Sunday, January 30, 2011

Nostalgia trip - all the cellphones I have ever owned :)

It's January 2011 and approximately a decade since I bought my first mobile phone. Looking back, it's amazing to see how much technology has changed in these 10 years!

This is a companion post to the piece I wrote about portable music devices that I have owned through the years. I have a lot of fun making these nostalgic, trip-into-the-past kind of posts and I hope you enjoy them too!

Cellphones were around in 1998, when I just started working. I remember doing a market research project for BPL Mobile which was then India's leading cellphone company. The outgoing call rates were then Rs. 16 to Rs. 25 per minute, depending on which plan you were signed up for. Incoming call rates were Rs.8 to Rs.12 per minute. Needless to say, only businessmen/doctors/ lawyers etc. who really needed connectivity, would buy cellphones and of course, so did the ultra-rich status-seeking types. Handset costs were also high - initially Motorola and Ericsson handsets were available at prices starting from Rs. 10000.

1. My first cellphone - Nokia 5190 (2000-2003)

I think I bought my first cellphone in 2000. It was a Nokia 5100 (5190 in USA) for which I paid the princely sum of Rs. 5000 and I was very kicked with it. Incidentally, my first operator was Orange and I paid Rs. 6 per incoming call and Rs. 2 for outgoing calls. 

Nokia started making the 5x series in 1998 and discontinued it in 2001.

Image courtesy Wikipedia

My first handset weighed a ton (180 gms, to be precise) and when I lovingly encased it in a clear plastic cover, it looked like a TV remote. It had no features other than a calculator and alarm clock. But I remember that I first started playing Snake on this phone and it was an addictive experience :) Like all Nokia phones through history, it had an awesome battery life. And yeah, the legends are true - no matter how many times you dropped it, it would not break. You can check out the detailed specs on CNet

In 2003, I passed this phone to my mom and she kept it for another 4 years.

2. My second, sleek cellphone - Nokia 3310 (2003-2007)

I bought this phone in 2003 and I kept it till 2007, when I gave it away to my mom, who reluctantly upgraded it 2 years later. So the life of my first two cellphones was 7 years plus. Today, I'm not sure if I even want to keep a cellphone for more than 2 years. Life changes....

(image from Wikipedia)

Compared to the earlier phone, this one weighed a modest 133 gms only. I remember being excited to buy it because it was so small and light, and I could even hang it around my neck when I was out for fieldwork! Talk about tying a millstone around your own neck :). I cannot remember the price, but I think it was still around Rs.5000.

Anyway, the other superior features of this phone included a monochrome graphic display on the screen, screen saver and welcome message on start up. And it would also have a silent/ vibrate mode. Needless to say, I was very kicked with all these small things. Here are the full specs from GSM Arena.

3. Sony Ericsson k5110i (2007-2008)

My first departure from Nokia land yielded mixed results. I certainly got a sleeker, more feature-loaded handest than I would have gotten from Nokia at that price range. And when I saw the SE User Interface, which was vibrant and youthful, I realised how much Nokia UIs were lagging behind. Actually, I think the writing was on the wall for Nokia way back then. Although their lower end handsets were selling on brand name, young people had tonnes of more vibrant choices from Motorola and SE in the same price range. Today, Micromax etc. perform the same role. And it was exactly this factor that tempted me away from Nokia, though I love Nokia phones!

Anyway back to the phone. I had posted this review of it on mouthshut around 6 months after buying it. I was not very happy, but I was by then ready to upgrade my phone within a year without regrets. However, it was the first, in fact the only phone I have ever owned that I had to take to a repair centre. And I am afraid that I have not bought a SE phone after that.

4. Nokia 3110c (2008-2009)

This has to be the most nondescript handset I have ever owned because I cannot remember anything about it. Except that I became very bored and changed it within a year. Nothing was wrong with it, it just bored me.  I can't be bothered to even search for a picture for this one!

If I remember, the only reason I bought it was because it was under Rs.5000 and it was a Nokia. I was running away from my trouble-ridden SE handset, back towards reliability.

5. Nokia E63 (2009-2010)

When I bought this, I was eyeing a BlackBerry, but I was put off by the high price premium and the fixed data plans offered with it. I saw the superb reviews of this handset and it became my next choice.

