USSD API on Android

I’m currently trying to build a small widget that shows you several statistics about your cell phone usage, this would require using USSD codes and catching their responses. I scoured the internet for a solution however wasn’t able to reach one.

The only available solution which is mainly a hack relied on catching the logcat entry and displaying it, unfortunately this was fixed in subsequent versions of android and now USSD response doesn’t appear in the logcat.

There is even a Facebook page created just to request this feature from google…anyway if anybody manages to find a way to handle USSD responses please do share.

Chrome New Immersive UI

I was reading through a certain XDA thread when google chrome suddenly terminated, rebooting it I was hardly able to recognize the machine i was on. seems like Google just launched a new immersive version of chrome, thus turning any of the machines it run on into a seamless host to chrome. I have to say that this such a well played move by Google to break into the OS market, already I spend most of my time within chrome, the only reminder that I’m on windows usually is the system clock and (on some machine) the start menu orb. Google just replaced both with their own stuff. Also did you notice how dim the minimize/close buttons on the upper right are.

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Thats how chrome launches

 

The simple brilliance of this move is that it keeps all the google apps right in the focal center where the start menu used to be, the paradigm users were trained to use. When you want to access your programs you hit the start menu, now they own that start menu and can shape in which ever form they want. The best thing about this move is how they now insulate the customer from the underlying OS, Linux/Windows/MacOS they’d all look the same once you boot up chrome and soon enough the logical next step would be moving to a cheaper lighter easier to maintain chrome book. Even when you minimize the page you are viewing you are still left in that insulating layer of chrome.

Even when you minimize you are still in chrome

Even when you minimize you are still in chrome

Let us see how the world is going to react to this, I’m also confident Pando daily is going to publish something about the innate security/privacy issues this new update introduces so I’m not going to duel on that in this post. Tell me what you think about the new updated interface in the comments.

 

 

more from the Verge

http://www.theverge.com/2014/1/14/5309326/google-chrome-windows-update-chrome-os-interface

The Egyptian Techtopus

Techtopus I’ve been closely following the class action law suite filed on behalf of 100,000 tech employees whose wages were artificially lowered in silicone valley due to agreements between tech employers (Intel, Adobe, Google and Apple) not to hire each other’s employees  and sharing wage scale information, Thus they were able to control salaries knowing that no one would tempt the employees with better salaries. As an Egyptian tech worker I was initially surprised, after all such agreements are common practice in Egypt, these gentlemen’s agreements as they call them prevent us from moving to better offers even if we were fully qualified for announced vacancy just because of the company we are currently working in. You get to learn about these agreements early on your career and you never think about their fairness or legality, they become “the norm”. I don’t think anyone ever asked why are they none documented gentlemen’s agreement rather than contractual obligations you sign in your contract, like for instance the clause that states you can’t work for a competitor for as long as 2 years after you leave your hiring company. Maybe just maybe this agreement is not legal, perhaps thats why you cant find any documentations, and hence it is called a gentlemen’s agreement.

gentlemen’s agreement (or gentleman’s agreement) is an informal and legally non-binding agreement between two or more parties. It is typically oral

The rise of such agreements took place after the infamous Etisalat Egypt head hunt, when they poached entire teams from all the usual tech-giants / competitors promising them double and sometimes triple the salary they were making, in turn that lead to a market wide salaries hike. In an attempt to make sure salaries will stay manageable several of the multinational tech giants struck these agreements to not cross hire. Knowing that this would guarantee that employees wouldn’t have a way out, and thus would settle for whichever salary they were getting.

After 2006’s Salaries hike, Egyptian tech giants decided to keep their employees salaries under control

In our highly specialized field usually you can only work in a handful in multinationals so there aren’t as many options as you’d imagine. I believe the company with the largest number of gentlemen’s agreements is Vodafone I think its common knowledge that employees can’t move from Vodafone to EMC, Alcatel Lucent or even IBM. Whom in turn must have their own agreements with a bunch of other companies. Oracle on the other hand doesn’t follow suite, since its mode of operation relies on poaching from others, and they have another technique they use to guarantee employee retention under a fixed salary (but thats another story). Try going on linkedin and go through various Egyptian accounts you’ll find that there is a growing trend, exiting a telecom to oracle and then to another vendor. The red giant is much more than a brand, its the escape door for all who’ve given up on moving out/on.

 

I know a couple of friends whose aspirations to get a much better job hit the wall of gentlemen’s agreement, talented engineers who applied in vacancies in vendors initially got accepted, then got rejected with a call from HR referring to the gentlemen’s agreement, some were able to overturn that through negotiating with the current employers. However by the time you are done negotiating your exit the vacancy is usually filled by someone else. Naturally the lax labor laws we have in Egypt would make following the american model quite hard, I can only imagine how hard it’d be to file a law suite claiming market wide salary fixing between tech giants. What really surprises me though is the none nonchalant attitude adopted by the HR departments in the mentioned multinational tech giants, how they talk about these agreements as if they are normal fair and the only way to do business.

 

Sources :

http://pando.com/2014/01/23/the-techtopus-how-silicon-valleys-most-celebrated-ceos-conspired-to-drive-down-100000-tech-engineers-wages/

http://pando.com/2014/03/25/newly-unsealed-documents-show-steve-jobs-brutally-callous-response-after-getting-a-google-employee-fired/

Wasalny’s Next Big Step

Last year I wrote an entry on how Wasalny is technically superior to Bey2ollak but due to how social apps work Bey2ollak is much more reliable. Which explained why Bey2ollak won the Google’s much coveted Ebda2 award. Seems like there is an interesting twist unfolding right now, in which Wasalny may end up having the upper hand.

