Category Archives: Smart Phone

Tari2ak: The Best App To Learn About Real-Time Traffic Conditions In Lebanon

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[YouTube]

I get a lot of emails from people in Lebanon asking me to review their apps, and what I usually do is download the app, try it out and write about it if I think it’s a nice and promising one. However, I decided to sit and talk with the guy behind Tari2ak, Rami Khawandi, before posting because his idea is a very smart one and hard to implement so I wanted to know how he made it possible.

[Tari2ak] is basically a mobile app that uses your smartphones as sensors to detect your movement activity (using an AI algorithm) and then detects your location using GPS to report real-time traffic conditions. All is done passively without any effort or human intervention, and without the need to have the app open even. To put it in simpler terms, any user who has the app installed will be transmitting information regarding traffic without having to do anything or draining his battery, and the Tari2ak servers will handle all the traffic reports and update the maps accordingly.

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What you get as a result is a map like the one shown above, with lights indicating the traffic status. Generally, a green traffic line means the average speed on that street is above 40 km/h, orange indicates the average speed is between 20 km/h and 40 km/h, and red is below 20 km/h. There are cases like small streets or big highways were those numbers vary a little.

This is a brief overview of the app but I do recommend that you read the Q&A below as it covers most of the questions you might have in mind, specially the ones related to Google traffic and how the app detects your motion. For those of you who are too lazy to read, you can watch the brief walkthrough video for the user experience and the app in general that was exclusively made for BlogBaladi.

[Tari2ak] has 1500 daily active users and is available for [iOS] and [Android]. It’s a very promising app with a lot of potential, specially in countries like Lebanon with no Google Traffic data available and no government APIs to rely on.

So hurry up and download it because winter is coming (Hello GOT fans) and you will need it with all this traffic!

What is Tari’ak?

Tari’ak is a mobile app that we claim is the simplest most accurate way to learn about real-time traffic conditions, currently available in Lebanon.

How did you come up with the app? Is the app for free or are there any paid versions?

People who work in tech, and software engineers specifically, are constantly on the hunt for the next great idea. It can get very obsessive sometimes because solving a real-life problem is the equivalent of painting the Mona Lisa for us nerds.

It started while I was discussing app ideas with a friend of mine while driving in Beirut, and as you would expect, we got caught in a heavy traffic jam on a road we could have easily avoided if only we knew it was blocked. We then started thinking about how we could possibly avoid traffic jams using smartphones and checked out existing traffic apps but none of them was of any practical use. I spent the next month doing the research and when I finally figured out a better way to crowdsource traffic, I committed to this idea as my senior project. So I guess you can say the idea came from a cocktail of frustration, optimism, and commitment.

Tari’ak is a free app and will continue to be so.

How many users do you have till now? How many active ones daily?

So far we’ve had more than 20,000 downloads and among them are 1500 daily active users, and over 9500 active monthly. Note that we have just launched our Android version last week so the numbers are going up fast.

Each day we receive about 9000 traffic reports from around 1300 streets, and these numbers have doubled since last month. This is only for Lebanon.

Other than downloading the app, do users have to do anything manually? How does it work?

Users can use the app without giving us any information. Our solution crowdsources traffic data passively and is completely automated. We believe users should not report traffic manually for these main reasons:

1- There is no incentive for the user! Informing others about traffic conditions is not the first thing that’s going to come to your mind when you’re stressed or late.

2- People lie!! With manual reporting of traffic, there is no proof-checking. A bunch of friends can choose to misinform the public just for fun… so forget about reliable data.

3- Most importantly, it is not road-safe!!! Prompting users to tell us about traffic manually compromises their safety if they’re driving. We care about people and advise them to avoid distractions when driving.

How Tari’ak works is simple: people move while carrying their phones. That’s really all it takes.

The app wakes up (in the background) whenever you start moving and intelligently identifies your movement activity (walking, running, biking, in a vehicle, on a motorbike, etc..) using an AI algorithm that relies solely on your device’s motion sensors (accelerometer and gyroscope,) not the GPS, in order not to drain the battery. The algorithm works in a similar fashion to fitness apps that measure your steps and it has proved to be pretty accurate.

Once the app knows that you are driving, it then activates the GPS for a few seconds to get the device’s location, speed and direction, and reports this info to our server. All this is done passively without any effort or human intervention, and without the need to have the app open even.

Accordingly, our server is continuously (24/7) receiving speed measurements from people driving, and it can therefore calculate the average speed of each road users are driving on. If that average is low, then there is heavy traffic.

How do u know if someone is walking slowly or driving in traffic?

Most people assume that we detect the type of movement using the speed of the device. We don’t. We rely on motion metrics instead. For example, the acceleration of a car is unmatched by that of a person or a bike, where as the shaky movement of the device in a pocket or purse of a pedestrian is not the same as its steady movement when placed in a car. This is, in simple terms, how the app knows when the smartphone is in a vehicle. Once the movement changes from vehicle to pedestrian then the app assumes that the user has left the car, and takes this as a cue to go back to sleep.

