Zalora Opens ‘Offline’ Shop in Singapore, and Bhutan Gets Google’s Street View Treatment

Those are the subjects of a couple of stories I wrote last week.

The first:

Amazon may be planning to open a brick and mortar shop in New York City, but Southeast Asia fashion e-commerce startup Zalora has beaten them to the punch in Singapore.

Zalora, which launched in 2012 and says it has served more than 2 million customers throughout the region, late last week unveiled its first physical store, a 4,000-square-foot shop in an upscale Singapore shopping mall.

It’s the first such physical store for an online retailer in the region, according to Zalora’s regional managing director, Tito Costa, who cited clothier Bonobos and subscription beauty-products service Birchbox as having used brick and mortar stores to good effect in the U.S. In China, meanwhile, Internet giant Alibaba has invested in a local department store operator.

And the second:

You can now take in dramatic vistas from the tiny, isolated Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan — via Google.

The tech giant Thursday unveiled Street View images — the Google Maps feature providing 360-degree panoramic images — for some 1,900 miles of roads in the remote country, which sits between India and China and is home to about 700,000 people.

That includes images of the Punakha Dzong administrative headquarters, which is one of Bhutan’s most beautiful buildings. There are also images from the capital, Thimpu, and the towns of Paro and Trongsa, as well as panoramas from a highway and photos of the country’s National Museum.

Google says the effort, which was undertaken with the cooperation of Bhutan’s Ministry of Information and Communications, required snapping more than 200,000 panoramic shots with one of its camera-equipped cars.

Worth Reading: An In-Depth NYT Travel Story on Cuenca, Ecuador and the Country’s Southern Coast

Long-time Newley.com readers will recall that about a decade ago I spent a year living and working in the fascinating, staggeringly picturesque city Cuenca, Ecuador, which is situated some 8,000 feet high in the Andean foothills.

I loved my time there, met some great people who remain my close friends, and think of the country often.

Indeed, I still keep an eye on international news about Ecuador, and came across this recent New York Times travel story by Michelle Higgins, headlined “Three Sides of Ecuador“:

On our nine-day trip in July we focused on three of these offerings — beaches, mountains and colonial charm. The plan was to head north along the Pacific coast, then head east into the Andean highlands for high-altitude trails before spending time with family in the beautiful colonial city of Cuenca, where my mother was born. (We ended up doing it all, but not in that order, given our detour.)

Many travel pieces about the country focus, understandably, on other places: destinations in the north (the capital, Quito), the east (the Amazon jungle), and/or the far west (the Galapagos).

But this story, I was delighted to find, is not just about Cuenca, but about other areas I know well, like Cajas National Park and towns along the country’s southern coast coast, such as Puerto Lopez.

The food, the people, the insane driving conditions, and even the whale watching: there’s lots of good stuff here. And there’s a slideshow of photos by Meridith Kohut.

2 Stories from Last Week: BlackBerry Passport Exclusive and Evernote CEO Interview

Just briefly, two stories I wanted to point out from last week.

If you don’t follow me on Twitter, you might have missed ‘em.

First, in a Wall Street Journal exclusive, I broke the news Monday that BlackBerry’s new square-shaped smartphone, the Passport, will cost $599:

BlackBerry Ltd. plans to sell its new square-screen smartphone at a lower price than rival products, as the company attempts to regain some of the ground it has lost in the global market.

BlackBerry Chief Executive John Chen said in an interview Monday that its Passport smartphone, which will go on sale starting Wednesday, will cost $599 in the U.S. without subsidies. The phone will be priced differently in some other countries based on taxes and tariffs, he noted.

Mr. Chen said that compared with similar smartphones produced by competitors, the Passport should cost in the $700 range. “But I figure that to try to get the market interested, we’re going to start a little lower than that.”

Second, on Wednesday, a colleague and I interviewed Evernote Chief Executive Phil Libin, who talked about a possible IPO and Evernote as an acquisition target:

Note-taking app Evernote Corp. has been approached in the past about a potential acquisition but prefers not to sell itself, and is considering an initial public offering in the next few years, its chief executive said.

“We’ve been approached by lots of companies as an acquisition target and I would never rule anything out, ” Phil Libin told The Wall Street Journal in an interview Wednesday.

He declined to specify the companies but called them “the usual suspects.” “The last thing we’re looking at is to have an exit,” he said. In February, Mr. Libin said a post on the anonymous messaging service Secret alleging that Evernote was about to be purchased was baseless.

Redwood City, Calif.-based Evernote has received several rounds of funding worth more than $250 million from the likes of venture-capital firms Sequoia Capital and Morgenthaler Ventures. Launched in 2008, the company allows users to store and sync text and other content across devices. It recently passed the 100 million-user mark, Mr. Libin said.

Our Exclusive Today: Twitter’s Opening an Indonesia Office

Twitter’s global head of revenue, Adam Bain, told me in an interview that the company will be opening an office in Jakarta in the next three to six months.

Our story today is online here.

