Category Archives: Technology

Local apps and dilemma of Pakistani Android market

Recently, we were approached by mobile Internet department of a major Pakistani telecom player. They were looking for developers which could develop targeted apps for Pakistani users. The reason behind is simple; 3G is just around the corner, sooner or later, telcos will have to launch 3G services, and as a matter of fact, they will not spend money on old and out-dated 3G technology, the licenses on offer include 4G spectrum and we will see service offerings of HSDPA and LTE. These services are known for fast Internet speed, nothing else. You don’t need 3G or 4G for sending SMS or making a phone call. This essentially means that telcos will be spending huge infrastructure money on making high speed Internet accessible for everyone. This also means that primary return on investment will come when users will be actively involved in using data intensive applications and always on – will have a true meaning, watching Youtube videos while riding your school bus will go mainstream!

We are primarily focused on International market of course as our parent company is in UK and most of our apps are iOS based and targeted towards US or European customer base but again we took a chance and spent our month of Ramadan in developing a religious content app with the intention to validate Pakistani apps market. There are few interesting stats we collected on the way. I will list them down here first:

    1. As anybody would guess, Android is the key player here and 70% to 80% smartphones here belong to Android.
    2. The explosion of Android belongs to local (read Chinese) players, such as QMobile, Samsung is on 2nd or maybe even at 3rd place now.
    3. Unofficial statement from QMobile says that they now sell 150,000 Android smartphones a month while market sources say that this number is around 50,000. This is a single brand number and is huge in both cases!
    4. There are a few local apps developed by local indie developers (you can easily guess that they are indie by looking at icons or content of the apps). Download numbers of such few apps are in literally millions, regardless of their quality.
    5. Compared to iOS, Android users are quick to download and subsequently uninstall the app provided if they don’t like it. A major reason of that was memory issue, prior to QMobile, the key smartphone in this market was Samsung Galaxy Y with only 50Mb of free memory, that means you can blow your entire memory in 10-15 apps and can’t download the likes of Facebook app which on average take 32Mb space. However, with advanced phones, this issue is now going away and you can forget about this in 6 months from now.
    6. Another issue is of Android version number which is now going away as well, most phones now run on 4.0 and above.
    7. There is a huge Pakistani diaspora, they need same local apps in some cases, they are always connected, mostly using Samsung S3 or S4 and because they reside in Saudi Arabia, UAE, UK and USA, you can make better money by serving banner ads to them.
    8. Our app is on 31st spot in Audio and Music category with average 200 installs per day which implies that 20th ranked in Top Free is attracting at least 3000-5000 installs per day.
    9. As per my own estimation, we won’t take 2016 to replace feature phone market with smartphones, we will do it much earlier. Most of Nokia N series and E series users will go on Android as soon as next year.

There is obviously a problem of Monetzation here (which is why we don’t see much investment in this sector), however there are few options now available. We are using AdMob, luckily our Islamic religious content is also valid in India and let’s say if it take 1000 Indian banner impressions to make $1 then with Pakistani banner impressions you will need at least 2000 users to make same amount of money.

Keeping all these stats in perspective and looking at our own success, I looked at Top Free Charts on Google Play store; the easiest way to enter in a market is to look at trends of that market, what people are downloading? is the very first and most important question to ask. Google Play store works on IP and if you are in Pakistan, you will automatically see Top Charts of Pakistan or you will need to use proxy with a Pakistani IP to see these charts (maybe use distimo or appannie for same purpose?)

 

For detailed please visit https://play.google.com/store/apps/collection/topselling_free from a Pakistani IP (or proxy)

For detailed please visit https://play.google.com/store/apps/collection/topselling_free from a Pakistani IP (or proxy)

There is only one trend to spot. Yes, there is a Quran Android app, a dictionary app, local maps app, songs app but as you scroll down, you start spotting what’s in majority here, Sex! .. Slightly disturbing but I am old enough to know the cause of it. It was same in Pre-Facebook (or should I say Pre-Orkut) era. There was no Youtube, no websites to download songs, mIRC and MSN were primary source of communication and rest was the same as you see in Google Play store today. Today, all of us are broadband users (no need to dial a line with noisy modem just to get 2Kb of speed), we have better access to education, many of us now watch US television drama seasons, many of us watch movies and biographies of Steve Jobs, people from Plan9 present their startup accelerator in every university of Punjab, there is a TiE cup happening with a top prize of 1 million Pakistani Rupee, so, why our apps market which is expanding at a rate of at least 200,000 local customers per month, is living in dark ages of 1999 and 2000?

