pay extra to sign up with us for said services. We’ll get our commission from respective providers.”

Finding the right team

Speedrent is Wong’s third venture so far. He started a web hosting service when he was 17 and sold it to his partner right before he pursued his undergraduate in the UK. When he got back to Malaysia in 2008, he created Aflexi, a content delivery network (CDN) solution that was acquired by London-based OnApp, a company that develops cloud management, CDN and storage software for service providers and enterprises.

Wong invested RM 500,000 (US$130,000) of his money to kickstart Speedrent. Half of it is being spent for administration costs and the team’s salaries, while the rest is going into marketing.

Though this isn’t the first time he’s getting his feet wet with startups, Wong faced a number of hurdles, the biggest of which was finding the right team.

He last year outsourced Speedrent’s development to India, China, and Vietnam. After running into trouble with external parties, he decided to hire a team to work on the app full-time. Finding good talent was difficult and took quite a while.

“I hired my ex-colleague in Aflexi, Lim Soon Tak, who was running a team that built solutions for local banks; it took me about a year to convince him to leave his stable job. Then hired I another mobile app developer whom I got to know through Facebook, Fong Wei Zien. I spent six months talking to him as he was in another startup back then. I also persuaded Steason Tee, who was passionately running another startup to join me in running business development. It took me eight months to convince him,” explains Wong.

“I almost lost count how many people I’ve brought in and fired in the past few months. Thankfully, we have a pretty stable team now.”

Huge demand

He never lost heart because what’s at stake is big.

He said by 2020, the population in the greater Kuala Lumpur area alone will grow to 10 million. With the average household size at 4.31, that’s equivalent to 2.3 million families.

“Thus, around 340,000 to 500,000 houses are needed,” he says.

However, owning a house is still a dream for many Malaysian families as prices remain out of reach.

“I think more than 20 percent of the families will be renting because I don’t believe 80 percent will be able to own a house,” noted Wong.

This is the market Speedrent hopes to capture. Currently, the app has gotten over 2,000 listings, and 6,000 users. The target in six months is to reach 50,000 users in Malaysia.

Wong believes renting is going to be a trend moving forward, including for the rest of Southeast Asia. “We are thinking regionally, in ASEAN, there will be a population of 660 million by 2020. Using the same formula, I deduced the number of houses required for rent should stand at close to 25 million.”

As an Indonesian parent, Norman Ganto’s biggest concern is for his children. He fears they may not be able to compete academically with students from other countries later in life — like in college, for example, when it actually counts. Indonesia may have one of the largest education systems in the world, but according to a recent landmark report, the archipelago’s school system ranked dead last in terms of quality. With this problem in mind, many Indonesian parents know they must take it upon themselves to ensure their kids get the skills to succeed in life. Often, it means communicating closely with local teachers every step of the way.

Norman is the founder and CEO of a new startup called Bulletinboard. According to him, the product is simple, practical, and solves a real need, yet surprisingly, he claims it has no competition in the local market.

Bulletinboard is a mobile app and online tool for parents and teachers to come together and stay up-to-date on students’ progress. As the name implies, teachers can post homework assignments and reports for the community to access in the same way they would use a physical bulletin board. The app lets parents communicate directly and privately with teachers, as well as send out broadcasts that are relevant to all members — for example, the date and preparations needed for a class field trip.

When asked if this product was truly solving a problem, Norman answers, “Did you know teachers sometimes spend hours writing the same thing repeatedly on papers for each student? Also, sometimes teachers in Indonesia sometimes entrust second-graders to bring home important information to their parents. This is inefficient, and often parents don’t get the messages.” With Bulletinboard, Norman adds, parents also don’t have to rely on phone call relays from one parent to another. There’s also no need to join a public and chaotic Line, Whatsapp, or Blackberry Messenger group that will inevitably get filled with junk and irrelevant chatter.

Cutting down on irrelevant chatter

To use the app, teachers have to create a class and invite parents to join. Parents can also search by the teacher’s name, class name, or class code. Once parents join the class, private one-on-one communication may begin. The firm says Bulletinboard saves paper and time, while enabling parents to be more engaged with their children’s school activities. The method of communication also prevents parents from contacting teachers during off hours. Teachers can see which parent has read the message, so there should be no excuse for parents to miss out on information, the pair suggests.

In Indonesia, Bulletinboard has a lot of indirect competitors — like Line and Whatsapp — but also more direct competitors from schools trying to build this product themselves. According to Norman, many schools think they can make an app like Bulletinboard solely for their institution. However, this is much easier said than done, and schools often fail to execute. With Bulletinboard, he says, parents, teachers, and students have the freedom to switch schools. It’s not necessary for the schools themselves to adopt the product, as it’s completely the teacher’s prerogative.

