Mobile applications have become a part of our everyday lives in the United States and in this way, Kyrgyzstan differs very little. Although many of the applications like Google Maps that are popular in the US are available here, the best and easiest to use apps have been created here or in Russia. Mostly limited to Bishkek, these services have made my life a lot easier and helped me save time as I have discovered them.
The most useful application I have found is an app called Mobilnik Dengi (the best translation is “Mobile Money”). In addition to paying your phone, Internet, TV and utility bills, you can also pay for taxis, traffic fines, and even taxes. While we are used to these services being available online in the United States, I don’t know of a single application through which you can access all of these services.
This system also differs from the US in that most people do not transfer funds into their Mobilnik account directly from their bank accounts (only one bank offers this capability). Instead, locals go to kiosks, deposit larger amounts of som (the local currency) and then pay bills via the phone application or website - mobilnik.kg. This has opened up the Internet marketplace for many who do not have debit or credit cards. Kyrgyz websites also accept payment from this service as it is more cost effective because there is no commission or fee for adding money to your Mobilnik account. There is, however, a fee to pay bills directly.
Like the convenience of Uber? Unfortunately, Uber and Lyft are not in Kyrgyzstan yet but you can still call a taxi using phone applications. There are likely other companies but Namba and Tez both offer the ability to set your pick-up location, see how far away your driver is, and contact the driver when he arrives. In addition to taxi services, Tez also is a great resource to find local restaurants, nightlife, events, stores, and even churches and mosques. Again, it is only available in Bishkek but serves as an all-in-one application for navigation, listing points of interest, and calling for services, and unlike other apps, Tez is available in English. I have not taken Tez taxis, but Namba, unlike Uber and Lyft, does not offer payment via debit and credit cards. Instead, you pay with cash.
While still in its infancy, Namba also has an application similar to GrubHub or UberEATS. I have never used the service but their application offers food from a few dozen Bishkek-based cafes and restaurants. Clearly, these are services that are desired everywhere and should experience even more growth as more Kyrgyzstanis are able to afford smart phones.
Frankly, I still do not understand the mini-bus (marshrutka) system that compliments the city’s buses, but thanks to two navigation applications, 2GIS and Bus.kg, I don’t have to anymore. Just like on Google Maps, all you have to do is search your starting and ending destinations and the app will tell you how to get there by car or by marshrutka. Although 2GIS and Bus.kg have this ability, I prefer 2GIS due to its ease of use, offline availability, in addition to greaderdetail than what is provided on Google Maps. For example, below is a screenshot of 2GIS’s entry for Save the Ales, a microbrewery in Bishkek (yes, there’s really a microbrewery here). A difficult to find location, 2GIS shows exactly where the entrance to the microbrewery is located.
I realize this topic may not be interesting for everyone but the way technologies are introduced to new markets is something that fascinates me. It will also be fascinating to see if companies like Google or Uber expand into these markets, whether they will try to compete with the local brands, simply buy their business, or completely disengage from the region.