Wasalny Vs Bey2ollak

Seems like the Kuwaity government is interested in using Wasalny as their official app, this twist means that Wasalny will have a new fresh start to grab the critical mass needed to maintain market superiority. This adoption grants wasalny access to this huge untapped gulf market, with most of the population being in their 20s-30s and most having access to a smart phone its a treasure trove that no one was able to break into prior to this point.

Kuwaiti leaders showed great support for the venture, installing the app on the electronic devices of every police officer and providing access to every billboards in Kuwait City to allow for real time traffic information.

Bey2ollak’s massive user base is irrelevant when it comes to global expansion, since the data set greatly relies on the location of the users contributing it. Furthermore one of the main reasons Bey2ollak was such a hit in egypt, the usage of funky franco arabi interface and street names actually works against it when we talk about regional expansion, I recon it’d be completely unreadable for none Egyptians. Bey2ollak team have been working on revamping their interface but they retained the quirky but cool franco arab routes designations, since it is one of their main selling points.

Full of terms only Egyptians would understand

Bey2ollak full of terms only Egyptians would understand

Wasalny is a bit more standard

Wasalny is a bit more standard

I believe Wasalny has a really interesting future ahead of it, with the partnership they have with Etisalat -which happens to have branches in most of gulf countries- and the official adoption by the Kuwaiti government its only a matter of time until it breaks into the gulf’s user base. Once the initial critical user base is achieved it’d be quite hard for any competitor to depose them.

**I’ll write a follow up post on the potential revenue streams traffic apps can generate.

sources http://www.wamda.com/1970/01/wasalny-co-founders-on-their-traffic-app-s-next-turn?ref=fb

Inar Tablet

Egyptian company Banha electronics is gearing up in preparation to mass produce Inar, the first Egyptian tablet, with the target being providing university students with access to a subsidized/free tablet. The merits of such a national projects can’t be denied with the most obvious being exponentially expanding the Egyptian android user base, to become the largest in the region which would automatically attract developers to build apps targeting highly specific local needs. This project reminds me of the “haseb le kol bayt” project which basically placed Egypt where it is in the IT outsourcing industry and in a way ended up creating a tech savvy generation.

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I wasn’t able to find the official website for the product (seems like they don’t have one), the manufacturer website didn’t include anything about Inar (however its a must visit for other reasons). A Facebook page that describes itself as the semi-official (?!) page included a limited specs sheet.

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Decent components, nothing that special yet perfectly usable to cover most of the things you may require from an “educational” tablet. Naturally since no one has ever seen one in the wild the build quality remains a big mystery. Build quality is a key component when you are planning to distribute it to students, from the unboxing video you can tell that it comes bundled with a protective case. I hope this is not the official unboxing video as its a bit lacking when it comes to quality  (if you skip to 3:39, you’ll see that the user is trying to use ipad gestures to close the app, which isn’t even available in android!!!).

The semi-official sources lists its price as ranging between 1200 to 1500 EGP ($171), a price tag that’s almost 4 times the price of the AkashII (the indian tablet) which is being produced for a similar project in India. However if they are planning to subsidize it or distribute it for free to students the price would be irrelevant. People online are promoting buying it stating that buying it will result in releasing a better, cheaper version, which is true given that we have decent management. Egypt has been manufacturing laptops for quite sometime now however we weren’t able to take it anywhere, just mediocre low end laptops for local consumption.

Unfortunately Inar is being politicized being used as propaganda by various Egyptian political parties, which is greatly impacting how its being depicted in the media (even social media) with people losing their objectiveness while reviewing it. Also with the regime/ruling party painting it as a national achievement they are setting it up to fail as there is no way for it to match the expectations they’ve building up.

Realistically speaking and as an aspiring android developer, I think that this along with mobile money may be the next major market changers, with Egypt finding its way into Google’s Radar which honestly I think is long over-due.

Paid Apps Appearing in GooglePlay in Egypt

With Google checkout not supporting Egypt, there weren’t any paid apps listed in the Egyptian version of Google store. For local developers the only way for them to get paid for their android app was to set up a bank account in one of the “Google Approved” countries and even then they wont be able to sell their apps in Egypt. This was the main reason why android development never picked up in Egypt unlike iPhone apps (since Apple App store has been handling local payments for quite sometime now). Today I noticed that paid apps started popping up in Google Play, which may indicate that Google now allows Egyptian users to purchase apps, of course this completely relies on Google wallet which is the only way to pay for apps on Google Play.

Paid Apps Visible on Egyptian Google Play

Paid Apps Visible on Egyptian Google Play

So far Egyptian users were forced to rely on creative methods such as using “market enabler” which requires rooting the device, however now even on none rooted devices I can see paid apps (exactly 5 of them). I tried to purchase one of the apps and was immediately asked for my Google wallet login only to later find out that my Egyptian credit card is still NOT approved by google, which basically means that even though we can view paid apps we still can’t purchase them.

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Egypt is not listed as one of the “approved” countries

This has one of two explenations, either a technical glitch resulted in us seeing these apps – or – we can purchase apps through redeeming google play gift cards which are purchased using credit cards issued from one of the approved countries. The caveat of it all is that Egyptian android users still need to root and then use market enabler on their phones to be able to download any decent apps.

 

**update**

When I logged into the development console I spotted this, obviously starting sunday egyptian users can purchase apps, however they don’t mention anything about allowing egyptian developers to sell them.

Capturehttps://support.google.com/googleplay/android-developer/support/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=138294

You can only sell paid apps if you are living in one of the following countries