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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Is Apple playing catch up in the post Steve Jobs Era?

channel_3_section_110_panel1_0_fullsize-1349183829 There was a time when Google and Sony based their innovations and developments on every new product that Apple launched. Be it the first iPhone back in 2007 or the iPod back in 2001 or even the revolution in the digital music through the iTunes. It is true that the aura of Steve Jobs enthralled the crowd at every launch. But it is also important to note that these launches were followed with equal enthusiasm by their technology rivals. And it was not the aura of Steve Jobs that kept them on their toes, but instead it was his vision! The rest of the world just played a second fiddle to Apple – from the Androids to the rebranded Walkmans. Just like online search is now known as google search, digital music came to be knownn as iTunes and portable music players came to be known as iPods. In fact for a period of time smartphones were called the iPhones. As harsh realities of life started to take their toll on Jobs, things started to change… Over the past 3 years, the rest of the world has caught up with them. In fact some have even started to move ahead of Apple. Here are a few instances of those.

Case 1: Apple iWatch
Although it was being touted around for several years, the idea of smartwatches really started to gain momentum in early 2013. Rumors were several. Apple didn’t do enough to quell those rumors as well, with the 6th Generation iPod Nano with a strap around it showing promising signs. But in my view, what really made Apple take a step backwards, is the way they discontinued the “watchlike” nano and reverted back to the traditional “classic-style”. Not only did it send a rather indirect message for a smartwatch in the works, but it also set the think-tanks of the Samsungs and Googles to start working on one. And whats more, it took almost 3 years for them to announce the iWatch and another 6 months before it will finally be launched. By then, the Pebbles, the Motorolas and the Samsungs would have already reached their second and third revisions of smartwatches.

Case 2: iPhones with bigger screens
For long Apple avoided this question by stating small screens are what the consumers want. Well, they got the answer when the 5″+ displays by Samsung, LG and Nexus started to gain market share over the iPhone 5s. Even an Apple fanatic like me, started thinking about switching over to the “dark” side due to this. As tablets and phones started to converge into the “phablets”, they finally caved in and came out with the bigger screens. Yet another case of Apple trying to catching up.

Case 3: iTunes radio
Although the revolution in digital music was started by Apple, enough for it to dominate the streaming music space, they fell behind once again, mainly due to misinterpreting the consumers needs and wants. The result – an iTunes radio, way after Pandora, Google and Spotify took away all the market share.

Case 4: iWorks on iCloud
Yet another example were the emergence of cloud and its popularity was embraced rather late, that even Microsoft were way ahead when Apple finally did take off.

Not all of these can be blamed on the post Steve Jobs era. Some of those, esp. the bigger screen iphones can be atrributed to Jobs’ reluctance to accept the popularity of Samsung smartphones. But what Apple lacks now is a true visionary, who continously strives to turn every new product into something “magical”; that aura which enralls the audience to believe that everything that Apple brings out is revolutionary; a person who commanded respect and strove for perfection. I must admit the last few WWDC and product launch sessions were rather bleak in terms of the products and features. It almost felt as though they were still hanging on to those golden ages between 1997 and 2011. And it is rather painful for a diehard fan such as me to fathom!

Smartwatches pile in at CES 2014

dnews-files-2013-02-smart-watch-overlay-jpg

I don’t always sound negative when it comes to gadgets and technology, esp. when the potential is huge! For that same reason, when I look at the list of wearable technologies at CES 2014 , I’m excited, but disappointed at the same time. Wearable technologies seem to be the fashion of the era. Google Glass and the hype about smart watches started early in 2013 with Pebble and Sony leading the way. However even after a year has passed, things haven’t grown enough for me to justify moving from my ipod nano-watch strap combo to one of those myriad of new ones in the market. For one, I wear a few things around my two wrists – a watch (typically a traditional one and sometimes an ipod nano on a strap.) and a fitbit, which tracks my activity and sleep. What I would also like to have on it is a heart rate monitor and a GPS and a bluetooth connection to my phone to let me know who is calling.

