Showing posts from 2013

The mess called ECS

It was designed to be the simplest and easiest way to pay your bills on time. Free of charge. Easily set up online. If you are worried about your bills overshooting your bank balance, you can even specify a cut-off limit above which bills will not be paid. 
It is of huge benefit to billers, as they are assured of timely payments and do not have to go to the additional expense of follow ups, disputes with customers, cheque pick up services etc. 
Then why is it so chaotic, bureaucratic and hard to set up, change or cancel?

In the last few months, as our business goes through a transition of switching banks, I have had to change my ECS set up a couple of times. I imagined it would be an easy procedure as nowadays most banks actively urge you to do it online. I was so wrong.

Here are some of the things that I found out about ECS:

When there is a mess up you have to run between the bank and the biller, as both will pass the buck. Ultimately, it's better to sort the issue with the biller as …

How to create a screen mirroring connection between a Samsung Smart TV and the HTC One

This post and the accompanying video have been created to spare others from going through the pains that I did to achieve this! 

I recently purchased a Samsung  Smart TV (Series 5 - F5500) and one of the things that make it 'smart' is the ability to wirelessly project your mobile device screen on the TV. It's a nice way to hook up and share your pictures and videos with the family and view them without the hassle of connecting a cable. Do note that this is different from screen sharing, which is what you get with Apple TV and certain TV adapters, or even with pairing apps like YouTube's TV app, where you can stream from your mobile device to your TV while you continue browsing. What I am talking about is just a simple projection of your screen.

I wanted to connect my HTC One with the TV and this presented a slight problem. It's a simple matter to connect a Samsung Smartphone using AllShare, which is the Samsung protocol for wi-fi Direct. Connecting the HTC device req…

Forget about internet speed, can we just have reliable connectivity?

In the last month, I have been making a number of work-related skype calls in different corners of the city. Mostly in Bandra, but sometimes in Andheri, Goregaon, Chembur - all are core, highly populated and well connected Mumbai suburbs. You would never think that an internet problem could crop up in such locations. Well, it has.
Skype is not the most brilliant video conference client, but it's the best of the pack currently. It is also an acid test for the stability (more than speed) of an internet connection. In my experience Skype can run satisafctorily on a connection speed upto 256K - provided it is steady. It can certainly work on a 3G signal if WCDMA/ HSPA is not available. However, if the connection fluctuates or drops, it plays havoc with Skype. This is the problem that I have been experiencing.
I use a variety of internet options on the move - an Airtel (WCDMA) dongle, a TATA Docomo (CDMA) dongle and two HSPA/3-G enabled SIMs from Airtel. Each one acts up in a different p…

Nippon Car Security System for Maruti Cars - what to do in an emergency

Three years ago, I posted about an embarrassing incident when the central locking/ security alarm system of my car went kaput and the alarm went off continuously. When I look back, this has happened to me three times in three years. If you have a car security system installed, then it's useful to know what to do in case of emergency. Because the emergency involves a loudly wailing siren that goes off unpredictably every hour, neighbours whose sleep is disturbed and general stress for you. My advice in this post pertains only to Nippon, which is a Maruti Genuine Accessory installed by all Maruti dealers. 
1. Ask your dealer for the Nippon Service Center number for your city and enter it in your phone, you are going to need it one day. The Maruti helpline does not give the number for third party accessory providers, only the dealer will. 2. The number of 'beeps' of the car alarm will alert you to a problem When all is well, one beep = lock and two beeps = unlock Any other sound …

Don't just think digital strategy, think mobile strategy

The writing is on the wall - as a marketer, it's time to ask what is your mobile strategy, and more specifically, what is your smartphone strategy. India recently became the world's third largest smartphone market and simultaneously, in Europe and USA, there are strong trends that the high-end smartphone market is maturing, with flat or even declining sales.

The future lies in the emerging digital markets of Asia and Africa, and in the fast growing budget phone/ tablet category which is driving adoption in these markets. The power centre is shifting to our markets, with more developers, marketers, manufacturers and service providers turning their attention here. 