Bulletinboard also sees many international competitors with similar offerings. Some of the most notable names include Remind: Safe Classroom Communication, Edmodo, ClassDojo, and TeacherKit. Indonesians can also download these apps, however, Norman says he hopes his firm’s localized strategy and growing network can make Bulletinboard the platform of choice for local teachers.

Currently, Bulletinboard is a free app on both iOS and Android. The firm is waiting to gain a critical mass of users before it thinks about how to monetize. The brand new app launched in mid-July and Norman says it already has several classrooms on board and active. Norman and Ade recently appeared in Hong Kong at the RISE 2015 tech conference to showcase their product.

“The paradigm in Indonesia is that mobile technology is social media and games,” explains Norman. “I want to change this. I want our educators and parents to embrace technology as a tool to build not only their own capacity, but more importantly, our children’s.”

Manila-based U-Hop has closed seed investments worth a total of US$7.4 million, which it will use to roll out in major cities across Asia.

The company has received US$2 million from a Philippine corporation with diversified interests, U-Hop’s founder Marvin Dela Cruz tells Tech in Asia. Some US$5.4 million inked with boutique investment banking firm Asian Alliance Investment Corporation, also based in Manila, will be wired into the company’s bank account any time after Holy Week.

“We’re using the funds to expand our operations in the Philippines and to launch in other markets such as Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar, China, India, and Japan,” Marvin explains. “We will develop our IT infrastructure, acquire more partners, and hire a little over 500 additional staff to cover our entire operations.”

U-Hop is an Uber for shuttle vans that’s fast growing in Manila. The capital is known for having the worst urban traffic in the world, and it doesn’t need any more cars on the road than it currently has. Ride hailing apps Uber and Grab are just adding to the gridlock by catering to only one user at a time.

U-Hop’s answer is to put more commuters in vans, which can seat about seven people per trip. The company claims to already serve 550,000 passengers who regularly take its shuttle service.

U-Hop trips are scheduled and paid for in advance and cost an average of just US$2.50 per day (roundtrip). An on-demand option is metered like other taxi services and charges a fixed fee of less than a dollar, doing away with the surge pricing feature found on Uber’s and Grab’s apps.

There’s a new app in town that promises a lot. Through it, you’re supposedly able to order cleaning, cooking, babysitting, pet sitting, and elder care services. Basically, it wants to replace your domestic help. Agent Bong, from Hong Kong, is now officially available on iOS and Android in Singapore.

The app, however, falls apart quickly, and my experience tested my patience. The SMS verification took forever on my Android phone (maybe a temporary glitch), but worked fine on my iPhone. Two options were available in Singapore when I posted a job: spring cleaning and domestic help.

My immediate thoughts: where are the cooking and child care services, which I was told by a company rep are available in Singapore? And how’s spring cleaning different from the basic cleaning service? The app was shy about that information, which was hidden in a link that appeared only after I posted basic details about the job.

I was puzzled by the options. Yes, cooking was there. As were many others. But no pet sitting, child care, or elder care. I can go on an extended rant about the app, but I’ll be wasting wordcount eviscerating something that still needs lots of work. Suffice to say, the user interface flow is a mess. The app doesn’t save your home address, and the aesthetics are dated. The attention to detail is lacking.

Yes, the app has already served 8,000 customers in Hong Kong, but imagine how many more users it would get if it developed its app properly. If you have a gift for patience, go ahead and give this a try. It has 150 or so helpers in Singapore at your service.

If you’re just looking for cleaning services, try Properhands or Helpling instead. Maybe I will post an actual job on Agent Bong, and the service might surprise me. I’m desperately hoping for something that will make hiring full-time domestic helpers unnecessary.

But as far as first impressions go, this app fails, both in its design and in the way it launched. And don’t get me started with the name.

It’s incredibly frustrating when you arrive at your bus or train station just to find out the service is unavailable for the day. The next best option is to trek to the nearest available stop, or to hail an expensive taxi. And the problem is exacerbated when you realize hundreds of other commuters will try the same tactic, resulting in scarce taxis or unruly, crowded public transport.

Of course, in some cities there are localized services that provide information on train and bus schedules, but they’re not always updated in real time around the clock. In such cases, crowdsourced information can be a powerful tool to instantly relay information – commuters who notice delays or closures can transmit data, potentially preventing frustration for thousands.