This has to be my favorite out of all the handsets I have owned. It represented many firsts for me. First time I spent more than Rs.10,000 on a cellphone. First QWERTY phone - and Nokia makes a fab QWERTY keyboard. First phone with push mail. I had been eyeing this for some time, but I did not buy it until the prices became reasonable. I eventually bought it at Rs10,500 (exchange price). Anyway, this handset made me fall in love with Nokia all over again. Much love. It was a sturdy beast with a fabulous battery life. I gave it away to my Dad who is happily flaunting it on BSNLs 3G network. It pinches that we do not have 3G yet in Mumbai.

Incidentally, this two year old phone is still available at  Rs.8500 and I think it's a great buy, better than many later handsets that Nokia has launched. It's a solid budget QWERTY. Specs from GSM Arena.

If I loved it so much, why did I give it away within a year? Too many new things beckoned - better hardware, new user interface, devices with more internet-friendly operating system. The world of apps and widgets.

6. Samsung Wave (2010-current)

(image from GSM Arena)

I had my eye on Samsung Wave from when it was announced. At my budget, I could have bought an Android with mid-level hardware or the Wave with top-end hardware and the dubious bada OS.I guess my choice taught me something about myself - given a choice between hardware and software, I went for the hardware.

You can read about why I bought the Wave. I am still happy with my phone, but now I realise that I miss two things - QWERTY and a larger screen. Looks like the next phone needs to have both!

After writing this piece, I realised a few things about my cellphone purchase behaviour
1) I have always had a budget threshold, linked to how much value I attach to a cellphone in my life. Initially I would not pay more than Rs.5000, then it was Rs.10,000 and now it is Rs.20,000. It was email and internet access that pushed my budget up, as well as acknowledgement of the increase in processing power and hardware specs.
2) I have less value for durability over time. The most expensive phones I bought, were the ones I discarded (or plan to discard) soonest. This is linked to my needs and demands from cellphones increasing, as well as the flux in the category
3) I always buy below the curve, and wait for the price of best selling models to drop before I get them.
4) I have behaved very much like an average cellphone user, hanging onto a dumbphone for a long time, then upgrading to a better feature phone, then a business phone and then a sorta smart phone. Where are my geek creds here?! :) 
4) Out of my ten years of cellphone usage, I have been loyal to Nokia for 9 years! I have never had a bad experience with them till date. Yet, unless they get onto Android, I don't think I will buy another Nokia phone, and I feel bad about that. Operating system+brand will drive my next purchase and brand alone is not enough to take a decision.

Help, I have an extra cellphone tower! Anyone wants it?

We complain that we have poor connectivity because there aren't enough mobile towers, but I have a problem that is exactly opposite; I have an extra tower!

The Airtel network on my cellphone keeps dropping, and when I registered a complaint last year, the engineer came to check the signal strength. He confirmed that the signal from the nearest tower was weak (I live on the 12th floor and face a hill, so the problem was compounded). He promised that a new tower would be set up, and sure enough, within a month, the network strength really increased. I was happy for a few months, then the problem came back. Again, I registered a complaint. This time, the Airtel engineer presented a different reason for my problem.

According to him, my house picks up a network signal from two towers which are roughly equidistant from my house. As a result, a section of my house - the kitchen and part of the living room - form a sort of 'dead zone' between the two towers. This causes the signal to drop suddenly if I walk from one room to another, or even move within my living room, as the cellphone drops the signal from Tower 1 and picks up the signal from Tower 2.

So, the only way I can speak on the phone is by disposing myself at a certain angle on the sofa facing the window, which seems to attract a good signal. And I cannot move out of this zone by so much as a foot, or the signal drops again. Alternately I could lean out of the balcony and talk, with an extremely strong signal, assuming I want the neighbours to hear everything.

So when a friend posted this link on Facebook today, I became very happy. Cellphones that work without towers sound like just what the doctor ordered. Meanwhile, there is no solution for my problem unless Airtel removes or shifts one of the towers. Ironically, the signal was just fine while they had only one tower! It's a case of abundance causing a problem.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

bada apps that I would pay good money for

I read a couple of thought provoking posts (links below) which point out that in the iOS/ Android marketplace model, app developers make very little profit per app given the expected pricing varies from free to 2-3 dollars. If consumers are not willing to pay for apps, this poses a serious long term challenge to the viability and growth of the app developer community. Unless they see the potential to make sufficient income, why would they be motivated to spend time and money in creating apps?