What about privacy? Do you track where people are going?

We get asked this all the time. No we don’t! The app does not collect any information that can identify who you are as a person: no name, no e-mail, no Facebook, no phone number, nothing. Therefore, our system knows that some smartphone is in a car at this road at that speed, but can not know who the owner of the device is.

Using Tari’ak is completely anonymous. The app does not require any registration or log-in. You just download it and use it right away.

What do all the colors mean? Are they computed as an average and how frequently?

Our server re-computes the average speed for a street every time a new report arrives from a device on that street. That is how we manage to keep our data in real-time. Some busy streets get several reports per hour, where as some less dense streets get a few per day.

Generally, a green traffic line means the average speed on that street is above 40 km/h, orange indicates the average speed is between 20 km/h and 40 km/h, and red is below 20 km/h. There are cases like small streets or big highways were those numbers vary a little.

How often is the data updated on the maps?

The traffic data you see on the map is automatically refreshed every 3 minutes, though the user can choose to refresh it at will using the ⟲ button. The data you see on the map can be a few seconds ago, several minutes or a maximum of one hour old in order to ensure that you do not see any outdated traffic data.

Does the app affect my battery life anyhow? Last thing I need is another app that kills my battery!

One of the things we test most is battery consumption. Tari’ak is very light on your battery because it only uses the GPS for a few seconds every several hundred meters, and only when you’re driving! So if you have your phone on a desk all day, the app will not consume any battery. This is possible because we rely on motion sensors and not the GPS as stated above.

In one of the early iOS versions, we got some complaints about battery usage from people using iOS 5 due to an unattended compatibility bug. We quickly fixed that with an update and we’re happy to say there have been no complaints about battery usage ever since. Bear in mind that we use the app ourselves and don’t want our batteries dying either!

Can we plan an itinerary on the app?

Not at the moment, no.

What is your business model?

The app itself is, and will remain, free for users to benefit from. We don’t believe people should pay money in order to be able to avoid traffic. Our business model is an intermediary one, and lies in selling a live feed of traffic data to non-competing media such as TV networks and radio stations. We also aggregate historical traffic data and make it available for a fee to interested organizations such as NGOs, urban development organizations, and government ministries.

What are your future plans? New features to be added? Are you planning to expand in other countries?

We’re constantly thinking of new ways to build on top of our traffic data and provide a more valuable experience for users. We are also interested in licensing our traffic data to third parties that can find new uses for it. Future features might include routing based on traffic estimates, and optionally notifying users about nearby traffic jams, yet we have no time estimate when those features might arrive.

We definitely want to expand to other countries and right now we are setting up the technical infrastructure to do so, as well as exploring potential markets to better our understanding on how to enter and who to partner with.

Did any foreign or local companies show interest in your app?

Oh yes! At first I naively thought that traffic was a uniquely Lebanese problem, but people and organizations from all over have expressed interest in Tari’ak as a low-cost solution to crowdsource traffic, especially that it could reveal hidden insights and transportation patterns when you analyze this big data.

I’ve seen a lot of interesting startups that die out after few months or even weeks. How serious are you about this app? And how much time and money are you investing in it?

You’re right. Some very promising startups ended up dying mostly due to lack of funding, inability to scale, or lack of market demand. We don’t know what the future has in store for us but so far our journey has been a positive one.

Personally, I started working on this app about 18 months ago. About 4 months ago when things started getting serious, I quit my job and dedicated myself to Tari’ak full-time. At the risk of sounding silly, I just jumped in the water to see if I could swim. Entrepreneurship is not easy! My opinion is that entrepreneurship is a romanticized idea and entrepreneurs don’t really know what they’re getting into. I didn’t either at the time, but I simply thought that I would rather regret doing this than not doing it.

Time has been kind with us so far though: our user base is growing rapidly, our data is proving to be accurate, we’ve been able to garner interest from investors and media companies, and what started as my tiny project is now a team of 4 people working on 2 mobile platforms along with business partners to make navigating through traffic in Lebanon a little bit easier :)

As for investment, well, anyone would tell you that Lebanon lacks a proper financial foundation for a healthy startup ecosystem, but some recent developments make me believe that that is changing. For us, we’ve been talking with angel investors as well as VCs for funding, and have received several investment opportunities so far but I’m afraid I’m unable to disclose more details due to legal agreements. We’ll make sure to announce any updates when the time is right.

How is Tari’ak different from Google Maps?

