Twofour54 ibtikar, the business incubation arm of Abu Dhabi's media zone, will launch a seed fund today aimed at increasing the number of mobile applications (apps) designed for the Arab world. The fund, called "AppsArabia", will initially focus on creating apps for Apple mobile devices such as the iPhone and iPad and will later build similar software programmes for BlackBerry, Nokia and Android devices.
"AppsArabia is there to stimulate the creation of content in Arabic, in this case apps, to be made in the Middle East, for the Middle East and if they're good enough, the whole world," said Tony Orsten, the chief executive of twofour54. "The joy of doing something like this, particularly for individuals, is that they can make money quickly. If you've got a good idea, you can get it made and make money in just a few weeks."
Although mobile applications have been around for the past decade, the industry's value has rocketed since they were linked with internet-ready smartphone devices such as Apple's iPhone in 2008. The global market for apps development is now valued at US$6.2 billion (Dh22.77bn) this year and is expected to grow to $22.1bn in 2013, figures from the technology research company Gartner show. As of April, there were at least 185,000 applications officially available on the iTunes App Store, with more than 4 billion downloaded. It is unknown how many apps are in Arabic but David Ashford, the general manager of AppsArabia, said the majority of them were made outside the region.
Mr Ashford said that along with funding, twofour54 would provide marketing and mentorship of the applications under the AppsArabia brand as well as facilitate a website where prospective entrepreneurs could work on projects together. "We ultimately want people to apply [for] investment from us so we can begin to invest in their projects and get their ideas to become great apps," he said. Twofour54 tadreeb, the media zone's training academy, has been appointed by Apple to offer certification and training courses to build apps using the company's software products such as Final Cut and Aperture.
Other players in the region have also attempted to improve the quality of the Arabic apps market. Last year, Nokia launched Bil3arabi, a $100,000 developer competition, which was won by a team based in Egypt for their application that lets family members know where a mobile user is in case of emergency. Mr Orsten declined to specify the size of the media zone's seed fund but said the amount of money required to start a venture was "relatively small, it's in the tens of thousands" and was manageable enough for twofour54 to easily recoup it costs.
"If you create an entity that makes money, what tends to happen is that employment occurs, the business becomes sustainable, other things spring out of it and you end up with an industry," Mr Orsten said. "It will be an industry that, a lot of it, we hope will be based in Abu Dhabi. And it will be a place where people will think, 'we go to London because it's creative, we go to Paris because it's creative and we go to Abu Dhabi because that's the place that has this creative industry that gets things started, gets things made and there's this audience of 340 million Arabs in the region who are ready and waiting'."
Baher al Hakim, the chief executive of CloudAppers, a mobile application company based in Dubai, said the AppsArabia idea was a good concept because it gave developers another outlet to receive seed funding to build their applications. "Developers are generally poor guys they don't have the money to experiment with their ideas," Mr al Hakim said. "But I have questions about their criteria: what sort of ideas will they accept; and will they allow people outside of the UAE to apply for funding? For developers outside of the Gulf, you could be unemployed and play with your ideas. But if you have no job, you won't exist here, you'll be somewhere else."