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UOWD students develop new iPhone application

Tuesday, 11 September, 2012

How would you like to have a box full of useful tips on anything and everything in just a click?

Well, get ready for a virtual reality version of the same on your iPhone. This one’s called ‘Tipbox’ — a new Apple iPhone application developed by Dubai boys Abdullah Khan (19) and Ali Razzouk (18), presently pursuing an undergrad course in Computer Science at the University of Wollongong Dubai (UOWD).

It’s a fun way of finding and sharing great tips while on the go, explains an excited Abdullah, immediately pulling out his iPhone to demonstrate the app. A light bulb (implying an idea) imprinted on a rich brown, wood-textured box, with a stylishly written ‘Tb’ (Tipbox) in bright white, illuminated his iPhone screen, moving and shaking as if craving for attention and urging you to open it. The graphics are mind-boggling as you slowly unravel all its features. “Ali has really worked hard on the graphics and the look of the app,” adds an excited Abdullah.

Ali from Syria, and Abdullah from Pakistan, became friends while studying together at the Al Mawakeb School, Dubai, in Grade X. From school days to their college life they’ve worked on a couple of self-invented projects until they finally put their abilities in top gear and got their self-created’ iPhone application, ‘Tipbox’, approval of the Apple Store, which held the worldwide launch of the app today. ‘Tb’ is iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch compatible. This app by the two youngsters offers unique tips in a manner that will win your heart and get you hooked to it!

Tipbox is tip sharing, reinvented for your iPhone. It’s an ever-growing collection of short, simple and personal tips, posted by people just like yourself from their everyday experiences on anything you can think of. ‘Tb’ makes it easier to discover and share tips that are actually useful.

Out-of-the-box TIPS

“Okay let me show you some not so commonly heard tips,” smiles a geeky Abdullah, For example, you type Dubai in the ‘Tb’ search and one of the tips that pops up is, “Try hailing a cab in Dubai after 4pm!”; A photography tip says: “Want to take better picture in the dark with your SLR? Consider getting a lens with a lower aperture such as F1.8 or lower. This will help get sharper pictures with a faster shutter speed.” A funny tip on etiquettes goes: “when you yawn try to let the air back out through your nose instead of your mouth. That way people won’t smell your breath.” And the list goes on..

Users can create a tip on virtually anything they want to share from their own experience and make life easier and enjoyable for all.

‘Tb’ also comes with a ‘feel-good’ factor about it. Elaborating on the feature, Abdullah who describes himself as a thinker and a curious and adept programmer, asks: “Do you remember how many people you’ve helped in your life?” With ‘Tb’ you can keep a track of that as well! If the tips you have added are liked and found useful by users, they can tap on the ‘light bulb icon’ placed next to it and your status will be updated saying, “These many people helped!”

“That is not all,” adds Ali, “If a lot of people find your tips useful you are likely to win the Genius title! Feels good, doesn’t it? But there’s competition for the title that can be won by getting more people to ‘like’ your tips, indicating that they have found your tips useful. The surge in the number of people finding your tips useful will bring you closer you the ‘Genius’ title and there can be only one ‘Genius’ per topic! So to keep up with the competition you must keep up with your tips.”

Seeking to create an app that was not only interesting but also useful, the duo noticed a certain pattern in Facebook(FB) as well as Twitter users.

“We saw a surge in FB users who ‘liked’ certain pages, and in Twitter we saw users liked to follow the profile of whosoever they liked or shared common interests or ideas with. So we thought how about having an application that would not only help us like or follow but also be useful at the same time,” says Ali, who loves to ski at the Ski Dubai in the Mall of the Emirates.

The ‘usefulness’ aspect “lit a bulb in our heads,” Abdullah added with a laugh. “We thought why not create an application that would improvise on some features of both these popular social network sites and be ‘useful’ at the same time. We took about five months to sketch and plan it all out, devoting about 12 hours a day to it; we would sit at cafes’ where we could get free wireless, especially at Borders at the Mall of the Emirates, college cafeteria, wherever and whenever we got time, night and day,” the tech-enthusiast said.

‘Tb’ is like a community, it’s all about useful and quality content,” adds Ali. Therefore, to verify the background of the user, they have linked ‘Tb’ to the FB account of the user. So here’s the good news for those who hate filling up details, uploading a picture et al for a new account.

