Category Archives: Technology

Lebanese Red Cross Najat App Officially Launched

Posted By :

rc1

I posted about the “Najat” app back in January and it was finally launched today. The app was launched by Alfa as part of its Corporate Social Responsibility strategy and is aimed at helping the Lebanese Red Cross locate people who call them for emergencies and is called “Najat” after Najat Waked, a loving mother who passed away few days ago on her way to the hospital as her family wasn’t able to guide the ambulance driver properly to their house. Najat could have been saved if she had made it 3 minutes earlier to the hospital.

Once you download the app, you are required to register your address (two addresses at the most) along with two phone numbers in addition to his personal number. This will help the Lebanese Red Cross Central Operations room to locate the address easily when receiving a call on its hotline 140. Moreover, all the Red Cross ambulances were supposedly equipped on an earlier stage with free navigation systems and 3G enabled tablets.

This is a great initiative and a much-needed mobile app in a country where we barely have any street names. You can download it for [Android] and [iOS].

Najat App

A Conversation With An Internet Supplier in Lebanon

Posted By :

l1

One of my friends just moved into his new house and wanted to get a decent internet connection, so he called several companies and chose what he thought was the best plan for him. The internet supplier called him few weeks later and here’s the conversation that took place:

X:Hello

Hi

X: We are contacting you regarding the internet plan you’ve requested. U asked for the 6mb plan right?

Correct

X: Unfortunately ur phone line cannot handle more than 2mb

How come?

X: We r not responsible for that. We just check with Ogero. So which plan do u want? The 4mb or 6mb?

I dont get it. U just told me I can’t have more than 2mb

X: Yes sir but we only offer 4 and 6mb for this plan.

But I can’t use any of them. You just told me that. You want to pay for a speed I can’t use?

X: Of course not but these are the offers we have.

U do realize half of Lebanon can barely get 1 or 2mb right?

X: You should contact Ogero for that. We are not responsible.

Ok I will do and let u know

X: Great so I sign you up for the 4mb plan? Right?

What?

X: I just want to know which plans u r choosing.

Dude Chou ostak? Why would I pay for a connection I can’t use? I ‘ll see what to do and let u know.

X: ok I’ll keep it as 4mb for now.

Whatever. Bye

I am currently signed up at my parents’ place to the 2MB Ogero connection (minimum speed) yet their phone line cannot handle more than 1MB and I’ve been asking for years if we can fix this problem but in vain. The only way to get a decent connection outside Beirut is through a 3G/4G dongle even if it costs more.

First Look: The New Apple iPhone 6

Posted By :

20141002_173252

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.

20141002_173346

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

IMG-20141002-WA0003

IMG-20141002-WA0004

Thanks Jimmmy!

48 Hours Around Lebanon With LG

Posted By :

20140926_084251

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 …

Posted By :

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.

[YouTube]

1411528720076 via SMH

Is The Internet Really Slower Than Before In Lebanon?

Posted By :

[YouTube]

I asked the same question back in August but Ogero was undergoing some maintenance works so I got mixed answers. I’ve experienced slowness on my Ogero connection few times and on my 4G Touch dongle few times as well but otherwise it’s as fast as before. My Alfa 3G/4G data plan is also very quick and the only issues I’ve had were with lines dropping for no reason. This used to happen when 3G was first launched and is now back for some reason.

I think the Telecom Ministry should do a general assessment and let us know what’s happening because it seems the problems are in certain areas or related to specific providers. Did Ogero complete the maintenance work they started? Was the bandwidth increased as needed? What happened to the fiber optic cables? We all deserve to know.

l1 Speedtest from my Ogero 4MB connection

My Favorite Lebanese Blogs Aggregator Just Got Better!

Posted By :

lb2

I am a regular reader of LebaneseBlogs and the latest added features just made it better for me as a blogger and a reader. As a blogger, I can now include for example my food posts under the “Food & Health” section instead of having them only under “Society” as that’s how the blog is currently categorized. Moreover, I can edit posts as well on LebaneseBlogs if I need to. As a reader, I am able to sign in with Twitter, Facebook & Google and follow the pages I want (I prefer Follows to Favorites) and like the posts I wish to read later. Added to that, the page looks nicer and loads faster now.

I love the work Mustapha is pulling as LebaneseBlogs is organizing the Lebanese Blogosphere in a user-friendly and smart way and encouraging bloggers to post more!

Check it out [Here].

iPhone6 and iPhone6 Plus Will Be Available To Order In The UAE On September 27

Posted By :

iphone

I wasn’t expecting the new iPhones to be available that soon in the Middle East but according to Apple’s UAE store, they will be available to order starting September 27th, a week after the official release date. The iPhone6 starts at 700$ and the iPhone6 Plus at around 815$.

As far as Lebanon is concerned, you can expect the iPhone6 and iPhone6 Plus to be over $1000 in the first few weeks, so I recommend you wait a little bit till prices settle.

I followed the #AppleLive event yesterday and it’s great to finally see an iPhone with a big screen at last. The Apple Watch is nice but it looks big to be honest and expensive at 350$. There’s even more expensive edition that has a watch case crafted from 18-karat gold. Something tells me this edition will sell big in the Middle East.

watch

If you are an Apple fan, my friend Jad posted everything you need to know about Apple’s new products [Here]. You can also check AbsoluteGeek’s post [Here].

ASUS Quoting Gebran Khalil Gebran To Promote The ZenWatch

Posted By :

Asus

ASUS used one of Gebran Khalil Gebran’s quotes while promoting their new ZenWatch on twitter a week ago. The watch was one of the highlights at #IFA2014 in Berlin.

Here’s the full quote:
“Time has been transformed, and we have changed; it has advanced and set us in motion; it has unveiled its face, inspiring us with bewilderment and exhilaration.” ―Khalil Gibran

[YouTube]

Originally posted by Annahar

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

Posted By :

[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.

tari2ak

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