Smartwatches pile in at CES 2014

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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 ….

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Is google’s obsession with bringing out half baked products good?

Beta

Albeit being an Apple fanatic, I must admit, Google has been a pioneer in bringing out some of the best innovations. Starting with the search, gmail, the glass, driverless cars, online word processing, chromecast all followed suit. But in every one of these, you cannot help but notice a similarity (wonderfully pointed out in the book Dogfight by Fred Vogelstein as well). All of them were released to the masses (or scheduled to be released in the case of Google Glass), half baked. As the book says, it is the nature of how Google was in the past that is taking a toll on its new market – the art of product manufacturing. Google inherently has been a web based company, with its search engines and its gmails thriving primarily on the fact that users have an operating system and an internet connection to connect to their services. What that entailed was, Google could easily make changes and add on new features on the fly, without actually disrupting the users ability to work with them while doing so. Having said that, I still maintain the fact that gmail being left in its “beta” form was partially due to someone forgetting to take it out of beta!

As Google started to expand its horizons to consumer products, this trend of “beta” releases seemed to drag along as well. If Android in itself was not a good example, Chromecast was more appropriate. I would rate chromecast as perhaps one of their better releases, for the price and the potential. Having a “flash drive” like product capable of “airplaying” videos and presentations out of a smartphone or a tablet is groundbreaking. But the fact that it was released with just Netflix and Youtube, brings out the “service” based mentality. Agreed chromecast did break a lot of expectations through its sales especially during the holiday season , with me personally buying a few of those as gifts. But to me, it looked like an unfinished beta, at the time of the release.

The beta model works perfectly for a software only solution/product. Releasing a product such as gmail to the masses as beta works wonders, when users do not need to purchase anything. But when it comes to hardware, this rule breaks down. Common man would resist purchasing a beta, unless you are a gadget freak, especially when you have to pay money to buy a product.

Having said all those, Google certainly took a different stance with the Glass, through its Explorer Program (a glorified name for beta testing). It accomplished two things – one, the fact that they have an exhaustive beta testing phase on the hardware itself with a small subset of “gadget fanatics” and two, the anticipation levels of the consumer community grew exponentially.

The book, Dogfight, describes this perfectly. It says that Google is still learning the art of hardware product industry. But it is learning fast. And soon a lot of industries and their incumbent organizations will need to hit the panic button. Google Fiber will revolutionize the cable industry; Google Glass will change the way people live; Google cars will shake up the car and transport industry, albeit the myriad of hurdles it still needs to hop through. And a day will come when “Don’t be Evil” will be on the banner boards across the globe, as Google completes its world domination!

Let me know your thoughts…

Is the era of grandeur in product launching gone?

There was a time when product launches were a red carpet event. Be it the special invitees from the developer world and the tech news media, flocking in from all parts of the world to witness the “magical” opening of the iphone

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Or the Taylor Swift show at the Sony product launch

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Yesterday, at a quiet little press conference known as “Breakfast with Sundar” , Google announced a good chunk of products and among them was something really revolutionary , not because it was the first of its kind to the market, but more so because of its form factor and the pricing. They called it the “ChromeCast” And before you knew, it was sold out in every online store. Deemed as a direct competitor to AppleTV and Roku, and perhaps with a little edge due to its interoperability, looks like the battle of the giants has moved to the TV world now!

PS: you can read the first exhaustive review on it here

So let me leave you with a simple poll…

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!

Ngrams and Google

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When talking about Big Data, one initiative is worth a mention – The Google Ngrams . Google, in its on magnanimous way, started an program to digitize every single printed document, within the copyright limits back, in 2004. Started as a partnership with some of the well-known libraries around the globe such as the New York Public Library, the Harvard University Library and
 Bodleian Library at University of Oxford , the plan was to make high resolution digital images of all printed documents – books magazines et al – and save them in a huge repository that is searchable through books.google. com.

As the collection grew, Google realized the potential to actually digitize them one word at a time. Through a tool known as reCAPTCHA they then started to extract every word from every single image that was scanned. What was born out of it was an amazingly large data set from words dating back to 1500. By 2012, they had almost 15% of all the printed books digitized and that amounted to almost 700 billion words! What came out of this was Google Ngrams !

An “ngram” is a sequence of letters of any length, which could be a word, a misspelling, a phrase or gibberish

Google Ngrams is a searchable word repository, which graphs the occurrence of a word or a phrase in a “corpus of books” (as Google themselves puts it). It then plots those occurrences across time and the result is a visualization of how frequent the words were used over time.

As curious as I was, I decided to try out a few of the “jargons” of today to see how far back it was used. The results were alarming!

Internet

technology

The word “technology” (keep in mind the search is case sensitive) was used as long back as early 1500s, which is ok considering it is quite a defined term in the English dictionary. But what was even more puzzling is that the word “Internet” was used in the 1590s! Now what can that be referred to! Also, although the whole slew of ARPANET and packet switching started to evolve in the 1960s it wasn’t until 1990s when the word “Internet” started to be used widely in printed form!

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.

Crazy little thing called “glass”

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The hype has been immense. Wearable gadgets have slowly started to turn into the new fashion statement. Soon carrying a smartphone in your pocket might no longer be enough for a common man!

In fact, the idea of a wearable gadget started long ago when Pranav Mistry introduced his concept back in 2009. For those who haven’t had a chance to watch the presentation, it sure is a must see.

It soon started to evolve. Although not quite in the way Pranav had envisioned yet, we started to see and hear rumors about multiple flavors of what can be classified as a wearable gadget. Soon bands such as the Jawbone Up and Nike Fuelband started to crop up, gaining a significant market share amongst the exercising consumer community. So did the rumors of smart watches .

And then came the Google Glass . Ever since the revolution of the search, Google has been trying to play the game of catch up, right from its gmail service, through android and smartphones to social networking. And finally, they seemed to have found a product line that could possibly be called unique! Built on its ever evolving Android platform, it does provide a possibility of a rather near-seamless integration with the smartphones, while in “transition”. And on April 27th 2013, they quietly released the source code to developers.

Needless to say, the plethora of applications that ran on smartphones, started to send out rumors of their “glass” versions. Twitter perhaps was one of the first to jump onto the band wagon with NY Times in a close second. There was then the announcement of apps such as Evernote, Skitch and Path which google demo-ed at the SXSW 2013 .

The possibilities are limitless. And perhaps one day the eyeglass industry would be transformed as much as the watch industry would soon be. In the meantime, let me leave you with Tim Stevens as he chronicles his days with the Google Glass!

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.

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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 ……