The downside of a “smarter” life

February 16, 2011 § Leave a comment

Note: This post is more personal and reflective than my usual ones. If that is not what you are looking for, skip this post and do come back for the next one which is will be more in line with my usual posts.

As most of my readers and friends know, I am a gadget freak who loves to surround himself with the best. In addition, I love to keep myself in the know of all things tech (and hence the blog). I have and love my iPhone 3GS and use all  the cool apps on my smartphone. I have enough and more to keep me occupied- online or offline until the battery runs out. And I am starting to pay the price for all this. You might wonder what and if there is a downside to such an up-to-the minute data filled life. Yes, there is.

As my apps have increased, so has my time on my smartphone. And this has taken a toll on my eyes. They hurt by the end of the day. Even when I was hooked for 8 hours on my computer in the past, they didn’t hurt quite as much. Now it does. The small screen kills. Really. Every second I think I am free, I am gazing on my Twitter feeds or reading about the latest Android superphone on Engadget. I am pretty sure my face-contact time in elevators and corridors is starting to drop. Not to mention the time at home where the laptop barely gets any time unless its for serious work. I am not alone. I just finally admitted to it. I am sure many of you are going through a similar experience or see others in the same place. At least I dont read my emails at traffic lights. Something I see so much in the Bay Area signals every day. I hope people realize that there is a downside to the content and information overload at our fingertips before its too late.

Admitting that you have a problem is the first step. The next is to take concrete steps to fix it. I plan on dramatically reducing my app time to a fixed duration every day. In addition, the daisy-chained-apps (as I call the ones which have embedded links leading you to other web pages) will not get any face time but for lunch and later in the evening. The phone will remain in the pocket while in the car and I plan on greeting every single person I see in the corridor and in the elevator. I fully believe the problem is under control and hope to be my pre-smartphone self very soon.

I dont believe that smartphones are to be blamed for where we are today. Its a combination of high speed cellular networks, affordable data connections, affordable and well designed mobile devices and our thirst for knowledge that has caused us to be where we are. Its all good as long as there are limits to the consumption. So instead of taking the dramatic step of downsizing to a feature phone, I will work on my ability to limit my use of my smart phone.

I apologize for the rare personal post here. I truly believe a lot of us are facing a similar problem and I wanted to use this forum to illustrate it. Ill be back to my usual posts with the next one. If you think you have some ideas to combat a situation like these, please feel free to share it for other readers.

Of turkeys and eagles

February 12, 2011 § 1 Comment

“Can two turkeys make an eagle?”

If you believe in the occult and in magic, maybe it can. Or if you are a fan of technology being able to do everything including fusing two turkeys to create an eagle, you are a believer or maybe you work for Microsoft or Nokia. Ill not spend a lot of time explaining the turkey and eagle reference of the post. You can get it all here.

Last week in a less than surprising move, Microsoft and Nokia shared stage in London to announce a far reaching partnership between the two companies where Nokia will start using Microsoft Windows Phone 7 OS on their high end smart phone devices and slowly but definitely start phasing out their iconic and immensely popular Symbian platform. The move means different things to the two companies and this post reflects on the present on the future of this partnership.

The announcement is a big win for Microsoft, atleast in getting a solid partner for its WP7 devices. The operating system, while garnering good reviews has not really translated into the kind of sales it was hoping for with the gargantuan investment. It gives the Redmond behemoth a large market for its fledgling OS, one that will span multiple continents and hopefully millions of new users. It also makes its Bing search engine a player in the search wars from a mobile standpoint.

The big question is what it means for Nokia. For certain, it is a massive fall from grace for the once biggest mobile player and architect of the mobile revolution in much of the developing world. It is also a significant chapter in the woes of the Finnish legend that has refused to innovate against the oncoming hordes of iOS and Android. The last quarter was a clear indication of Nokia’s woes. Nokia was, until recently, pursuing a highest open source smart phone platform project titled MeeGo with Intel. MeeGo has seen multiple delays, although Intel believes it has value, unlike Nokia. Intel was supposedly caught off-guard with the Nokia announcement.