There is a very simple answer to above question: Lack of local apps! Majority new users are first time smartphone users, they certainly need to know more productive use of their phones. We need to find ideas (which are in abundance, there is an app for nothing in Pakistan’s case) and then work to develop them. At this moment, in my experience, you don’t need to go all out and spend 6 months on developing something, just make a 3 activity app, upload it, see the traction, if organic downloads are more than 100 a day, bingo! Go for updates. Ideally, this number should be 200 a day as that is where it will start making sense and you will be able to spend money on a designer and a few rupee on marketing, continue doing this and in the process you will see a big enough idea and big enough user base to capitalize on!

Moving into Arfa Software Technology Park Lahore

Arfa Software Technology Park (formerly known as Lahore Technology Park) is one of the most iconic buildings in Lahore. You can’t help but noticing it when you first go towards Model Town or on Ferozpur Road towards Qasur after Kalma Chowk. Tall, Sleek, Hi-Tech look grabs your attention and you can’t stop yourself from asking ‘oh, what’s that?’. Well that was my response when I came to Pakistan last year in January after spending some good years abroad, I was completely unaware of this development but this came just forward when I was looking to establish a development office in Lahore.

Arfa Software Technology Park

Arfa Software Technology Park, Lahore

A little search on the web followed – found PITB site and it was written that construction will be complete by April 2010 after delaying for an year, well, that was already January 2011 and even probably due to delays PITB (Punjab Information Technology Board) staff was fed up to update their website (well, what else you do PITB?).

I immediately decided to have an office there and as from the look of building it seemed that outer structure is complete and they may take 6 months or so to finish any interiors work, we took a temporary office in a residential building (as is the norm in Pakistan for software houses) and started from there. I kept on calling PITB but they never had any clue when technology park will be complete, finally I found a reference in PITB and went to visit the site, on that day I got to know for the first time that it has been started, an advertisement was placed in national newspapers that weekend and building is ready to move-in, the marketing staff (they outsourced marketing to some company known as SFA) was eager to get bookings while they even didn’t had a clue when inauguration will be done and what are the per square foot rates or what will be the cost of electricity. That was November, 2011! I went there another 2 times and still the marketing office had no clue what was happening and that was because PITB being a government run organization (and because of the fact that their salaries are secured even if they work or not) was not clear about anything.

Why I liked Arfa Software Technology Park? 

Actual Image: Data Centre in Arfa Software Technology Park

Actual Image: Data Centre in Arfa Software Technology Park

– Purpose built floors: you want to have your own LAN – just pull out a tile, get your cable under the floor and ceil the tile again.
– Back-up electricity: Technology park building has 3 power sources, WAPDA and a backup generator and then a backup generator again. Building has double sourced connections for WAPDA supply as well, ensuring 80% less electricity outage!
– Fibre Optic cable until the office with in-house NOC for broadband suppliers!
– Plenty of parking space for both motor-cycles and cars, we are getting 1 car space for free with 345 square foot office space, motor-cycles are free anyway unconditional!
– In-house data center, so suppose we are going to demo something tomorrow and we need our own servers for that, you got a data-center just in your building!
– Auditorium and seminar rooms

What I don’t like about Arfa Software Technology Park?

–  There could have been small meeting rooms in the building, even if you have occupied a whole floor, it’s not necessary that would like to call every client or prospective employee inside the development office!
– A large hall to hold hackathon’s or such events!
– Food hall, well I know there are some ‘Food shops’ on 3rd level and marketing people are pushing out the likes of KFC, McDonalds etc. to open up franchises there but really if you can have a simple large canteen where anyone could go and have a simple lunch everyday – that would have been wonderful!

Top questions I asked every time and had to push for answers!

