updated 16 Apr 2014, 12:49
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Tue, Feb 25, 2014
The Straits Times
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Meet your match on mobile
by Melissa Kok

Five months ago, singleton Nick Ang looked to his smartphone to play Cupid.

The 27-year-old, who works in automotive sales, was looking for a serious relationship but was having difficulty meeting single women in his line of work. So he signed up for Love Out Loud Asia, a locally developed smartphone dating app which pairs up singles based on their idea of a good date.

"The app does a good job of filtering people and finding you a suitable match," he says. "I don't really have to be proactive." His date idea: "Let's buy a seedling and plant a tree somewhere."

"The girls found it funny," he says, although it was never carried out.

As mobile-dating apps are increasingly embraced by singles, at least four Singapore-developed mobile-dating apps have been launched in the past year alone.

These apps are designed to help people discover new friends and potential love interests in real time, usually by allowing users to post and view profiles, flag people they fancy with a simple swipe of the screen, access computer-generated matches and chat online with suitable candidates.

Brand manager Sharon Ang, 31, who signed up for Surf-face two months ago, says curiosity and a busy work schedule prompted her to give the mobile-dating app a go.

The two-month-old app allows users to "bridge" (where they tap a button if they like someone) with other users. If the feeling is mutual, both users can start chatting.

Says Ms Ang: "Unlike other dating sites, Surf-face allows for more privacy as matches happen only when both parties register an interest in each other, which I feel is an interesting idea." She has had seven matches so far, but has not met any of them yet.

Mobile-dating apps have been around as early as 2007 and have taken off in countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada. Popular apps such as Tinder, Skout and SinglesAroundMe each boast millions of users from around the world.

Those in their early 20s to late 30s are most likely to use them. Such apps are also often free, making them more attractive than conventional match-making agencies that charge hundreds or thousands of dollars to join.

Users also find such apps convenient to browse profiles and to chat with people on the go.

Financial analyst Dexter Cheng, 28, who recently downloaded dating app Paktor, says: "Actually, a lot of my friends are on it. It's so easy and convenient, you can start looking at girls straightaway."

The latest entry to the market is eSynchrony, an Android app developed by The Lunch Actually Group, which manages online local dating website eSynchrony. The app, an extension of the dating website, was launched on Feb 7.

"More of our users are actually accessing our website with their smartphones," says Ms Violet Lim, 34, chief executive and co-founder of The Lunch Actually Group. "We wanted to make the experience more convenient and seamless for our users to access our service."

The app's sign-up numbers are "modest" now, but Ms Lim says the website eSynchrony has 12,000 users and they are eligible to download the app.

Mobile-dating app Paktor, which means "dating" in Cantonese, was launched in June last year. Users can view pictures of potential matches, their age and find out whether they share mutual friends and interests via Facebook. You can choose to like (swipe right) or dislike (swipe left) the person on your phone - a concept pioneered by Tinder.

Ms Charlene Koh, 29, one of the three Singaporean co-founders behind the app, says: "Paktor eliminates the fear of rejection because the person you approach has already indicated he is attracted to you and it's all anonymous.

"On average, a person will get at least one match a day, but matches also boil down to a user's profile. A good profile photo of a user and a fun tagline help increase the chances of getting matches."

The local dating apps report healthy user numbers. Love Out Loud Asia has 12,000 users across Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta and Manila; Paktor has 120,000 users in Singapore and is available in nine other countries, including Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines; and Surf-face has more than 10,000 users in Singapore.

While dating apps hold out the promise of romance for the tech-savvy hordes, more conventional matchmakers advocate caution when using them.

One of the problems with such apps is the inability to verify the user's marital status, age and appearance.

"There is no screening and interview process, so users have to lower their expectations," says Ms Joan Ong, 34, who owns Champagne JSG, a dating agency accredited by the Social Development Network government agency for promoting marriages.

"The real person may turn out to be quite different from the photo. After a while, it's a guessing game, based on your luck."

To try and get around that, Paktor, Surf-face and Love Out Loud Asia require users to sign in with their Facebook account.

App makers say that while it is not a foolproof plan, requiring users to sync with the social networking websites makes it harder for people to fake their profiles.

Says Surf-face co-founder Lin Shijing, 32: "We require users to have at least 50 Faceboook friends before they can sign up, to help ensure that the users are real."

At the end of the day, technology can take the lovelorn only so far.

Love Out Loud Asia user Mr Ang says: "You have to meet in real life to get a feel for each other."

After a few months of using the app, he met a 24-year-old tutor. They met for coffee one evening at a cafe and hit it off. They have now been dating for 11/2 months.

"Ultimately, dating happens offline," he adds.

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