Agendat the Android Game

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I’m almost done building my first Android game Agendat (agendas), A game based on the events Egypt has been going through since the revolution. Agendat is divided into chapters representing the phases of the Egyptian revolution. With major revolution themes/memes scattered through game play. Agendat which means Agendas alludes to the term used by the late chief spy Omar Suliman when he referred to the protesters describing them as people with ulterior agendas.

A Fun, silly game about Egypt and the revolution.

Generally the game is a tongue in cheek representation of the revolution and shouldn’t be taken seriously, the main target here is for the game to be fun rather than an accurate depiction of the revolution, and as usually its intended to be absolutely free.

Chapter 1: Infilat Amny (Police Disappearance)

Chapter 2: Ta7arosh Gama3y (Sexual Harassment)

We currently have around 6 chapters ready, but only 2 of them are intended to be playable when we publish the game.

All the graphics in this game was provided by my partner S Graphic Design, who are about the fastest person you can get to design game components for you.

S Graphic Design

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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

Vodafone AppStar Competition

One of my apps was short listed in vodafone #appstar competition and even though I didn’t get to win I ended up spending a really pleasant day with fellow developers presenting the other 22 apps being considered. Some were quite impressive, others were impressively bad. All the competing teams were quite inspirational, knowing that our country is full of hope and young people who know how to build market and even sell their own products. The first prize- a substantial 100k EGP- went to the worthiest competitor, Loaded with potential I hope he uses the money in developing his concept further.

The winners and the finalists

The competing apps, not all are published and some aren’t android :

  • actNguess : Draw something spin off
  • Allin1Remote : Control your computer remotely using this highly versatile remote, disqualified since the developer is working in vodafone.
  • Bkam (3rd): Price comparison app with Geo-Spin
  • CairoMetro : Metro maps for cairo.
  • DriverBuster : Driver rating app.
  • EZScratch : Reads prepaid scratch cards through the camera, interesting concept but it didnt work.
  • EgySmartTrans (1st) : Helps you figure out how to get from point A to point B in cairo using public transportation.
  • iPasswords : another password keeping app.
  • Matchatak : Track and review football matches.
  • Medical Reminder (2nd): Medication reminder, keeps track of what pills to take and when.
  • Mobile Finder : GSM arena spin off.
  • NonoGai : Baby center/super mama spin off.
  • Sand Art : Draw things in sand, not using physics or open GL.
  • Se7ety : Medical tips and advice.
  • So2aly : ask.google.com spin off.
  • Swift TV guide: TV guide with reviews.
  • Talk2Me : Text to sign language, however it didn’t work as expected.
  • Toddler Fun : Nokia only, another toddler game pack.
  • Touch Point : Control your computer remotely.
  • Treasure Hunting : Geo-caching.
  • Where Am I
  • Yadget : Pinterest with Geo-Tagging Features, a flat6labs sponsored project.
  • Zagel Auto-SMS : Schedule sms to be sent based on certain rules.

Presentations went on for hours, with every competitor getting exactly 5 minutes to present his app (including a demo if he chose to) then 2 minutes of questions from the panel. I’m not going to review all apps since there are too many of them, instead I’m going to talk about the apps that really caught my attention.

1. Smart Trans the first prize winner, helps people get through cairo by knowing exactly which micro-buses and public buses to take. Google already offers that in 1st world countries, but in ours we dont have the database required to do so. The developer put a huge effort into building his own Database. He contacted municipalities, they didnt have all the info he needed so he started asking people to build his seed database. The application itself is lacking on many aspects, but what it lacks in presentation it makes up in Data. Now that it has won the first prize I hope he turns this into something

2. Toddler Fun Had a really impressive interface, well built and tastefully designed. However its as innovation free as possible, the developers didnt even consider adding in Arabic, there are hundreds if not thousands of alternatives out there. why would anybody build another copy of something like that ?

3. AllinOneRemote The developer is working in vodafone so his application was disqualified, even though he wasn’t working there when he first published it. The application is quite good, does what it promises to do and does it really well. There are many alternatives available however this one would easily beat most of them.

4. Yadget being another flat6labs sponsored project it had the most superior business plan, the developing team didn’t attend and sent a representative instead, obviously they are on a silicone valley trip trying to get that first round of investment, had they presented it themselves they’d have definitely won the first prize.

5. Medical Reminder has one 4 awards already, this being the fifth. I’m quite surprised its won since its quite lacking when it comes to innovation, there are hundreds of apps that do just what this app does a lot better, and it doesn’t even include Arabic.

