Heating Up: Latin American Apps Revealing a Change in the Mobile Tech Tides

Brazil has long been recognized as the first initial of the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China), the four emerging economies on track to become the next major world players. But Brazil’s — and Latin America’s — explosively hot start-up scene may already be gaining more speed than the rest of the tech world realizes.

With incubators, entrepreneurs and venture capitalists from around the world mingling in the Brazil tech scene, it already has a lot to show for itself. Here are some of the notable start-ups making names for themselves in Latin America:

Myreks: Socializing e-commerce and product recommendation on Facebook.

Linking e-commerce leads and social networking is a huge challenge, even for big folks like Google, Amazon and Facebook. Myreks, a start-up out of Santa Catarina in Southern Brazil, was spun out of Brazilian IT company Suntech as a unique approach to social e-commerce. Integrated with Facebook, Myreks lets consumers efficiently recommend products they love to their friends — from books and music to clothes, wine and movies.

Not only does this social marketing platform generate real leads for companies and vendors, but it also rewards consumers for making recommendations — with “rekpoints.” As users make more and more recommendations to their Facebook friends, their rekpoints add up and can be redeemed for gift cards to their favorite stores and online shopping destinations, like iTunes and Amazon.

Myreks is unique in how it capitalizes on social recommendations and generates leads through stellar technology and interface. Soon Myreks plans to unveil its mobile version, which should appeal to Facebook as another means of engaging users and generating revenue.

Free Zone: Internet everywhere.

This free app allows mobile consumers to connect to Wi-Fi networks wherever they are. In the absence of 3G and 4G networks, Free Zone automatically finds and connects users’ smartphones to available Wi-Fi networks for speedy Internet access in seemingly dead zones. Even when people aren’t aware of available nearby networks, Free Zone picks up on local Wi-Fi, and constantly updates email, contacts, Twitter and Facebook. The app is currently available on Android, iOS and HTML5, and Free Zone has already built a network of more than six million Wi-Fi connections.

Free Zone entrepreneur Andreas Blazoudakis joined Movile’s team earlier this year, and the mobile entertainment company intends to advance its Wi-Fi strategy using Free Zone.

ResolveAÍ: Bringing Brazil’s massive taxi network into the future.

ResolveAÍ is notable not only because of its business model, but also because of its origins — the company was born out of accelerator 21212, which promotes start-ups in both Brazil and New York, and aims to build a thriving network around the two tech hubs. One of 21212’s success stories, ResolveAÍ offers users access to more than 10,000 taxis, allowing travelers to quickly order a nearby cab via mobile or online. ResolveAÍ’s service is growing into an expansive network, allowing travelers to summon black town cars and yellow cabs.

At a 21212 Demo Day, ResolveAÍ’s founders made it clear that it wants to distinguish its model from Uber’s, with a focus on streamlining Brazil’s current cab system. São Paulo alone has 33,000 cabs — compared to New York City’s 13,000 — and across the country, Brazil has more than 136,000 taxis. Rather than adding to the noise and becoming a competitor to Brazil’s existing taxi network, ResolveAÍ partners with it — and rather than outfitting each vehicle with the necessary technology, ResolveAÍ taps into cabs’ existing communications and payment systems.

Qranio: Online learning with real rewards.

Qranio takes a unique approach to education technology by combining online learning with gamification, and offering users the opportunity to earn real-life rewards. Users go through a series of brainteasers and quizzes to collect virtual currency (called $iQs). Once players accumulate enough iQ dollars, they can shop Qranio’s online store and select real-world items to have delivered to them at home.

Qranio is gradually making its way in front of an English-speaking audience, too. According to AppData, the Qranio Facebook app in English has 4,000 monthly active users, a number that nearly doubled over just one week. Recently, Qranio surpassed 1,000 daily active users on Facebook.

Wabbers: Know where the traffic is before you get there.

Wabbers is an iOS and Android app based on crowd-sourced traffic information. Users report traffic and accidents in their vicinity, helping other drivers avoid existing pitfalls. Wabbers also sends customized push notifications to users about their regular driving routes when starting out on their commutes to work or home.

Wabbers’ developer, Mobwise, was one of five finalists in the IBM Global Entrepreneur Startup Smartcamp Brazil competition. With 50,000 users thus far, Wabbers is set on big growth: Co-founder André Paraense has stated that it aims to hit 500,000 users by the end of the year. The company plans to release an updated iOS app with more features, and to grow into new cities to support these ambitions. Wabbers is also looking to expand its offerings beyond traffic mapping to include a potential carpooling app, based on commuters in a common area.

Ilusis: Revolutionizing mobile game graphics.

Ilusis Interactive Graphics is an excellent example of companies spearheading innovation in the Latin American mobile games space. Ilusis used to work solely on a contract basis, helping other companies build and refine their 3-D capabilities in games. But Ilusis soon ventured into creating its own games from the ground up, and has since seen a boost in demand for mobile games with high quality graphics. The company’s most popular title, Skyrise Runners, was a finalist in the mobile gaming category at the Brazil Game Show Fair.

Ilusis has some deeply rooted experience in 3-D graphics, with a history in developing for PC and handheld games before moving to mobile. Now the company continues to create graphics for handheld platforms like Sony PSP, in addition to iOS and Android. For its next move, Ilusis is experimenting with touch-gesture technology in the hope of continuing to push the envelope for the Latin American mobile games industry.

With Latin America’s burgeoning mobile market of more than 620 million users and growing, and the ever-expanding flock of investors heading south of the equator, it’s clear that the region has caught the entrepreneurship bug, and is on the path to keep innovating — and the rest of the world should stay tuned.

Note: Eduardo Henrique is a co-founder of the angel investment group Inova Ventures in Brazil, which has invested in Mobwise, the developer of Wabbers, mentioned in this article.

Eduardo is a Movile co-founder, and currently leads Movile’s U.S. operations. Previously, he led development of Movile’s micropayment strategy for Latin America, and established partnerships with corporate customers. Eduardo has undergraduate degrees in advertising and marketing from the School of Higher Education in Marketing & Communication Management (ESPM), and in computer science from the University of Campinas (Unicamp). He also holds an MBA in digital marketing from FECAP, Brazil’s oldest business management school.

Must-Reads from other Websites

Panos Mourdoukoutas

Why Apple Should Buy China’s Xiaomi

Paul Graham

What I Didn’t Say

Benjamin Bratton

We Need to Talk About TED

Mat Honan

I, Glasshole: My Year With Google Glass

Chris Ware

All Together Now

Corey S. Powell and Laurie Gwen Shapiro

The Sculpture on the Moon

About Voices

Along with original content and posts from across the Dow Jones network, this section of AllThingsD includes Must-Reads From Other Websites — pieces we’ve read, discussions we’ve followed, stuff we like. Six posts from external sites are included here each weekday, but we only run the headlines. We link to the original sites for the rest. These posts are explicitly labeled, so it’s clear that the content comes from other websites, and for clarity’s sake, all outside posts run against a pink background.

We also solicit original full-length posts and accept some unsolicited submissions.

Read more »