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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Aido – the friendly robot

Main

Personal assistant gadget space has always been a niche market for big and small firms all around the globe. It seemed like a nature transition from smartphones and tablets,when the world started to rely heavily on the connected web of information. According to a survey conducted by PewResearch Center in 2015 there has been an incredible increase in the use of smartphones across the globe, and more specifically in the developing nations with an average increase of around 16 points over the last two years. What that means is, people look at their smartphones as they open their eyes in the morning and they refuse to let them go until they fall asleep at night. And hence as the world starts to get busier, it only seems natural that they seek for a more personalized “controller” of their life.

Broadly, there are two methodologies adopted by companies who are regarded as players in this market. Some take the route of apps built into the the smartphones that can alert, remind, control and automate your life. Apple’s “Siri”, Microsoft’s “Cortana”, Facebook’s M and Assistant.ai are just a few examples of the so called “embedded” assistants.

Then there are others such as Amazon Echo and the sweet Alexa backend which is a standalone gadget. Cubic is another example of a standalone gadget that is trying to enter this playground. Now in my view these are gadgets which serve as a “speaker” with a personal touch to it. In fact Amazon Echo sales figures were compared alongside the traditional speakers such as Bose and Sony.

So what does it mean to have a personal assistant? He/She should be alongside you at all times – perhaps one of the reasons why “embedded” assistants are more heavily used than their “gadgetized” counterparts. Aido, the robot promises to do just that to a certain degree. While it might be an overkill to think about robots walking alongside you on the road, as the science fiction books and movies so eloquently portray. Aido can start as your partner in crime at one location – be it home or office.

Launched two days ago at Indiegogo , Aido definitely has promise, raking up an incredible 180% of their initial target funding in just 3 hours.

Watch out for more as I wait to get my hands on one of them…

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!

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…

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!

Gesture Technology – Pointgrab

Point grab

I spoke about touch screen walls sometime back here. Although still in its formative years, using Microsoft Kinect and a household projector, presentations suddenly became a lot more “magical”! Taking it a step further, PointGrab recently introduced the Hand Gesture Recognition Software (HGRS) using a standard 2D camera. Based in Israel, Pointgrab introduced two new mobile (encompassing both tablets and smartphone) apps – CamMe, for gesture based photography and PlungaShot, a gesture based bow and arrow game on February 25th 2013 at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona . Again, it is in its nascent stages, but the possibilities are amazingly abundant. Primarily in the presentation area, this could become a game changer, with its ability to deliver presentations from a distance without a remote control or aid from a colleague.

I personally downloaded the CamMe application, both on my ipad and iphone. For long I was searching for a decent app, with the with the ability to perform time- based photography. Although a bit buggy right now, CamMe takes things even further than a timer-based methodology, to snap a picture a second after you asks it to, from a distance.

With its SDK being open to application developers, I can very well see this being picked up by the imaginative elite to develop games, customized user interfaces, what all and what not!

Think Geek item of the week

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From gestures we go to telepathy! NeuroSky Mindwave Mobile lets you play games with the power of your mind!

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.

Wallaby solves one of those financial dilemmas!

If you are someone like me, I’m sure you must have faced a situation where you took out your wallet at a restaurant and started to gaze at all your credit cards wondering which one to choose in order to gain the maximum rewards. Well, now the answer to this problem is just a click away – Wallaby ! Currently launched just on the iPhone as a free app, wallaby lets you add you credit cards to scrape through their rewards and benefits every time you search for a location. Before you panic, I must say, it does not require you to give out your entire card number. All it needs it the first 6 digits of your card, which uniquely identifies the bank and their list of credit cards. You can then save the ones you own. What that means is, wallaby just mines the rewards programs from each of those cards, which usually stays the same across any user. So the next time you go to a restaurant, all you have to do is to just launch the app and it will tell you based on your location, which one of those cards to pick to pay. Quite a novel idea!

Coached by the mentors at Mucker Lab , the app was launched two days ago at the iTunes Store . While the whole array of credit cards that it presents to you is huge, there is still quite a few missing. For now, it gives you an option to send a message stating the details of the missing card. I’m sure as the user base grows, the database of credit cards will slowly move towards being exhaustive.

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!

Bend it like Beckham!

First came a “cordless” mobile phone . Then its size started to shrink and before you knew it began to flip. Then it became a smartphone. The smartphone turned into a touchscreen. And now the world of smartphones has taken yet another leap – bendable phones!

The rumors started to come back in 2011 and Samsung promptly denied those rumors. Things went quiet for a while, amidst the smartphone war between Apple and Samsung and the launch of Galaxy Note and iPhone 5.

And now they gave it a tentative release time in 2013!!

It uses the flexible OLED Technology along with a plethora of rumored plausible features such as a high-resolution 800×480 flexible AMOLED screen, a processor of 1.2 GHz and 1 GB of RAM and a form factor that measures 221mm x 67mm x 8 mm with 16GB and 32GB capacities.

While I leave you with that thought, here is a mind blowing concept video that Nokia came out with, back in 2011.

Think Geek item of the week

For those arcade loving Apple loving geeks out there, here is a new offering from Think Geek – a “Joystick-it” for iPad