Here is a quick list of some of the more prominent ones that will be on display at CES 2014 . Let me throw in a disclaimer before I begin. The assessment is purely based on the specifications mentioned in the websites and can change drastically once they are out in exhibit halls tomorrow.

Cookoo

Pros:
Apart from the basic feature of time keeping and synching up with the iphone or android devices, what makes it unique is the fact that it also lets you know when your phone is out of range. Very useful when you are a person who keeps forgetting where you left your phone.
I also liked the remote photo taking capability, something that is missing in an iphone today.

Cons:
It comes with a CR2032 battery, similar to the ones in a traditional watch. Although it says the battery life is long, I’m not sure if traditional batteries can actually handle the multitude of additional connectivity requirements. I would still prefer a battery that can be charged every week.
The design looks more childish, although the case diameter looks big enough.

This seems more like a traditional watch with the chronograph replaced with the modern email,phone,sms trio.

Neptune Pine

Pros:
Standalone. From the looks of it, this watch runs the Android Jelly bean OS, and has a built in antenna supporting upto GSM/GPRS/EDGE 850, 900, 1800, 1900 .
Fitness app that tracks your activity
Heart rate monitor that straps on to your finger tips.
Google now

Cons:
Querty keyboard on a small display. How much of an overkill is that?
Do I really need something standalone. Would I much rather have a watch that supplements my smartphone? It cannot replace a smartphone for sure. So do I really need something this feature rich, esp. at $335?

Sonostar

Pros:
Curved display and touch screen. Perhaps the first of its kind.
Kindle-like display for sunlight readability
Fitness tracker that syncs with Sono Sports app

Cons:
Monochrome
No heart rate monitor

Burg Smart Watch

Pros:
Variety. It comes in multiple styles from Burg 12 through Burg 18 , with varying feature sets catering to different user groups.
Micros SD capability upto 32GB

Cons:
The website seems to have limited information to really assess this watch.

My Kronoz

Pros:
Slick design, esp the ZeBracelet
Device out of range alert for phones that are synced to this.

Cons:
Monochrome display
Light on features, with no fitness tracking and heart rate monitor.
Not very friendly with Android (not that I want this badly 🙂 )

Many more seasoned vendors have decided to venture into this market as well, notable ones such as Qualcom Toq and Sony. Then there is Pebble and the giant Samsung Galaxy Gear. And one might just start to wonder, why is it taking Apple and Google this long ….

Genres in streaming music industry

Cloud-Music

Just this other day, Google announced its Google Play Music at their Google I/O . And the rumors of Apple iRadio and the challenges involved have been in the news for quite sometime now. Some say google beat Apple in the world of Internet music. But if you look closely, there is a fundamental difference in the approaches that Google and Apple have taken in the field of digital streaming music. To understand this, lets look at two of the main runners in this field today – Pandora and Spotify.

Although both Pandora and Spotify are common in their goals to deliver music to consumers, without actually a need to purchase the albums, their ways of doing it are different. While Spotify follows more of an on-demand, subscription based model, Pandora has resorted to a webcasting service. This difference is not as apparent on the desktops and laptops, where both parties offer free access to users with ads injected rather frequently. But its not at that shocking a revelation to note that the number of users using their desktops for music have diminished dramatically in the last decade or so. In the handhelds segment, Spotify offers a 30-day free trial, followed by a $9.99 per month subscription and Pandora has extended the same model as they have with desktop. The result is the emergence of two schools of thought – The Pandora Model and the Spotify Model.

Google has decided to follow the spotify model , with a $7.99/month fee for those who subscribe before June 30th and $9.99/month for those after. Of course the 30 day free trial is always a requirement. Rumor has it that Apple will follow the Pandora model , going by its challenges to obtain copyrights, just as Pandora has been criticized for their small collection again owing to the copyright issues.

