Aido – the friendly robot

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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…

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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…

Digitizing the cash counters

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I’m sure the image that you see above has become quite a familiar sight across America. Apple stores have been flaunting a similar version for quite a while now, which almost resembles the Mophie . I first noticed this at Conshohocken Cafe , a quaint little breakfast place at Conshohocken, PA. Square , as they call it, they started to make money through the 2.75% transaction fee charged per swipe. Now my post was not particularly to about the Square, but instead, the Square Stand , that was announced today. At $299 a piece and a $499 iPad, this can replace the traditional cash registers in a blink of an eye. Sounds quite simple, as we start to see more and more dependency on the mobile device .

But wait, there is more. The exact same day, Paypal decides to announce its revolutionary product know as the Cash for Register . With a free credit/debit/paypal processing for the rest of the year for any qualifying US Business, we now have a competition!

The era of cash registers which opens up a “slot machine” of quarters and pennies is slowly disappearing. Whether its paypal or square, the digital revolution has spared none. Soon the traditional cash registers will just be a piece of antique in the museum!

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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.

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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 era of Phablets

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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

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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!

Reading books – a new cost model

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The news at Gizmodo today morning, got me thinking, why do I pay for books I don’t read beyond a few pages! The latest victim was, The Last Templars, by Raymond Khoury – a book which showed an amazing promise in the beginning, with its fast pace and history, but slowly managed to drag into religion and philosophy, making me drop it right then. I almost regretted buying it. It was Amazon 1-click that has emerged as the primary culprit for such impulse buys. It has also become a common dilemma around the globe, not just for ebooks, but printed copies as well. There are two problems that I see here – what do I do with a book that I do not wish to keep after reading, and what do I do, if I do not wish to read a book completely.

I was rather amused a few months back, when I was browsing through the books at the Paradies Shop in St. Louis Airport. I picked up a book and walked over to the counter to pay for it. At the end of the whole transaction, I was given a slip which said that I could return the book after reading, to any of the listed bookstores and get 50% money back. Read and Return , they called it. So when I read about Total BooX and their concept of pay-as-you-go, it did sound intriguing. Atleast it did prompt to jump into the band wagon, and register for updates. I must admit the screenshots look rather impressive. And with the statistics that have been put forth, I must say a person like my father who loves keeping track of things, he would jump on to such a opportunity. Now how much would a page cost? That’s something we will have to wait an watch.

There is another school of thought, which advocates making eBooks free, with adwords and advertisements making up for the cost and any additional profit you expect out of it. Now finding the right balance for that would be an interesting economic problem.

Renting has been another aspect in the world of books. How can that be translated into eBooks, poses the other interesting challenge. Amazon lending Library has found quite an impressive success ever since the launch. But the fact that it is limited to kindle owners hinders its growth to an extend, although I’m sure one of these days it will make its way to the Kindle App as well. And then along came Overdrive , with an attempt to resurrect the ailing hard copy lending libraries. Its concepts such as waiting for a book to be available at the library, and automatically returning the books after the specified due date, has made it almost close to the lending library around the corner that we all are used to. But there is certainly room for growth and innovations. Combining the concepts of Collaborative Consumption along with the revolution of the social media, peer-to-peer lending of ebooks is still an untapped avenue.

Let me know what you guys think.

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.