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From funny characters to yogurt ladies -- the evolution of fine dust apps

May 16, 2019 - 15:57 By Yeo Jun-suk

With increasing numbers of South Koreans relying on mobile devices to address health concerns about fine dust, app developers are competing for popularity with creative marketing schemes.

During a meeting hosted by Google Korea on Thursday, the country’s three major fine dust app makers discussed their efforts to improve air quality assessment and warning systems for the general public.

Among the ideas that came up was the use of funny characters to help users understand fine dust levels more easily.

“There are so many apps with similar names and functionalities. … We are trying to provide intuitive services to our subscribers,” Ha Ji-hoon, a founder of MiseMise, told reporters at the Google Startup Campus in Seoul. 

Google Korea.

Developed in 2015, MiseMise is the country’s most downloaded fine dust app. To illustrate the different levels of fine dust, it uses happy and sad faces -- a happy face with hearts for eyes if the air quality is good, a devil’s face if it’s bad and a face wearing a gas mask if it’s really bad.

Another developer created its own characters. Developed in 2014, the HouHou app has become popular among Instagram users with a raindrop character that looks similar to Rilakkuma from the Japanese company San-X.

Developed in 2018 by the country’s biggest mobile carrier, SK Telecom, Everyair has been working with “yogurt ladies” to come up with better fine dust apps. Yogurt ladies are vendors who sell Yakult Korea products out of motorized carts. 

By attaching assessment devices to the delivery carts, which make the rounds of designated streets throughout the day, the apps can measure fine dust levels more accurately than those of competitors, the company said.

“The time when we want to see fine dust levels most is right before going to work. But everyone is too busy to do that, so I came up with an idea for yogurt ladies,” said Park Min-woo, who runs Everyair. “Currently, there are 500 carts in operation in Seoul. (Our service) will be expanded nationwide this year.”

According to the three developers that attended the Google event, the fine dust apps were used the most between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. People in their 20s and 30s were the most active users.