To sign up for ‘Tb’ you just need to be an FB user and it will link your FB account to ‘Tb’ with just a different password, and your Tb account is ready, backed up with your profile from your FB. “We did this so that our users can check the background of who actually posted that tip or the authenticity of the user,” Ali added.

How do the two manage the application? “I take care of the front-end operations and Abdullah looks after the back-end issues. Both of us know three computer languages each and we use them in our self-assigned fields respectively,” says Ali. Neither of them took a course to develop the app. “It’s just self-taught. We’ve always loved computers,” says a proud Abdullah.

And would they trade the app for good money? The two exchanged smiles and Abdullah answered: “Well although money is just a by-product of any invention, it’s definitely important and since we’ve already had two previous setbacks, I think if we get a really good offer, we might just go for it,” trying hard to contain his excitement.

The two have also signed a mutual contract to share the proceeds of the sale of the application that will be transferred to them online by the Apple Store. It was not difficult to gauge their enthusiasm when the big question about “how many users they expected for Tb” was posed. Unable to suppress a snicker, Ali looked at Abdullah and said, “not less than a million!” And with proper exposure, it could lead to a chain reaction and the results could be exponential, Abdullah adds with a twinkle in his eyes.”

“But it’s too early to say anything for now, so we’re just keeping our fingers crossed, the two echoed.”

saman@khaleejtimes.com

A proud father

An ecstatic Akhtar Muhammad Khan (Abdullah’s father) said: “We’ve seen him work diligently for the past 3 years when he started his first project (Scapehouse) with Ali. We gave him his space so that he was able to give time to his project and he didn’t disappoint us.

“Ali and Abdullah were awarded first Prize by the Faculty of Information Technology of UAE University in Al Ain last year in May for Scapehouse.

“We are quite hopeful about his latest project. At the age of about three, we noticed, that Abdullah had some sort of attachment with computers. In the beginning he used to play games on it like any other child but by the time he turned 12, he started taking interest in computer hardware and software. By the age of 13 – 14 he had a good command over not one but several 3D graphics software.

“We’re unaware how he managed to learn those on his own, but we found out about this when we saw many of his works for sale online. Regarding school grades, although we urged him to get A’s all the time but we soon realised that God has gifted him with some other abilities. ”

‘Do something useful in your spare time’

“WE’VE ALWAYS encouraged Ali to do something useful in his spare time instead of just sitting around,” says Ali’s mother Suzanne Hourieh.

“He’s not the type of person who can just sit idly. He always finds something to occupy his time, and we’re happy that he’s doing such things in his free time instead of wasting it on something bad or useless.

“Ali loves reading. He has a huge collection of books in his room and strives to achieve top grades in his studies, but he was never the type of kid who’d spend more than an hour or two on studies on any given day (even for finals)! We give him the freedom, but to a certain extent, and we trust him to make the right choices and take the right decisions.”

saman@khaleejtimes.com

Never say never again!

Abdullah and Ali had two other ventures. Both failed and both the boys almost gave up.

“We had initially developed a website which was a social discussion platform under the name “Scapehouse” but the website didn’t do well. The response was tepid — only 160 users,” says Abdullah.

“We tried again and revived it re-naming it ‘Scapehouse 2’, with improved graphics and managed to get about 1,800 users this time. It was featured in the Read magazine as well, but that also slowed down, after which I gave up. I had lost all hope and although my mind was brimming with new ideas about our third venture, ‘Tb’, I was too discouraged by our previous failures. This is when Ali pulled me up and persuaded me to give it one more shot.”

“Ali worked on the ideas I shared with him and came up with a working plan for ‘Tb’.”

“Although my parents don’t like me staying up late, I secretly worked on this project (day and night) until we got it working,” a resilient Ali added. After completing the application, their family and friends volunteered to test it as users.

“Infact my friend at college, Diana, constantly pushed me to modify and improve our graphics and design of ‘Tb’ and it’s because of her encouragement and the constant feedback we got from family and friends that we managed some great graphics for the app. We repeatedly improved the software based on the feedback and all of them are now pleased with the final product. You can check out a demo of this application on our website www.scapehouse.com”, added an exhilarated Ali.

saman@khaleejtimes.com

Text by Saman Haziq at Khaleej Times. Photo courtesy: Khaleej Times.