The concept of ”smart cities” is riding a hype wave now. It is based on the reality of digital and mobile experiences complementing and, in some cases, transforming the offline experiences in town for citizens or tourists. Is Helsinki a ”smart city”? The answer is probably ”not yet” – but we are getting there, with government, corporate businesses and startups all contributing to the rapid growth of mobile comforts in Helsinki.
The smartness of a city is typically measured by how easily a person can find, relate and utilize the good things that a city has to offer. Mobile experience therefore serves most often as a ”front door” to the very real and enjoyable services for citizens and visitors alike.
Helsinki city has made pretty good progress in providing the smart city infrastructure – from the public Wi-Fi available with dense indoor and outdoor coverage, to a number of basic services implemented on mobile – think parking and public transport services, or the opening of the city data as an open analytics API.
This alone does not make Helsinki exceptionally smart – we live in times when mobile public services are hygiene, not differentiators for a city. It is here that the atmosphere of technological knowledge, high degree of inventiveness and a lively business spirit, typical for Helsinki, contribute much further towards mobile Helsinki than government-led effort alone could ever provide.
The following highly subjective list of ten mobile comforts makes Helsinki a more sustainable, healthier and generally friendlier city to live and visit.
Getting food to the table goes mobile in Helsinki – both for eating out and for those who prefer to cook their own meals.
1. Wolt, a Helsinki-based startup, has grown rapidly from a preorder service in a dozen city center cafes and restaurants to a mobile food service covering eating in, take-aways and home delivery from over 400 restaurants (mostly in Helsinki, but also Tampere and Turku in Finland – and expanding to neighbouring countries fast). Wolt prides itself on good customer service – which as of this summer apparently includes deliveries to Pokémon GO locations.
2. Those who like to cook – or have families to feed – are the customers to the S-Group Foodie.fi mobile service. The app is a recent extension to the online grocery store run by Prisma, and wins in customer experience over the online version, with its shopping list sharing feature (e.g. among family members) and real-time price updates showing immediately in your saved shopping lists.
3. In 2016, Helsinki launched its citybikes program – with bicycles available to borrow (for a fee) from 50 stations around the city center. Thanks to a collaboration between Helsinki Regional Transport, Alepa chain and startups, Helsinki citybikes are ”smart” from day one – users of the service can check the availability of bikes via a mobile app (Kaupunkifillarit) that relies on the open data provided by the city.
4. Another angle of sustainability in a city is recycling. An innovative Helsinki startup, Zadaa, helps stretch the useful lifecycle of clothes by connecting people of similar shapes and sizes via their app. This enables straightforward selling and buying of second-hand clothing – with payment and delivery by courier service included.
5. A parking payment app is one of the basic smart city utilites, provided in Helsinki by an international player EasyPark. Helsinki-based Enterlot (now in proto phase) takes a futuristic view on parking, and plans to offer real-time parking slot views via an app using public APIs, real-estate IoT and crowdsourced social data. It is an example of a spin-off from a public-funded research project carried out at Aalto University.
Small and medium businesses thrive in smart cities – they benefit from the easier set-up and running of a digitalised enterprise, and utilise existing infrastructure of supplies and deliveries that they can join in on.
6. Helsinki-founded Zervant strives to make the running of small businesses as smooth as possible – with its invoicing, time and materials tracking and expense services adapted to local realities, it is now winning customers across Europe.
7. On the customer side, the Cardu app serves as a mobile link between offline and digital worlds in the city – it stores your loyalty cards in your phone, and notifies you about special offers around you.
8. To give an example of a real small local business operating in the mobile and offline worlds, the Jevelo app creates jewelry from stock and user-supplied images – often used for highly personalised gifts.
Healthcare in any form is a giant user of digital technologies and connectivity. However, it remained a firm premise of medical science that a doctor must meet the patient in person to advise.
9. Helsinki startup MeeDoc made waves in healthcare when it launched a MeeDoc mobile service for doctors and patients. Advising by chat and video, the doctors remain within the ethical bounds of their profession, because the range of symptoms and conditions that can be treated this way has been defined in line with the standards of the medical profession. Within that range, doctors can communicate with their patients securely and work from wherever they want.
The result is a democratised medical service at affordable prices – started in Helsinki, it has now spread to six countries.
The world-recognised success of Finnish schools is due in large part to the freedom and independence that schools and teachers enjoy. Teachers are free to choose their methods as long as their students learn the prescribed curriculum.
10. This gave rise to a healthy EdTech community aimed at aiding and revolutionizing learning – and Seppo , a startup from Helsinki, devised a service for creating mobile and real-world learning quests. The idea is simple – place triggers for tasks across buildings and outdoor areas, and set students to find and resolve them – and it motivates and inspires the students in a different way.
All applications in this article are operating in a tight competitive space – global apps, offline private and public services and indeed customer segments relatively uninvolved in mobile life, limit their growth pace. New ideas for existing and niches for new mobile services, however, are emerging all the time, and resources for implementing them are also growing – the numbers of mobile development and back-end specialists are on the increase, both for hire and through specialized mobile development service partners.
Strong competition between the providers and better app performance ultimately mean that your mobile life can become as reliable and unquestioned a part of your everyday smart city experiences as the web sites became in their times.