I have been thinking of my own experience with my mobile phone vs. laptop. I realise that I am more conditioned to pay for services on my mobile, than I am on a PC/laptop. This may be a function of how the mobile industry/ Value Added services have developed in India. For instance, I once paid Rs. 10 per month to subscribe to BBC News Voice blog on airtel. It was only temporary, because I was curious but I honestly cannot imagine paying to access any blog on my laptop! Also as I find myself using my mobile more for internet access, there are several services/ products that I would gladly pay for on my bada handset. So here is a list of things that I would like to see in the bada app store;

1. A better browser. I would gladly pay for a bada compatible Opera Mini or any other broswer that offers me better bookmarking, tabs and that basic feature of text re-flow

2. Push mail client. Exchange ActiveSync may be free but it is profoundly temperamental and I am ready to pay for a reliable push mail client and a customer service I can shout at when I have problems. For the latter privilege, I am even ready to pay monthly.

3. Facebook and Twitter Widgets. Both FB and Twitter have perfectly good mobile sites, but I would really like to have widgets with live feed updates and customisation.

4. Feed Reader : I would like a feed reader that would import my google susbscriptions and display the updated feeds in a mobile friendly format. Google Reader does fine on my mobile, but I am ready to pay for something even better

5. Keyboard : While I am getting used to Samsung's native keyboard, I would not mind investing in something which gave a different layout, more space or customisation option in keyboard layout.

6. Anti Virus software for mobile : I am aware that it is high time I installed this, yet it is not easily accessible through the bada store. It ought to be.

7. Phone security/ anti-theft system : It has to be niftily and intelligently designed to secure my data, it should remind me if I left my phone behind somewhere and it should send out alerts if stolen. I'm not creative enough to figure out how that will work, but I'm sure someone can, and then they can charge me a fat fee for it, which I will gladly pay.

These were the top of mind thoughts, but I'm pretty sure that if I spent more time, I could think of several others. And without exception, I would pay generously for each of these apps.I can see myself paying upto Rs. 500 for certain ones like mobile email client and anti-virus software. However, I would like to try before buying if I am going to pay so much money.

What are the apps that you would pay for vs. ones that you believe ought to be free?

Wild Chocolate

Google vs. Apple - two different business models

Too often, when people discuss Android phones on the Net, things degenerate into a smackdown contest between iPhone and Google. Actually, when you step behind the stereotypes and look at each company's business model, it's hard to say that they compete directly. Yes, in a sense you can say that they both create operating systems used by the end-smartphone user, but that's it. Their business motive, business model and sources of revenue are widely divergent.

As we know, Google does not make money off Android, because it is an open-source, free software. In fact, it probably costs Google big money to keep developing the numerous iterations of Android that come out each year. The company has a long term strategic reason to invest in Android, in addition to the short term financial gains.

The long term reason is simple to understand - it centers around Google's search monopoly, which drives their enormous advertising revenue. In this YouTube video Google CIO Douglas Merril Google  describes Google as a 'search, ads and apps company'. He also puts up the company's mission statement which is to 'organise all the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful.' Do note the motherhood of this statement - all information (across languages - hence Google Translate), across mediums (from books, to TV, to the web), accessible on any device. Also, from Google's perspective, the world's information includes information about YOU as a user of Search, YouTube, Chrome and numerous other Google products - what interests you, what ads you click on, what products you buy - which in turn helps them to target relevant ads to you. So if trends indicated way back in 2007, that more and more people were going to access the internet through their mobile phones, it made sense for Google to jump in and have a presence that integrated Google products with the device and operating system. It was an incredibly smart piece of foresight, putting Google ahead of software giant Microsoft in the mobile space. Soon, when mobile advertising builds up momentum, as it will, Google will comfortably slide into its old role, on a new medium.

And in the meantime, Google has other ways of milking revenue from Android. First and foremost, the company takes a cut of 30% from developers on sales of apps through the Android marketplace.
Google also has revenue sharing agreements with carriers who support Android devices (I am not clear about this but I think that Google splits the 30% revenue that comes through Android marketplace with the carriers). And there are revenue sharing arrangements with handset makers who offer Google branded handsets like Droid and Nexus, and install Google applications like search and maps on their phones.

