RIP Headphone Jack!

After nearly 140 years , headphone jack has finally been put to rest. Apple today launched the iPhone7 series of smartphones and with it came the announcement that it will no longer have a head phone jack. Instead the headphones can now be directly plugged into the lightning connector – a risky stance esp. for those Bose headphone loving music fanatics who would rather have a universal headphone that works with desktops and phones. And that exactly is the problem with changing a universally accepted connector. Just for a geeky analogy, this would be like Cisco changing the RJ45 connector for Ethernet on their new line of switches. Apple in its defense does plan to offer an adapter for “traditional” headphones. But having used the Mophie juice pack that offers a headphone adapter to “seamlessly” use the case along with a headphone, I must admit, it is yet another rather rigid cable to carry along. It needs to be seen how users will accept the idea. Early twitter reactions show that the feelings are mixed.

Having said that I am very excited about AirPods . Entangled cables were never my favorite things to carry. Nor was I terribly excited about the bluetooth wireless headsets available today. Again the reactions to the AirPod launch has been mixed. The fact that there is no wire connecting the two plugs together is seen as a major concern, esp. with the threat of losing one of them. Apple has tried to address it with a rather sleek looking casing that also acts as a charger. I must say of all the products and features announced today, AirPods are the ones that got me really excited.

So while the verdict on how well the “new” headphone jack and the AirPod will be accepted is still pending, this year’s keynote did bring more excitement than the last couple of years to consumers. And I personally think I would at least buy one product out of all those that were launched. No prize for guessing which one!

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Not only SQL but also ….

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Keeping with the theme of Big Data, as we spoke a couple of days back , the concept of N=all suddenly started to give rise to a whole slew of new challenges – that which is an obvious consequence of dealing with such large chunks of data. Storage and retrieval! The ability to quickly retrieve, analyze and correlate data to derive information becomes essential when it comes to dealing with big data. And for such massive amounts of data, relational databases do not seem to jive all that well. One of the major reasons for this is the fact that relational (although I may now safely call it, the traditional) databases require a structure to the data that it can store. Now when you are trying to correlate between the users’ location data Vs the local deals (as an example) and add on the users’ personal credit card usage, the data does not always fall into a structured pattern for it to be stored in a relational database. Along came NoSQL . The name was borrowed from the 1998 open source RDMS developed by Carlo Strozzi, and was later popularized by Eric Evans of Rackspace.

Unlike SQL or any of the other traditional databases, noSQL can be viewed more as a collective term for a variety of new data storage backends, with the concept of transactions taken out of it. With its eternally loose definitions, a noSQL can possibly aggregate data from rows that span across multiple tables in a traditional relational database. Now this obviously results in enormous chunks of data posing storage challenges. However with the costs associated with storage decreasing rapidly, this can be ignored when compared to the potential that you now have. Couchbase , one of those companies that have caught on quickly to this new revolution in data storage and retrieval with its document-oriented database technology, outlines an interesting article on why noSQL .

They are not the only ones that have grown into this new idea. Hadoop , is yet another one of those, that has quickly become a new household name. Developed and sustained by a group of unpaid volunteers, Hadoop is a framework to process large data sets, perhaps know as big data. Rumored to have been spun off as a free implementation of Google MapReduce , several big names have built services and solutions around this framework, some of the notable ones being Amazon Web Services (AWS), VMWare Hadoop Virtual Extensions (HVE), IBM BigInsights.

Yet another database that has been gaining popularity off late is MongoDB – a project spun off by 10Gen . Like Couchbase, this is also a document-oriented database and has started to pick up several implementations including SAP, MTV and Sourceforge.

With an “unstructured” database comes the challenges of querying it. Mongo uses a skewed version of JSON (known as BSON or Binary JSON) for representing queries whereas Couchbase has adopted a SQL-like query language that is slowly becoming a standard world wide, known as unQL (Unstructured Query Language).

While all these are still in the nascent stages of development, as the big data wave is rapidly approaching it peak, let me leave you with a slide deck from the QCon London 2013 presented by Matt Asay, VP of Corporate Strategy at 10gen on the “Past, Present and Future of noSQL.

The era of digital identity

MacRumors announced yesterday that Apple won the patent for Near Field Communications based iTransport , an app that could transform the way the world identifies you! Although this was long pending, there was an air of unusual caution thrown by Apple in regards to the concept of mobile payment. So when Passbook digital wallet app was announced as part of the iOS6 last month, I bet there was a sigh of relief among the Apple fans, who were on the verge of losing hope. According to MacRumors, there was also an unexpected level of details put forth by Apply as part of the patent for an application that still remains a concept, perhaps due to the sensitivity of the materials that it may potentially contain in the future – credit cards, passport data, driver’s license, what all and what not.

The concept of digital wallet is not new. It’s potential was identified back in 2004 when Nokia, Philips and Sony established the NFC Forum . And in 2010, Google along with Samsung announced the first NFC enabled phone – a Samsung Nexus S running on Gingerbread version of Android . Near Field Communication, or NFC as it is lovingly called, is a protocol used in smartphones, or any mobile device for that matter, to establish a two-way communication between each other, when touched or brought within a close proximity. Unlike the pairing in bluetooth and the configurations in a Wifi communication, NFC’s ease to setup is perhaps its best selling point. In 2005, Mastercard started rolling out EMV (Europay Mastercard Visa) compatible wireless payment feature through its MasterCard Paypass and it spread like wildfire with banks latching on to the paypass feature on their credit cards. But it was not until 2011 when google announced its Google Wallet , that the concept of using mobile phones to make a payment “without a swipe” started to take shape.

Soon it burgeoned, through key fabs, mobile tags, and of course the smartphone apps. And with iTransport, this “magical” concept might just be elevated to whole new level, if digital documents become a reality. Now, before you go dreaming any further, there are quite a few obvious challenges, one of them and perhaps the biggest of them all being the security threats that it can impose. Being able to wirelessly transfer a passport, a driver’s license or a social security information can present a happy hunting ground for identity thieves . And that in itself can make its acceptance among common man (consumers as they call it) a herculean task. So going back to what I said earlier, Apple coming forward with a rather unusually detailed patent on its iTransport application could just be a way to build that confidence amongst the consumers. Or would it just open up a whole new can of identity theft crisis? I guess only Time can tell what is in store…