I’ve seen the future of mobilePosted on by Balint Orosz
“We’ve just built a website but I haven’t really checked how it performs yet.”
This sentence came from one of the founders of Carousell – a Singaporean start-up I visited, who not too long ago raised $6 million from Sequoia Capital. Carousell is one of the most used applications in the region for shopping, and the statement above clearly indicated how web in most of APAC markets is just an ‘afterthought’. Why? The primary interface is mainly apps.
Talking to these guys and other start-ups during a trip to Asia proved to be an incredibly valuable experience. While we mostly know what Samsung, LG, and other big companies are doing through large tech portals, we see much less about the new, hyper growth startups which very effectively build on local habits, legal environment and scale at an exponential pace.
It’s clear to see that these companies expect exponential growth, user loyalty and ‘easy, effective payments’ through mobile; more specifically, apps. While from market research we would still assume mobile is too immature, in lots of Asian markets that’s no longer true.
(Local) Apps are everywhere
People use apps everytime, everywhere. When I arrived at the airport in Korea the first thing I noticed was the weird yellow screen on everyone’s phone – the KakaoTalk app. Over 90% of Korea’s population uses KakaoTalk, and from what I saw they use it as their primary way of communication. I didn’t see people using iMessage, or even SMS – it’s all KakaoTalk. Interestingly when I asked people why they don’t use Facebook Messenger, they responded with a question – “but can Facebook Messenger do group messages?”.
One local startup was founded 1.5 years ago, and uses a model very similar to Hotels Tonight. It has 10 million downloads in Korea. That’s roughly 20% of Korea’s population. Insane.
On billboards you see ads not for products or companies but for apps – it might be for food ordering, yet another Uber clone or whatever that might be. And in most of the cases it’s likely those outside the country have never before heard about these apps. They’re mainly local apps, developed by local companies, serving local needs, in a local fashion. That might be supporting the most popular local online/mobile payment methods, or having design / UX that appeals to local users. People in most of the cases can distinguish local vs. global apps – and often have a preference for local ones.
That being said many of these companies struggle when not even going global, but outside of their home country at any level. They build rapidly with focus on execution and local needs – in lots of cases ignoring planning for scale – and only when successful on a local level, do they start to think serioulsy about expansion. At this point they face several difficulties, starting from software / architectural difficultes (technical debt), and cultural differences.
The first real personal ‘Travel Assistant’ will come from APAC
For users in APAC, mobile is what the *Personal* Computer, PCs as we know, always wanted to be, but never could achieve the status. As users can use their mobile devices for nearly everything – from communication, to shopping, food ordering, transportation etc, it becomes an extremely personal item for them. In this region ‘Mobile is Social’ and ‘Social is Mobile’. Considering that ‘Travel is Social’, it’s quite simple to see how ‘Travel is also Mobile’.
Together with the trend of deeply coupled services, instead of the de-coupling of services we can see in most Western markets, it’s clear that people expect integrated solutions which solve all of their complex needs and not just simple function stand-alone apps.
They expect to do everything in one app – browse, gain inspiration, book, and guide them through the travel – all of this in a very smart way.
The future is here
APAC is not a country, but a region. While there are some characteristics which are very similar across most of the countries, at the same time, many are very different, meaning there is no ‘one solution fits all’ for this wide-ranging and diverse market.
Saying that, there is plenty of opportunity in APAC. Local product development methods are not more advanced, neither is their engineering. However, the pace of execution is extremely, admirably fast. The key to their success is a focus on local needs and embedding features in this way deep in the product. Our bus-booking feature in India is an example of the way Skyscanner is looking to approach the region: tailored, localised in approach, combined with the strength of our global comprehensive flight coverage.
One of our challenges in APAC is the way in which to modify technical and product architecture in a way which allows ‘deep localization’ – i.e. altering some features completely for given markets , and of course having product/engineering teams focusing exclusively on these markets.
What is really clear is that mobile and apps are far more ahead in APAC in terms of maturity than I had previously imagined. It shows us the future, and in that future mobile gets higher user numbers, higher frequency and generates more revenue than desktop. This future will arrive to Western markets as well, and anything we do in APAC can only help us better understand and prepare for the future in other regions too.