Top technology and smartphone travel apps have quickly become a must for any savvy tourist and with these new tools at your fingertips, finding your way around around the world gets easier every day. But who are the people behind these nifty programs that have opened up the globe? Sascha Matuszak talks to the creators of pocket-sized China iPhone app that delivers the best of the city to the palm of your hand.>>>Marusia Musacchio is waiting for me when I get to Pier 39 (172 Jìnxián Lù , 进贤路) on the outskirts of Shanghai's French Concession. I look like a harried bum, she looks like a woman ready for success. No sneer, no blank stare, no motion toward a watch as I make it through the door, just a huge smile and the universal come-here-and-get-some-lovin' stance:
We're here to talk about ZhaoApp, the new app her company ZhaoCardshas built for the iPhone and iPad. But first we order clam chowder and sandwiches while she waits for me to get my stuff together. It takes almost the entire meal for that to happen, but no worries, Marusia orders tiramisu and coffee and over this digestif, I am helped to remember how quickly you can assemble an international team of disparate talents all dedicated to one mission in a fullynetworked, borderless world.
Things come together
It all started when Anny Cheng's parents decided to leave Taiwan and move to Paraguay when she was two. She grew up on the border with Brazil, where green-and-yellow samba met baby-blue-and-white Guarania.
After eleven years soaking up those vibes, Anny moved to L.A. where she might have ended up owning a Hong Kong for high school, going on to a Masters in Chinese Studies at Harvard, while Anny left the head shops behind for four years studying economics and adding Japanese to her linguistic toolkit.
If there was any doubt that Shanghai would be the natural meeting point for these two highly educated, out-of-sight, 21st-century young ladies, it was put to rest a couple years ago when some dude at the New Heights (7/F, Three on the Bund, 3 Zhōngshān Dōng Yī Lù, 中山东一路3号楼7楼) said, "Hey chiquita, this is my friend Anny."
Soon they were plotting their escape from the rat race, and, like so many before them, Anny and Marusia thought of small, easy-to-carry travel guides because basically that's what they wanted when they traveled around and it just made sense that any other sensible person would want the same thing. But being the out-of-sight 21st-century ladies that they are, they innovated and created ZhaoCards, a miniature city guide on a keyring that LOOKS AWESOME.
The art of traveling light
But Marusia doesn't tell me any of that as I slowly spoon into her tiramisu. She mentions none of this history at all. We're here to talk about the new product her company ZhaoCards has recently launched, the ZhaoApp for iPhone and iPad. So I pull out my iPad and open it up to her app. I had only just started playing with it on the ride over, but the app is so simple to use that I easily got to grips with it before our meeting.
I was able to find maps of Shanghai quickly, as well as a simple and well-written guide and when I tried their language tool the people next to me on Metro Line 2 all looked up. Smooth design, easy-to-follow, slightly funky. Who designed this?
"A Bengali named Anan who I have never met in person," says Marusia. And then she busts out laughing.
We've all heard of the software guys out on the subcontinent who bid for design jobs on freelance websites, but it's still awesome when you actually come into... contact... with one. It's like meeting a real-life Sufi. Marusia loves Anan because when the two masterminds explained what they wanted for an app, he laughed at their boring idea and told them how to do it right.
While Anan sat humming to himself and programming outside of his hut in Bangladesh (or wherever these guys do their programming), Marusia was exchanging design ideas with her friends estudioalmacen in Argentina. So the concept and design was getting settled, but even with all of the language skills between Anny and Marusia, they still required a wordsmith. So they called Victoria, a British poetess who ran away to Latin America with her lover Armand. While all this was going on, Anny was making shady deals in the shadows of the Chinese underworld...
Well, maybe not exactly, but teams like this, if they were so inclined, could slay dragons. But seeing as there are no dragons in real life they made a ZhaoApp for Shanghai in just under four months instead and the powers that be over at Apple put ZhaoShanghai on the "New and Noteworthy" list. It's all happening.
So what's next?
"I don't know chico," says Marusia as she squeezes me and plants one on either cheek. "We have some distribution and marketing things to get too and I have to move offices. Call me. I will make you tacos."