South By Southeast: Looking for Apps in All the Right Places

South By Southeast: Looking for Apps in All the Right Places


Sometimes I feel like celebrity food writer Anthony Bourdain traveling to Parts Unknown, but instead of looking for exotic and bizarre foods, I’m in search of innovative new kids apps for Fingerprint Play, a mobile technology company focused on kids. We develop mobile channels for customers around the globe like Samsung, Sylvan Learning, ePals, and Astro.

Last month I traveled to Southeast Asia. The mobile learning market there was $2.6B last year and projected to grow to $6.8B by 2017, according to Ambient Insights. My first stop was Malaysia, where I attended Astro Go Innovate, a first-of-its-kind conference combining a hackathon, game developers conference and innovation showcase.

The trip from San Francisco is over 24 hours, from SFO to Hong Kong, then Singapore and onto Kuala Lumpur. The country shares land borders with Thailand, Indonesia and Brunei, and is a few hours to Singapore by train or bus. It’s truly a melting pot with Malays, Indians and Chinese ; friendly people and an amazing variety of food abound. Kuala Lumpur, home of the Petronas Towers, the tallest twin buildings in the world, overlooks lush rainforests and gorgeous sandy beaches on the South China Sea.

There are nine million children in Malaysia under 14 years old. Parents places great emphasis on education and invest in a range of supplemental learning services. Mobile education is a rapidly expanding market, which Ambient Insights projects to grow at 50% by 2018. The Astro Go Innovate conference brought together over 300 developers, hackers, investors and educators from Malaysia. I had a great time meeting dozens of young developers building some truly innovative games targeted at children.

One of my favorites was Wigu Games, creator of Doctor Life and coming soon Dog Life and Chef Life. Doctor Life is a high production value app featuring challenging educational simulation and time management where kids can learn what it takes to be a doctor. I was also able to meet professors from Taylor’s University, who are running a program to establish Malaysia as a leading game development center in Asia. More than 30 student developers showcased their learning games, including the poorly named, but charming Fat Chicks puzzle game.

After the event Astro hosted a banquet at an incredible place called Cyberjaya. The highlight of the night was explaining all the details of Game of Thrones to my tablemates, since censorship reduces the average episode from 60 to 38 minutes.

Next up was a harrowing flight on Malaysia Air in a thunderstorm to Singapore, a country with about a million kids under 12 and the third highest ranked school system after South Korea and Japan, according to Pearson’s Learning Curve Report.

With a highly educated work force, there are over 50 game developers located in the country as well as satellite offices of big video game companies. Fingerprint works with Samsung in this region, operating the subscription learning service, KidsTime.

There was a lot to see in Singapore with many developers focused on math and language learning. My favorite meeting was with Teemu Kainnululainen-Chong, a Finn living in Singapore representing SkillPixels. They’ve developed a line of learning games branded SmartKid that recognizes and adjusts to your child’s strengths and weaknesses. The game targets preschool, 1st and 2nd grade math--three years’ worth of curriculum-based math exercises. I was also intrigued by BeachHouse Kids, a film company focused on developing linear content and learning games based on the world’s greatest travel and geography footage.

Early learning is a major focus in Singapore. I visited the Mindchamps Pre-school, one of the leading premier private schools in Singapore where teachers undergo over 200 hours of specialized training and promise to help kids become champion learners of the future. The program seems very structured relative to American pre-schools, but the kids were having a great time learning a range of subjects from English to Music to “Tumbling”--their term for gymnastics.

All told, I met more than a dozen amazing developers on the trip whose global passion for kids and learning was inspiring! Like Anthony Bourdain, I also ate a lot of bizarre food, forsaking the Paleo Diet for the "traveling Southeast Asia, just eat it” Diet, including donkey bacon, Roti Prata (Indian French Toast), and crispy pigs ears. I definitely found the best Learning App(etite)! 

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