So now we have two genres in the Internet music industry. Pandora and Spotify have been equally successful in their own respects and when two big players such as Google and Apple decide to take separate stance on their approach to digital music, we now have the battle of the strategies. Only time will tell which of those will go ahead. Until then, lets enjoy the competition!

Project Mighty and Napoleon – Adobe version of stylus and ruler

Does anyone remember the ancient geometry box – the one that was a common sight in middle and high schools, back in the 80s and 90s? If not, here is something that could spark those memory cells.

tin-geometry

Now, fast forward to 2013 and to Adobe’s MAX Conference 2013 held this week at Los Angeles. Although the focus was mainly on the cloud offering of their wonderfully successful creative suite, something interesting sneaked in at the tad end – a project they called Projects Mighty and Napoleon . The names don’t reveal much, just as the website does not. But the concept talked about a stylus and a ruler (!!!). The idea is to let those creative elite to now use their iPads effectively; to connect directly to the cloud and to apps such as TypeKit and Kuler . Again, not much revealed, but these images do show some potential.

Project Mighty

Exactly how much the stylus would be useful outside the Adobe suite of apps is yet unknown. Having been a long time proponent of a “stylus-like tool for iPad, esp. while taking notes during meetings, this does come as a welcome delight. And of course, this could possibly change the way geometry is taught in schools!

The quest for an ultimate “smartwatch”

iwatch-concept-slap-bracelet

There was a time when the watch industry was ruled by the Casios and the Seikos, with occasional luxury watches such as Rolex and Omega emerging as a distant dream. With the emergence of cell phones, their charm started to fade away. Time being more accurate on a cell phone, the menace of changing time manually when traversing across different latitudes started to be seen as tedious. And the smartphone market killed it all. Watches started to fade away from the phase of the earth, occasionally revealing itself on the wrists of the richer elite.

Along came iPod Nano, the VI in 2010. Although it failed to impress as a music player, simply due to it’s surprisingly small touch screen and its slightly bulky form factor. But the square shape and the watch dials that it offered quickly sparked the creative minds of the geek world. And they soon built a watch strap around it. And I, for my own biased reasons, quickly jumped on the concept and bought myself one. I must say I have not been terribly disappointed so far.

Although the iWatch aka ipod nano did not kick off as much, the concept of a “smart” watch slowly started to emerge. Need I say, the gadget elite such as Apple, Google, And Samsung quickly jumped into the race for the ultimate smartwatch. And soon enough, prototypes and concept mockups started to mushroom at different parts of the web world.

Hype has been unimaginably high. Yet, so far there has been just one decent contender and surprisingly it is not one of those gadget giants. Instead it was a startup known as Pebble Technology that has taken the giant leap.

pebble-watch-5-colors-w

Built with an impressive SDK for the developers and a seamless integration with Android and iOS, Pebble comes at a unbeatable $150 price tag along with the alert features from a smartphone. Now, anything that Apple hints at is no longer a secret. And along came the rumors of a secret apple team working on an iWatch . Soon enough, Samsung announced that they are making a smart watch too!! Google did not want to be left behind as well, and they announced the Google Time .

At this point, I must make a mention about Microsoft SPOT Watch , announced back in 2003, launched in 2004 and withdrawn in 2008. And as always, Microsoft decided to play the catch up, by announcing its own smartwatch, 2 days back .

The future is promising. Just like the Phablets , the watch industry is no longer confined to the Rolex and the Casios and the Omegas. And for a person like me, who prefers to wear a watch regardless of the umpteen time gadgets around, this is a welcome change. Let me leave you with one of the concept videos amongst the hundreds that are floating around, that impressed me.

As always your thoughts are welcome ……

The era of Phablets

Phablet

Some call it the phablet revolution. And some say it is just a natural progression. Yet Apple famously came out with the thumb ad to not jump into the band wagon. Agreed, Samsung Galaxy Note did seem a little weird while talking. But so did bluetooth earphones… All it took was a few days of getting used to the new form factor.

