One hack of a challenging field


  • Nation
  • Sunday, 28 Sep 2014

With the growing smartphone and broadband access in the country, more Malaysian-made mobile apps to enhance our daily life are needed. 

EVER wondered who would take down all your embarrassing selfies from your Facebook account should you pass on?

More importantly, who will tell your loved ones how much they mean to you?

These afterlife “concerns” are behind the winning app The Last Words in the recent D3 Developers’ Day, an app development competition or hackathon organised by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC).

The Last Words will allow users to deliver pre-recorded messages – in the form of email, picture, text, video or voice message – to their loved ones after their demise.

Says one of the business developers of the group, 31-year-old Afif Termizi, the emotional mark left by the recent National Day of Mourning led them to the idea.

Message from beyond: The Last Words app will allow users to deliver pre-recorded messages - in the form of email, picture, text, video or voice message - to their loved ones.
Message from beyond: The Last Words app will allow users to deliver pre-recorded messages – in the form of email, picture, text, video or voice message – to their loved ones.
 

“The D3 competition was held a day after the National Day of Mourning, and I couldn’t stop thinking, if I died what would I want to say to my loved one? If only there was a service for me to send my final messages. I’d also want to remind someone to delete my stuff online and take down my Facebook account.”

Says Afif, once a user signs up and records his or her message, the app would check in on the user to monitor if he or she is alive. If there is no log-in or activity from the user for 30 days, and when a subsequent sent reminder does not receive a response, the app will conclude that the user has gone to meet his/her maker and proceed to send the deceased’s messages to the intended recipients, including a list of instructions to a trusted partner, family member or friend, if requested, to settle “unfinished business”.

“It is not a will, though,” clarifies the app coder Syed Muhammad Muaz Syed Abdullah, also 31.

Quick to stress that they are not trying to capitalise on the tragedy, Syed Muhammad Muaz feels that the national grief had made them, like many other Malaysians, take stock of their lives, especially their relationships with their families and loved ones.

“Death is not something many people our age think about or prepare for, but it has been on the mind of many of us these last few months, especially how to help the loved ones that you leave behind cope with loss and find closure,” he said.

Afif agrees. “Many people worry about how they can pass on their wealth and possessions but no one is really thinking of passing on their experience or emotions after their death. Similarly, if there is anything left unsaid, the app can help you say what you want to say to your loved ones after your death.”


With a RM10,000 bursary won from the MCMC and partners, Afif, Syed Muhammad Muaz along with business developer Shahrin Shamsuddin, 28, and motion designer Ahmad Azlan Shamsuddin, 31, are now busy testing the app to get it ready to be rolled out into the market.

The market potential for mobile apps is big, no doubt: in Malaysia alone, there are 20.3 million broadband subscribers, 88% of which are on mobile broadband. The number of Malaysian apps in the market, however, remains small.

Hackathons are growing popular in the country as a platform for the young and the young-at-heart technopreneurs to try out their ideas and hone their “craft”. But winning a hackathon, as many past winners are discovering, is the easy part.

This is why we take the marketing and business aspects of the app development seriously, says Shahrin.

“App developers have many ideas but people will not find all ideas useful or actual­ly want to use them. We think The Last Words is a new need or use that many people have not realised yet. We are confident there is a market, not just local but also global, for a service like The Last Words.

“And although the preliminary market validation showed that it is an unfilled niche, it will not be easy to convince people that they need to use this service. We will need a lot of hard work and the right marketing.”

With the development of local apps still trailing, it is not surprising that the MCMC has been increasing its efforts to provide hackathon platforms for budding developers.

A fortnight ago, the commission partnered US telecommunications AT&T for the second time to organise another hackathon event, the Malaysia Developers’ Day – Asian Edition, held as part of the inaugural KL Converge 2014 conference at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre.

Enact, an app for charity purposes created by a group who call themselves the Hacktivist, won the US$10,000 (RM32,000) grand prize. Whether they can actually ­penetrate the app market is to be seen.

MCMC chief industry development officer Datuk Mohd Ali Hanafiah is confident that local app developers can meet the challenge.

“Hackathons are a good platform to nurture and expose the potential from our homegrown crowd to produce more apps. The more hackathons, with different themes, are organised, the more apps will be developed and opened up to the public and industry. This will open up excellent opportunities for participants to be part of the young and fast growing dimension of the media and communications industry.”

The industry players are also playing their role to get more apps developers to fulfil the needs of customers or subscribers, adds Mohd Ali.

“In order to support the demand, the MCMC is collaborating with the industry players to continuously organise such events.”

AT&T executive director of international external affairs Jake Jennings points out that it is not only the winning apps that can break into the global market.

Following the Malaysia Developers’ Day last year, it was not only the winning team, Team Pillow, which rolled out its app into the market; another team managed to clinch a RM330,000 (approximately US$104,732) funding from the MCMC to develop its app for market.

“The project is called Speed Mandarin E-Learning App and provides a Mandarin learning system on web and mobile platforms (iOS and Android),” says Jennings.

Hackathon regular Wong Shin Chong, 26, agrees that the events provide good experience for budding app developers.

“It provides good exposure for budding developers while giving us the opportunity to connect with industry players,” says Wong, who says he got good advice from an industry player on how to start up his company at a hackathon.

It also gives the coders and programmers a chance to connect with others who possess the necessary complementary expertise to develop their app, says Wong, who met graphic designer Nor Raeesa Syahirah Mohd Nor, 25, at the D3 event and teamed up to develop Strand, which bagged the second prize.

Strand, as the name suggests, is an app that can connect hairstylists to customers.

“This app can help customers looking for a hairstylist find one that suits them as well as young hairstylists who are starting up grow their business, especially in the small towns outside Kuala Lumpur.

“For example, a hairstylist in Alor Setar who does not have a budget for advertising or promotions can use the app to market his or her services,” says Nor Raeesa.

Strand will also allow people to rate hairstylists, like hotel booking sites Agoda and travel resource site Tripadvisor.

The potential of the app industry is huge, says Wong, but it is very competitive.

“More and more people, especially the young, are coming up with new ideas for mobile apps but we need investors for us to not only develop the app but also to market it.”

> To find out more about The Last Words, go to lastwordsapp.com

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