– What is the rate in per square foot on level 8 or 9? (A: Finally, it’s Rs. 110/sq ft.)
– What will be the electricity unit charge? (A: Standard WAPDA commercial unit)
– What will be backup electricity (generator) unit charge?  (No answer still)
– How I can get Internet connection in my office and what will the charge? (A: You can request any supplier, PTCL and Transworld are already in there and you can deal with them directly OR ASTP itself also provides Internet, details of which are unknown!)

And then we got to know an amazing thing, while doing the agreement, we came to know that we are only allowed to operate for 10 hours a day in the building and if we want to go beyond that, we will have to pay extra (which ranges from 26 paisa/sq ft to some figure far greater than that – but this rate has not been finalized yet!)
My Response: C’mon! are you kidding me? You have made a technology park, you are only allowing technology companies and call centers to step-in and you don’t even know how we work? Mostly it’s 24 hours! Software houses always have late sittings, a 8 or 10 hour day is a dream for most developers then call centers work round the clock, it’s support they give and even if they don’t work round-the-clock, most of them work for clients in UK or USA, they can’t take an office which is open from 0800 to 1700 PST! We were told about this conditon by marketing staff downstairs and I never believed my ears on what I am listening to so we requested them to have a word with PITB staff which are already enjoying 11th floor in ASTP. After speaking to one of their managers, we came to know building is running on BMS (Building Management System) and HVAC plant will be running for 24 hours anyway even if somebody uses it or not – and people will be paying for electricity getting used in their offices, guards will still be in place for their security duty – why this extra charge and ridiculous timings then? He, himself had no clue and told us that they are still thinking about that. That was a month ago and now when we were sent an agreement copy to create an agreement like that by ourselves and sign and send it back, this condition was still written that we agree to use building for 10 hours a day and will pay extra charge for over-usage. How wonderful!
This month (March, 2012) we applied for an office at 8th floor which is reserved for incubator offices and our application was approved, then we were asked to create an agreement document by ourselves and send them to PITB for approval, that’s been done and a cheque for initial payment is under process, when we will get possession – nobody knows still!

Insider Reports and Rumours:

– Incubator offices were scooped quite fast – even companies like Teradata are taking full floors, judging by the amount of IT companies in Lahore alone and their work staff strength – 14  office floors are still very less!
– Chief Minister has acquired whole of 9th floor – God knows for what and that’s in a technology building! What a CM secretariat will do there?
– And this is announced that CM is opening a Danish University in the building, well, can you open a university in ‘a’ building? Will that not damage working environment? I will write a separate blog about it.

I will leave this blog here, just take it for your information, ASTP is a very nice and well equipped building but people running it are obviously from Punjab Government so you know the likely state of it’s operations. Next, I will blog about a cultural shift which such a central hub of IT can bring to Lahore in specific and Pakistan in general.

Any comments or if you want to know anything from my experiences, just use the space below!

 

SeaMicro innovates low energy microprocessor for servers

Intel's Atom microprocessor uses less energy

Intel's Atom microprocessor uses less energy

As the technology is advancing, everyone is looking to conserve energy, some are doing that to tackle the everyday rising costs of energy products, while other are green planet advocates. Whatever the reason is, everyone likes to conserve energy. Computer server market is no different.

About 10 years ago, a company called RLX tried to market very thin blade servers running on laptop chips of Transmeta but timing was not good as you may remember that was 1999, when the famous dot com bubble burst out. Nobody then liked to invest on any Internet companies and servers were mostly used for that very purpose.

Today, with the likes of Facebook and Google around, we know that Intel’s Xeon is most famous processor in the server market. This processor is very good when it comes to render so-called heavy applications but when it comes to serve millions of small requests like feeding a facebook page or handling a google query, it starts eating energy.

A Santa Clara based company SeaMicro, comes up with the solution to meet the market needs using the recent technological advances. They have built a very small processor chip by combining 80 chips of Intel’s Atom processor. SeaMicro on the other hand is tight-lipped about their innovation at the moment and not many details are available for general access. The company is however mentored and funded by Vinod Khosla who was the co-founder of Sun Microsystems and is a strong advocate of green energy.

The CEO of SeaMicro said “Making a generalist machine is no longer good enough, the right system will require real engineering work. That is something the server market hasn’t seen in a long time.”

