Arabnet digital summit: Razor-sharp app that’s no gimmick

DUBAI // Visitors to the ArabNet digital summit yesterday could shave and style their beards by waving their hands at a screen – even if they had no facial hair.

A digital razor application, developed for Schick by the UAE marketing technology company pixelbug, enabled onlookers to grow a virtual beard, shave it and even dye it.

The company’s demonstration was one of the highlights on the opening day of a three-day summit at Dubai’s Atlantis, The Palm hotel.

Attending are more than 125 speakers, 70 sponsors, and 900 professionals from around the world.

Some of the biggest online names are taking part, such as Facebook, Microsoft and LinkedIn, yet it was the local company’s demonstration that proved the most eye-catching.

The shaving app is one of the company’s most recent efforts at producing augmented reality software. It lets smartphone a iPad users interact with digital objects projected on to the real world around them.

Pixelbug showed a more practical use of its software, in the form of an iPad app developed for pharmaceutical brand Boehringer Ingelheim.

The app displays an interactive virtual model of the brand’s Spriva Respimat inhaler used to treat lung diseases. Using it enables doctors to test, open and discover how the inhaler works without holding it.

Dany El Eid, founder and managing partner of pixelbug, said the company wanted to capture the imagination of medical professionals by relieving them of complicated texts full of complex medical terms.

The company has created software for a wide range of industries, and insists there is nothing “gimmicky” about its product.

“The technology alone is a novelty. You need to link it to solving real business problems and business objectives,” said Mr Eid’s managing partner and long-time friend Elie-Charles Youssef.

Local industry was also given a boost with the announcement that the summit would become an annual fixture in Dubai, having previously been held in Beirut.

“Dubai is definitely now the hub for digital businesses in the Arab region,” said Omar Christidis, founder and chief executive of ArabNet.

“We’ve seen PayPal, LinkedIn and Facebook all open regional offices in Dubai. This is now the new home of the summit an a place where we believe it can grow.”

The UAE was hailed as the ideal “shopfront” for selling online services in the Arab world, but experts said more needed to b done to create and build those services locally.

Charbel Fakhoury, vice president of sales, marketing and services at Microsoft’s regional office, said the country’s progress was encouraging.

“The UAE is doing the right thing in investing in education,” Mr Fakhoury said.

“It takes a while to build a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship, and that requires academic stakeholders, and the Government to provide the environment and support to create more funding so that people feel there is a value on investing your time in inventing something new, other than just being a consumer in technology.

“We at Microsoft work with students to continue to develop this ecosystem and culture, and I think we are seeing the makin of that in the UAE. Some feel in the UAE that they want to jump straight in, but Silicon Valley was not created in five to 10 years.”

Alexander McNabb, director of Spot On Public Relations who spoke at ArabNet, said online services in the region were growing rapidly, but there was still some catching up to do with other parts of the world.

“For most of us, the impact of this will be felt in terms of e-commerce, the ability to get the stuff you want, when you want it, the way you want it and if you don’t like it, send it back,” Mr McNabb said. “I want to be able to buy a packet of Walkers crisps from Spinneys at the click of a mouse, and the day that happens I think we’ve all succeeded.”