First impressions of Spotify in India

The service launched yesterday in India in the midst of the Warner music conflict, but it seems to have a pretty decent catalogue in India. The recommendations engine is also top notch as I experienced it first hand by feeding in my preferred artists across different genres and it right away created a bunch of playlists with some of my favorite songs. Definitely the best experience of all the music streaming services so far for me.

I’m currently on the free tier which doesn’t lose out much other than the highest audio quality and offline storage. The ads are bearable for now. It also seems that Amazon is holding back with their Spotify support on the Echo line in India as seen in this mail from customer support.

The premium pricing is also in line with Apple Music though quite a bit more expensive than the Indian services like Wynk or Saavn. It also doesn’t seem to support in app purchases on iOS as evidenced below.

I’ll probably go for the premium subscription once the Echo support kicks in or I require the offline access. For now, happy with the free tier of Spotify and making do with Amazon Music on the Echo.

Understanding “iPhone is synced with another iTunes Library. Do you want to erase this iPhone and sync with this iTunes Library” Message

That’s a relief, but they really ought to reword it now that we are exclusively on iOS devices:

What it actually does: Erase the iTunes media only, nothing else is erased

For example, if you have a large music library on the iPhone and click on the Erase and Sync button, that music library will instantly vanish, but all of your contacts, photos, apps, customizations, and other media remains untouched on the iPhone. Only the music and iTunes content will disappear. That means the entire large music library will vanish, but nothing else will.

Source: Understanding “iPhone is synced with another iTunes Library. Do you want to erase this iPhone and sync with this iTunes Library” Message

Updating iOS on an ancient iPad 2 from 4.3

Recently faced an issue when trying to update an old iPad 2 from its original 4.3 OS. Back in those days even OTAs were not supported and iTunes was the only way to update. Since Apple has switched off validation for iOS versions older than 9, the iPad was going into an “Error 9” unusable state and there seems to be a lot of frustrated users out there who seem to be trying to update to iOS 9 from 4.X.X and failing to do so.

Some Googling turned up a suggestion to update to the beta version of iOS 9, and voila it worked. Unfortunately, you most likely need a developer account to actually download the iOS 9.3 beta file as the public beta is unlikely to work with iOS 4.3. Nonetheless, if you manage to get hold of the iOS 9.X beta version then definitely give it a shot.

iOS 9 on the original iPad mini & iPhone 5s

I updated to iOS 9 on my iPad mini and iPhone 5s within the first week of launch, and been using it for nearly 2 weeks now. The update was a lot easier this time due to the space optimisations and I managed to do an OTA update on the iPhone unlike last time.

iOS 9 comes with its share of tweaks and optimisations that are supposed to improve performance on older devices, but I haven’t noticed much difference in terms of performance on either device which is in line with the observations of others. That said a few games like Limbo that were crashing on startup on my iPad mini (even after device restarts) seem to be at least working now.

While the iPhone 5s gets pretty much all the new features introduced in iOS 9 barring the ones that require special hardware, the iPad mini is left out of practically all the marquee features like content blocking, Siri-Spotlight search improvements and all of the split screen features. That said the iPad keyboard is improved and sports the cut-copy-paste & undo-redo buttons and also supports the two finger cursor navigation gesture. iOS 9 also brings back the 4×4 grid of icons in folders on the iPad, so it is not a total lost cause.

Battery life also seems to be in the same ballpark, though the iPhone seems to be exhibiting a slight improvement in the last few days. Of course that is hardly sufficient to last me a full day even with the new Low Power Mode. The additional details in the battery usage section of settings is also quite useful as it shows the screen on time and overall active time for each item as well.

I also noticed that iPhone only apps when run on the iPad no longer show the top status bar as a part of the app, but leave it on the top of the screen. This is possibly a result of the split screen multitasking capabilities introduced in iOS 9.

A gotcha to keep in mind on the iPhone is the Wifi assist feature (something that’s been on Android for a while) that’s on by default and tries to use the mobile network when the wifi is poor. This can easily burn through your data plan and is best left turned off on limited data plans.

There are also some features like app slicing that are currently disabled due to glitches, but should improve the storage situation on all devices. This is one of the features I’m really looking forward to on my 16 GB iPhone.

Overall, the experience has been quite good though the iPad mini is beginning to show its age. Pretty evident why Apple pulled the device off the market earlier this year. This year also marks a complete 64 bit transition for Apple’s entire device lineup starting from the iPod Touch to the iPad and Apple TV.

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.  

The camera that’s taking over from my DSLR aka a year with the iPhone 5s

I ended up with a broken screen on my beloved Nokia Lumia 720 over a year ago, and thus began my search for a new phone. After lots of deliberation and the delayed launch of the Lumia 930 with its mixed reviews, I ended up with a 16 GB gold iPhone 5s that had just received some price cuts thanks to the iPhone 6 launch. It’s been a very satisfying photo taking journey with the iPhone thus far barring some hiccups. It is a very versatile shooter that gives amazing results even in its auto mode. Then of course, there are the manual controls introduced in iOS 8 that hand over the reigns to the photographer. Plus the entire photography workflow from shooting to editing to publishing and backing up can be performed on the same device.

