iPhone helps US Muslims eat halal on-the-go

| 26/05/2009 | Reply

Halalpal makes searching for nearby halal foods all the easier

Halalpal makes searching for nearby halal foods all the easier

CAIRO (Marwa Awad)

Finding
a halal restaurant just became significantly easier for American
Muslims, thanks to a new smart phone application launched this month
that makes dietary religious observance a piece of cake.

Ask dietary-cautious Muslims in the west what their major challenge is
when it comes to eating religiously-permitted foods and they’ll say
finding a halal place on-the-go. But with Halalpal, an iPhone
application that locates halal restaurants and eateries throughout the
United States, sticking to a halal diet has become much easier.

The search engine application designed for Apple’s iPhone gives users a
list of nearby restaurants with maps, contact information, price
categories and recommendations.

The application scans the internet — mainly Google, Yahoo, Yelp and
the online guide to halal restaurants and products known as Zabihah.com
— to produce a list of halal eateries sorted by distance.

Halal
eating is a very niche thing and it is hard to get specific search
results off of Google and Yahoo because they do not target that
specific customer group
Rami Dodin, Halalpal founder

Rami
Dodin, Halalpal’s 26-year-old founder, said his application fills the
gap between technology and religion in daily life. After years of
working in the IT business, Dodin realized there was a void between the
services offered by the latest technologies and gadgets on the one hand
and the everyday local needs of Muslim Americans on the other.

“There is an ‘access gap’ between local halal businesses and their
goers that Halalpal fills,” Dodin, who is based in San Francisco, told
Al Arabiya. “Many Muslims have iPhones and blackberry interfaces that
are useful on the whole but do not have services that cater
specifically to their religious local needs.”

“Halal eating is a very niche thing and it is hard to get specific
search results off of Google and Yahoo because they do not target that
specific customer group,” he explained.

Halalpal lists halal stores and restaurants within distance using GPS

The
first portable service of its kind, Halalpal came about after several
years Dodin helped design and run NearBuy.it, a general purpose local
search engine. An analysis of search results showed an increasing
interest in halal eateries and products.

“We found people are reaching out for this service and this gave us the
inspiration to create a special application for halal users,” said
Dodin, adding that the aim of any business is to tune in and respond to
the needs of customers.

Dodin, who previously worked on Arabizing Google, the world’s top
search engine, headed a team of four that included a designer, iPhone
developer and web developer and himself.

The application description on iTunes says the mission of Halalpal is
“to encourage and fortify American’s emerging halal ecosystem by
connecting halal eaters with halal eateries.” It even allows users to
rate and comments on the restaurants.

A growing market

Anytime
you have a device or service that targets a specific niche and yields
satisfactory results, you can expect to be extremely successful
Michael Alvarez, iPhone developer

Michael
Alvarez, an iPhone developer and Vice President of Marketing based in
Utah sees a big future for Halalpal and similar applications.

“Anytime you have a device or service that targets a specific niche and
yields satisfactory results, you can expect to be extremely
successful,” Alvarez told Al Arabiya.

He said that while Google has done an excellent job reaching mobile
devices via SMS or text messages, such services are extremely costly.
The Halpal application, on the other hand, is free to download and is
bound to be a success because it is the “first in the game.”

In an age where the Yellow Pages and even computers are fast becoming
bulky devices of an older era, people are turning to light portable
devices for maximum service provision.

And with an estimated three million Muslims, and another five million
Jews whose kosher restrictions are similar to Muslim halal practices,
the potential customer base is significant, according to Alvarez.

Halalpal is a free download on iTunes but so far is only available on the iPhone and only in the United States.

Loving it

Through
advancement of technology, it becomes easier to be a Muslim. Halalpal
is a case in point: it makes it easier for Muslims to eat halal
wherever they are
Kaysar Ridha, Halalpal user

Halalpal has already found several fans among Muslim Americans, who say the application is useful and easy to use.

For Kaysar Ridha, a 28-year-old graphic designer from Orange County,
California who has observed Islam’s dietary laws since childhood,
Halalpal makes it easier to practice his beliefs.

“Through advancement of technology, it becomes easier to be a Muslim.
Halalpal is a case in point: it makes it easier for Muslims to eat
halal wherever they are,” Ridha told Al Arabiya.

He also lauded Halalpal’s ‘review’ option, which lets users read
restaurant reviews and rate them afterwards. “From a practical point of
view, I and many Muslims have been waiting for something like this,”
said Ridha.

Keeping
halal is hard because even if I go to places like McDonalds or Chilis
to order non-pork meals, I am still not eating halal
Aisha Mathews, Halalpal user

Nineteen-year-old
Heba from California, who has been an iPhone user for one year, said
Halalpal helped her maintain Islamic dietary laws of eating at places
where pork is not served.

“Keeping halal is hard because even if I go to places like McDonalds or
Chilis to order non-pork meals, I am still not eating halal,” Mathews
told Al Arabiya, since there is always a risk that pork contamination
from cooking oil or cooking utensils — like knives or containers used
to store pork and other meats — is always a risk.

Another user, 22-year-old Haidar Shaikley from Berkley told Al Arabiya he discovered halal food places he never knew of before.

“I have been using Halalpal for two weeks and I have already found two
halal places around the corner from where I live,” Shaikley said.

Good for business

A
service like this would definitely increase business here. There is a
mosque half a mile down the road and ever since we began serving halal
foods our customers have increased. We get a lot of families
Emma Brown, Top Deck Deli owner

Emma
Brown, owner of Top Deck Deli, a Santa Clara, California restaurant
that began serving halal foods three years ago to cater to the area’s
Muslim community, had not heard of Halalpal but said she liked the idea
and thought it could be good for her business.

“A service like this would definitely increase business here,” Brown,
who is not Muslim, told Al Arabiya. “There is a mosque half a mile down
the road and ever since we began serving halal foods our customers have
increased. We get a lot of families.”

Halalpal is just the latest application hoping to capture the Muslim
demographic. Sun Dial, another mobile phone application being tested in
Atlanta, tells users prayer times using Islamic friendly images of the
sun and mosque to alert Muslims to prayer.

Category: Restaurants, The Americas

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