Apple has a 'closed' business model, which is closer to that of Nokia or RIM (Blackberry). Google does not attempt to build handsets, they give huge leeway to manufacturers to layer Android with their own User Interfaces and they do not control what kinds of apps go up in the Android Marketplace. Apple on the other hand, builds phone hardware to consistently high standards, and controls every aspect of the software, user interface and usage experience. The app store is very much like a walled garden, with Apple reviewing and approving each app before it is offered to users.  Apple's rigid control comes from its obsessive desire to maintain a stable, consistent and high quality user environment, and they have succeeded brilliantly in this.

The initial business model of the iPhone 3G in the US makes for interesting reading. Customers would pay the full price of the iPhone upfront and carriers would share their monthly revenue with Apple. It says a lot for Steve Jobs that he was able to negotiate such a deal. Eventually however, Apple shifted to the same revenue model as other handset manufacturers - the carriers would subsidise the phone to customers, and make up the money through contracts.

So Apple makes money through selling hardware and controlling the platform (iOS/ App Store) through which software is sold. Unlike Google, Apple is also a distributor with the iTunes platform, retailing movies, music, ebooks etc. And like Google, Apple also rolled out its iAds platform which would create a potential revenue stream for developers as well as the company. As a combination of all these measures, the Apple business model is a highly profitable one and proven to be successful through the years.

So where do Google and Apple actually compete, if at all? I would say, the direct clash of interest comes only when you look at Apple as serving ads to its users. Barring this, the two companies operate in very different spaces.

Google aims for world dominance, in line with its mission statement. The route to world dominance is through open networks, collaboration and flexibility. Google wants to carry as much of the world as it can, to the New Mobile era. Whether you are on a Rs. 6000 Micromax Andro or a mid-priced HTC Wildfire or a high end Nexus S/ HTC Evo, you are of value as a Google customer.

Apple on the other hand, looks at high revenue generation through premium products with high usage satisfaction and loyalty. The company does not earn as much profit (per piece sold) from iPad and iPhone, as it does from Macs. But the volumes sold more than compensate for this. Apple has not shown interest in creating a cheaper mass phone/tablet which might lead them to compromise their industry-leading standards for digital products. So, they will not achieve the scale of growth that Android phones do, but they will remain a vastly profitable segment of the market, for a long time to come.

The bottomline - like I said, Google and Apple do not compete. Not in the sense that old rivals Microsoft and Apple did. And both are here to co-exist in a market that is only going to grow for years to come. It's unlikely that Google will kill off/ stifle Apple's growth (and why would they even want to?). Let's celebrate real choice in the mobile market. It can only benefit us as consumers


Inside your smartphone - component manufacturers

Confession - I do read my blog stats religiously to see what search queries brought you here and which posts have gotten the maximum hits. I noticed that a lot of people have been searching to find information about smartphone component manufacturers which led to this post I made in August 2010.

Behind every smartphone are several manufacturers, and hundreds of different components put together to work in harmony. 

If you are really interested in what's inside your phone, you should type the name of the phone+teardown to get the gory details. My post just skims the surface...

1. ARM - the king of mobile processors
At the heart of your smartphone is a processor with ARM-based architecture. This architecture is owned and licensed by Arm Holdings , a UK based company, which however does not manufacture the processors themselves. Whether your mobile phone processor is manufactured by QualComm, NVidia, Samsung, TI or Apple, they have paid ARM to use their technology.

2. Assorted chips for different uses

Smartphones have multiple chips - video processor, audio codec, touchscreen controller, flash memory,bluetooth etc. The chips are the most expensive components of a cellphone. There are several low-profile companies who are specialised in certain chips. For example, BroadComm commonly manufactures the Bluetooth module and GPS receiver on most smartphones including the iPhone 4 and the Samsung Galaxy S. Samsung is a leading manufacturer of the memory module.