The first Nokia WP7 devices are not expected until next year, but the conspiracy theorists are already speculating if Microsoft alum and Nokia CEO Stephen Elop was really a Microsoft plant and part of a Redmond plot to takeover the Finnish company. A recent move to replace Nokia USA President with another Microsoft vet is only fodder to the theory.

Apple and Google might have much to gain from this alignment. Both companies have been trying to and have been partially successful in making inroads in developing markets. A void in products from Nokia coupled with the Android plan to penetrate all segments of the market will help. In addition, a rumored low-cost phone from Apple could fit very well into the segment that Nokia so admirably filled for many years.

Only time will tell if the partnership benefits either of the companies but I will leave with a parting note from a wireless industry veteran, who on hearing the news said, “Nokia+Windows=No Win”. For the sake of Nokia employees, the country of Finland, and the thousands of engineers in both companies working hard on the Nokia WP7 handsets, hope that is not the case.

Update: There is talk and also confirmation that Nokia had partnership conversations with Google and RIM which went nowhere and the one presented to Nokia board was only the Microsoft one. Even more interesting (although not very significant based on the scale of the effort) is a Plan B outlined by ex-Nokia folks that is getting some press time. See more here.

Second Update: Looks like Plan B was a hoax after all. Not that it had the muscle to go anywhere, but it doesn’t hurt to wonder the power of the Internet does it?

Motorola’s pricing strategy

February 8, 2011 § 1 Comment

A few weeks ago, Motorola had on its hands, two certifiably hyped up and much wanted devices- the Atrix 4G superphone launching on AT&T and the Xoom tablet launching on Verizon. What was known was that the devices had some of the best technical specs in their respective fledgling categories and also boasted the Motorola stamp of quality- one that has good street cred with the success of the Droid platform. Also in tow was their excellent experience in crafting cool Android products. In all, a win-win. Coinciding with the split of the company and the launch of Motorola Mobility (NASDAQ: MMI), this was to be a rebirth of the iconic Motorola brand with a new identity.

What has followed is a very puzzling pricing strategy that threatens to kill all the buzz surrounding these products (if the Internet forums are to be believed). The Atrix was supposed to be ATT and Motorola’s champion against iPhone on Verizon. And from a product stand point, it still is. But from a cost standpoint, it has the possibility of falling short of its lofty goals. The phone has been priced at $199 on a 2 year contract but the Atrix accessories which include a cool laptop dock and an entertainment dock have both been priced significantly out of a normal person’s reach.  The dock costs $300 when bought along with the phone (total $500) and $500 if bought separately. To note, a brand new iPad costs $500 in comparison. The entertainment dock comes with a wireless keyboard and a mouse for $200. Full pricing details are available here. To me, it seems like the pricing does not reflect that of its competition and does not capitalize on the uniqueness of its accessories. If there is a hidden secret sauce here, I am missing it. The Atrix looks like one of the coolest devices to be launched this year, one I was seriously considering upgrading to. At this price point, I am not sure if I can afford it.

The Xoom tablet was officially launched to the American public with a Superbowl ad that reminded us of the iconic Apple 1984 ad, just that Apple was “The Man” this time around. Earlier in the month, Google and Motorola had previewed the tablet and the new Android Honeycomb OS that will power it. People (and yours truly) were really excited for the tablet. It looked and played cool. And then came the hammer that the Xoom would cost $800. Yep, the first genuine iPad competitor (ignoring the Samsung Galaxy tab which was running an Android version designed for smartphones)  will cost almost twice as much. Yes, I agree that the $800 Xoom has inbuilt 3G which the $499 iPad does not. But people tend to compare apples to oranges all the time. And the barrier of entry is much higher for the Xoom than the iPad. In addition, the VZ data plans for tablets are pretty expensive (not that any tablet 3G plan is cheap). All in all, the Xoom is going to have a tough time matching the iPad sales numbers which is a pity considering that it looks and feels like a fantastic product- comparable if not better than the iPad.