As I wrote in the piece, the move underscores the importance of fast-growing, emerging markets for Twitter.

About 75% of the company’s 271 million monthly active users are outside the U.S. But Twitter derives a much smaller proportion of its revenue internationally.

Tapping markets like Indonesia — which has 240 million people, many of whom are under the age of 30 — will be crucial for Twitter’s future growth in users and advertising revenue.

Having an office in Jakarta will help Twitter work more closely with advertisers and marketers, Bain said.

Update: Embedded above and online here is video of a chat I had with WSJ Live’s Ramy Inocencio.

Samsung’s Plan to Hook Consumers in Southeast Asia

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Can free Frappuccinos, deals on hotel rooms, and apps offering localized content keep users hooked on Samsung’s smartphones as the company loses market share here in Southeast Asia?

The South Korean electronics giant is betting that the answer is yes.

That’s the focus of a story I wrote that ran on the front page of the WSJ Asia and in the U.S. paper yesterday.

You can find it online here.

In addition, embedded above and online here is a WSJ Live video in which I talk a bit more about the issue.

And here’s a separate post on our Digits blog about some companies that are gaining ground at Samsung’s expense: local smartphone makers little known outside the region, like Advan Digital, Smartfren, Ninetology and Cherry Mobile.

Two Outstanding MH17 Features

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I’m back in Singapore after helping with our Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 coverage from Kuala Lumpur.

Here are two especially great features, produced by my WSJ colleagues, that I wanted to point out:

First, there’s this moving story from Sunday about parents — whose only child was aboard Flight 17 — visiting the crash site in Ukraine:

Angela Rudhart-Dyczynski slipped off her shoes, covered her feet in white socks and crunched through a field tinged with the sick-sweet smell of death to reach a wing of downed Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.

She and her husband arrived Saturday from Australia after an exhausting three-day journey that left her feet too swollen for shoes. They braved this war zone in search of a lost passenger: Fatima, their only child.

“We’re standing here at the wing in the field,” Jerzy Dyczynski, a cardiologist, said into his phone, as the wind blew. “This is where we thought she was sitting. We’re trying to picture her.”

Among the locusts and wildflowers, images of their daughter, a 25-year-old aerospace engineering graduate student at the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands who had been on her way home for a visit, overwhelmed them.

They knew where they were, but they still couldn’t believe it. “We’re lost,” Mr. Dyczynski said.

Second, don’t miss this interactive feature with a map showing how, exactly, the plane came apart and where its wreckage was strewn over Ukraine.

Above is a screen shot; click through for more.

Me on WSJ Live Talking about Malaysia Airlines Flight 17

Online here and embedded above is a video segment I did with my WSJ colleague Ramy Inocencio earlier today.

I’m here in Kuala Lumpur helping with our coverage of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which crashed Thursday in the east Ukraine region of Donetsk — just a few months after Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 went missing.

For updates, keep an eye on our home page, our streaming updates page, and follow me on Twitter.

Stay tuned.

‘Hunger Games’ Salute, Facebook outage and more: a Belated Roundup of Thai Coup Stories

As I mentioned in my previous post, I traveled to Bangkok to help out with our coverage following the May 22 military coup.

Here are links to a few of the stories I worked on:

And, perhaps most memorably:

The lede:

Anti-coup protesters in Thailand are adopting a symbol of resistance from a science fiction movie in which citizens struggle against a tyrannical government in a dark, dystopian future.

A few dozen demonstrators on Sunday gathered in a flash-mob style protest at a Bangkok shopping mall, where many held anti-army signs and raised their hands in a three fingered salute aimed at nearby troops.

The gestures were similar to those used by heroine Katniss Everdeen and other characters in “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” a globally popular movie based on one of Suzanne Collins’s hit trilogy of books. Western films and other popular culture are widely consumed in Thailand.

To hear me discussing the three-fingered “Hunger Games” salute, see the WSJ Live video embedded above and online here.

And finally, for more on the Facebook issue, see this story I wrote just a few days ago:

My story on BlackBerry’s turn-around push in Indonesia

A chance encounter in Jakarta with legendary Dutch goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar was merely an exhilarating byproduct of my recent Indonesia trip.

I traveled there to cover the debut of BlackBerry’s new low-cost, Foxconn-made smartphone, which it released in Indonesia as part of a high-stakes turnaround plan.

The story includes snippets from my interview with Chief Executive John Chen, and begins:

BlackBerry Ltd.’s latest stab at keeping its storied brand alive is starting here, at a launch event for its $191 smartphone, in the capital city of Indonesia.

The phone maker based in Waterloo, Ontario, unveiled its latest handset, dubbed the Z3, before several hundred people in a packed five-star hotel ballroom on Tuesday. An Indonesian hip-hop trio warmed up the crowd before BlackBerry’s new chief executive, John Chen, took the stage to introduce the phone.

The Z3 represents a number of firsts for BlackBerry, which recently replaced its chief executive and revamped its corporate strategy, after failing to find a buyer for its struggling business.

I also wrote a post with more color from the launch event.