Tech: Find out what's special about this new selfie-based emoji app

Updated: Nov 21, 2016, 15:50 IST | Anju Maskeri

A new selfie-based emoji app heralds a new mode of visual communication, whose largest consumers seem to be teens

The process of generating a self-based emoji on the Bobble app
The process of generating a self-based emoji on the Bobble app

In February 2015, when Mohammed Wassem introduced stickers of well-known Bollywood faces like Shah Rukh Khan as one of the features of Bobble, a customisable emoji mobile app, the download rate was a mere one per cent. "I put my team to work to find out where we were going wrong, because I always believed Bollywood sells," laughs the founder, who holds a Master's degree in Human Resource from Delhi School of Economics, and is now settled in San Francisco.

A couple of days later, at the suggestion of his team, all below 25 years, Wassem did away with Bollywood and introduced selfies instead. And that almost broke the app. Today, it caters to over five million users, where an average user spends 2.5 hours on the app every week. "In the first four months we got 1 million downloads. We had to limit our users because we didn't have the bandwidth back then," he says. Popular among teenagers, Bobble enjoys a cult-like following on school and college campuses across India. The app was launched globally in September this year.

Stickers on Bobble
Stickers on Bobble

Bobble, available on iOS and Android, is a keyboard app that converts a user's selfie to thousands of stickers — a first of its kind in the world of technology. "Although our target was the age group between 18 to 25, now 90 per cent of our users are younger than that," he says. Interestingly, Bobble has the youngest user base — younger than even Snapchat.

Dr Sharita Shah, a Mumbai-based woman and child psychiatrist feels emojis have become a simpler way of expressing emotions. "It's particularly true for children who are shy and self conscious about expressing themselves verbally," she says.

Tapping on trends
The team recently created Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton stickers. "Like millions across the globe, we realised Indians, too, have been following the US Presidential election with great fascination. This election had been particularly nail-biting," he says.

Mohammed Waseem
Mohammed Wassem

While conducting research among college students, Wassem says he found out that although people were talking more, they were expressing less. "There was a shift towards a more visual mode of conversation. So, we decided to make mobile conversations more expressive and personal," he says. Although the app is all about fun, creating it wasn't easy. "The technologies we work on are very advanced and as a startup it was difficult to find resources to support the development," he says.

Its USP is the real-time personalisation of content with users' own face and relevant text. "We created a technology that adjusts the expression on every face to match the emotion of the sticker. We give colours to your cheeks and move your lips. Even the background can change."

The topics that dominate virtual conversations are what else, but love and romance. "It's quite subtle. Not the 'I love you to bits' kind. It ranges from 'Hey you're looking beautiful' to 'Let's catch up for a coffee'," he says. The team has tied up with movie production houses for dialogues that can be used in the message. "The dialogue from a recent film, where Ranveer's character tells Deepika's, 'Bajirao ne Mastani se mohabbat kari hai, aiyyashi nahi' was the most downloaded," he reveals.

Ankit Gupta, a college student from south Delhi, sends at least two stickers a day to his friends. "A friend had shared a sticker with me, and it had his face with a funny text imprinted on it. I think it's the humour element that got me hooked," says Gupta, whose emojis revolve around Friday night plans and boring lectures.

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