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Japanese IT venture launches AI-aided foodie app in rapidly growing Myanmar

Nna/kyodo

A Japanese information technology venture in Myanmar has launched a gourmet information app assisted by artificial intelligence technology to cater to growing numbers of smartphone users in the country.

World Street Myanmar Yathar Co., established by Aichi Prefecture-based advertising agency Nagata Co. as a major shareholder, says it recently kicked off an app named Yathar, which means taste in the Myanmar language, to offer personalized recommendations at eateries and post customer feedback.

Shunsuke Ichikawa, CEO of the local venture, told NNA his firm is introducing the foodie platform in Myanmar because it is good timing to invest in the emerging economy in light of recent developments in its telecommunications infrastructure.

The nation’s telecom market liberalization in 2013 sharply boosted the smartphone penetration rate from 2 percent in 2011 to 95.6 percent in 2016, according to International Telecommunication Union data cited by the IT venture.

Ichikawa said Yathar will provide users with fair and supportive information based on reviews of food services ranging from high-end restaurants to stall vendors.

“Things in Myanmar have dramatically changed, especially in the food industry,” since he arrived five years ago, Ichikawa said, adding his firm expects Yathar users to reach more than 18 million, or around 35 percent of the entire population.

The app’s functions include interactive exchanges of restaurant information, such as word-of-mouth reviews with profiles and images, and efficient online searches conducted with the help of AI, Ichikawa said.

The app is available in Yangon, the commercial capital, in three Myanmar, English and Japanese, and will cover the entire country by the end of the year.

About 400 food services in the city are connected to the app. World Street Myanmar Yathar aims to attract 1 million users mainly in Yangon, which has a population of 5 million, in the first year, Ichikawa added.

The Japanese IT venture, founded in Yangon in February this year with a registered capital of $500,000, plans to extend the service to two more Southeast Asian countries next year and the entire region by 2020.

Nagata, which handles outdoor signage and transportation ads in Japan, tapped Myanmar as its first overseas market by setting up a local arm in 2014. It entered Malaysia the same year in a bid to expand its business operations in the region.