Lifeline

A simple yet engaging game for the mobile world. Imagine you’re communicating with a person stranded in a remote location and guiding them along. Your inputs could easily be a matter of life and death at that.

In terms of game mechanics, it is a very simple game since it’s just plain text with A-B choice making. The real novelty is in the game pacing as the communication happens in real time, so you’ll be playing it over the course of a few days.

The game’s currently on sale on both the App Store (just ₹10 in India) and Play Store, so go get it and enjoy a round of innovative story telling.  

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Thoughts on the Sep 2015 Apple event

Looks like Apple is revamping their event calendar and spacing out the events a bit more reasonable with one at the start and one towards the end. It was also a pretty busy event with ton of new launches and quite a few items that were skipped altogether – most notably the Mac OS X update. Of course the gist most of the announcements made in the event were known beforehand, but there were some surprises nonetheless.

The long rumoured iPad Pro finally made its debut and pretty much validated the strategy that Microsoft had pioneered with their Surface Pro series – you need a screen larger than 10″, split screen multitasking and a keyboard to make tablets more productive. And then of course there was the Apple Pencil which was again expected given the need for precision & flexibility when drawing. The 2 biggest takeaways was first, Microsoft demoing Office in the session that pretty much sums up the vastly different approach taken in the Satya Nadella era, and second the near doubling of quoted performance of the iPad Pro over the Air 2. This definitely makes the writing clearer on the wall for Intel, as the iPad Air 2 was nearly half as fast as the Core M processors and this should bring the performance in the same ballpark. In fact, in the last few years, Apple has probably been the biggest factor behind Intel’s innovations given the dearth of competition from AMD.

The fact that there was no other iPad update, unless you count the passing mention of the iPad mini 4, shows the speed at which the tablet market has matured and reached a good enough state. Arguably, the iPad 2 was at a good enough state in terms of hardware power and is still being supported with iOS 9. The iPad Pro is Apple’s attempt to grow the tablet market beyond home users and into the enterprise segment. That will definitely take a good deal of time given that most enterprises are Microsoft strongholds and the cost factor will prevent them from outright replacing PCs. Also, whatever the demos may want you to believe, most enterprise workers do not get to do such fancy stuff with their devices.

Health seems to have become the main usage focus for the Apple Watch given the proportion of time given for fitness and health related aspects. This is also probably one of the scenarios where the performance of the Watch will not be constrained as a first generation hardware. The partnership with Hermes also emphasised the luxury status of the Watch, and unless the pricing changes over the years (unusual for new launches), price will remain one of the major roadblocks to its adoption. The second generation of the Watch is likely to improve the internals significantly, and we are likely to have a white iPhone moment in the future with a round Apple Watch.

Then there was the Apple TV that at last gave us a glimpse of Steve Jobs famous “I finally cracked it” quote. Technology was definitely not one of the factors that had held back the Apple TV from being launched in the last couple of years, as the real battle is with the content providers rather than any of the other apps. In fact, it will probably be a while before people outside the US or some of the typical Apple strongholds will get much in form of regional content on the Apple TV. There was also no mention of HomeKit in the entire session, and this likely means that while the hardware is probably present in the new TV, the ecosystem has some way to go. The Apple TV also affirms the A8s new role as the venerable A5s long term replacement given that the iPod Touch and iPad Mini 4 upgrade to A8.

Last but not the least, the iPhone 6s\6s+ updates were also along expected lines and oddly enough relegated to the end of the show. Force Touch or rather 3D Touch definitely opens up a new dimension of interaction, but the real innovation will be when we have touchscreens that are able to simulate the feel of different surfaces. The camera improvements were also pretty much mandatory given the older 8 MP sensors inability to shoot 4K videos. The unusual part of the new devices was the increase in weight of both models by almost 10% and an almost imperceptible increase in size. Then there were a bunch of touted features that have been seen before in other phones on the Android and Windows side of the fence like moving photos (HTC Zoe) and using the display as a flash (LG).

Overall, the product launches rounded off a very busy year for Apple, but there was a sense of deja vu with many of the showcased features which other companies have previously demonstrated to about 80% of their potential. It is however, the last 20% of spit, polish and sweat that typically separates the Apple experiences from the rest.

Upgrading to Windows 10 on a 4 year old laptop

Upgrading to Windows 10
Upgrading to Windows 10

I finally bit the bullet and upgraded my 4 year old Acer Aspire 5750G laptop to Windows 10 from Windows 7 thanks to the free upgrade offer. I managed to wait for a couple of weeks after the release before pulling the plug. The machine is quite reasonably specced with a Core i5-2410M processor, 4 GB RAM, 1 TB HDD (upgraded from 500 GB) and the NVIDIA 540M GPU, and barring the slow hard disk is well equipped to run Windows 10.

The upgrade process was itself quite painless – took a good amount of time to download on my 2 Mbps connection, but the installation itself took around 1.5 hours. There were a few updates including one for the touchpad, and they installed without much fuss either. I also updated the NVIDIA graphics drivers to the Windows 10 version.

The OS itself is quite easy to use and I find the interface an improvement over Windows 7 and agree with my most read reviewers. Compared to Windows 8\8.1 that I’ve used intermittently over the last few years, the experience is definitely a marked improvement particularly on laptops.

The overall experience is pretty much as it was in Windows 7 for me as there are not that many useful Windows Store apps yet, and the laptop is without a touchscreen to make use of full screen apps. The improvements to Explorer, Task Manager and rest of the OS are of course welcome, but would definitely have not been a compelling reason to upgrade were it not free. Cortana has unfortunately not yet released for India, and some of the newer security features require newer hardware.

Having used a MacBook Air for over a year and a half now, I do find some of the new features like multiple desktops quite useful but the experience is hampered by the poor touchpad. Then of course there is the HDD vs SSD performance chasm that puts a big dampener on the Windows usage. If you are eligible for an update, don’t hesitate to pull the trigger (unless you have some incompatible components of course). I’ve also signed up for the Insider builds for some more excitement and quicker access to new features.

The next few months should be interesting with the touch versions of Office for Windows being released and the next generation of Intel processors showing up in devices. Maybe a compelling time for an update…

What a commuter wants…

… is a reliable means of transport to get them from point A to point B. Of course, it helps if the commute is pocket friendly, comfortable and fast. While taxis & autos in Mumbai adhere to the fare meters (unlike certain other metros), refusal is a universal problem shared by all commuters irrespective of the availability. The first generation of private cab services like Meru, TabCab, EasyCab did try to sort out this problem to an extent, but never managed to have enough cabs available or offer fares competitive with kaali-peelis or autos (AC notwithstanding).

Ola also jumped into this space following in Meru’s footsteps before significantly restructuring their pricing model upon Uber’s entry. These 2 taxi service aggregators reached near kaali peeli fare levels and offered a much more reliable (read disincentivised refusals) and more readily available service. In fact, Ola even tried to get kaali peelis on their app, but the effort seems to have fizzled out after a promising start.

The rest of the script is also playing out just like in the rest of the world and even a city like Mumbai, the so called commercial capital of India, has witnessed 2 taxi strikes within a couple of months. While the first strike was accompanied by Mumbai commuters discovering the basic Economics concept of supply and demand thanks to the Uber surge pricing, the second one has shown how disabling surge pricing makes life difficult and reduces the availability of cabs. Either way, the commuter has gotten the wrong end of the stick.

I just hope that we find a better solution than the other countries to this whole standoff between the incumbents and upstarts. Too bad the kaali peelis and autos don’t think of adopting a no refusal policy – something that’d get Ola and Uber in real trouble.