Forget the retro charms of Instagram, transform the photos taken with your phone into a personal comic book strip instead!
Manga Camera is an phone app that converts your regular image into a frame from a manga comic, complete with onomatopoeic phrases to give an extra edge to the latest portrait of your cat or loved one.
The iPhone app took the country by storm last year and received around 3 million downloads in its initial month of release, 1 million in the first week alone.
Japan is the home of manga (and Purikura photo booths), of course, so this shouldn’t surprise anyone but the relatively simple app really tapped into an as-then hungry niche. This is expanding, though, with a rival “Otaku Camera” app now available as well.
The life of the average salaryman could no doubt do with a bit of spicing up and pictures of your colleagues converted into comic book characters is certainly one way to make the twelve-hour stint at the office go faster.
The brainchild of Shunsuke Funaki, Manga Camera received some welcome publicity overseas when it was first released (yes, I know we’re late to the party!) and is still going strong (it released an Android version in December). Downloads are not just from Japanese users either. Taiwanese and Koreans also apparently rank high.
The problem is how to make this kind of app not just a quick blink-and-it’s-gone hit. Sure, there are 32 kinds of manga frames to choose from but can this genre of app keep going? The development time was apparently just under a month — but can the popularity of the app last any longer?
SNS functionality is a must, for sure, as is targeting other Asian regions, especially China.
Other photo-editing local apps on the market that have done a good job with this include Snapeee, which brings the uber-kawaii feminine touches of Purikura to your phone.
There is also miil, an app especially for sharing images of food. The Japanese are obsessed with taking photos of their meals and then uploading them to blogs and social media. Can this more esoteric kind of app, which has also passed local user milestones in the millions, grow in other regions as well? The jury’s out for now.
Pairy was announced in June, a special iPhone and Android app just for a couple to communicate between themselves.
Pairy is not a pioneer in a global sense but it might provide solutions to local digital dilemmas.
But privacy is more important to Japanese web users than Americans and Europeans (sometimes a Google search for a Japanese person will literally bring up nothing). This isn’t just for saccharine and schmaltzy couples: Pairy will mean that you can chat on Facebook and tweet just between yourselves (like the app Path), which is very important for Japanese.
Forgetful men will like that you can have the app notify you about your anniversary and for the sleazier amongst you, you can even chronicle those “milestones” you have reached with your partner (first kiss etc) in a “couple timeline”.
The developers have taken out any potentially negative or problem-causing issues too, such as giveaways like your present location (after all, knowing where your lover is might create all sorts of relationship issues!). There is also a (tongue-in-cheek?) warning at the bottom of their website advising that this is not a service for “monitoring or restricting” your boyfriend or girlfriend. People prone to jealous paranoia will likely find it frustrating.
The focus is on chatting, writing a mutual blog, sharing links and getting information about dates and places to go (restaurants etc) tailored to the particular couple.
There is also a digital “stamps” feature where you can add cute illustrations to express yourself like emoticons (this is surely how they make their money?). In this respect the user interface and interaction retains a very Japanese look.
Line has also seen success with this kind of “virtual sticker shop” feature. A free Japanese phone call and messaging app, it was launched after the 3.11 earthquake and tsunami and currently has some 60 million users worldwide.
Japanese users took to Facebook very slowly because of the concerns over privacy so local developers have found ways to exploit the best things about the platform, while also respecting vernacular worries. According to research by the University of Tokyo’s graduate school in the summer, some 56% of users across the generations are now using some kind of SNS, a 23% jump from 2010 levels. Though it hasn’t been plain sailing for all platforms, that is not to say there isn’t a strong craving for digital communication.
Another reason for Facebook’s initially turgid growth was that Mixi had made such a success out of the “diary” SNS genre. This is still popular, it seems, as witnessed by the launch very recently of wakka (pictured above), a diary app from Cyber Agent for sharing your mini blog entries with your friends.