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Generally speaking I was surprised by the lack of innovation in the submitted apps, most of them were spin offs of apps that already existed or just a website turned into an app, which doesn’t make much sense since you can have the same functionality by logging into the website. Most apps were under developed as well, you could easily tell most of the apps didn’t have a designer on board, and that impacted the product’s quality.

The panel mainly judged the apps more on the concept rather than the implementation. Hence app quality in the sense of being well coded and bug free wasn’t a factor, also the number of downloads and reviews on Google play wasn’t considered, which makes sense since a lot of the apps weren’t published on the store, and we all know how easy it is to generate false reviews and ratings.

I have this comment to make on social apps assessment  The user base for such apps is an integral part to the app quality since the experience varies greatly depending on the number of active contributing users. The marketing plan behind such apps and getting that initial critical mass of users should be taken in consideration while assessing such apps. There are 10s of Cairo Traffic apps out there however bey2ollak is the best and most popular, or rather its the best because its the most popular, even though other apps maybe be technically superior, Bey2ollak user base is their main selling point.

During the competition I talked with several of the competing teams, we all agreed on that none of the applications were as impressive as we expected them to be, considering the substantial award and all, most teams expected companies to compete for the prize, however the company’s turn out was minimal. Most of the competitors were amateur developers who either developed their app on their own or in teams of two. Perhaps mainly due to the fact that #appstar wasn’t that well announced, most people knew about it too late or only after the submission stage has ended. Vodafone posted it on their fb page thinking that since they have 2 million likes 2 million people would see it, which is theoretically correct but with the recent changes in Facebook page rank system that’s not how things happen any more. Personally I believe they should have announced it in an event such as EGJUG or even better set up their own event invited people, had a couple of speakers talk about mobile development and then called for submissions. Hopefully next year’s #appstar is going to be a bit better and would include at least a handful of impressive apps.

*My presentations :

Note: originally I intended to present HummingBird widget but for some reason it didn’t exist in their database, still you can always download it and tell me what you think.

Tech Startups in Egypt

Few years ago Tech-entrepreneurship became fashionable in the middle-east region. Wave after wave of tech-startups started popping up, it didn’t take long for the investors to realize their possible potential and try to get into the entrepreneurship business through joint ventures and incubators. Thus repeating exactly what happened in silicone valley in 2007-2011, this allows us to predict whats going to happen next since we have an existing model that is being followed at a much faster pace. Currently the first wave of silicone valley start-ups are running out of money and either changing their business model or shutting down altogether.

What happened with silicone valley start-ups is all the investors fault. Trying desperately to get into the tech-startups business as fast as they can good judgement was ignored. Many of the tech start-ups were nothing more than gimmicky mobile apps that had no way of generating the revenue needed to keep it afloat. The success of products such as instagram and pinterest only served to increase that poor judgement. MBAs desperately tried to repeat that model even though they do not get the exact dynamics of the market or how these apps made it; and so several cool/sexy/gimmicky start-up received investments that they would have never received otherwise.

Instagram & Pinterest currently have no revenue streams. Even with their vast user base they are still trying to figure that out.

With tech entrepreneurship being the new “cool” thing to be doing, many talented engineers have been shying away from joining corporate and instead deciding to become the next bey2ollak or circle-tie. This dries up the talent pool since every 2 or 3 talented engineers are grouped up trying to get their gimmicky app off of the ground rather than work in corporate or even for another company on improving their gimmicky app. The expression I came up with to describe this is Talent Pool Fragmentation. Building an investment worthy product that is resilient to competition requires more skill than what you can find in 2 or 3 engineers, and most would be doing unsexy jobs such as tuning, operations or even monitoring; Exactly the kind of jobs people turn down in favor of starting their own thing.

Freemium model which was quite popular with most of the first stage start-ups isn’t cutting it. few days ago I received an email from Chad Keck of PHP Fog, announcing that they are discontinuing their Free side in favor of their premium one.

PHP Fog ditching their Freemium model:We are incredibly sorry for the inconvenience, but as a small business we do not have the resources to provide world-class service on both PHP Fog and AppFog. If there were some way for us to keep PHP Fog running indefinitely, we would do so. Unfortunately, however, there isn’t. It’s time to move on to AppFog.

Currently the main 2 VCs operating in Egypt are Sawari and Flat6Lab, with others – including the government – trying to break into the market. Flat6Labs is the most popular, mostly going for sexy products it has graduated several cycles already most of the companies they backed up aren’t sustainable and its only a matter of time until they run out of money/support/man hours. Sawari ventures on the other hand concentrates on products that include more value than bang, still none of their products has turned out any profits as far as I can tell, the only difference is since they are investing in products that include a certain technical complexity these products can later be incorporated as building blocks for ones that actually turn out profit.

