Category Archives: Smart Phone

14-Year-Old Lebanese Wins Apple’s WWDC 2015 Scholarship

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Jake  el Mir Jake al-Mir is only 14 years old and has developed two apps already – Picture from the DailyStar

Jake al-Mir is a remarkable 14-year old Lebanese high school student that taught himself how to code at age 12. He came up with an app called “Emoji Escape” two years ago and was invited this year by Apple to attend its World Wide Developer Conference in San Francisco thanks to his app on speeding and driving “NoSpeed”.

Jake is one of 350 students worldwide to qualify for a paid scholarship to the conference and presumably the only Arab participant at the event but I can’t confirm that. Some are claiming he is also the youngest developer to be awarded Apple’s WWDC 2015 scholarship, which is awesome news!

How does the “NoSpeed” app work?

Jake Al-Mir developed the “NoSpeed” app to tackle the problem of speeding and try to decrease car accidents especially in his home country Lebanon. The app functions even when the mobile phone is locked by sending the driver a notification whenever he exceeds the speed limit, therefore also helping people avoid speeding tickets.

Here are the key functionalities:
• Track the speed of your car and when it surpasses the speed limit it will send you a voice notification to slow down. IT EVEN WORKS WHEN YOUR iPhone IS TURNED OFF (IN BACKGROUND)
• Customize your speedometer with your favorite color
• Track your altitude while driving
• Benefit from the included compass
• Switch between MPH or Km/h mode

It’s a smart idea to send notifications when the phone is locked but I think there are apps that do the same thing already. However Jake’s app is different as it sends a voice notification that plays without the driver’s intervention. Of course I know for a fact that new cars have smart systems that allow drivers to set thresholds and get alerts for almost anything but I don’t know if they are linked to a mobile app. On the other hand, I’m not really sure if we are allowed to use this app in Lebanon. According to the new traffic law, you can’t even hold your phone to check the time so you risk getting fined for checking notifications. A car phone holder could work of course but we have to check if it’s allowed or not.

Nevertheless, Jake is only 14 and is obviously very talented. I studied Computer Science and I don’t even know how to start writing an app while he has two apps on iTunes already!

Thumbs up to Jake for this awesome achievement and I hope we will see him working for Apple one day.

“NoSpeed” is available on the Appstore for $ 0.99.

First Hands-On Look At The Samsung #GalaxyS6 And #GalaxyS6Edge

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Yesterday was the first time I attend a Samsung #Unpacked event and I personally enjoyed it. The event took place at the Centre de Convencions Internacional in Barcelona and it felt really good to take part in it, share the excitement and interact with the crowds. #Unpacked introduced the Samsung Galaxy S6 as well as the Galaxy S6 Edge which comes with curved screens as well as other cool accessories like the Gear VR. The two new phones were announced by Samsung’s CEO J.K Shin who claimed that no other phone can match the new S6’s, and I have to say the phones have some pretty impressive specs.

20150301_193800 Samsung’s CEO J.K Shin announcing the two new phones

20150301_193233 The new Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge

I will begin with the specs that are similar to both the S6 and S6 Edge:

1- Plastic covers were dropped and replaced by a metal frame and Gorilla glass back. The metal is supposedly 50% stronger metal than competing smartphones and shouldn’t bend :)
2- The battery is smaller and no longer removable (so no SD card slot). It should last longer however according to Samsung due to the new processor. 10 minutes of Fast Charging will allow you to use the phone for 4 hours. Both devices charge twice as fast as the iPhone6.
3- Display is 5.1″ Quad HD super AMOLED (577pi). Better colors more pixels and a gorgeous screen.
4- The processor (Quad 2.1GHz + Quad 1.5Ghz, Octacore ) is much better and uses less battery. The phones are equipped DDR4 3GB RAM.
5- The front camera is 5MP while the rear one is 16MP OIS equipped with f1.9 aperture for better low light results. Camera launch time is 0.7 seconds only. Here are some of the camera features: Quick Launch, Tracking AF, Auto Real-time HDR(Front & Rear) , F1.9, Low Light Video(Front & Rear), High Clear Zoom, IR Detect White Balance, Virtual Shot, Slow Motion, Fast Motion, Pro Mode, Selective Focus.
6- The #GalaxyS6 and #GalaxyS6edge come in five colors: White Pearl, Black Sapphire, Gold Platinum, Blue Topaz and Green Emerald.
7- Galaxy S6 comes in 32GB, 64GB and 128 GB, Galaxy S6 Edge in 64GB and 128GB.
8- There’s also Wireless charging which is a built-in feature.

As for the #GalaxyS6edge, it will be the world’s first dual-edge display smartphone, which means two curved side screens that will allow you to quickly check and answer call, messages or emails. The Clear View option will also allow you to determine who’s calling you based on the color .