3. Touchscreen/ display
The post I made last year talks mostly about the manufacturers of displays - Samsung, Sony and now, LG.There is very little to choose between the top displays - Sony's Super LCD and Samsung's Super AMOLED. The new one in the mix is LG's Nova display, which made its debut on LGs Optimus handset in early January. This is an IPS LCD with high brightness and outdoor visibility and LG claims it is the brightest and most energy efficient display in the world, beating even AMOLED. If you are interested in the very close-run comparison of NOVA and SAMOLED, check out the video comparison of both screens by Phone Arena

Friday, January 28, 2011

It's official - tablets fall below Rs 30,000 barrier in India

Today, E-zone is carrying two separate ads in the Times of India, Mumbai for its electronics sale. Amidst the fridges and washing machines, two rather delectable items are on sale; the Apple iPad, and the Samsung Galaxy Tab.

Pllease note that these prices are for Mumbai and I have no idea what they may be in other parts of the country.

1) Apple iPad (which was officially launched in India last week) is available at the following prices:

2) Samsung Galaxy Tab prices have been slashed (no doubt to keep up with Apple) and the Tab is being offered at a 22% discount at Rs. 28,990 for the 16GB Wi-Fi + 3G model. Incidentally, the compatible iPad is Rs.34,900, which makes the Tab a good deal if you want a 3G tablet. I do think that the price differential between the wi-fi only iPad and the 3G version is too large. 3G is a default option on phones nowadays and should be on tablets too.

I expect to see a few more tablet-touting geeks around now. The Rs.30,000 barrier was a psychological one for sure and it was tough to justify the purchase. Now the price barrier has been breached, and hopefully it will not be long before the tablets drop below Rs.25,000.

My advice is still to wait, because a tablet is a non-essential item, unlike a phone or a laptop, and the category is still evolving. The iPad 2 launch is due in April and going by the rumors, it will be a much-improved product with an SD Card slot, front and rear cameras, dual core processor and more RAM. And of course, 2011 is touted to be the year of the Android tablet with Motorola Xoom leading the way and others coming close behind. Geeks can keep their fingers crossed that Notion Ink's Adam makes it to mass production.

I would buy a tablet if it is available in a similar price range as a netbook (Rs. 15,000-20,000) as according to me, it does pretty much the same function. Hardware should soon reach parity, as it has with smartphones. What one should look for (and if necessary, pay for) is a better user interface and ease of use. Probably also worth it to play around with one for sometime before deciding to buy.

In fact, today I was smiling to myself, thinking that we ooh and aah over what phones or tablets are doing, when we have been doing so much more on our laptops for years. That's the excitement value of a new form factor or a new toy. And I guess that is the fun of new technology

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Intel's new chips will be in your laptop but not your mobile

From February 2011, Intel will start shipping the 2nd generation (Sandy Bridge) Core i3/i5/i7 processors for laptops and PCs. SandyBridge was exhaustively previewed by AnandTech last year, and praised for the enhanced speed, better graphics, gaming performance and lower power consumption. It's a worthy upgrade to the current range and best of all, the first wave of new processors will be affordable mid-range ones aimed at performance mainstream notebooks/ PCs.

Intel continues to superpower our laptops and netbooks, but why are there no Intel chips in mobiles and tablets? Why has the company stayed out of this rapidly growing, dynamic market segment?

Intel is a monopoly market leader for processors manufactured on x86 architecture. But currently, mobile devices use processors based on ARM architecture which is favored for its high performance to power ratios. ARM gained a big edge because of its adoption by Apple for iPhone and iPad; other manufacturers followed suit.

The source of the ARM architecture is Arm Holdings, a Cambridge (UK) based company. As Steve Cheney points out in his blog, Arm does not make processors; instead, for a small fee, it licenses the architecture to chipmakers like QualComm, Samsung, Texas Instruments and NVidia who in turn manufacture and sell to makers of mobile phones, tablets etc.

Again referencing Steve's blog, Intel once had ARM-based chips, but exited the  business in 2006, to concentrate on PCs,laptops and servers, rather than the nascent mobile market. The rest is history - Intel dominated these segments, until the smartphone and then the tablet revolution came out of nowhere, spearheaded by Apple. Reports for 2010 show that PC sales are still strong, but analysts are predicting that in the next few years, the number of mobile devices will overtake PCs. This seems likely as handhelds can completely replace netbooks, substitute a second laptop/ desktop and offer the additional convenience of portability.

