Cambodian smartphone users should ready themselves for a surge in their data usage.
Over the next few months, three new apps are going to be released on the market: a Spotify-like music streaming app, a Tinder-like dating/friendship app and a Craigslist-like buy-and-sell app.
The impending wave of copycat apps, all in Khmer and tailored to local consumers, is down to the work of a single newcomer to the local telecommunications industry: Mobimedia, an Australian company that started out eight years ago providing relatively primitive mobile phone SMS subscription services to the South Pacific island nation of Fiji.
Suva, the capital of Fiji, isn’t exactly Silicon Valley, but that was one of the reasons for the fledgling tech company’s success. It was able to sell the legacy telephony services – which were outdated in other places – to the less-developed telcos there and then to other South Pacific nations like Papua New Guinea.
Now Mobimedia – which has offices in Australia, Papau New Guinea, Fiji, Bangladesh, Singapore and, since last year, Cambodia – is looking to do something similar in Southeast Asia: take smartphone app concepts that have worked elsewhere and tailor them to the local market.
According to Mobimedia’s Adrian Burton, the region presented a wealth of opportunities for tech companies, and Cambodia was the perfect entry point.
“The Cambodian market is very savvy in this space at the moment,” he said. “I was blown away by how many people are consuming with smartphones here. It’s absolutely massive. Just look at the Facebook boom. We’re up to 120,000
Facebook fans, which is huge. To have that kind of penetration in Australia is unheard of.”
The first app Mobimedia will launch in Cambodia on July 15 is called mJams, a music streaming app similar to Spotify or Google Play. The company has inked deals with both local and international record labels to stream Cambodian artists like Khemrak Sereymon, Sok Pisey, Meas Soksophea, Sokun Nisa, Khem and Anny Zam alongside international favourites.
Particularly appropriate for local audiences, the app will also have a karaoke function. The Android version will be available at launch, with the iOS app to come later. Subscriptions will cost $1 per week or $3 a month.
Burton, who is mJams chief operating officer, said that for people who mainly listened to music on YouTube, streaming with a subscription could in fact be cheaper because it used less data.
But he added that it was hard to know yet what Cambodians would make of using a subscription service for music.
Sopheng Chao, 21, male, university student:
Sometimes I feel like I want to discover new music but I can’t be bothered downloading an album to listen to it. So yeah, a few dollars is fine with me to randomly listen to songs to see if I like them compared to the time I spend to download and discover which songs I want.
Pisen Sou, 20, male, university student: I like things that are free. If it is just for fun not for study purpose, why should I pay for it? Using my unlimited internet at home, I can download music and then listen to it elsewhere. A few dollars is not expensive, but it is not important enough to spend money on it while I can listen to the songs and download for free.
Sonita Men, 19, female, university student: It sounds so cool. I think that’s not that expensive. If the money that I pay will go to Khmer artists, I’m willing to pay. It’s good that they can get the profit through this way.
Houy Sros, 18, female, high school student: I’m not so clear about this app yet. So maybe I need time to know about this app. Maybe I will let my friends try it first, so I can see how good it is. But not at this time. I prefer using my YouTube app.
“We’re going to have challenges in terms of education and payment of the subscription, and that’s a relative unknown,” he said. “It comes down to whether the market is ready yet.”
The second app, to be launched later this month or in early August, will be similar in concept to the dating app Tinder but called Matchstix. Users will be able to swipe left or right to flag their interest in each other, and if both are keen then they will be put in contact.
The key difference, Burton said, was that the app would be in Khmer, plus it would be marketed as a way to meet friends rather than dates or hook-ups.
“We’re giving the market a completely different way of meeting people,” he said. “It’s not just about dating – it’s more about connecting people that wouldn’t have the opportunity to meet.”
The third app – to launch later in the year – will be Cambodialists, a user-to-user commerce platform. People will be able to take a photo of the product they want to sell and post it online with some details in moments.
“It will utilise elements of social media bringing in comments, likes and a viral approach, and tie all elements together into a buy and sell platform,” Burton said.
Down the track, Burton said, there was potential for Mobimedia to offer Cambodians an on demand video streaming service, like Netflix.
“That’s probably the end play, with a one-stop, one-service portal hub,” he said. “On demand video is popular around the world and the next step is Netflix-style content.
“The international licence process we’ve gone through for mJams has set us in good stead to do other forms of content. We want to be seen as innovators and ahead of the curve.”
Tech blogger Bun Tharum said he was excited about the potential of Mobimedia’s offerings, but added that it was too early to tell whether they would succeed or not.
“One good thing is Cambodia is a perfect place to test new products and services,” he said. “The increasing number of smartphone users are largely young Cambodians who embrace something cool and innovative.”
He said mJams had a lot of potential, but pointed out that making money out of Cambodian consumers was a huge challenge when people were generally able to download music for free.
“Probably a small portion of the rising middle class will be able to pay, while the majority would rather spend their money on getting a new iPhone,” he said.
Entering a new market presented risks, Tharum said, but if the apps were successful, it would allow Mobimedia to more easily move into other markets in the region.
“I see Cambodia as a great place to develop apps like that, test it with the Cambodian market and scale it to the Southeast Asian markets.”