DHAHRAN: The COVID-19 pandemic has helped Saudi Arabia become one of the most tech-savvy countries. For two years, you could no longer leave your home without two essentials: your mask and your smartphone. Forget your bulky wallet or possibly forget to bring one of your IDs; everything you need now could easily fit in your pocket.

QUICKFACTS

• Absher, perhaps the mother of all apps, was established in 2015 as an umbrella to connect individuals and businesses to government services provided in the Kingdom.

• Launched in 2020, the Tawakkalna app aims to help track curfews and book time slots for individuals to exercise or shop.

• During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, citizens and residents were constantly updating their Sehhaty app to book their vaccination appointment, and later, the reminder.

• Being the land of the Two Holy Mosques, the authorities launched a mobile application, aptly named Eatmarna, in early 2021 to support the transition allowing worshipers to gather.

I recently returned from New York, arguably one of the places where time is money in the United States. Walking the streets of Manhattan, what struck me was everyone pulling out flimsy pieces of paper to show proof of vaccinations, a rule imposed for indoor dining in restaurants. As everyone rushed to rummage through their bags to pull out this piece of paper, I quickly pulled out my phone and showed them my Tawakkalna app, where the dates of my vaccinations were prominently displayed on the screen. Every barista I spoke to told me how impressed they were with the “Saudi app”, which they said was one of the best they had seen.

(Twitter: @TawakkalnaApp)

Saudi Arabia has found a way to be green by being paperless and efficient by having all the necessary documents in one place. The United States, home of Google, Facebook or Meta, and Hollywood, has yet to find a way to uniformly regulate what many call a health passport, let alone any of the other functions. In this area, Saudi Arabia seemed more advanced than the countries of the first world.
When Saudi Arabia introduced the Tawakkalna app in 2020, it was intended to help track curfews and book time slots for individuals to exercise or shop.
In Arabic, the word “tawakkal” describes the Islamic concept of “trusting in God’s plan”. Since the launch of the beta version of the app, it has expanded and combined various government services in one place as the Kingdom pushes to digitize its public sector. Users can access services for health, education, Hajj and Umrah, for everything related to driving, insurance, passports, in addition to other things, directly in the application. Now your most important tool is your finger. It has become a way of life.

HIGHLIGHT

Saudi Arabia has found a way to be green by being paperless and efficient by having all the necessary documents in one place. The United States, home of Google, Facebook or Meta, and Hollywood, has yet to find a way to uniformly regulate what many call a health passport, let alone any of the other functions. In this area, Saudi Arabia seemed more advanced than the countries of the first world.

“More than 20 million people, out of a population of around 35 million, have downloaded the app,” according to the latest statistics from the Saudi Press Agency. This number will likely continue to grow.
Abdulaziz Al-Salman, a Riyadh-based talent management professional, thinks apps like Tawakkalna are a natural evolution of how the Kingdom adapts to modern life.
“Being wired is part of life right now. If I’m here in Saudi Arabia and need to go anywhere, I’m stuck – I have to make sure I have my phone on me. We are so dependent on them. It would be a nightmare if you went out and found you forgot your phone or it had low battery,” Al-Salman told Arab News.
Sarah Sebai, a doctor in Jeddah, grew up in a time when everything was disconnected, but gradually became more and more connected.
“As a millennial, I feel like I’ve been through all the phases; to not have this amount to technology and just log in to a one-stop application. It’s all there – from the countries you’ve traveled to, to the children you have. I don’t know how I lived my whole life without it,” Sebai told Arab News.
As a doctor, she believes the Tawakkalna app has opened up unexpected doors and vital conversations.
“Now you can donate organs on the app – it’s really beneficial to have that. The idea of ​​donating organs, especially when someone is on a ventilator or life support, the idea of ​​doing it in a culture like Saudi Arabia is not easy,” Sebai said.
Even as a mother, Sebai doesn’t care about privacy or constant tracking while using the app because it’s encrypted. She thinks smartphones are now almost too important – that every resident can’t afford not to have one.
“The average price of smartphones remains a burden for some workers, as each member of the family must have one. My housekeeper didn’t have one and we had to buy one for her. One of the things that happens is that if the app for some reason is not working, no one can help you. You are stuck. If you’re at the airport and you need to show them something and the phone is down and you can’t get the verification code, that’s it – game over. Everyone should have a smartphone at this point. It’s no longer a luxury, it’s a necessity,” she said.
There are a few other notable apps that have contributed to how Saudis have adapted to life during the pandemic — and beyond.
Absher, perhaps the mother of all apps, was created in 2015 as an umbrella to connect individuals and businesses to government services provided in the Kingdom.
When the Saudi Ministry of Interior launched it, it instantly became the leading e-services platform, which included three divisions: Absher for individuals, Absher for businesses, and Absher for government.
The ministry recently announced that in 2021, the platform served 23 million users who performed more than 85 million operations. Last year, Absher helped improve the quality of life for citizens, residents and visitors by facilitating access to more than 330 services and connecting them to more than 80 government and private entities.
During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, citizens and residents constantly updated their Sehhaty app to book their vaccination appointment, and later, the reminder. It has also become a useful place to check all health-related data, such as scheduling medical appointments, tracking prescribed medications, and checking their COVID-19 test status.
Being the land of the two holy mosques, the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah launched a separate mobile app, aptly named Eatmarna, in early 2021 to support the transition allowing worshipers to gather together.
Pilgrims can now make appointments to visit holy sites and request their time slots to pray in the Grand Mosque and Noble Rawdah.
All the apps mentioned have one thing in common: they are related to Tawakkalna, which has become the most useful app to download in the Kingdom. You can open a bank account, pay fines, and update your ID all in one place.
In March 2021, Tawakkalna upgraded its services to accommodate expats without legal status by allowing residents to download the app without first creating an Absher account. For a country that began reluctantly to access dial-up internet, mostly on shared home computers, Saudi Arabia has progressed so quickly that now almost every person has to have a smartphone to live here.