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!

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Influence of Crowd funding – CES 2014

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When most of the top consumer product manufacturers where burning the midnight oil to solve the smartwatch mystery, that has been a growing trend over the last few years, one company quietly sneeked in a product in 2013 that took the world by surprise. Rather unheard off in every way, Pebble started off as a dream in an upcoming crowdfunding organization called Kickstarter . When traditional venture capitalists failed them, Pebble looked towards crowd funding in April 2012. And soon it turned into a cult raising around 10 million from around 70,000 users around the world, becoming one of the highest crowd funded projects till date. It wasn’t long before they started mass production with a release date of January 2013. With around 200,000 units sold by the end of 2013, Pebble announced their second iteration of the smartwatch – The Pebble Steel at CES 2014 in Las Vegas.

But we are not here to talk to Pebble and its growing success, when companies like Apple and Samsung are still struggling to enter this market of watches. Rather I wanted to focus on what made Pebble possible – Crowd Funding. At least 4 of the gadgets that won the CES 2014 Awards were crowdfunded, with Oculus Rift “Crystal Cove” , the most notable amongst them. Reports suggest that Eureka Park at CES, the launchpad for startups, saw an increase of around 40% in the number of startups with exhibits. And what more, there was even an Indiegogo Zone at the venue with hoards of hardware startups flaunting their jaw-dropping ventures.

Starting a company has traditionally been expensive, when it involves hardware manufacturing. Finding an investor has been even more arduous if you just have a concept or a dream. Most investors for a manufacturing venture require a well chartered business plan stating the plan of action. This has kept a lot of startups stale for long periods of time. Crowd funding has changed all that. Through certain incentives to the crowd that funds the project, these startups have now found a way to bring their dreams to reality. Statistics show that Kickstarter has 128,244 projects registered with around $940 million pledged by close to 5 million users across the globe and around 55,000 projects among them have successfully taken off. Although Indiegogo have not published their statistics yet, I’m sure they have started to see heavy investments from users all around.

A little bit of trivia while I leave you to mull over the next venture you plan to start, CES 2014 took crowd funding rather seriously. So much that even their live streaming was crowd funded!

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 ….

Nymi and Galaxy Gear

This week will perhaps see the release of two gadgets that have the potential to change the ways of life. Wearable as they are, both are worn on wrists. While one is released by a major player in the gadget market, the other comes from a new comer. While one of them has an aura of excitement in its launch, the other will be taken with a bit of skepticism. I’m talking about the Samsung Galaxy Gear set to be announced on Wednesday, Sept. 4th in Berlin and Nymi , soon to be out for sale by a company called bionym

Let me start by talking about Samsung Galaxy Gear. Samsung has started to become rather secretive about their product launches, building up the expectations and the curiosity. So there isn’t a definitive Galaxy Gear snapped yet. While the early pictures show something rather bulky, as the choices in the market seem to still be scanty and since Apple has been amazingly slow in bringing its much hyped iWatch to market (gone are the days when Apple launches were considered to revolutionize markets!), there is hope for those with smaller wrists, such as me.

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With a Wifi Radio and 4MP camera , that would perhaps require an awkwardly held hand to take a snap, the “gear” seems to run Android in its core, giving it a better potential than the Newton of the PDA world!

Then came Nymi, from the Toronto based startup called Bionym, taking biometrics to the next level. While the rest of the world is still playing with the fingerprint recognition at the same time fantasizing about the biometrics of the retina glorified by the heist movies over the years, Bionym, realized that hidden amongst the Electro Cardio Gram (ECG) pattern is what is known as a HeartID , unique to every individual. And using this, the wristband can now help unlock your phones, laptops and potentially even your car!

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SecurID News has a rather extensive review of the technology, going on to explain the out-of-box authentication methods and how secure it can prove to be. Karl Martin, the CEO of this highly optimistic startup, goes on to explain that this is a first generation product. More needs to be seen on how the market responds.

My first take, as I have always been extremely excited about new gadget, will obviously be biased. There is potential, if channeled the right way. At the same time, it takes a lot to make a common man accept such a security tool, given the high caution thrown on identity thefts these days.

Nevertheless, exciting times are ahead!

The quest for an ultimate “smartwatch”

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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 ……