Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Published in May-Jun 2014

Made in – and for Pakistan

Pakistani app developers are slowly shifting their focus to the local market.

A CNN video report recently highlighted a slowly growing trend: the apps you can download on your feature phone or smartphone are increasingly coming with the label ‘made in Pakistan’.

Their success lies not only in the increased technical skill of local mobile app developers, but crucially also in their ability to correctly identify trends or needs in Pakistan and abroad.

The mobile app featured in the CNN video which is called Groopic, is a very successful attempt at ‘putting the missing photographer in the photo’ for group photos which are ‘always missing the photographer’.

Developed by Eyedeus Labs (a Lahore-based spin-off of LUMS’ Computer Vision Lab), Groopic seamlessly merges two photos of friends and their photographer into one picture.

As Ali Rehan, CEO, Eyedeus Labs points out in the video, “there was no such product in the market. So we have solved a really common problem in a very interesting way…!”

Their “interesting” product has so much potential that the Groopic team travelled to Silicon Valley, courtesy Google, and spent time with Google’s mentoring team in order to optimise the product for various smartphones. This then led to further courtships from leading OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) giants such as Huawei, LG and Samsung.

Similar innovative mobile apps are being created under the very commendable government backed Plan9 incubation initiative, and include apps such as DrivePal which helps in locating car accidents and LocPro which is a location-based mobile app that adapts your phone’s privacy settings depending on your physical location.

Mobile app development is not only gaining traction in Pakistan, it is edging more and more to cater to the local market. The best mobile apps are invariably those that interweave with the way that people lead their lives and fill a basic need. Showtimes, which claims to be Pakistan’s first smartphone app that lists movie schedules for cinemas in the major cities and enables users to book cinema tickets, is an apt example of this. Created in 2013 by an Islamabad-based entrepreneur, Reza Khan, the mobile app runs on both iOS and Android phones.

Similarly, PakWheels.com, which has already made a name for itself as a popular automobile portal for local car buyers and sellers, launched a mobile app last year in partnership with Warid Telecom. The app allows Android mobile phone users to view price information of popular car models, search for used cars in their location and post information about their own car.

The shift to local as the target market is significant. Until a few years ago, mobile app development companies in Pakistan focused solely on developing mobile apps for the Western market and some were remarkably successful. For example, pepper.pk, a small software company in Lahore, developed a photo editing app (unabashedly called Photo Editor) for BlackBerry App World. The app went on to be ranked among the Top 10 best apps on the site in 2010. Their follow-up app called LED Notifier Pro was ranked the number one best-selling BlackBerry application in the world in 2011.

In the same vein, Ten Pearls, a Karachi-based mobile app development company catering largely to the US gaming market, developed UTrack which won Nokia’s most innovative app prize in 2011. Earlier in 2010, the company had developed the mobile app for Dawn.com and like other local companies in the field, it is becoming more serious about allocating some of its resources to local mobile app development.

The move towards localised content is also being championed by handset manufacturers. Since 3Q 2012, the drive by Nokia Pakistan to encourage local mobile app developers in their hundreds to concentrate on developing mobile apps with a distinct local flavour has geared up and Nokia’s Ovi App Store now offers Carrom, Cricket Companion and Ludo as well as popularly downloaded Quranic applications.

Nokia has focused largely on developing mobile apps for the dominant feature phone sector, which accounts for 15 to 20% of the local market. The company is likely to shift its focus towards smartphone mobile apps development once 3G services become available and specific 3G-enabled phones are marketed more aggressively. Various industry sources corroborate that Pakistan’s smartphone penetration stands at approximately 15% and is almost bursting at the seams in anticipation of the advent of 3G technology. Apart from Nokia, Pakistan’s leading handset importer QMobile, and more recently Huawei, have increased their marketing budgets and mobile phones imports to Pakistan in the run-up to 3G.

As marketers, we must not forget to question the relevance of local mobile apps to mobile marketing. Has the outlook for mobile app development and its potential for mobile marketing in Pakistan truly changed since last year?

Jawwad Jafri, founder of JVentures, offers his perspective.

“Despite having a great pool of talented developers, most mobile developers in Pakistan are freelancing for international companies rather than working on their own products. There is a dearth of mentorship and guidance to THINK BIG. Pakistani developers have to come out of the back office mode. In the last year several tech incubators have identified, mentored and promoted local development teams that are making waves around the world.”

Endeavouring to make some waves with the recent launch of his company’s own mobile marketing platform called Flashcall, Jafri agrees that many web-based products are being revamped for their potential as a mobile app, especially given the increase in smartphone penetration.

“The smartphone market in Pakistan is growing at a phenomenal rate and apps are all the rage.”

At the moment, Flashcall is a web-driven mobile marketing product that is based on the concept of missed calls. Imbibed as is the habit of missed calls in Pakistan, Flashcall has positioned itself as a “revolutionary concept that brands can use to really learn about their consumers. It removes the cost and reach barrier as everyone with a simple mobile phone can engage with a brand without any cost with just a missed call.”

Jafri emphasises that his company is focused on delivering key features, such as an analytics dashboard that unlike most mobile marketing services in Pakistan, provides real time results in a graphical interface and which in future could be easily ported to a mobile app interface enabling brands to follow visual campaign results, day-wise break-up of campaign responses, etc. via their handsets.

Since it is still early days for Flashcall, Jafri says that the web-based model will be used for now. As for a mobile app version of the product, he says that “we are keenly observing the market dynamics.”

However, Pring, another mobile marketing product competitor, is confident of the potential of a mobile app version of its web-based services and launched a Pring app for the iPhone in 2013, which is available for download from the Djuice portal. Using the app, followers on the Pring network (which gained much recognition among brands such as Ariel, Coca-Cola, Nokia, Sprite and TCS Connect among others can follow their favourite brands and related mobile marketing campaigns in a more coordinated and feature-rich way than is possible on feature or low-end devices.

The time to go mobile has definitely arrived in Pakistan!

Yasmin Malik is associated with the UK’s Informa Telecoms & Media. yasminmalik1@yahoo.com