The “unofficial” definition of Phablets goes like this – a class of smartphones with screen sizes ranging between 5 and 8 inches and designed to combine or straddle the functionalities of a smartphone and tablet. Dell Streak 5 was then identified as the first, although it was commercially unsuccessful. It was not until Samsung Galaxy Note was introduced in the Fall of 2011, the real meaning of the word and its associated concept started to take shape. And within a year, the world became a changed place. The 2013 Mobile World Congress held in barcelona between 25th and 28th Feb, was indeed a playground for all phablet aspirers. With a plethora of models and concepts , it truly stole the show!

So where do you think this could go? Tech Trader Daily writes, according to a reports by the wireless and mobile analysts at Barclay Capital, Phablets are sweeping the globe .

I, for my own personal bias have not yet made the brave move to switch from an Apple product to one of those phablets. But I’m sure as the year progresses, I just might be tempted to change my bias, unless Apple decides to enter the revolution!

The Tablets Vs Laptops Vs Smartphones dilemma

I’m sure this is a topic that has been torn apart “n” number of times, that my post would perhaps be an overkill. The convergence has been long time in the making. In fact the talks gained traction, back in 2010 when the iPad started making its way into the market. However after reading through several of them, I still find myself debating whether to make my next purchase a smartphone, or a laptop or a tablet. The problem began when Apple decided to come out with the iPhone 5 and the iPad mini. I started to feel rather antiquated with my 2007 Macbook, the earliest version of iPad and a relatively new iPhone 4. Decision making was always a harsh thing to do. And when you finally make a firm resolve to curb your splurging instincts, it becomes even harder. That’s when I decided to list down everything I do on all these devices in an effort to make an “intelligent” decision. And what can be a better place to “log” it than a blog.

Moving to iPhone5 was a relatively simple decision, especially since my old phone suddenly decided to start giving me “button” issues. To add on to my miseries, my macbook started to wear out gradually due to overuse and Apple decided to alienate the old iPad by not supporting iOS6 on it! That’s when I started thinking about my next purchase – A tablet or a laptop.

Let me give you a little background here. When I bought my iPad, my intent was to replace my laptop. With a desktop that I could make a remote connection to from my iPad, I had little trouble in convincing myself that it was one of the best decisions. Apart from the countless hours I spent on a regular desktop (aka Windows) at office, when I get back home, I realized I did spend a large chunk of my time on these three gadgets. What I do basically spans across these broad horizons.

Video and audio chat – Being away from my family, this has been an integral part of my life, mainly in the form of skype (for interoperability) and facetime, with occasional iMessage for screen sharing.
Used apps/applications – Skype, iMessage, Facetime and WhatsApp.

Web Browsing – The ever so wonderful world that the web has been, browsing never loses its charm. But the relevance of using a browser has significantly reduced over the past year, with most sites being “app”tized.
Used apps/applications
News – CNN (App and browser), Wall Street Journal (App), Summly and Flipboard (News Feed Apps), Times of India (App and browser)
Social Networking – Facebook (App and browser), Twitter (App), Linkedin (App and browser) and the rest of the crew.
Banking – App and Browser.
Searches – Google (Browser), Yelp (App) and the whole slew of content specific searching such as local cabs/metros, local trails, places of interest et al.
Online retail – Amazon (primarily browser), flight and hotel bookings (Browser for booking and App for status)
Miscellaneous – browser

Word editing – Powerpoints, Spreadsheets, and regular note taking
Used apps/applications – Powerpoint/Keynote, Excel/Numbers, Word/Pages, textEdit/OneNote/EverNote/Notepad.

Reading – Books have been a major part of my life. When shelves started to overflow, I reluctantly decided to go the “e” route.
Used apps/applications – Kindle and iBooks for books, iBooks for pdfs.