A simple answer is that if you open Google Maps it won’t show you the traffic conditions in Lebanon where as Tari’ak has a populated traffic map 24 hours a day. Google Traffic does crowdsource their data but they also rely on government APIs where available. This might be the reason they don’t support Lebanon but this is just a speculative answer. Also, one of the things we do that Google doesn’t is that we have an API to export our traffic data so that third parties can build on it where they see valuable.

tari2ak Tari2ak.com

Lebanese Sam Ghobril’s Mingle App for iPhone

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I read that the app reached the top of the productivity apps list on the App Store but that’s for the Lebanese App store of course. Nevertheless, Ghobril’s app “Mingle” has been performing quick well worldwide as you can see in the below screenshot. It reached the #4 rank in the productivity apps list in France and #5 in the UAE.

Moreover, Mingle has got some pretty cool reviews from Tech Crunch and Minimal Mac among others. Sarah Perez from TechCrunch described the app as “a cleaner and less sluggish type of contacts application”. I don’t know if I would make use of such an app but it’s definitely worth a try.

Sam is still in high school by the way which is pretty cool!

You can check out Sam’s [website] and download the app [Here].

Mingle was built from the ground up to make connecting with your contacts faster, easier, and more enjoyable in every way!

Some of Mingle’s greatest features:

Super fast & intuitive interface
Numerous actions to fit your every need, from Phone to Twitter to Fantastical interactions
Custom actions, where the possibilities are endless

list

PS: Thanks Mustapha for the Appannie tip.

Samsung Galaxy S5 – Sneak Peek

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I got a sneak peek at the Samsung Galaxy S5 yesterday and I will definitely consider buying it once it’s out or at least after a while. The reason I said after a while is because I’ve always had issues with the early Samsung releases and prices usually drop after 2 or 3 months.

The S5 is basically an enhanced version of the S4, featuring:
- A 5.1” FHD Super AMOLED (1920 x 1080) Screen
- Quad Core (Snapdragon?) Processor and 2GB of Rams.
- A 16MP (1/2.6”, Phase Detection AF) Front Camera
- A more performant battery (2800mAh)
- 4G LTE-Enabled Network

To be honest, I’ve been very satisfied with the Samsung S4 I’m carrying since last year, and before that the Note2 and I’ve used the Note3 for a while. However, the two things that bothered me the most were the amount of useless features that we get with the Samsung phones, and the processors. I remember being excited at first about trying out the “Air View” and “Smart Pause” and “Smart Stay” when the S4 came out but they are basically useless and annoying features. As for the processors, the Note2 had a problem with its processors (Sudden Death Chips) which made me sell it, and the S4 was lightening fast when I got it (camera was crashing though), but it has become sluggish with time after I loaded it with apps and data.

There are five special features that caught my attention during the presentation yesterday:
1- The S5 is dust and water resistant. It doesn’t mean that you can swim with it, but it won’t let water inside if you spill your drink by mistake on it.
2- There’s an “Ultra Power Saving Mode” that would let you use 10% of your battery for around 24 hours. It basically shuts down all unnecessary features and changes your screen to black and white. It’s a useful feature but I would prefer if Samsung and other smartphone companies spent their money on a battery that lasts longer.
3- The Download Booster which lets use your LTE and WIFI together for an enhanced network experience. I don’t think I will be using it much in Lebanon as our 3G quotas are ridiculously low.
4- What I also loved in the S5 is the camera shortcut on the lock screen (just like the iPhone).
5- The back cover is much better than the Note3 fake leather one but I don’t know if it’s better than the plastic one. It feels weird to be honest.

A full review will follow when I get to try out the phone properly. I am not sure when the phone will be launched officially and the price will be around 800$ (VAT Included).

S5

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iPhone To Be Officially Released Soon By Lebanon’s Alfa Telecom

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marwan

According to 9to5mac, Apple is signing deals with new carriers worldwide and among them Alfa in Lebanon. Alfa’s CEO Marwan Hayek confirmed it in a tweet that iPhone will be soon officially released in Lebanon.

That’s definitely good news but we still have to see whether Alfa (and maybe Touch later) will offer reasonable prices and plans. I will try to figure out how soon the launch will be for those interested.

Update: I was told the launch will probably take place by end of March.

Thanks Sandro!

Review: Nokia Lumia 1020

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Update: Nokia has officially released its first Android phones, the Nokia X and Nokia XL.

The Lumia 1020 is probably the best Windows Phone out there at the moment, and its camera is the best smartphone camera you could ask for. I am really impressed with the quality of pictures and I am barely using my Samsung S4 camera these days, however a smartphone is not only about a camera and I am still not fully convinced with Windows Phones. I love the 1020 and am carrying it around with me all the time (and don’t want to give it back :P), but the whole Windows OS experience is still second best to Android and iOS smartphones.

Moving on, here’s my take on the design/build quality, the performance, the camera and battery life.