Just a few years ago, a brand's digital strategy required a website, a social media presence, and of course, online advertising. Only a few brands felt a need for mobile presence, let alone a strategy. Some categories, notably news channels, e-commerce sites and financial brands moved early to set up mobile apps. Ot…

Router troubles #Lesson 1 : Check the splitter and cables first

Since the past 3 days, the green 'internet' light on my Buffalo router has stopped glowing, and I have lived in an internet-less hell hole. 
Troubleshooting proved to be in vain. The Buffalo router showed me the message 'internet cable not connected' but also helpfully added that 'any information may be displayed if your internet is down'. As this has proven to be true in the past, and all cables were securely connected, I ignored this message. It was easier to blame MTNL, especially with the stormy monsoon weather, for a cable fault. But I was not quite at ease doing this. I know from experience that the internet light fault usually reflects a hardware failure or hardware conflict at the user end, though it may also be that the DNS server is down. But this is a temporary issue and it certainly should not continue for a full day.
I googled for answers only to find that the world is full of frustrated router users like me looking for answers in a maze. PC problems…

What's the best Android phone your money can buy?

Recently, I have gotten a lot of calls to ask which is the best Android phone to buy. If you remove the constraint of budget, there are many exciting Android handsets this year - HTC One, Samsung Galaxy S4, Galaxy Note 2 and Sony Xperia Z are some of the names that come to mind. Here are my views on getting the best Android for your buck:

1) A smartphone with the Nexus Experience 

Till recently, Google has been putting stock, vanilla android only on their own phones - first the Nexus One, then Nexus S, Galaxy Nexus and the latest, the Nexus 4. These phones have always done well with the geeks but have never been mainstream.

In 2013, things have started to change, with Google attempting to push the 'Nexus experience' to more handsets - notably the HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4. The Nexus phones are separate from the original phones skinned by the manufacturers. But the Nexus experience is a step in the right direction - what if you had a choice to keep the manufacturer's skin,…

Bye Bye Google Reader, hello paid RSS reader!

It's not the first time that Google has pulled the plug on its users and it won't be the last. They will be shuttering Google Reader on July 1st. I have been a victim of their shutdowns in the past and I usually take it philosophically but this one has hit me very very hard. I am very invested in Google Reader. Here's why. 

My job as a digital consultant requires me to be on top of the tech news. I keep track of 40-50 tech websites and blogs on a regular basis. It's not possible to go through this list everyday. Increasingly, I catch up on my reading in a few spare minutes in a taxi, while waiting at a coffee shop. And it's almost exclusively happening on mobile devices. 

 Initially, I was lured by the exciting magazine like appearance of Pulse, Zite and Flipboard. And on my iPad, Flipboard initially lured me. But with time, I felt these options did not work for me. I used to keep missing interesting articles from certain subscriptions.  I did not need a glossy magaz…

Can Yahoo re-invent itself?

Rewind to 1999, a year when I was just starting my career as a researcher. I was doing my very first piece of digital research - understanding Indian internet users, at a stage when usage was gradually becoming wide scale. 

Believe it or not, in those days, we had PCs in office, but they did not have an internet connection! And I used to go to the cyber cafe around the corner on weekends to pass a couple of hours. It's hard for me to believe that such an existence was possible. Actually, I remember being quite happy, sociable and active. But I digress.

So I was talking about doing research among internet users and the name of one portal was on everyone's lips - Yahoo. Yahoo was the gateway to the internet for literally every first time user that we spoke to. And the very first action of a first time internet user (often with a friend perched on a stool next to him at the cyber cafe) was to create a Yahoo! Mail account. It was the go-to sites for jokes (and was responsible for al…

In the future, an Xbox may replace your PC

I am not a gamer and I have never really been tempted to pick up a console till date. The latest Xbox One from Microsoft may cause me to change my mind though. Touted as a single device to meet all entertainment needs, the Xbox One is much more  than a gaming console. It is Microsoft's attempt to colonise the living room, while Windows Phone struggles to take off, the Surface Pro tablet flops and PC sales continue to slide in double digits globally. The Xbox One could be Microsoft's real centre of dominance in the Post PC Era. Here are some reasons why:

1. Conquest of the TV screen

First of all, Microsoft positions the device as a 'new generation TV and movie system'. It adds voice and gesture support. It will login based on your voice and you can order it to switch to the TV. You can even tell it 'watch CBS' and it will switch on the channel for you. It supports multi-tasking - while watching a movie, you can bring up a side web panel and browse the web. Microso…