Music – Yet another indispensable component in my life, although it has been mainly limited to streaming these days.
Used apps/applications – Pandora, Spotify, iTunes

TV/Video online – Although I’m yet debating on moving away from a cable connection, I do spend more time watching news/videos online than viewing them on a television set.
Used apps/applications – youtube (browser), netflix (app and browser)

Coding – Not as prevalent when I get back home, but this does take a little bit of the time at home.

Here is how my time on these gadgets roughly gets distributed (number in percentages).

I did mention earlier that my intent was to try and replace my laptop through a combination of iPad and desktop. However in the past two years, I haven’t been very successful at it, one of the primary reasons being the difference in typing speeds on a regular keyboard and a virtual one. I could potentially buy a keyboard that can attach to my iPad but then that defeats the purpose of a tablet. Add on the fact that most of what I do on a tablet can be done on a smartphone as well, with the obvious disadvantage of a smaller screen, the case for a new tablet become even less convincing.

Having said that, I’m sure by now you all know that I do have a bias towards Apple products which means my potential budget for a laptop is slightly on the higher side as well. So it’s a choice between a $399, iPad “mini” and a $999 MacBook Air.

Let me know what you guys think. I’m also interested in hearing what you use on on a daily basis. And so I’ve started a survey to hear your thoughts. There are no free iPads being given away, but I promise you that it will not take more than 5 minutes of your time.

Where will Apple go from here…

It did happen. The meteoric rise in stock value that Apple saw in the summer, reaching its peak of $705 in September, is a history now. The stock has been plummeting ever since. Even the release of iPhone5 or the iPad mini could not help its cause. Some call it the Steve Jobs effect and other say it was the high expectations that were placed on these releases. As big an Apple fan that I am, I must admit I was never awestruck by their new releases. iPhone5, with its “longer” screen and its faster processor never really impressed as much as I expected it to. Same goes for an over-priced iPad Mini, when a Kindle Fire HD with the same screen resolution sells for half its price. So then comes the question – Where will Apple go from here?

Let’s list down each major product line and see where they can move towards. Before I start, I must lay down a disclaimer. These are just my personal viewpoints (aka dreams). You are more than welcome to tear it apart and comment on everyone of them.

iMac – one of those “ancestral” product line that brought Apple to this world, back in the 80s.
The names have changed, and the product got slimmer. But the purpose remained the same – a PC or a desktop! Its growth from the earliest Macintosh to the latest offering of iMac 2012 has been phenomenal. But what now? Do we see a touch screen added sometime in future? It is no secret that Steve Jobs has been against this all his life, simple because he thought your arms could quickly grow tired of stretching across the table to touch the screen. But that did not stop Zorro Macsk from hitting the market. Or do we see it getting collapsed (rather integrated) with a new product line – an Apple television?

Apple TV – one of those products yet to produce that aura of awe, which all others carried.
The tiny box that almost resembles a cable set top box, has not been able to replace cable as it was slated to do. And for that same reason this product is yet to undergo a significant revolution. The primary reason for this has been the fact that not many news channels and sport channels have been able to successfully offer their services on it. Rumors have been floating around this year about Apple talking to cable providers . Do we see Apple TV transforming itself to Apple Television? After all Apple did revolutionize the music retail industry. Can we see something similar soon?

iPod – a product that killed the cd players and “walkmans”
Undoubtedly, this has to be the product that brought Apple closer to common man. Along with iTunes, it changed the way people listened to music and ripped apart the music retail industry. It has gone through several shapes and sizes, with the classic, the mini, the nano and the touch. Although the latest of the iPod nano, to me was a step back from its “watch” form factor and its market was partially killed through the launch of iPhone, I do still see music lovers walking on the streets flashing those white ear plugs with an iPad on the other end. So where do we go from here? With the decline in sales that this product has seen over the years since the launch of iPhone, I see it paving way to be collapsed into iPhone at sometime in the future. That seems to be the only logical path. On a slightly lighter note, I did dream of an iWatch when I first saw the 6th generation iPod nano!