Fingers crossed about the success of SeaMicro’s innovation, however, SeaMicro is not alone in this race, there are many companies working on ARM processors as well and intend to use them for home computers and servers. Remember, Intel’s Atom processor gained some popularity through the Netbooks while ARM is around from years and if you have iPhone or any of Nokia series mobile phone, it is running an ARM microprocessor. These microprocessors are also famous for their very less use of energy while providing high efficiency.

Top 6 must-have Firefox addons for Web developers and designers

There are lots of blog posts about the must have addons for Firefox if you are a web developer. In fact mozilla’s addon library has lots of lots of them but only some are very useful and now a days when speed of the application along with its cross browser compatibility is a critical issue, some addons are far most critical and every web developer or designer should have them in his/her arsenal.

Firefox addons for Web Developers and Designers

Firefox addons for Web Developers and Designers

6-Measure it

Measure it has a simple philosophy, it lets you measure any thing on your browser screen, amazing when you are working with graphics of the site, you can measure area, it will let you know the width and height in pixels and then you put that information in your Adobe photoshop and make images of exact size.

5- Color Zilla

Color Zilla is your color adviser, very often I feel the need of picking a color on the webpage to export that in my Adobe photoshop, this addon has a fantastic eye dropper tool which let you pick exact color of any image on your web page and then you use that. It comes with some other goodies like page zoomer as well.

4- IE Tab

If you are a web developer, the chances are you already hate Internet Explorer but this web browser is still the most widely used web browser around the world and the reason behind is Microsoft Windows. Anyway if you are developing in Firefox you always need to see your web pages in IE that if they rendering alright in that browser, this addon saves you opening an IE. It adds a tab to your web browser and if you click that tab, it opens the same page with IE render engine. Bingo! You have got IE in your Firefox.

3- YSlow

A friend of mine introduced me to this addon very recently and after I discovered it, I went on thinking how I made my websites without this tool. Yes, it is “why slow”, install it, it will require Fire bug to be installed and then see your website loading, how much is the size of your web page, what is the rating of your website in terms of speed of loading and not just that, it actually advise you what you lack in your web page like you need to include CSS at the top, refer Javascript as include files etc. and it has got wonderful tools of itself, one of my favourite is Smush it, it actually takes all the images on your web page, turn them into PNGs and let you download them, once you have them, you can just go back to your images directory and replace your images, in my case, the difference was in kbs which is obviously huge when we speak of web pages.

2- Web Developer Toolbar

Is that ever happened that you are working in Ajax and your primary tool is IE or Firefox and then you want to see the source code which Ajax has generated? A real bugger eh? Well there are lots of lots of features in web developer toolbar like you can actually see the DIV  (borderless creatures, you can never see them without any external tool) formation on the page, look at the table information etc. but my favorite is View Generated Source option, which let you see whatever is current HTML of your web page.

1 – Firebug

This is the most important piece of code primary developed to serve web developer’s community. Javascript is a real pain to debug in IE (until IE8, it has got its fire bug too now, bundled with IE8 as Developer Tools) but in Firefox you have got fire bug to fire Javascript bugs. It not only let you debug your Javascript or HTML, it becomes very handy when you work on Ajax, it’s XHR panel in Net panel is designed to let you know, how many calls you have made to the server through XHTTPRequest object. Many other important modules like yslow require Firebug to run in. A true life saver!

If I have missed any addon which you think is crucial to be on every web developer/designer Firefox, please comment with its name, chances are that I don’t know about that addon as yet. Thanks!

Microsoft giving away expensive development software for free through WebsiteSpark program

Microsoft WebsiteSpark program is giving away thousands of dollar software for free

Microsoft WebsiteSpark program is giving away thousands of dollar software for free

Microsoft has done it in the past and they are doing it again. Just another program to woo developers and designers from around the world to start using their platform. When it comes to web programming PHP is by far the most used language on the face of World Wide Web, primarily because its free to develop in and secondly because its deployment is very cheap i.e all you need is a Linux box with free Apache server running on it.

Microsoft has launched the WebsiteSpark program after BizSpark program(to what they call a great success). The program offerings are mouth-watering and there is no doubt about it. Even a PHP savvy programmer like me would like to jump in and check out the business opportunities which can arise due to this exposure to Microsoft technologies.