I am no business executive or finance maven but in my humble opinion, Motorola should have launched a WiFi only SKU comparable in price to the iPad. The WAN version should have been priced closer to the iPad 3G price ($630) although Apple has immense pricing flexibility due to their purchase volumes ( I should someday write a post on Apple’s excellent supply chain management). The Atrix accessories should have been much cheaper. If you think the laptop dock to be really a screen with a connector and 15 inch LCD screens costing less than $80 in the market (cheaper with more volume) pricing it at $300 or worse still $500 puts it out of the reach of very many people. Until this changes, Motorola has lost a surefire customer in me for the Atrix and a possible customer for the Xoom.

I didn’t think there would be a day where the “premium” Apple products are also the most affordable ones in their segment. To be clear, I am not blaming Motorola for all this. It is probably a mixture of costs, strategy and also carrier constraints which are driving the pricing but it is something that is worth a revisit. For my sake if not anyone else 😦

Update: To validate the barrier for entry point, HP/Palm just announced the TouchPad tablet with webOS and the first model to ship will be Wi-Fi only. Well played HP/Palm. Very smart business move. More on the TouchPad here and here. I will write a separate blog post on this topic soon.

Search Wars

February 2, 2011 § 1 Comment

If you have been following the tech blogs the last couple of days, the search PR wars must have caught your eye. Google accused Bing of copying its results and the veritable follow up from Bing made for interesting reading. Before I delve any further, here is the original article that lays our Google’s accusation, the search conference where there was public airing of the complaint, Google’s  blog post on the topic and Bing’s follow up.

Google is the undisputed leader in search and Bing has been a steady underdog trying to usurp the title from Google. After trying to go at it alone and failing, Microsoft entered into a strategic alliance with Yahoo where the two companies put together a synergistic approach to their search offering a meaningful competitor to Google. While it hasn’t shown dramatic results, month to month search statistics show that Bing is very slowly chipping at Google’s over sized share of the pie. Bing has also tried to use Microsoft’s investment and cozy relationship with Facebook to make things interesting (read difficult for Google).

In the meantime, the last few months has seen some prominent web journalists and bloggers claiming that Google was turning up with a lot of spam results. In a tacit affirmation of the problem, Google started making moves to reduce spam and search engine manipulation before it took a larger toll on the brand.

In this rare case of Microsoft being the underdog the corporate behemoth is milking that moniker for all its worth. Google on the other hand has bigger worries in the form of trying to assert that its search results are still relevant amidst the deluge of sophisticated spam sites purportedly from the likes of recent IPO darling, Demand Media properties.

The accusation was a rare public outburst from Google that prides on keeping itself above such trivialities. But if the accusation that Bing uses some of Google’s sophisticated algorithms for outlier searches and spelling errors is true, the future of search wars is going to get very ugly and very competitive.

Bite sized games

January 25, 2011 § Leave a comment

If you were asked to remember the first game that came to your mind, chances are that it would be “Angry Birds“. This insanely addictive and immensely popular game has captured the minds and fingers of mobile users all over the world. Be it on iOS or Android, the game has taken its place in millions of mobile devices and promises to go even further with smartphone proliferation. Angry Birds is not alone. The Internet is abuzz about a 14yr old kid whose game, Bubble Ball topped the iPhone App Store game download charts recently. And most developers by now have read the BackFlip Studios case study presentation from GDC, where the company charted its growth from a one man operation to a developer whose primary game is a free app that generates over $1million a year in ad revenue.

Are console games on their deathbeds?. Is this the end of full sized blockbusters like Gran Tourismo, Call of Duty and Halo?. No. But there is an undeniable paradigm shift in the kind of games that attract attention and sell. Gone are the days when blockbuster games were PC or console only experiences. Today, the standard for console and PC blockbusters are very high. For developers with smaller pockets and not so infinite resources, the world of bite sized games is much more preferable. The mobile game market is exploding with all sorts of players big and small. Electronic Arts makes big blockbusters like its Madden NFL franchise. It also generates a ton of money selling Scrabble and Sudoku on every conceivable platform from iOS to Android to Kindle. The risk with these smaller games is much lesser than the budgetof a console game which can run a few million dollars. There is also a greater appetite for such games from users who dont mind spending 99 cents to $4.99 compared to the the $49-$59 that pc and console games cost.

