1 Dec 2016

'Red flags all over it' - Instacharge app launches in Fiji

11:54 am on 1 December 2016

At a glamorous function at a Suva hotel on Friday night, Fiji's Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama announced the launch of a revolutionary new mobile application, hailed by the government as a "multi-billion dollar venture".

The Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama at Government House in Auckland

Fiji's Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama. (file photo) Photo: RNZ/ALEX PERROTTET

That app is called Instacharge, which, according to a news release sent by the country's department of information, "uses evolutionary technology" to let users "instantly recharge their smart phone's battery without the need for a charger or external battery pack".

Its creator, Douglas Stewart, claims the app saves excess power after a phone is fully charged, so at the push of a button a user can recharge in under 30 seconds wherever they are.

But if it does what it claims to, Las Vegas-based Mr Stewart will have done what scientists for decades have been unable to: overcome the fundamental laws of thermodynamics.

"This claim is just absolute nonsense," said Justin Hodgkiss, an associate professor of physical chemistry at Victoria University in Wellington.

"Anybody who's studied science at even a high school level knows that one of the fundamental principles is that energy cannot be created or destroyed."

"It's just that simple, you can't just make energy with an app," he said in an interview.

But that didn't deter Fiji's Department of Information from releasing statements last week on Instacharge's behalf, describing it as a "multi-billion dollar venture".

Fiji PM launches Instacharge app in Suva

Fiji PM launches Instacharge app in Suva Photo: YouTube

For years, Fiji's government has worked to promote foreign investment, and Instacharge, a revolutionary invention that would presumably attract millions of downloads and many more millions of dollars, would seem the perfect company to attract.

The Fiji media also gave it widespread coverage, announcing that Mr Stewart had signed a partnership with a local businessman, Gaurangbhai Patel, to base Instacharge's headquarters in Suva, apparently because Fiji is a good place to gauge the app's success.

The founder of Instacharge, Douglas Stewart, left, meets with businessman Gaurangbhai Patel in Fiji last week.

The founder of Instacharge, Douglas Stewart, left, meets with businessman Gaurangbhai Patel in Fiji last week. Photo: Supplied / Department of Information

In an interview with the state broadcaster FBC, Mr Stewart said the application was created in the midst of Hurricane Sandy, which caused widespread damage when it hit the eastern United States in 2012.

"I had a friend that I tried to contact, but all the powering had gone out - I couldn't reach him. I was trying to send a signal to his cellphone by satellite - that didn't work," he said.

"Eventually, we came to a stage to accept, store and release energy back to your phone."

In another interview with the broadcaster, Mr Patel said he was thankful to Mr Stewart for giving him the opportunity to do business with him.

That widespread coverage built up to Friday's glitzy and elaborate launch party at the Grand Pacific Hotel.

Among the many dignitaries at the event was Naziah Ali, the publisher of Mai Life Magazine.

She watched as the Prime Minister told those gathered that Fiji was determined to be at the forefront of the telecommunications revolution, highlighting his government's work to extend mobile coverage and internet connectivity.

Then came the launch - or lack thereof.

"They said they were going live to how everybody in other parts of the world were launching the app," said Ms Ali. "They played a video. It showed fireworks and people clapping and cheering when they said that the app was announced."

However, Ms Ali said that no one at the launch, apart from Mr Bainimarama - who used Mr Stewart's phone - was able to try the app.

A screenshot of the sparsely detailed Instacharge website.

A screenshot of the sparsely detailed Instacharge website. Photo: RNZI

"There was a lot of photo opportunities [but] I didn't see anyone else try it out apart from the video of the app being demonstrated on the app developer's phone," she said.

"There wasn't anything that was like, first hand and let you do it, and I don't even know anybody else who did."

Nearly a week on from its launch, there is still no sign of Instacharge on either the Apple or Google markets, and Ms Ali said she had not encountered anyone who had tried it.

An image on Instacharge's Facebook page said it was still "coming soon."

All attempts by RNZ International to contact Mr Stewart have been unsuccessful, and emails to Instacharge's headquarters, a small office on a back street of Suva, have bounced back as undeliverable.

But Mr Stewart, the entrepreneur who has seemingly defied the laws of physics, has had a seemingly successful career, if his listings on various websites are anything to go by.

In the past, he claims to have been a casino marketing executive at the Las Vegas Hilton hotel, as well as the co-owner of the Las Vegas Silver Bandits, a short-lived minor basketball league founded in 1999, but which folded in 2001. None of this information could be verified.

According to a LinkedIn profile last night, as well as being the owner and chief executive of Instacharge Mr Stewart is also the owner of Las Vegas company Benzo Rent-a-car.

However, calls to its listed phone number were instead answered by a company called OSA, and web searches only led to pages with angry reviews calling the service a con.

Attempts to contact Mr Stewart's Fiji partner, Gaurangbhai Patel, were also unsuccessful.

The department of information is yet to respond to requests for comment and the agency responsible for facilitating investment, Investment Fiji, said it did not comment on individual projects.

But as far as the likelihood of Instacharge being a multi-billion dollar venture for Fiji goes, Dr Hodgkiss was sceptical.

"I would hope there's not been any investment in it. This has red flags all over it."