The software they are giving for free are:

  • Visual Studio Professional (~$799 regular cost)
  • Expression Studio 2 or 3 (1 user) and Expression Web 2 or 3 (up to 2 users) (~$599 + $149 regular cost)
  • Windows Web Server 2008 or R2 (when available) (~$469 regular cost)
  • SQL Server 2008 Web Edition (~$50 regular cost)

and you will have free access to MSDN which is around $500 a year value.

I have taken these prices from Microsoft website, the editions they give may vary but still its around $2566 value software and then the only thing they want is you to start developing websites which would run on their platforms (want to know how much a standard SQL server cost? just $5999). However, the check is that this program is valid for 3 years and you will have to go and renew yourself each year and on exit from the program you will have to pay only a nominal fee of $100. The other check is that they really don’t want you to get hold of their expensive products and sit around rather they want you to start developing and you will have to register your first MS based website with-in six months of registration.

Software is not the only thing Microsoft is giving away in WebsiteSpark program, there is some value addition to it as well. When you would have developed your website project you will get production support from Microsoft Hosting Partner which will include:

  • Windows Web Server 2008 or R2 (when available) (~$469 regular cost)
  • SQL Server 2008 Web Edition (~$50 regular cost)

Deployments may be on 4 servers or VMs of 1processor each, on 2 servers or VMs of 2 processors each, or on 1 server or VM of 4-processors.

Then you will have access to the WebsiteSpark Marketplace, Partner Solution Profiler which is a Microsoft Partner Network and Web App Gallery, where you can showcase your project. You will have to choose a Network partner first while joining the program and only upon their approval, you will be able to join the program. The role of Network partner is to look after you, give support for finding new business opportunities, technical support and overall mentoring for your company.

To be eligible you should be a company with less than 10 employees and you should be a designer/developer working primarily in the field of Web. You can access more information and signup for WebsiteSpark program through this link.

Microsoft releases new OS project called Barrelfish for next generation

As all we know next generation systems are not single core as the case at the moment as well. Probably the system on which you are viewing this blog is already a multi-core system. The software we are running today are becoming more resource hungry as with the each passing day. Current operating systems are already capable of talking to each other on the level of boxes and they tend to share some resources as well, such as memory and processing power. But as the multi-core systems are around from more over than a couple of years now, there wasn’t an OS which talks at core level with the parallel system. Well, now we have!

Team at Microsoft, Cambridge has announced on 15th September, 2009 that they are working on project code-named Barrelfish in collaboration with ETH Zurich and this new OS is supposed to talk and share resources at core levels with the other systems. It is also a rumour that this new OS will be free as it uses several software libraries which are available under BSD license. However, we need to wait for the more details to come out and yes you can view a snap shot of this project in here.

Connection with Virgin Media ADSL National Service

Virgin media national ADSL service

Virgin media national ADSL service

After 7 weeks I got my ADSL from Virgin Media activated. It was a long pain since I moved my house and they told me that I am now in a national service area and can’t have a cable service. It was really great with them while I was on cable, never faced any problem but now from past 7 weeks (which was supposed to be a 2 weeks waiting time), it was a pain because all I could hear back from them was that they apologize for any inconvenience caused and because they are not charging me for the service, it was supposed to be their right to keep me pending from a service which is just like water and electricity for me.

Any way, today after coming back from the work I figured out that the ADSL LED on router was not blinking and Internet icon was also lit-up and then it took me more than 1 hour just to connect to the Internet. It wasn’t I am a novice or something, it was just because the customer service of Virgin National forgot to tell me my new account number or to mention the email address and password I need to use. Their lines were also closed as they close at 9p.m on weekdays. After much of Internet search I finally found the email address which ADSL service requires while connecting you. No, its not your virgin email address, its ADSL email address and its in this format your.name@adsl.virgin.net and then the password is your normal password which is of your account and which they ask every time you call them.

I just ran my speed test as well from speedtest.com and the download speed I am getting 1.98Mbps from Manchester while upload is 0.38Mbps. This is nearly 20% of Virgin average speeds but I am still happy at least I have got something.

