App Mahal - A Smarter Recommender of Apps

Wael Nabbout
أغسطس 01 2014
App Mahal - A Smarter Recommender of Apps
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App Mahal is an innovative app recommendation service thought up by Palestinian entrepreneur Khaled Swilat. The app serves to uncover mobile apps and games for its user without resorting to search. Instead, it harnesses social connections and context and feeds it into a smart algorithm that figures out which apps might be interesting to you. It scans for applications on your phone to decide which categories are relevant to you and incorporates your friends’ tastes as well using your social graph.

The idea for App Mahal dawned upon Khaled about a year ago while he was attempting to download the Al Jazeera news app. He entered the word ‘akhbar’ into the search box but, to his surprise, his request was nowhere to be found in over ten pages of results. It turns out that if the query is not exactly matched in the app’s description, it won’t show. His impression was the app should have been the first hit. “Something is not right,” he thought, the region’s most popular news network should be there when you’re looking for ‘news’. “That’s a problem that should be solved.”

The issues he identified with app stores were the following: Much like web services and software, search engines have a hard time dealing with Arabic. Transliteration doesn’t make things either but potentially adds to the confusion. It can’t differentiate ق from ك for instance. This invariably leads to irrelevant results when searching. To top it all off, there are way too many apps out there, which renders the whole process all the more tedious.

The human engine

App Mahal is to apps what Facebook is to people: a social network for mobile applications. The idea was to foster a community where people could share and recommend apps to friends and family. Humans are its engine. Apps are crowdsourced through social media. This not only ensures that the best apps stand out but it also means that the suggested apps will be relevant to the user. If 50 of your friends have downloaded a particular app, odds are you should too.

All you need to do is login with Facebook. You could skip this step but it would mean that you won’t be able to see apps installed by your friends. It takes a few seconds to create your profile and recommend apps and that’s all there is to it. Its design follows a beautiful simplified arabesque theme. At the very top you get search and settings accessible on either side. Right under it is the main attraction, a card like presentation of the “best apps for you.”

Further down you’ll notice that the app has identified a number of your apps which no one in the community has discovered yet and entices you to share them and make your mark on the community. That is followed by ‘leaders’ in the community, users that share, discover and like the most, and finally by the most popular apps.

At the bottom of the screen, when you scroll up all the way to the top, a pop up will show you your friends’ activity. Clicking on app will reveal the app description, the social dimension, screenshots, and reviews. 

The app is maintained by a 12 man team based in Jordan. It has been available for download since the beginning of June and has 70 thousand download in the short span of its existence. Even more impressive is the fact that these downloads have spread over 81 countries. Khaled attributes this fast growth to the inherent virality of the app.

As things stand, it’s not possible to port the system onto iOS. But should the Cupertino based giant loosen its grip further, the team will be quick to deliver the service to iPhones and iPads. “We want to serve everyone,” explains Khaled.

The app is available in both Arabic and English. The team is giving serious thought to translating it into more languages as well. The app is free for download and excludes any paid add ons, you can get it here. It generates revenue through ads. Khaled is very keen about this model. “We’re not asking for money from users,” he stressed. He reminded me that while individuals such as Al Khawarizmi helped develop countless mathematical models, including the algorithm, our region has grown into a consumer market that “doesn’t produce much.” His dream, and the real motive driving App Mahal, is for us “to be proud again and hold our heads high.”