And that’s what Moovit is trying to achieve. The Israeli startup uses a combination of official data – readily available in cities such as London, New York, and San Francisco, as well as feedback from users to give real-time updates on all transportation services. These include buses, trains, and subway networks. It has 28 million users spread across 700 cities and 58 countries.

Better than Google Maps

Moovit’s user experience is far more engaging and friendly than Google Maps. After launching the app, all you have to do is input your destination.The app will track your current location and suggest a number of available public transport options.

After choosing the one you prefer, Moovit will outline step-by-step directions to get to your required destination. If the journey necessitates a change of bus or train, then there’s also real-time information on estimated wait times. While you travel, Moovit will keep you updated on nearby attractions and notify you when you’re close to the destination.

“One of our key differentiators is how we deal with data,” says Alex Torres, vice president of marketing at Moovit. “Transportation is unreliable and there’s no way to predict whether a bus or train is delayed. We’re gathering feedback, data, and reports coming from our users with the official data we have.”

Alex points to the General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) – a way for public transit agencies to publish their data and allow developers to code applications utilizing the data – as the major problem.

Almost all transportation companies use this format but it’s not updated very frequently. Even Google Maps is dependent on GTFS files. As a result, most map services can’t be relied upon for accurate transportation schedules.

Crowdsourcing is key

But while the startup does factor in official information, Alex makes it clear that it’s not dependent on this source. Moovit has been able to launch in cities such as Buenos Aires, which lack credible data, as it utilizes “internal tools” and “different layers of data.” It has a core community of approximately 20,000 users, who help launch the app in different cities.

He explains: “Let’s say you’re a Moovit user and you go to Delhi or Tokyo. When you open the app, you get a notification saying the service is not supported, would you like to help us launch in this city? That’s the first point of contact. Those who are interested get in touch with us, we give them training with our mechanisms and tools and that’s how we engage users.”

The app can also use GPS information to transmit data anonymously, helping crowdsource information faster.

As for monetization, Alex says they’re testing several models right now. One is taxi integration, which has gone live in Brazil, Colombia, and Chile. There’s also a plan to introduce mobile ticketing. So far, Moovit has raised combined funding of US$81.5 million spread across three rounds. BMW, Nokia, and Sequioa Capital are the main investors.

Moovit is gearing up to expand into other cities and help solve transportation issues. India is an important market the startup wants to cover – it’s already present in Bangalore but there are plans to go to Delhi and Mumbai.

Indonesia and Singapore are also part of Moovit’s existing network. “We’re heavily invested in Asia in terms of time and resources,” says Alex.

Singapore-based social food review app Burpple expects to raise up to US$6 million in series A funding from Tembusu Partners, SPH Media Fund, and Triumph Capital, it announced today.

Tembusu is a private equity firm that invests in fast-growing companies, while SPH Media Fund is the venture capital arm of Singapore Press Holdings. Triumph Capital facilitates transnational investments between Australia and China as well as other Asian markets.

Launched in 2012, Burpple is a mobile app and website that helps users decide where to dine. But rather than simply building up its volume of food venue listings, the startup focuses on guided curation. In other words, it has “tastemakers” – both in-house and handpicked among its users – who create a guide to the best places to eat and drink in cities it covers. Right now, Burpple operates in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur.

“We are well positioned to match consumers to restaurants as our users are the very ones recommending the joints to other users. This is different from restaurants telling you themselves that they have the best food and that you should give them a try,” co-founder Dixon Chan says. Chan launched the service along with Daniel Hum and Elisha Ong. Ong has left the company, however.

Chan says they will use the money to enhance Burpple’s features, particularly the one that was designed to help restaurant owners track their performance on Burpple, manage their pages, and connect with users. They also plan to introduce complimentary dining services and hire engineers and product development staff in preparation for a regional rollout.

Burpple claims it has four million users for both the app and site, double last year’s number. It declined to say how many of them are active.

A survival toolkit for the planet of the apps

Time was when a mobile strategy meant creating a buzz around an app and getting millions of people to download it. Circa 2015 the thinking has moved way beyond installs into every stage of a user’s engagement with an app – from discovery and download through uninstalls, retargeting, reinstalls, purchases, and hopefully retention.

Here’s a telltale stat from digital marketing firm TargetingMantra – three-quarters of shoppers who install an ecommerce app will proceed to registration. But a mere 2 percent will go on to make their first purchase through the app. And there’s a twist in the tail even when users do make a purchase – nearly 40 percent of them will uninstall the app immediately afterwards.

According to Flurry Analytics, three-quarters of users drop out of an app within three months of installing it, and only 4 percent remain after a year.