Croma Portable AirCon - a good solution for AC-proof homes

Our family home in Pune is almost entirely AC proof. It has a large living room, an open plan kitchen and long passages. Of course, we installed a window AC in the master bedroom, but till now, we have postponed the installation of a split AC in any of the rooms. We would have required at least a 2 Tonne AC, but the inability to seal off the room would have made the cooling impractical and infeasible. Pune is blessed with a good climate and the old-style thick walled construction kept the interiors fairly cool. But climate change is real and the last two summers have been cruel and uncomfortably hot. This year, we had to install an aircon in summer and we came up with a decent solution - the Croma Portable Air Conditioner. It's a 3-in-1 airconditioner, air cooler and dehumidifier.

It may look like an air cooler but it is a proper aircon with a rotary compressor. As you can see it's a compact device, roughly 3 feet in height, and with a 16X16 inch footprint. It will not occupy t…

Cooking tech - which cookware is safe to use?

Last week, Dad came over to visit me and happened to see my non-stick cookware which is 7-plus years old, and peeling to reveal silvery metal surfaces below. "You have to replace it immediately", he warned me, adding that non-stick surfaces are suspected to release toxic chemicals, and will probably be banned or discontinued within the next 2 years.
I have heard rumors about health issues with non-stick pans but I have not taken them very seriously. Now that I had to replace all my cookware, I decided to spend  a couple of days researching options on the internet. There is a lot of confusion and many contradictory opinions as to which cookware is safe or not. I do not really know which are the reliable sources to cite. But here is my perspective, based on technical inputs from my Dad (who is an engineer), granny's wisdom, and the factual sources on the internet.
1. Start replacing or phasing out non-stick cookware
Non-stick cookware must be replaced if the surface cracks, p…

My 8 handbag gadgets : stuff I cannot live without

This post is about the gadgets that literally travel everywhere with me - the daily gadgets that stay on my person, or in my handbag, and I will feel incomplete without. It is a relatively short list because I have excluded a lot of things that travel in my rucksack - those are mostly work related and I would not carry them, say if I went shopping to a mall on a weekend. But these gadgets are my slightly worn, scuffed and much loved companions. I'd like you to meet them.

1. Fitbit Ultra

wrote about my Fitbit purchase in December and I have to say that in practice, it's working well as a constant companion and measurement device. I do not take it off even when I sleep and I am wearing it as I type. It has survived the washing machine once and has been dropped twice but recovered!

Fitbit is now graduating to a cool looking wrist band but I still find the clip-on device more unobtrusive and I can wear it on any formal or casual dress.

2. Galaxy Nexus

This was my pick for budget smar…

The best budget smartphones in 2013

So there are lots of candidates for  the best smartphone right now, but which are the best picks for a budget smartphone? In my opinion, all that is newest and glitters is not necessarily gold. Some of last year's phones are available at hefty discounts and are well worth taking a look at.

1) Samsung Galaxy Nexus (Rs.20,000)

It's more than a year old already, and it has been replaced by the LG Nexus 4, but the older 'Google phone' is still well worth buying. Samsung never launched it officially in India, but you can pick it up at Rs.20,000 or less on eBay India. With a dual core processor, Super AMOLED screen,1 GB RAM and a good battery life, it has specs that can outclass most newer phones in this price bracket. The icing on the cake - with software updates directly from Google, your phone will not be obsolete for a LONG time to come. Lots of Custom ROMs and mods for the adventurous to try as well.

2) Nokia Lumia 520 (Rs. 10,000)

Win 8 OS may be struggling to gain tractio…

Health goes digital - emerging trends in 2013

Digital health took off in a big way in 2012. Health tech accelerator Rock Health reported that investors poured $1.4 billion into digital health companies last  year, and an overall increase in the number of deals closed, as well as the value of funding. Further, healthcare purchasing tools for customers and health tracking were two of the focus areas for investment.

Technology undeniably has a huge role to play in the area of personal health, and the advent of smartphones has made it even more ubiquitous. You might have noticed the increase in the number of calorie counting or exercise monitoring apps, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. In this post, I want to highlight the latest developments and emerging trends in health tech in 2013.

1. Health goes mobile

With an estimated 40,000 health apps available across platforms, mHealth is clearly poised to become huge. Smartphones are always with us, and they usually have constant internet connectivity. This makes them ideal as trackin…