At CES 2010, Intel had introduced the Atom Moorestown chips for mobile devices, and indicated that they would be put into mobiles by 2011, but the company has kept very low key at CES this year. Wonder if and when these chips will actually get into action.

Meanwhile, Intel has been focusing on areas beyond processors as engines of future growth. This article on Ars Technica points out how Intel has evolved beyond a pure chip manufacturer into platforms, software and services.

The obvious danger in this route, is that when you expand beyond your core competency, you may lose focus on it. For the majority of us, Intel is still a chip company. We buy Intel chips in our PCs and would have probably bought them on our cellphones, even at a slight premium. And whether Intel acknowledges it or not, that is an opportunity lost - and one they hopefully still intend to capitalise on. It's not too late!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Data plans for 3G - which is best for me?

With faster 3G networks, we are all looking forward to doing more surfing on our phones and thereby consuming more data! It appears from the trickle of 3G plans we have seen so far, that none of the operators are feeling very generous. Plans are stingy, the charges are an average of Re.1 per MB and therefore pretty expensive compared to both GPRS and broadband. So, which data plan would be best for you on 3G?

There are two ways to use the internet connection on your mobile - untethered (only on your phone) and tethered (using your phone as a modem for your laptop/netbook). Obviously, tethering will lead to significantly higher data consumption. Certain operator plans do not permit tethering - for instance my current GPRS plan is Rs.99 for 2GB but I cannot tether.

When you use your phone untethered, data consumption will tend to be low, as most sites and services are automatically optimised for your mobile. A lot of international norms are available to understand how much data you will use with 3G.

In July last year, AT&T had discontinued their $30 per month unlimited data plans for iPhone users, giving users an option of cheaper limited plans - 200 MB at $15 per month, or 2GB at $25. While a lot of people protested that unlimited plans were being scrapped, AT&T showed analysis data indicating that 65% consumers use less than 200 MB while 98% use less than 2 GB. Ars Technica staff put up their data usage graphs showing similar results.

iPhone data usage is a safe norm to use - iPhone users have long been considered the biggest data hogs, though Android phone users are worse, according to this data from Verizon, which shows that their smartphone customers consume an average of 420 MB per month vs. 338 MB consumed by AT&Ts iPhone customers.

Anyway, the point is that most of us, even with regular checking of email, Facebook, news sites, googling etc. will never cross 200 MB so we can safely go for the lowest tier 3G plan.  I think it would be interesting to monitor our own data consumption on different networks (GPRS, broadband, 3G) and understand our own consumption patterns. This might become a necessity as operators are keen to move away from unlimited plans and cap our data consumption. In the process, we might be paying more per MB, but we might still be able to save money if we know exactly how much (how little?) we really use.

MTNL offers MNP with free 3G in Mumbai

MTNL has a full pager in today's Mumbai Mirror, wooing new prepaid and postpaid subscribers with the very tempting offer of 3G on the MTNL network, while retaining your old number.

MTNL has waived the porting charge of Rs.19.

Pre-paid  users will get 200 MB data and 100 min. of video calling free for the first month. Postpaid users get 50 MB per month free for the first 4 months, and 25% discount on rentals for the first 3 months.

You can read the full details of the offer here

When I posted about the nationwide MNP rollout last week, I had mentioned that good 3G schemes would be an incentive for me to shift. MTNL has a first mover advantage here, with Airtel and Vodafone not giving an clear launch date for their 3G services.

So, are  any of you in Mumbai tempted by the MTNL offer? What schemes are being offered under MNP by the operators in your circle?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Will you buy a tablet in 2011?

According to IDC estimates, 17 million tablets were sold in 2010. Nearly 15 million of these were iPads, reports techcrunch and around a million were Samsung Galaxy Tab. IDC projects that approximately 44 million tablets will be sold in 2011 and judging by the number of tablets showcased at CES this year, we should see Apple's dominant market share challenged with a lot of competition from Android-based devices.

These are looking like the top devices of 2011 but of course, it's a dynamic world and several more may come in;

1) Motorola Xoom (which won the Best Gadget Award at CES) 2011) is launching in the US in mid-February, priced at $800. If that's steep compared to the iPad, consider that it's the first tablet out there running Android Honeycomb. It has a 10 inch screen, dual core NVidia Tegra processor and 1 GB RAM and it looks quite gorgeous.