Conversion is the name of the game

Understanding a mobile user’s behavior and trying to influence it has therefore become vital. This is even more so in a mobile first market like India, where three-quarters of the 402 million internet users get online only through mobile devices.

And the action is mostly in apps. Big data firm Vizury says nearly 80 percent of mobile shoppers in India this year are buying things with apps rather than through mobile websites. Conversion and retention of app users has thus become the central theme of mobile strategy for Indian startups big and small.

Even at the very first stage of discovering and downloading an app, there are new insights gleaned from user data analytics. TargetingMantra points out, for instance, that more than half the time, consumers learn about apps from friends, family, or colleagues. Hence the thrust on referral campaigns by the likes of Uber.

The following infographic from TargetingMantra traces the app user’s journey right from discovery to purchase, with insights and tips for engagement and conversion of the user at every stage of that journey.

What’s a hit messaging app to do when it can’t seem to grow outside of its core markets? For Line, the answer appears to be strengthening its hold where it’s already immensely popular. Line announced yesterday that it has established a research and development unit in Thailand – its apparent number two market by user base.

Line opened an office in Bangkok back in March 2014, but the new R&D team will be the first outside of Japan, where the company is based. It’s currently recruiting engineers to develop products and services localized for Line’s users in Thailand. According to Bangkok Post, Line plans to roll out a “new mobile app service” for the Thai market early next year.

It’s unclear exactly how many of Line’s 212 million monthly active users (MAUs) hail from Thailand, as the company hasn’t broken down that figure by country since October 2014. At that time, Thailand was Line’s second-strongest market, with 33 million MAUs from a total of 170 million. Thailand as a whole has 40 million mobile internet users, meaning that more than 82 percent are Line users – based on MAU figures that are over a year old.

Don’t leave me

Without breaking the figure down, Line stated last month that 65 percent of its MAUs hail from its four core areas – Japan, Thailand, Taiwan, and Indonesia.

The social media and messaging app markets are already saturated, so Line’s additional push is probably meant to retain users against encroaching rivals WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.

Line was crowned the victor over WhatsApp last year in Thailand, but Facebook has the deep pockets necessary to go into marketing mode if it so chooses. Line’s smart marketing tactics, like TV commercials featuring Thai celebrities and localized sticker sets, helped solidify it as the market leader.

Case in point: A year ago, Line listed Spain as its number four market, with 18 million MAUs. But Spain suddenly dropped out of Line’s top four, according to the company’s data for the third quarter of 2015.

App Annie’s current iOS and Android rankings for Spain don’t even list Line in the country’s top 100 free apps. For both platforms, WhatsApp is sitting pretty at the top, with Messenger number two for iOS and number four for Android.

Globally, Line’s growth has stalled. Between June and September of this year, it added only one million MAUs – whereas WhatsApp added 100 million MAUs in the five months from April to September. WhatsApp now has over 900 million MAUs.

Line offers a host of services outside of its core messenger in Thailand, from music and video streaming to grocery delivery. It also unveiled Line Giftshop there yesterday, which allows users to send presents to their friends and make the payment using Line Pay.

These days, app stores for Android & iOS apps are really big – and it’s getting bigger every day. If you are in – good for you, but if not? Developing a mobile app might be the number one priority to think about. Competition is growing among all industries, and you definitely don’t want them to take over your services or products.

A billion smartphones will be sold by the end of 2015. Think about it. How big your target audience can grow. That’s twice the number of PCs sold. And we expect over 10 billion mobile internet devices in use by 2016.

Nowadays, trending mobile app development is focused on the following:

  • Social networking mobile app – The fastest growing and most demanded apps among user;
  • Context marketing that is improving user experience through mobile app frontend usage;
  • Location-based services. A multi-billion niche for mobile app markets;
  • Mobile search for e-commerce – makes consumer experience easier while looking for products or comparing prices between vendors;
  • Standalone and moving objects recognition. Focus on mobile apps with sensor and processing capabilities;
  • And finally – Mobile payment systems – a booming demand as NFC is getting more popular around the globe. According to a study, nearby 1 in 5 mobile phones will have Near Field Communications (NFC) on board.

These are great mobile trends not only for customers, but for mobile app development companies too as even job growth of mobile app developers by this time hits 131% and continues to grow. According to statistics, 46% of mobile app users paid for their apps and we expect that number to be over 268 billion downloads by the end of 2016. Generating $77 billion revenue for mobile app developers and business owners.

For better industry understanding just have a look at this infographic, generated by theUniversity of Alabama at Birmingham’s online masters in management information systems, covering mobile applications in use, apps revenue, apps popularity, mobile application trends and mobile app developer salary.

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