Business, Technology

Why I’m excited by Apple’s recent announcements

It had almost become a pattern in the last few years:

Apple schedules an event → Tech blogs and websites waste tons of (digital) newsprint making predictions → Apple fans almost wet themselves in anticipation → The announcement is a damp squib which still make fans orgasm in delight → Apple makes tons of money.

This year’s event wasn’t too different. For the most part, the script was the same as the previous years. However, this time there were a couple of announcements that got me excited. Not excited enough to go and actually buy an iPhone, but certainly excited about the direction in which Apple can move the mobile phone industry (and other related industries!) in. Love them or hate them, you’ll be a fool to deny that if anyone can cause massive shifts to happen, it is Apple.

1. Fingerprint Scanner (Touch id) + iBeacon = Fast, secure mobile payments (Also, death of NFC?)

The code for mobile payments hasn’t been cracked yet. There are a multitude of technologies and standards present in the wild, none of which has been able to gather momentum and really take off. The announcements from Apple and Paypal in the past few days make me hopeful that finally we may have a genuine winner in our hands.

For starters, Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) is present in a majority of new consumer devices. On the merchant side, all it needs is an iPad, a laptop or just a basic smart phone connected to the internet – It doesn’t require the merchant to buy a new point of sale terminal.

The third, and most important, aspect in mobile payments has to be security. And this is where Apple may have finally cracked the puzzle. The fingerprint is one of the most unique authentication mechanisms present with us. And we carry it all the time. Leaving out the extreme edge cases of thieves chopping off your finger or making a mould of your fingerprints, it cannot be duplicated easily. It is much faster to put a finger on your phone’s scanner than typing out a PIN and way more secure.

If Apple can make TouchID work and are able to combine it with a secure payment mechanism, it will be a massive game-changer. And it looks like they already have made some progress on it.

touchid_heroOn the technology front, whether we like it or not, Apple’s endorsement of a technology does cause the rest of the industry to start taking it more seriously. e.g. NFC. Even though it’s part of the patent linked to above, it hasn’t made its way to the present generation of iPhones. And this is a technology that has been around for ages. It is even present in a majority of Android devices that are coming out in the market. But it has never taken off.

 

There are multitude of reasons for it and all of them very well-documented. One of the biggest is the fact that Apple has not supported it yet. Another point against NFC is that it doesn’t really make mobile payments faster. Instead of going to a point of sale terminal and swiping your credit/debit card, you go to a terminal and swipe your phone. It just replaces a dumb piece of plastic with a (much) smarter piece of plastic. NFC doesn’t really help the customer in dealing with long, lines of customers waiting to make a payment.

Like David Marcus, president of Paypal, said in a blog post last year, “Is tapping a phone on a terminal any easier than swiping a credit card? I don’t think so – it’s not solving a real consumer problem and its not providing additional value to encourage me (or anyone else for that matter) to change my behavior”.

Back to the point, BLE combined with fingerprinting for authentication has enormous positive implications for mobile payments.

2. 64-bit Processor = Faster, better, more energy-efficient apps (eventually)

“It doesn’t mean anything for consumers”. “It is still years away from having a practical impact” etc. You know what, all of these objections are meaningless.

It’s like the famous quote attributed to Henry Ford, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Specially when you talk about things like the architecture of the processor, it will never mean anything for a consumer. It’s the job of the company to create a demand for bigger, better technologies. And Apple has done just that by releasing a phone with a 64-bit processor and an OS that can use the power of the processor. The effects of this announcement are already evident – Samsung (in typical style, straight after an Apple announcement :)) has already announced that they will be coming out with a phone with a 64-bit processor. Even though this doesn’t have any significance until Google releases a 64-bit version of Android, it is still a very positive development.

As Ben Bajarin points out in his article on this topic – “Performance doesn’t matter. Until you don’t have enough of it.” (Read the article)

Apart from these two, the rest of the announcements demonstrated why Apple is one of the most valuable companies in the world. By not going with what the analysts were predicting and charging full price for a plastic covered version of the current iPhone 5, they’ve sent a clear signal out – We are a premium phone maker, and we are not afraid to charge for it.

For the people making fun of the 5c – Step out and have a look at the number of people who slap pink “Hello, Kitty” rubber covers on their phones. This phone is for them. Do you know any Android phone manufacturer who can charge $39 for a rubber case? No. In fact, the company which made the best Android phone yet, is reportedly finding it hard to survive.