Wondering why virgin took 5 extra weeks to activate the service? because they were out of capacity in the area (and a friend in Sheffield told me that they are always out of capacity) so, if you are going to order new connection, please ask them first if they have capacity in the new area, otherwise they will first get hold of your line then they will send you ADSL router, then they will give you activation dates twice and then when you will be really annoyed they will tell you that they are out of capacity. Be careful!

Virgin Media logo is official trademark of Virgin Media.

Noop: A new JVM language by Google

So, google struck again, this time with a language. It seems this giant is stopping nowhere. The language name is Noop and it runs on JVM (Java Virtual Machine). The developers at google said: “a new language that attempts to blend the best lessons of languages old and new, while syntactically encouraging industry best-practices and discouraging the worst offenses”. At the core of this agenda is the function of integration, at a language level, of dependency injection and testing, along with default immutability for objects. Noop also eliminates static code and variables, implementation inheritance and primitive objects to encourage better, functional, limited scope code. Putting language readability at first, its source code will look familiar to Java developers as it intends to use same language interpretation but by having its own rules.

The language Noop is licensed under the Apache Licence 2.0, and as it is in an early stage of development, requires Mercurial and Ruby to download and build. You can get more information about Noop through its Google code page.

How to get flash player on iPhone

As many of you know that getting flash player on iPhone is a tricky business because Apple hasn’t really bothered about shipping flash player with iPhone even in its latest version i.e. iPhone 3GS (if you try to open YouTube through Safari in your new iPhone 3GS, it will open YouTube videos in YouTube application provided by default by O2 in UK). However, there are third party tools available for this purpose. Flash is a really handy interface and is being used by several sites around the world and if you are browsing the Internet by using default Safari browser on your iPhone, you need to install flash player to see videos or other stuff which rely on flash technology to play itself.

However, if Apple can’t do it for you, independent application developers have done it, now there are plenty of iPhone plugins available which you install to get flash working on your iPhone. One of the such handy plugins is, the iMobileCinema plugin. Watch the video below to know how to install and use this plugin. Please remember there is no way to get flash player working in your safari if you want to remain in iPhone OS. iPhone OS is essentially based on FreeBSD Unix and all techniques which are present on the Internet are known as ‘jail breaking’ where you go out of the iPhone OS and force it to accept your alternative packages. Please do every step at your own risk.

In this video, you have been asked to download a package which is known as Cydia and is a jail breaking package. Once you mange to install it, you need to add iMobileCinema plugin to Cydia installation and that will enable flash player for your Safari browser. Please do these steps on your computer as they are not as straight forward as installing applications from Apple app store.

However, which ever plugin you use, it’s a bit mess to go around this problem, iPhone should have flash player installed in it by default and it should poll the adobe website to get the latest version downloaded by itself, whenever one is available. For the moment, stick with the plugin shown here until Apple do something about it.

How to avoid overheating problem of iPhone 3GS

Couple of days ago I wrote a blog post about the overheating problem of iPhone 3GS due to its batteries, until then I didn’t experienced it personally but thanks to the London weather in last couple of days (32 degree Celsius), I noticed it well. Then dugged through Apple’s website and this is what I got.

iPhone is supposed to work under these conditions:

  • In the temperatures between 32 Fahrenheit to 95 Fahrenheit
  • Should be stored in between -4 degrees Fahrenheit and 113 degrees Fahrenheit (temperature in your car when you leave your iPhone in the dashboard, can be exceedingly more than 113F)

Symptoms of overheating

  • Temperature warning screen could appear
  • iPhone can loose or weakens the carrier signal
  • Screen can go less bright
  • Your iPhone screen can freeze

How to avoid overheating

  • Don’t leave your phone in your car on a hot day
  • Don’t listen to songs, use GPS or other use battery intensive apps for extended periods of time on a hot day
  • Avoid using your iPhone in direct sun light

These are mostly a common problem with any electronic device. Remember when you are watching a movie or playing a game on your Laptop, it heats up and its fan run faster than usual and when you are using a MS Word, it just keep on running smoothly, same is the case with iPhone, the more you use it on a hot day, it processor will emit more heat and that will degrades the performance of your phone.

Get Adobe Flash player