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Local tech start-up aims high with location-sharing tool

CEO boasts app’s  privacy settings  better than Google, Apple services

When she heard about the recent murder case in Suwon, Gyeonggi Province, iSharing Soft CEO Reese Cho said she felt anger and frustration. 

A 28-year-old woman was found killed and butchered early this month. Despite her last-minute phone call for help, it took 13 hours for police officers to figure out her location. 

“I believe that she could have been rescued if her location had been confirmed earlier. As an owner of a location-sharing service company, I felt a deep sadness,” Cho told The Korea Herald. 

Reese Cho  (Kim Myung-sub/The Korea Herald)
Reese Cho  (Kim Myung-sub/The Korea Herald)

The 33-year-old CEO established the tech start-up iSharing Soft in 2010, with the global launch of the company’s first location-sharing mobile app iSharing.

After the successful trial with the English version over the past two years, the company released its Korean-language version last month.

With the Korean launch, the company lowered the price of its $3.99 full version app to $0.99, largely affected by the death of the young woman, she said.

“We thought it would be much more important that more people use our product than immediate financial profits,” Cho said. 

The idea of location sharing started from her worries about the safety of her own baby boy. Even though tracking locations is one of the most popular services now, the technology was still brand new at the time.

Then she met four business partners of the same age who studied computer engineering at KAIST, a prestigious science school here.

After two-and-a-half years of research and development, they produced the iSharing app in 2010, which allows users to share locations with family or friends and choose how much they want to share.

Almost immediately after the app’s completion, however, Google launched its own location-sharing app Google Latitude. In 2010, Apple also released a similar app Find My Friends

“We decided to add unique features to differentiate our product from others,” Cho said, adding that she believed their technology was the first.

With the iSharing app, users can set a specific zone for each friend -- from a few meters to a hundred kilometers -- and get notifications when the friend appears or disappears within the area. 

The iSharing mobile app
The iSharing mobile app

Another distinctive feature is iSharing Talk, a mobile walkie-talkie with which users can exchange short voice messages for free on Wi-Fi networks anywhere in the world.

Text messages containing locations also can be shared with feature phone users, which is also not supported by other services.

Currently, the iSharing has some 60,000 registered members, of which 5 percent are paid users. In 2011, the app was once selected as one of the top 10 mobile apps at Apple’s App Store.

Amid a proliferation of similar apps now, Cho knows clearly that the company must compete directly with large players globally.

“But it would take about a year for them to catch up with our technology. That’s why we see this year would be an important turnaround for our business,” she said.

The CEO said she had no doubt about product quality, saying “When it comes to software development, the issue is not the size of a company or the number of researchers.”

The app’s Korean launch came as the company recently received approval for data use here from the Korea Communications Commission after a month of paper work.

Korea is one of a few countries that have maintained a strict law on Internet data privacy. That’s why Google and Apple have yet to provide their services here.

While other companies offer a simple on or off function, Cho said, the iSharing supports three-level privacy settings so that users can choose location data they want to share with different people.

“Korea is important for us to expand presence in the global market. There are many smartphone users and early adopters,” she said.

“I don’t think that the success story of Facebook is a far-fetched dream. We will secure 1 million users within the year.”

The iSharing app is now available only at Apple’s App Store. The Android version is expected to come out late this month, the company said. 

By Lee Ji-yoon

Korea Herald Youtube