iPhone – a fresh face in the world of smartphones
I’m sure I don’t have to talk much about this. Almost 1 in every 10 people I see around me carry an iPhone these days. That in itself says a lot. And what more, Apple has pushed the incumbent mobile phone makers to start thinking outside the box. Touch technology still has a lot of room for innovation. Battery life and cellular technologies can still improve and so can the processor that goes into these smartphones. But what could really make a difference will be its form factor. With bendable phones slowly starting to pop its head out, iPhone can one day turn into a “wearable” gadget (hopefully not as creepy as this ).

iPad – a “personal” laptop
I’m sure the idea was to converge PC and tablet one day. In fact the convergence has been following its natural progression. However iPad in its present form, is still a long way off from replacing a laptop. A beefier processor and storage and an open minded install system for the iOS could potentially take us there. Now a lot of those could be overlooked, with the emergence of cloud. But I guess I will leave that discussion for a later post. Also, the fact that I cannot have a clear path to its file system (unless of course jail broken) is still a limiting factor for its progression.

Macbook – a true laptop
There isn’t much to say about this. The product, although is gaining significantly in its market share with the bigger and better macbook pros, the feather weight macbook air and the competitive pricing models, the only reasonable future I see for it is a touch screen add on. I’m sure, as long as iOS continues to tread its journey towards Mac OSX through the slow path, this product will remain significant.

All that said, could be yet another product in the making – one of those “magical” devices that could revolutionize yet another industry?

Like I said earlier these are all just my hopes and dreams and viewpoints. I’m very much interested in hearing your thoughts on each of them as well. So let those ideas flow… In the meantime, let me leave you with this wonderful concept video!

iOS 6 and Maps

iOS 6 has taken more of a backseat amidst the growing speculations about iPhone 5, as the days get closer to a rumored Sept. 12th launch. Although Apple is yet to give out a release date for this new version, “this fall” is an indicator that iOS 6 will be completely clouded under its hardware counterpart, the iPhone. I must admit I’m as excited about its launch as I was about iOS 4 which came with the first of the multitasking capabilities. And the primary reason for the excitement – The Maps .

Although I’m equally skeptical about how much of a success it can turn out to be, simply due to the fact that through maps Apple has directly opened a battle with Google and for the first time, starting from behind. But the fact that Apple now owns “maps.apple.com”, which currently redirects to the iOS 6 page for maps, is a positive start.

I’ve been (and I’m sure the rest of the world as well) a regular visitor to Google Maps for directions. Google and its well established repository of wealthy data has helped maps to evolve rather quickly to become a common household name, ousting Yahoo Maps from the top. And ever since the launch of iOS, the fact that google maps did not feature a turn-by-turn navigation, as a direct replacement for a physical GPS (such as TomTom) was a major disappointment, esp. since it was pitched as a major feature in Android. The result was, iPhone users, who decided not to jail break their phones had to be content with a $50 TomTom application.

I should however say that over the last 2 years, TomTom app on my iPhone has been a terrific travel companion. Its free map updates and the user-friendly UI is a class apart from the google maps on Android, which to me seems like a UI cluttered with data.

A lot remains to be seen on how good the Apple maps will turn out to be. Apple certainly has jumped into the race very late. Only time will tell if it can actually pick up and boost ahead. For now, I’m still happy with my TomTom Application to navigate my ways.

Apple App Store App of the week:

For long I’ve had this problem of choosing a restaurant. A simple google search or Yelp, has helped me to a certain extent, but never in its entirety, simply because they were not inherently meant for restaurant alone. Along came Zagat with an app. Zagat, with its wonderful pedigree of rating just restaurants with user generated content has found immense success. Their ratings are elaborate and distinct.

If not for Zagat (the app in particular, just for its easiness to use), I wouldn’t have chanced upon White Dog Cafe a quaint little place up in Wayne, PA.