April 27, 2009


by Michael Switow, Guest Blogger

Shiok: A Singaporean English colloquial expression denoting extreme pleasure of the highest quality. Derived from either Malay or the Punjabi “shauk”.

Tak Shiok: The opposite of Shiok.

“What's Hot, What's Not? That's the million dollar question,” TheMobileGamer CEO Alvin Yap told participants at BuzzCity's Developer Garage and Marketing Roundtable. Identify the right trends – avoid the pitfalls – and you're on the road to success. Well, to paraphrase Yap, here's my Top Ten List from the event of what's “damn shiok!” – and what's not.

1. Shiok: Innovative Ad Placement

We've seen this in movies and television for awhile. American Idol judges drink from Coca-Cola cups. Sex and the City's Carrie Bradshaw writes her columns on a Macintosh PowerBook G3 (updated to a MacBook Pro G4 in the movie version). Mobile social networks are getting in on the act now too. At MXit*, advertisers create characters to interact with surfers in community chat rooms. A Robin Hood like figure called “The Bandit”, for example, gives away free “moola,” MXit's virtual currency. Community members must first find The Bandit, then when they do, they're asked a few questions about themselves and the advertiser's product. Answer correctly and you get the virtual cash. The advertiser, meanwhile, gets marketing exposure plus new consumer data.

2. Shiok: Mobile Payment
Twenty-eight million people made online mobile payments in Asia in 2008, according to Alvin Yap. Japan and The Philippines are leading the way, but the biggest opportunity could be – unsurprisingly -- in fast growing economies like China and India, where traditional banking is not keeping up with population growth and mobile usage is high. Asians, in general, Yap contends, are more receptive to mobile commerce, less wary of malware and other risks, than Europeans.

Singapore's OCBC Bank, meanwhile, has released a mobile application that anyone can use, regardless of where they bank. Check foreign exchange rates, interest rates and more. OCBC's consumers can also transfer money – a straight-forward menu listing the bank account details of selected friends makes this quick and easy to do. OCBC exec Yvonne Cheong says the service is making headways in the city's heartlands. She described a group of aunties who regularly play mahjong and settle their accounts at the end of the game by making mobile transfers instead of paying cash.

3. Tak Shiok: Mahjong Debts that are so big, you must pay them by m-banking.

4. Shiok: Flat Rate Pricing
Whenever carriers implement straight-forward, easy-to-understand and affordable data charges, mobile internet usage goes through the roof. This has been a common theme through many postings on the GammaLife blog. Microsoft's head of mobile services Chris Chandler, meanwhile, notes that in Indonesia he can get unlimited mobile access for about 50 US cents a day – much cheaper than going to an internet cafe.

5. Tak Shiok: Java (the programming language)
Every day when school lets out in South Africa, MXit's Cliff Warren says MXit experiences upwards of 500 logins per second. Unfortunately, they found that Java becomes unstable around 400 logins per second. The company migrated their platform to C++.

6. Shiok: Java (the island)
This anecdote also comes courtesy of Warren. An Indonesian user posted an entry on MXit's blog asking if MXit could translate their service into Bahasa Indonesia. MXit responded positively, introduced a local language version and, according to Warren, didn't do any other promotion. Within a year, he says, Indonesia became MXit's biggest overseas community, with more than one million users.

7. Tak Shiok: Fragmentation and Saturation

This one can be a big headache for mobile developers. A number of companies still have a “One Platform to Rule the World” mentality, but Yap says fragmentation is here to stay. Do you develop for Symbian, Google's Android, Java's J2ME, Windows Mobile, Blackberry, iPhone or all of the above? The prevalence of so many incompatible platforms makes application development more expensive and time-consuming.

Some developers prefer to focus on the iPhone, but that's created a saturation issue. Applications are often priced at 99 US cents or offered for free – which makes it difficult for a newcomer to stand out.

8. Shiok: A Wireless Mobile Joystick

It's like playing Wii, but on a smaller screen. Hold your phone in one hand, the remote joystick in another. Alan Chan of SBA Mobile Solutions showed me a helicopter fighting game. Move your hand -- up, down, left, right – to fly the 'copter and and press a button in front to shoot. The helicopter responded pretty quickly to my movements. The phone vibrates when you hit a target, though this feature suffered from a time-delay. It wouldn't surprise to see gamers – particularly public transport commuters – embrace this new toy.

9. Tak Shiok: Advertisers who are scared to go first
No surprise that participants at a mobile seminar embrace mobile ads. Agency execs like Gosh Advertising's Kelvin Tan note that the economic downturn is leading brands to switch more of their budget away from TV and print towards less expensive campaigns online and on mobile. But Tan says that the shift is occuring more slowly in Singapore than in his company's European office because brands in the Asian city don't want to be a first-mover. They also dread being last in their market to innovate.

10. Shiok: IM via Mobile Internet
Has SMS peaked? I don't think so, but some Gen-Y surfers might, particularly in places where Mobile Instant Messaging is so much cheaper than SMS. In The Philippines, the average domestic SMS costs about one peso. An international SMS could be 15x that amount. The cost of a mobile IM? One centavo (= 1/100th of a peso). The cost of an international IM? Still one centavo. Plus you can see whether the person you're messaging is online before contacting them.

(*Full Disclosure Note: MXit and BuzzCity have a common investor, the South African - based MIH Group / Naspers.)