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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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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2LFT, Computers and Internet, Technology

[2LFT] “The Web is Dead” and the BlackBerry

(A few quick thoughts on the latest Wired Cover Story and something that got me thinking a few days ago about my latest toy, the BlackBerry Curve 8900)

I bought a new phone a couple of months ago. A BlackBerry 8900. Not at all top-of-the-line, but a very capable phone which satisfied all my requirements (more on those later), plus I got a SUPER deal.

Like everything we buy or even think of buying, the first thing I did before getting the phone was to google the model in question. Among the other things, one thing that was mentioned again and again was how bad the default browser is. And after buying the phone I found it out myself – the browser sucks. Big time. But that didn’t stop me from getting the phone. Because the same reviews which take RIM apart over the browser, also offer a solution to the consumers reading them. The Opera Mini. Or the Bolt.

Now a few days later, just before the launch of the Torch 9800, the internet was abuzz about the new browser being used in the new phone. Apparently RIM went all out to create a decent browser, and going by the largely positive reviews, they succeeded too.

But why waste a large number of man-hours on something as trivial as a browser?

Okay. Not trivial. A browser is a very important component of the phone. What I mean here is why waste your budget on something that is being done very well by others. All RIM should’ve done is get Opera to make a browser specially for the new phone. In other words, they could’ve just outsourced the browser.

To be honest, a crappy browser is the least of RIM’s problems. In my opinion, they really need to get their app strategy in order. And their brand positioning. And other things.

But let me not digress. The BlackBerry app store is nothing compared to the iPhone and Android stores. The choice is limited and the few apps that are there are (usually) costlier and worse than their iPhone and Android siblings. I’m the kind of user who’s satisfied with having a core set of “productive” apps (no iFart for me, please). And even I think the range of apps is utterly limited.

And why am I concentrating so hard on apps? Because that’s how we increasingly traverse the Internet. Even Chris Anderson and Michael Wolff think so. Read.

If RIM has any wish to NOT go down the path Palm and other before it have walked on, getting their app strategy right is absolutely imperative.

(More thoughts on the BlackBerry later.)

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Technology

Weird


Just read on the news that Microsoft has announced a huge profit for the quarter ending September 30.

Since a profit figure of $4.29 billion is sufficient to make me interested 😉 , I went to their website to have a look at their previous Annual Report. And the thing that stuck me the most on going there was that they still give put out their annual reports on their own .doc format files.
I mean, its probably a small thing, but isn’t .pdf one of the most widely used formats on the Internet?
Yeah, I also agree that all computers can open a file in the MS-Word format. Maybe even more than the number of computers which can open PDFs. But if the whole world is moving towards using PDFs (specially for online documents), doesn’t it make more sense to follow the same? Or at least give the user the option of downloading the same file in multiple formats?

Or is this because
their XPS format is directly pitted against Adobe’s PDF format?
Weird.

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Technology

Up ahead in the Clouds?


Came across a pretty interesting post (part two here) on the New York Times Technology Blog regarding computing-in-the-cloud i.e. moving computing and data away from the desktop to an online location which is then transmitted to the user’s terminal.

What the article basically tries to say is that this should lead to development of stripped down desktop computers or dumb-terminals having the ability to let the user do basic stuff using "powerful and standardized Web browsers".

The basic stuff that the user will be able to do includes using word processing and number crunching applications like MS Word and Excel. These tasks will be done using online suites like Google Apps (Google’s online answer to Microsoft Office).

I feel, for such an idea to really take off it is necessary that it is adopted by enterprise users. Having enterprise users will give online computing the legitimacy that it craves and also provide developers an assured source of income, which will in turn lead to further developments.

But will such an idea really be able to take off using only "powerful and standardized Web browsers"? Will you as a company really be comfortable doing your daily work on a "web browser"?

What I mean to say is that there is a mindset that has associated "web browsers" to (generally) non-business things like surfing the net, social networking etc. Enterprise users would normally check their official emails on applications like Microsoft Outlook, Lotus Notes etc. e.g. will a Goldman Sachs or a Lehmann Brothers analyst be comfortable making his valuation models on an browser with his personal Orkut and Gmail accounts running on parallel tabs?

I think the way ahead for online computing would be to develop a light user interface like that of a standard word processing or number crunching program on top of a powerful Internet connected skeleton. This will greatly increase the confidence that people place in online applications and also allow the developer to add functionality like drag-and-drop across multiple windows (also suggested in a comment in the original article, with an interesting example of iTunes as such a super-browser).  

Till such an application is developed, Cloud Computing will need a lot of effort in getting off the ground (Assuming the other very important concerns of online computing like security, assured connectivity etc. are taken care of).

As I finish typing this, my Google desktop news feed announces Capgemini’s Google Apps initiative. Will this push be decisive enough for Cloud-computing?

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Technology

Orkut, Google and Microsoft…

Just stumbled across a cool new feature on Orkut. It is now possible for user to display their blogs and photo albums through their orkut profiles.

Evidently, this is a relatively old feature. InsideOrkut has a post dated May 31, 2007 describing this very feature and also the how-to for less tech savvy users. Wonder how I missed it…

But this is not what got me thinking (after I had linked my blog and photo album :)). What got me thinking was the trend of cross-functional linkages that were happening in various Google products over the past year or so. Something very similar to what Microsoft had started some time back.

Now, Microsoft had started providing its products like IE, Windows Media Player etc. bundled along with it popular OS. This resulted in a massive loss of market share and revenues for its competitors. Which resulted in an anti-trust case against MS in Europe. Which ultimately resulted in MS having to pay a fine for its alleged "monopolistic practice".

But isn’t Google’s strategy today very similar to what MS had done a decade ago? By converging its popular products, it is pushing its competitors right out of the market. e.g. by linking Gtalk with Orkut, the number of users of Gtalk will rapidly escalate as the much higher user base of Orkut will start using Gtalk. After all, for the users, it is just a matter of convenience.

So how long before Google also gets slapped with its own anti-trust case?

My $0.02: It is only a matter of time…

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