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The ‘Talaash’ for a good, Bollywood thriller

The difference between a good suspense thriller and a great suspense thriller is that you can watch the great movie a second time and still have as good a time as you had the first time.
The kind of enjoyment you get the second time will be different from what you got earlier. It’s similar to solving a difficult Physics problem. You know, the kind that you could find in Irodov. You keep looking at the problem for sometime, re-reading it to see if there is a clue in the words that you have missed. If you get it, good. But if you don’t, apart from the disappointment of missing the obvious clue, there is a certain joy that you get on finding the answer. This is similar to the feeling on finding out the suspense in a thriller.
If it is a good movie, once you know the suspense you move on. There’s no real point in watching the movie again. But if it a great movie, you can go back to it and marvel at how you missed the obvious clues, hiding in plain sight.
Talaash is a good suspense movie. Well made, well acted and much better than most of the Bollywood movies that you will watch this year. What lets it down, and prevents it from crossing the thin line from good to great, is it’s script. It’s like it was written by someone who was doing a great job till he realised that he has ran out of time and still hasn’t figured out the answer. And therefore ended up taking the easiest, laziest route to the end.
It’s a shame because it could have been much, much better than it is. Till then, you can only keep waiting.

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Books, Personal, Technology

I read. What do you do?

Somewhere in John le Carre masterpiece ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’, someone tells a child, “Everyone has a talent”.

My talent is reading.

That’s it. I read. I understood this in a training session a couple of months ago when the instructor asked me what I like to read.

I read novels, books, newspapers, tweets, facebook posts, signboards, labels anything. Once I even tried to read an EULA. Of course it helps if the text is not something I’m “supposed” to read, like something academic or official.

Yeah I know. It’s not a particularly useful talent, unless you can remember everything you read. Which I can’t. But them we all have to play with the cards we’ve been dealt with. So, no complaints.

That’s why I don’t understand the hue and cry people who love reading make over ‘books’, the dead tree type, being replaced by ebook readers and their ilk like tabs, phones etc. I do understand the fact that ebooks and the like don’t give you a feeling of possession like an actual physical book can, but isn’t a book much more than the medium it is printed on?

A ‘book’ may be an idea or a set of ideas when it is non-fiction, or it may be something less serious like a story or poem when it is fiction. The paper or the electronic device on which it is read is just the channel/medium to bring the idea/story to you. To put it in crude terms, it’s function is similar to that of a middleman or a tout like the ones you see hanging outside RTO offices in India. You pay them for the convenience of getting a driver’s license license (even though you may not know how to drive). The paper or the device provides you a similar convenience by making it easier to get access to the thoughts of the author.

Would you be disappointed if the touts outside the RTO get replaced by someone/something more convenient? Then, if you like to read, why romanticise dead trees?

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I just don’t get fanbois

I’ve noticed a strange trend among people I follow on twitter. Okay, maybe ‘Strange’ is too strong an adjective, but the trend is exceptional for sure.

The trend I’m talking about is people professing their love for some gadgets in their twitter bios. As far as I knew, the bio (short for biography, I think) link was to tell people about who you are, so that they know who they are following. At what stage does your love for a gadget (or a brand, for example) become so strong that you start using it in your bio. In other words, why do people let a gadget/brand define who they are?

The most noticeable brand that I’ve seen appearing on peoples bios is the iPhone. Followed closely by it’s parent, Apple Inc., and it’s other products like the iMac, Macbook etc. The Enfield also makes it appearance but in a reduced number, comparatively speaking.

All of these are brands/products that have achieved cult/iconic status. So it is natural for people to feel nice getting associated with them. And Apple fanbois would’ve existed ever since the Macintosh  made it’s debut. But when you have just 140 characters to write about yourself, wouldn’t you resist the temptation to squeeze in the name of your favorite phone/laptop in it?

 

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The Future of Email?

This is what I said two years ago,

… (if) Facebook could provide an email address (you@facebook.com), provide the ability to fwd mails and messages, tag and group mails and do all the other cool things that gmail allows us to do, wouldn’t that be awesome? It already has all the other things with it. It is already the biggest database of photographs. You can embed videos in it, you can share links with people. Almost everything that you would want from an email id is right there.

And if you’ve managed to peek out from under your rock anytime in the past week, you would’ve certainly seen this, or some variant of it flying around on the net. In fact, as I write this, Mr. Zuckberg is in the process of proving me right (WSJ Live blog, TechCrunch’s Coverage). Even though, he explicitly says that he is not competing with Gmail, this may just be the biggest threat that Gmail has faced, yet.

“We don’t think a modern messaging system is going to be e-mail,” Mr. Zuckerberg said. He said that e-mail is too formal, too slow and too cumbersome, especially for young people who have grown up communicating using online chat and text messaging systems. The new Facebook service, which will allow users to have @facebook.com e-mail addresses, intends to integrate the three forms of communication into one inbox that is accessible from PCs or mobile phones.

(Source: NYTimes)

Personally, I love the Gmail experience, but I’m still willing to bet that Zuckerberg has a killer of a product on his hands.

Now, can we just sort out my royalty amount please, Mr Zuckerberg? :)

 

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