Once the event was done, we got the chance to check out the new phones and try them out for few minutes. I held both phones to see if they were comfortable to hold given their ultra-slim design and I was pleasantly surprised by their grip and feel specially the S6 Edge. The camera on both phones is fantastic, they are very quick and responsive and the side screens on the S6 Edge are very easy to use.

As a first impression, I liked the new S6 but I’m honestly in love with the S6 Edge. What I didn’t appreciate was the fact that there are no SD card slots anymore and I am curious to see if the battery life will indeed improve with the new processor as this is a crucial feature. Otherwise, S6 is a huge improvement from the S5 and the S6 Edge might be the next big thing. Of course this is a very quick first impression post and I will definitely write a longer and more detailed post once I get my hands on the phone for a proper review.

The official release date is set for April 10th and prices are not yet out but I heard the S6 will start selling at around 800$. Here are some of the pictures I took at #Unpacked




Here are a couple of pictures showing the Samsung Galaxy S5 and S6 side by side:




Samsung or iPhone? Which Is Better?

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What do you think I should get? A Samsung or an iPhone? What about the LG did you try it? is the HTC any good? All these are questions I get asked most of the time by friends and family members specially when a new smartphone is expected to come out soon. While I never pretended to be a smartphone expert, I love with experimenting with phones in general and I’ve been doing that for the past 15 years or so. My first phone was an Ericsson then I switched to the Siemens SL45 which was one of the most advanced phones at the time, then I carried Nokia phones for quite some time before switching to a Sony Ericsson for a short while. My first smartphone was the iPhone and I fell in love with it back then but as soon as Android phones started coming out, I ditched my iPhone4 and got the Samsung Note2. I then switched to the Samsung S3, Galaxy Note 3 then the S4, tried to get used to the Windows Lumia phones but couldn’t, gave the Blackberry Q5 a try but it didn’t work out, then I got the S5 and I’m currently using the Samsung S5 and LG G3. I carried the iPhone 6 for a short while but then I decided to switch to the new Samsung Galaxy S6 once it comes out.

The reason why I didn’t switch to the iPhone 6 again is not because I didn’t like it or don’t appreciate Apple products, but because the Samsung Galaxy series and Android phones in general are much more convenient for me. I am neither an Android nor an Apple fanatic and I will always go for the technology that makes my life easier and that I can afford. This being said, here are the four features that I look for when choosing a smartphone and that helped me favor Android phones over the iPhone.

Operating System, Software & Performance:
I’ve always had Windows laptops and desktops at home and at work and I tried getting used to Macbooks but I couldn’t, so this whole Apple experience (iPad, Mac, iPhone) is not something I am familiar with and I hated working with iTunes just to sync few songs or images. Moreover, the internet was pretty bad before and is still not that good nowadays, so downloading all these huge updates (even for the iTunes and apps on the Apple Store) was a real pain for me. I remember it took me a week once to upgrade my iPhone because of the internet connection. Even nowadays, it’s a nightmare whenever I have to update the whole family’s iPads and iPhones and I usually end up wasting my 4G quota to do so. I don’t know if there’s an easier way to manage these updates and software upgrades specially with the lousy internet, but I thought it was much easier with Android and I love the fact that I could just plug my phone in a laptop and use it as a storage device without iTunes. Backing up to the cloud or Dropbox is also not a practical solution for me as the DSL connection is not reliable and I’d waste my 4G quota in no time specially that I am a heavy smartphone user.

In terms of performance, I think most of the top rated smartphones nowadays are good and only getting better. The LG G3 I’m currently using is super fast, the iPhone 6 is even better and the upcoming Samsung S6 will use an ultra-fast processor, the Exynos 7 Octa. Sadly enough, the Windows Lumia phones were real quick but the OS was a nightmare. As for the software, the iOS still looks nicer and cleaner than the Android and doesn’t have all these useless features that only slow down your phone but I feel comfortable using both.

I’m not a photographer but I love taking pictures and I even bought an SLR at some point and learned a few things to enhance my photography skills. However, it’s not really practical to carry your SLR to all the events you’re invited to, so a phone’s camera is really important to me specially with Instagram nowadays. Before the iPhone 6 came out, my favorite camera was the Samsung S5 one and the best camera I’ve ever used was with the Windows Lumia 1020 one. I never enjoyed the Galaxy Note cameras for some reason, so I am anxiously waiting to see how good the Samsung Galaxy S6 camera will be. Rumors so far are saying it will be a 16MP (or 20MP?) Sony-made IMX240 sensor.