Design/Build Quality
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The Lumia 1020 is a relatively heavy smartphone, but somehow much lighter than the Lumia 920 despite the camera lens popping out of the back of the phone. The one I got came in matte black, and even though I loved the feel of the phone, it was a bit more slippery when compared to the previous Lumia phones that came with a glossy finish. The screen offers a 4.5-inch PureMotion HD + OLED display and is a very solid one (Gorilla Glass 3). There are no buttons or ports on the left side of the screen, while the right side has a volume control button, a power/standby and camera button. The Lumia 1020 can never rest flat on a table because of the camera lens standing out at the back. The round bump looks weird but it didn’t bother me to be honest.

Performance/Software and Battery Life
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The Lumia 1020 has a Dual-core 1.5GHz MSM8960 Processor and is lightening fast. the Windows 8.1 runs very smoothly just like the previous Lumia phones and the 2GB are more than enough to run all the tasks you need. This is a major advantage over the often bloaty and laggy Android but the thing is Android is more user friendly and convenient than the live-tile filed Windows Mobile OS. Take for example the simplest of options, the bar shortcut and notifications drop-down are not available on the Lumia. Moreover I hate the keyboard and you can’t change it.

As far as the battery is concerned, it could easily last an entire day if you are just using it to browse the internet, check emails and take few pictures. Of course if you are using the professional camera and the Xenon flash, expect the battery to run out more quickly. Speaking of photography, Instagram is available but in a BETA mode.

The Camera
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If you are into photography and like taking good pictures, you will fall in love with the Lumia 1020. Just like the Pureview 808 was impressive, the six-lens 41-megapixel PureView camera paired with a Xenon flash is the best smartphone camera by far. Of course you won’t need to take high-res pictures all the time as the default camera is more than enough to produce awesome pictures to upload them on Facebook or share them with friends, but if you want to experiment with the pro camera, then I advise you to read this document first. If you’ve never used an SLR Camera before, you will find it hard to change between the settings so I recommend in that case that you keep all the settings to auto in that case and let the camera do the work.

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As you can see from the above screenshots, you can play with various manual controls, such as the brightness level, the shutter speed, ISO, focus and white balance. You can get see a live preview while setting the controls. The one thing I wasn’t able to do is shoot macro shots with the 1020 but you won’t need to as you can easily zoom in any picture without losing any quality. Trust me the level of detail that this phone captures is something you’ll never see on any other camera phone and I will be posting later on a list of High-Res Photos taken all over Lebanon.

Here’s an example on how good the Lumia 1020 camera is:

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Photo taken by an S4

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Photo taken by the Lumia1020

Final Verdict
I loved the design and solid build of the Lumia 1020. The camera is an obvious winner too but the Windows OS is a major turn off for me to be honest. The notification system is lousy, large live tiles, tons of settings and no quick bar or shortcut buttons. I’ve tried hard to get used to the Windows OS but it’s not working out for me. Either a serious change needs to be done and Microsoft is more than capable to do so, or Microsoft should let their phones run on Android and I heard they are already considering it.

Love Translator App by The Mukhi Sisters

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[YouTube]

It’s no secret that men and women don’t always get each other. That’s why the Mukhi sisters have come up with a fun Valentine app that translates what women really mean. Men just type in what women are telling them and the app translates the sentence to “English”. In case Love Translator doesn’t return an answer, you could always suggest one with the help of your wife/fiancee/gf or just “Break the language barrier” and get a jewelry suggestion. I think that’s a pretty cool idea and I would love to see a compilation of the best suggested answers after a while.

Speaking of jewelry, I never understood why women or anyone for that sake love getting jewelry so much. Personally speaking, that’s like the worst gift I could get from anyone.

Born to an Indian father and a Lebanese mother, the Mukhi Sisters bring you the best of both worlds in contemporary jewelry pieces. Passion for jewelry was innate and inherited by their parents who have been renowned jewelers for years. Each their own design and their own personal touch, the Mukhi Sisters line of jewelry is sure to satisfy everyone’s tastes.

The app is available only on the iTunes Store. [Download]

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An App To Tell Loved Ones After Every Bombing In Lebanon ‘I am still alive!’

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Via DailyStar

Sandra Hassan started this app as a joke but I have a feeling a lot of Lebanese will use it. I can’t wait for the “Istinkar” version she is working on for Lebanese Politicians lol!

You can download it for Android [Here].

Every time there is an explosion, we have to spend a lot of time contacting our loved ones and letting them know we’re alright, making sure they’re okay too.
Not anymore!
With this handy app, you just have to open it and tap one button and the fact that you’re safe and sound will be tweeted to the world with #Lebanon and #LatestBombing.
If your friends use this app too then you can just go to your twitter feed and filter for these hashtags to instantly get reassured about your loved ones!
We’re working on newer versions of this app that will support facebook as well.
NB: We are also working on a version for the politicians so that they can tweet out there “istinkar” of the situation with just one tap!