To point, consoles now have a significant library of download only titles on the Xbox Live, PSN and WiiWare platforms where smart and addictive games are cheaper to build and play, not to mention, easier to obtain via direct downloads. Game developers and publishers will continue to build multimillion dollar blockbuster titles for the PC and consoles. But they will also prop their calendar and revenue with smaller download only titles that have the potential to turn into goldmines. They will also port such games to as many platforms, mobile and otherwise to reach the widest audience possible and maximize their revenue from the small investment.

It is a great time to be a small developer who can build breakout game hits from the confines of his home office. It is also a great time to be a gamer to experience fascinating games, indie and otherwise on all platforms at a very affordable price. Game On !

Disclosure: I did not invent the title moniker. I first saw its usage here. Since then, some references have popped here and there.

Touch interfaces and child development

January 16, 2011 § Leave a comment

My 33 month old has started to get very comfortable with the touch interface devices at home- we have a Vtech MobiGo which I picked up 2 months ago primarily as a tool to engage the child on a long flight. He also does educational apps on our iPod Touch and my iPhone 3GS. As he has gotten better and better at fully navigating these touch based devices- I am happy and a wee bit scared at the same time. Here is why.

  • Do these touch devices help him with his motor skills and ability to interact with automated devices and thus position him better for a touch based future?. An article I read today seems to show that kids seem to enjoy Apple touch devices in their classrooms. Not surprising. But are the parents thinking along the same lines as I am?
  • Does it make him reliant on only touch driven devices?. Case to point, he got his hands on a plain vanilla Nokia from a friend and kept swiping the screen to no avail. Humorous as it was (and almost representative of Nokia’s present/future versus that of Apple/Google), it made me wonder, can he even handle traditional non-touch devices adroitly?
  • There are tons of websites recommending apps for kids[1][2]. But are these primarily to shut them up so parents can do what they want to..or are they real tools for growth and education?
  • Schools are jumping on board with giving iPads for students[1][2]. Is this a healthy development?

Meanwhile, B&N, Amazon and Apple are rolling out apps and kids books tailored for touch devices. They look fantastic. But will this impact the child’s ability to learn to read the old fashioned way?. I have nothing against e-reading. In fact I love it. But that is after I spent all my childhood reading dog eared copies of classics aplenty.

Some recommended reading on the topic are Education Nation: Six Leading Edges of Innovation in our Schools by Milton Chen (and the companion website) and also Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs” by Ellen Galinsky.

As I type this, my son is spending some time reading an old fashioned book with his mother. Not all is lost, atleast not yet 🙂

iOS vs. Android, part II.

January 13, 2011 § 1 Comment

Daggers drawn, here we go again. With the recent and totally “unexpected and surprise” announcement that the iPhone is heading the Big Red way, we now have a battle on our hands. Until recently, the battle between the two operating systems was fought as a proxy war between the two largest carriers, Verizon and AT&T. With the iPhone now soon to be available on both networks, it makes things a tad fuzzy. Added to the mix is the fact that some of the upcoming Android big hitters are also headed the AT&T way. Until the iPhone exclusivity existed, AT&T either chose or was forced to pick up second grade Androids. That has been changing the last few months and will become obvious with the upcoming Motorola Atrix, Samsung 4G Android devices, Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc and more. On a smaller note, AT&T is also courting Microsoft by being the premier launch partner for Windows Phone 7 devices and also RIM with the exclusive Torch.

The coming months will hopefully provide answer for the following questions:

1. Was Android’s rise only due to lack of iPhone on Verizon?

2. Is AT&T doomed, now that it has the “perceived” poorer network and the iPhone is no longer exclusive?

3. With the blog world taking sides [1][2][3], are things only going to get murkier?

4. Will Verizon stop or significantly reduce its An”droid” ads?

5. Is the Google-Verizon honeymoon over?

6. What happens to Motorola now that the big ad dollars are probably not there from Verizon?

We are all set for an interesting 2011 on the mobile OS wars. Get ready folks. Its going to be one heck of a battle between the behemoths!