Designing apps for Haifa and the computer illiterate

BEIRUT: While some see recent and upcoming upgrades to Internet speeds in Lebanon as merely a chance to finally watch that YouTube clip of Ban Ki-moon dancing “Gangnam style” at a recent U.N. summit, Fouad Itani, 28 sees gold.

“In the last eight months we have noticed a big change with connection speed,” says the affable Itani, “and with the 4G connection to come next year I think things look good.”

Itani spent eight years working in the telecoms industry before deciding to get out of the corporate world and go it alone earlier this year.

Aware of the growing consumption of smartphone technology in the MENA region, he founded Mobile Passe and began developing news-based mobile applications. The company creates platforms that live stream news from a variety of sources – newspapers, magazines, Twitter feeds, YouTube clips, etc., with sources in both English and Arabic.

To date Itani has created over 15 applications – the majority providing country-specific news streams for over 10 different Middle Eastern and African states.

The applications have found a market. Itani’s first app – the Arabic language “Al-Akhbar Al-Mamluke?” – focuses on news from Saudi Arabia and has had over 120,000 downloads on iTunes. Other apps developed by Itani include a number dedicated to popular music, providing worldwide prayer times during the Muslim Holy month of Ramadan, and even a Vogue-esque women’s lifestyle application.

In addition, the entrepreneur has created two Lebanon-specific apps: “Lebanon News” and the recently created “Lebanon Blogs.”

The next stage for Itani and Mobile Passe is to create a basic user-friendly application template that even the computer-illiterate among us can utilize in order to develop individual, customized applications.

“For example, you are Haifa Wehbe,” Itani says.

“You could create an application that not only sources related news, tweets and videos for your fans, but additionally provides information on upcoming concerts and a portal to purchase the tickets,” he continues.

“Or if you owned a shop you could post live updates through the app when new stock comes in.”

Itani says that the basic package for creating an application will be free, with costs entailed if the user wants to install additional features on the app including advertising or user-related statistics. Once the app is finished, the creator will then be at liberty to choose how much to charge users.

“There are similar platforms out there,” says Itani, “but there is not a wide variety and there are few that support both English and Arabic. Additionally our monetizing strategy is different. Most systems out there charge a lump sum of around $500 to create an app, whereas the basic framework of our app will be free with small costs, around $30 for the purchase of special features.”

Itani has already created a number of apps at the bequest of others – most notable among them Saudi journalist Turki Al Dakheel, who contacted Itani, having been impressed by the “Al-Akhbar Al-Mamluke” application.

Itani says he has received over 350 requests on the Mobile Passe website from individuals and companies keen to develop their own applications.

However, while Itani says the program is ready to go, he is scheduling a January release, due to a desire to fine-tune the aesthetics of the product.

“I want to update the design and make sure it is as user friendly as possible. In the back end it is logistically up and running but we need to fine tune it and make sure it is sexy.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on November 09, 2012, on page 5.




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