Back to our starting point and the failing silicone valley tech start-ups, I can nominate several startups approaching that point in Egypt but if I’m to guess who is going to go out first I’d bet on Circle-Tie. Lacking a visible revenue stream and with an increasing competition (its quite simple to create a similar such an app), its only a matter of time until the key developers/innovators/managers decide to give up and move on.

 

Sources

http://www.businessinsider.com/startup-cash-crunch-2012-11

 

Wamda Feature on TweetKeteer

Wamda has always been one of our favorite magazine, Especially after  they picked my “beyt2ebed 3alia” app as one of their favorite startups for 2011. A while back Nina Curley from Wamda magazine interviewed me about twitter marketeer (tweetketeer), they finally published that article. We are still on track people, wait for some big news soon.

Now we can pin the much sought after “as seen on wamda” badge on Tweetketeer.

Wasalny.com, is it Etisalat’s answer to Vodafone’s Bey2ollak?

Today while watching TV I came across this new clever Etisalat ad about their new android replacement program, promising users new android phones in exchange of their current old phones. Listing all the features android phones have, features such Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, and many other apps such as wasalny. Wasalny logo was displayed clearly long enough for me to see it and it made me wonder. Checking their website, I saw this banner, Wasalny being the only local android app they mention.

Etislat website, Wasalny logo displayed prominently

Wasalny is basically bey2ollak. They didn’t even care to think up of a new paradigm other than the one being used by bey2ollak. The main difference is the number of users, which is Bey2ollak real value, or any other socially driven app for a matter of fact. Until that critical mass of active users is achieved, the product quality doesn’t matter, since the main edge for such an app is always the user base. Wasalny is utilizing the gamification paradigm to stimulate users into contributing more often, by keeping a score board of the most active users and even promising gifts based on certain criteria.

Wasalny feels more like a finished product with a couple more features than Bey2ollak. However having checked it several times over a period of two days, I reached the conclusion that it doesn’t have the critical user base to make it useful. If I was working with them I’d have suggested copying statuses from Bey2ollak until that critical mass is reached.

The only difference is the number of users

It is a known fact that Bey2ollak is sponsored by Vodafone, and it is just starting to use the data treasure trove they have access to. Having just released a road assistance service accessible through SMS which Etisalat has no way of replicating since they don’t have access to the same data Vodafone does. No wonder they are sponsoring Wasalny and pushing it through its channels (TV ads and Website) I actually wouldn’t be really surprised if they sold their phones with Wasalny preinstalled.

If there is a lessons to be learned from this it’d be “Innovation pays on the long run”. Vodafone has already pledged a substantial amount of money for start ups earlier this year (thus becoming a de-facto VC), I expect Etisalat to follow suite quite soon.

 

***Update***

Ok an update is long over-due however I’ve been resisting adding a new entry to the blog about the same two products so instead I’m updating the same post. Since I wrote the original post several interesting plot twists took place. Bey2ollak won the ebda2 award winning a cool $200k from Google, which was quite controversial since it was competing with actual startups that didn’t have the user base they’ve amounted over the years. This amount of money should have went into developing the concept further exponentially accelerating its progression.

$200k is roughly equivalent the average developers salary for 280000 months

For some reason the prize money had seemingly no impact on bey2ollak, continuing on their same track at the same exact rate of progression. On the other hand Wasalny now managed by social fruits had a sudden improvement in quality. The entire GUI was overhauled GPS was introduced and more importantly map overlays displaying traffic right on your map was introduced. User Experience wise wasalny is much more easier to use than bey2ollak, introducing GPS updates allowed it to harvest traffic data even if the users didnt input it manually, allowing them to overcome their limited user base problem. No longer do they have to rely on gamefication to convince their users to input traffic info (which they did at some point).

In a perfect world this would mean bey2ollak slipping into oblivion and wasalny assuming its well deserved position as the number one app for traffic assistance in Cairo. However that didn’t happen, The user base still loyal to bey2ollak, and perhaps the fact that its interface is quite basic and simple –once you get over the learning curve-protected it from losing its position, it may have used some of its user base but they all come back bey2ollak once they realize the difference in data quality.

Wasalny’s interface is better, but Bey2ollak’s data is more accurate.

 

I tried both for a couple of weeks, Wasalny interface is brilliant but the data is quite weak, with not nearly enough people updating it to make it relevant or up to date, bey2ollak on the other hand, as crappy its interface is has the most relevant user base. Perhaps the real problem is that they are both competing for the same set of users with not nearly enough new users joining (new users would definitely go for the better looking wasalny) over time though perhaps wasalny would be able to earn the sufficient user base needed to maintain an up to date data set, till then bey2ollak provides the most accurate data.