(image from fonearena)

2) At under $500, Notion Ink's Adam tablet represents serious competition for the Xoom, as it takes it head on in terms of feature set. Notion Ink runs an OS called Eden which is a customised version of Android. A head-on comparison of the Xoom and the Adam is available on the IB Times - there is really not a lot to choose between the two. Adam is shipping this month and should start reaching customers' anytime soon, so we will get to hear how it really stacks up very soon. I can't wait. Adam is the only tablet which has seriously tempted me. I really dig the hardware that Notion Ink has put together, particularly the PixelQi screen.

3) Then finally, there is the iPAd 2. Specs have been leaking out regularly especially since the last month. TechRadar has published a very useful summary of all the rumors so far. It seems that the iPad will correct some of the issues that irked people last time round - iPad 2 will have an SD Card slot, front and rear facing camera, a faster processor and more RAM and possibly a better display (Retina display like the iPhone, claim some). Definitely worth waiting for!

What I would love to see is a tablet from Nokia running Maemo Linux, taking off from the N900, but I don't know if that will happen this year. Apple has demonstrated that there is money and demand in the tablet space, even when it is nascent. But I don't know where Nokia intends to play any more - smartphones, affordable phones, handhelds or what. I just think that they have a huge potential to build a stable, useable tablet OS and interface. I wish they would!

This is the year when most of us may actually spring for a tablet even if we did not see a need last year. I might, if the price is right and the hardware excites me. And I have a bit of a choice this year. What about you? Will you buy a tablet this year?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Why I will never use a Mac

So many times I've gotten suggestions from my friends to 'just try' using a Mac, promising that I will have a superb user experience. Nor am I blind to the benefits of MacBooks - stable and mostly trouble free performance, long life, good service, no need to use Anti-Virus - the list goes on and on. And if this were not enough, the compatability between Mac and Microsoft has improved steadily over time. As a friend pointed out on Twitter, I can boot a Mac into Windows, run Office programs and generally use it just like I use my PC.

There was a time when I would have not been able to afford a Mac - but that is not the case now, when Apple is discounting aggressively and giving great promo offers. And yes, I can afford to splurge now, which I would not have earlier.

Also there is a part of me that feels, if I love tech, I should be able to use and learn all platforms. I believe that a blind bias or refusal to learn something new, limits me and my knowledge.

In short, I have every reason to use a Mac. Yet, I probably never will.

I understood the real reason for this last month, when I was working with my business partner on a presentation that we were making jointly. She was creating a PowerPoint deck on her (brand new) MacBook and I was creating one on my Dell XPS. Sometimes she would ask me to help her out "How do I edit this video clip?". Or "How do I increase the size of this object?" To my irritation and frustration, I could not help her at all. I couldn't figure the mouse. I could not figure the video editing program + the way the mouse works. Once I was trying to tell her how to format a thumb drive. "Just right click and select format" I told her. Only to realise that the menu of options she was seeing was different from mine.

I have spent 14 years mastering Windows and PowerPoint on a PC. To re-learn how to use stuff on a Mac/ Mac OS, I would be increasing my learning curve. I have learnt to do things mechanically, even blindly on a PC. And I am not prepared to suddenly go back to school. I cannot afford to 'waste time'. This is not about a hobby or a passion, it is about business productivity and it's where the shoe pinches. I will not give up my mastery of a PC - it's a business asset.

The same logic does not apply for a cellphone. I would be more than willing to learn an iOS or even a Blackberry OS. That's because the phone is still a toy, a gadget for me. But my PC  is a holy cow. It earns me my bread.

That's the real reason why I will never use a Mac. At least, not until I can afford to have one purely as a fun machine to learn on in spare time. It can never be my mainstay.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Mobile Number Portability rolls out today, but will it change your life?

And about time too, given that it's been around in Haryana since end November. Vodafone took the full front page of Times of India in Mumbai today, to announce that it's MNP ready, nationwide. Airtel and other operators have also updated their websites to announce the launch of MNP.

The key highlights of MNP are:

1. Both pre-paid and postpaid numbers can be ported. For postpaid numbers, you have to ensure that you do not owe any money to your existing operator. For pre-paid numbers, your credit/balance amount with your current operator cannot be carried forward.
2. You can only port a number within your current circle (obviously). However, you can shift from a CDMA to a GSM network.
3. The porting of a number takes 2 days and the maximum charge for transfer as fixed by TRAI is Rs.19. Vodafone is levying the fee currently, but operators also have  the freedom to waive the fee.
4. After porting your number there is a lock in period of 90 days  before you  can shift to a new provider.