This is probably one of the key reasons why I’ll always opt for an Android smartphone over an iPhone. I am a heavy smartphone user and I take a lot of pictures and videos in high res so storage is crucial to me. Moreover, I refuse to pay $150 or $200 extra just to get the iPhone 64GB instead of the 16GB while I could buy a 32GB microSD for as little as 30$. Some may argue that you can backup everything to the cloud nowadays but as I said earlier, this is not an option when you have a lousy internet connection and a limited 4G plan, and it’s not an excuse for Apple not to offer an SD card slot.

s1 The 16GB of pictures were taken during the past 5 months only.

Battery life:
I think everyone suffers from this problem and the only solution is to buy a decent portable charger, or a bigger phone (phablet) like the Note4, the LG G4 or the iPhone 6 Plus. I recently bought the Anker Astro E5 2-Port 1500mAH Portable Charger and it’s a life-saver specially during events, road trips or while traveling. I heard that the new Samsung Galaxy S6 will have a smaller battery but a better performing one than the S5 given its ultra-slim design but it won’t really make a difference when you are tweeting, instagraming, posting on FB, browsing and checking emails, and chatting on 4G for 2 or 3 continuous hours. To be honest, I’m not familiar with the technology associated with smartphones batteries but it’s quite surprising that they didn’t figure out a way to make better batteries.

PS: I found by mistake an article today on a new technology that will triple your battery life.

Final Verdict:
As I stated earlier, there’s no such thing as the best smartphone out there. If you are a loyal Apple user, you’ll find it easier to use the iPhone while some Windows users don’t like iOS and would rather get Android. A lot of people don’t like iPhone’s limitations while others don’t like Android’s bloatware and appreciate the minimalist and clean Apple approach. I personally wouldn’t go for the iPhone 6 for all the reasons I mentioned above and will probably switch to the new Samsung Galaxy S6 once it’s out. Since Samsung has invited me to their exclusive #Unpacked event in Barcelona, I will give you a sneak peek preview on the S6 once I get to try it out. I know the HTC M9 is coming out as well but I’ve never used an HTC before for no specific reason so I don’t know much about it.

Moreover, I will be at the MWC 2015 from March 2nd till March 5th checking out all the new smartphones and technologies being released, so stay tuned as I will keep you posted of everything happening there!

First Look: The New Apple iPhone 6

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I got to try out the new iPhone 6 last week and I am really glad that Apple decided to go for bigger screens. The iPhone 6 looks huge when compared to the iPhone 5 and 5s and even though some iPhone users may disagree, I think Apple did the right thing by making the screens larger. The iPhone looks and feels great and the screen resolution is quite impressive. It’s also curvy and more comfortable to hold but it’s also easier to drop now. The camera is great as always and the phone is a bit faster than the iPhone 5s. The battery life is also slightly better.

I am not going to go into detailed reviews since there are tons of websites who have already reviewed the iPhone 6 thoroughly but I do recommend you upgrade from the iPhone 5 or 5S to the new iPhone 6 as it’s a whole new experience.

PS: I asked my friend if I could try and bend it but he say no.


Here’s how the iPhone 6 looks like next to the Samsung S5 and LG G3.



Thanks Jimmmy!

48 Hours Around Lebanon With LG

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LG is organizing a really cool journey for 10 Lebanese bloggers (myself included) around Lebanon in 48 hours. The journey will include a lot of fun activities like paragliding (if the weather permits it), camping, jet ski, ATV and sightseeing and will end on Sunday night in Beirut. We were all handed the new LG G3 on Thursday to test it out during our trip, and I will be giving away a really cool gadget once I am back so stay tuned!

I will be uploading cool pictures on my instagram so you can follow me [here] to check them out.

So The iPhone 6 Bends …

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bent via cnet

Some iPhone 6 users are complaining that the phone bends under pressure or when they leave it in their pocket for a long time. I’ve seen a couple of photos online and someone actually did the bend test. I remember the issue was raised as well with the iPhone 5s but I don’t remember what happened back then.

In all cases, Apple has not commented yet on the #BendGate but that’s a serious design flaw if it turns out to be true and applicable on all new phones.

Update: Here’s an article by cultofmac on the matter.


1411528720076 via SMH

Multi Sim At Last!

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multi sim

Alfa posted yesterday on their Facebook page that a Multi SIM is now available for all postpaid and prepaid users. This means that you can use the same Sim as Mini, Micro and Nano. This is very useful and was very much needed specially for people like me who switch between smartphones a lot. For example, if you currently have the Samsung S5 and just bought the new iPhone 6 (or even want to switch to the iPhone 5), you can easily put your Multi Sim in the new device and you’re good to go!

Based on what I’ve read on Alfa’s page, the new Multi Sim will cost 5.5$. I am not sure if Touch have the same but I couldn’t find any information about it on their page.

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

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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.


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.