What will be the impact of MNP? According to DNA, it could spur a war among telecom operators to acquire postpaid users, who represent an attractive proposition because of the high ARPU (average revenue per user) generated by these customers - while they constitute only 5% of users, they generate 20% of the telcos' revenues.

Another area of churn will be the CDMA customer base, with analysts predicting that Tata Tele and RComm will be most affected by users shifting to GSM networks.

 If you're interested, WATBlog has an interesting analysis of the impact of MNP in Haryana, pointing out that the actual churn rate (shifting) was very low - unlikely to cross 1.5%. Of course, things could change in more competitive and larger markets like Mumbai and Delhi. Analysts are estimating a churn of between 5-8%  in the first year, which is likely to settle down over time.

For my part, I am unlikely to use MNP unless I get extremely low level of service from Airtel. But the dark horse is 3G. If someone were to woo me with a great 3G package, I could probably ditch Airtel. Yes, and join back later as well. :)

Would love to hear your views on MNP. Are you likely to shift, or stick?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

the downside of high performance laptops

This post has been inspired by a friend who purchased a 15 inch Inspiron notebook. She is an Art Director using Photoshop/ Adobe Illustrator and her machine is fully loaded - Core i7 processor, 4GB RAM, 512 MB ATI Radeon graphics card. Recently, this 1 year old machine became unstable and started shutting down unexpectedly. We diagnosed overheating and called Dell. After troubleshooting, Dell has replaced the heatsink, motherboard and optical drive. Luckily, the machine is under a comprehensive 3 year warranty! I estimate that the parts replaced would be at a value of not less than Rs.30,000. I told my friend that the replacement is equivalent to a heart, lung and kidney transplant!

But this incident has made me aware of a serious problem that attends high powered laptops - rampant overheating. Unfortunately, this is a natural fall-out of the extra power. Overheating can reduce the machine performance and also cause shutdowns, eventually even damage the body parts. And my guess is, it does tend to lower the overall life and the battery life of these notebooks. My friend's battery is already fried in 1 year of use and it has never given her more than 2 hours of life.

If you look at user reviews of most high performance laptops with these specs, overheating is a general hazard across the board, aggravated by the small form factor, which does not allow a large heatsink or adequately sized fan.
For me, this brought up two points

1) Don't invest in specs that you don't need : Even for me the temptation is there to bump up the RAM and processor, but it pays to ask, how necessary is this? For most office users, an iCore 3 processor is more than enough. Do you really need the desktop equivalent specs on your laptop? And if you are budget sensitive, this is a perfect case to still look at the older Core 2 Duo processors which are now available for a song. You might be trading off a small bump in performance, for a longer and smoother running life of your laptop. I think it's worth considering.

2) If you really need a high performance notebook, be aware of the machine's temperature and take steps to make sure it runs cool. If you notice the fan constantly running, it's a good sign that the notebook is getting heated. And of course the temperature on the palm rest and at the bottom of the laptop is also an indicator.

Some of the simple steps that you can take yourself are
a. Always use your laptop on a hard and flat surface which will dissipate heat
b. Invest in a laptop cooling pad. What I have seen in Croma are mostly passive cooling pads which will just absorb the heat, or basic non-cooling pads that simply elevate the laptop at an angle so that the fan has space to expel hot air from the notebook.
c. If you are engaging in work that puts a load on the processor, remember to stop or shut down at intervals. I know that this is a nuisance, but it helps to give  the laptop recovery time. Newer machines come with switchable graphics, or NVidia's Optimus technology which automatically regulates graphics cards performance.
d. I've said this so many times, but with a high performance laptop, make sure that you are covered by an extended manufacturer warranty which will ensure you are not spending from your pocket to fix problems. Extended  warranty is good for all laptops, but be warned that high-performance laptops are more prone to overheating failure, so this becomes more essential for them.

If you are comfortable with opening your laptop you can also try the steps outlined in this post by Tina on Or you could get your engineer to perform this overhaul once a year.