The iPhone 5s has been my primary camera for nearly a year now, and there have been only a few occasions like stage shows that I’ve used my Canon EOS 550D. I carried the DSLR with the 15-85 mm lens on my Goa trip in March but hardly shot with it, and then altogether skipped it on my last trip to Kolkata. In fact, I’ve been giving away some of my DSLR accessories that I rarely use over the last few months.

In terms of reliability, the iPhone series easily beats its Android counterparts as the camera app launches in a jiffy and the focusing speed and shooting latency are top notch. These parameters have been thoroughly tested in the last one year thanks to my daughter who’s 2 1/2 years old now.

Processing and sharing photos is also a breeze with the numerous apps, and this is one part of the workflow that has been completed integrated with the photo taking effort unlike in a standalone DSLR. Then of course there are the automatic backups through iCloud, Dropbox, OneDrive, Google Photos, Flickr et al that ensures that the memories remain intact. It’s only natural that Microsoft and Google are trying to automate the album creation and tagging process on their photo storage services given the huge volumes we’re shooting.

The only fly in the ointment has been the storage space as 12 GB of usable is barely enough to hold all the photos after you’ve loaded a few apps. Then of course there are the videos which are all full HD and pretty enormous in size. I’ve managed to make do thanks to the iCloud photo library introduced in iOS 8 that automatically backs up and removes old photos from the device. In fact, I have gone beyond the 5 GB free tier and upgraded to the 20 GB one.

Then of course there’s the loss of variable focal lengths and being stuck with a wide angle lens. I do have a personal preference of shooting medium telephoto lengths with the 50 mm prime being my DSLR favourite. Cropping manages to take care of some of these issues when the lighting is good, and I like to think of the iPhone 5s as a camera with a wide angle prime lens.

When it comes down to image quality, I’ve found it good enough compared to my DSLR except in very low light situations. The focus speed can be a bit slow compared to the DSLR as well and this is one aspect that’s been upgraded in the iPhone 6\6+. Video quality is of course superb and the electronic stabilization makes a real difference, but the storage space gets in the way for longer videos.

There are of course other features like slo-mo 120 fps videos that are just not possible on the DSLR, and shooting time lapses or hyperlapses is a breeze compared to the elaborate setup required with the DSLR.

So, do you want to buy a DSLR? Please don’t – just get an iPhone (or even one of the Android flagships like LG G3\G4 or Galaxy S6)

4 Years of Smartphone use

It was a little over 4 years ago that I got my first smartphone, and a little over a month ago since I got my 7th one (I do have 2 connections so it’s not that bad). These 2 phones cost me almost the same, but in terms of specs, they couldn’t be any less similar. Here’s looking back at my many smart life companions:

Samsung Galaxy S LCD (2011)

This was my first smartphone bought in Mar 2011, well after the smartphone revolution had started. It cost me around Rs 19,000 at that time and came with a then decent 8 GB storage and the Samsung staple microSD slot. In terms of overall specs, it was just below the Galaxy S flagship of its time but the performance was pretty reasonable to start with. I loved the fact that I finally had Google Maps in my pocket. My primary usage of the phone was also for internet access as my main voice connection was CDMA based and it was on a dumb phone. The phone began to show signs of trouble around a year later when it used to require a soft reset every other morning to wake up. Plus the OS was also stuck on Android 2.2 FroYo with no immediate update in sight.

HTC One V (2012)

I finally grew frustrated with the recurring freezes and lack of OS update in my Galaxy S and decided to scout around for a replacement. Found the just launched HTC One V whose looks I liked quite a bit, plus it had the then shiny Android 4.0. I bought it without too many second thoughts at Rs 17,000 though the phone was in many ways a downgrade from the Galaxy S with its lack of a front facing camera and no magnetometer meaning trouble navigating maps. Still, I was quite happy with the phone and a few of my friends and family members even bought this model based on my recommendation. Then less than 2 months later, during an office offsite meet, it decided to die on me. It turned out that a lot of people had been facing similar issues with this model. Haven’t considered or recommended a HTC phone since.

Samsung Galaxy S3 (2012)

I bought this phone more out of frustration with my last purchase and decided to buy a phone with no compromises that’ll last me a few years. It had just been launched and so I ended up paying a hefty premium at Rs 39,000. However, the phone was a huge jump in both usage experience and quality over the last ones and I ended up using it for nearly 3 years before it finally bit the dust. It started off on Android 4.0 and went all the way up to 4.3 officially. KitKat was not released officially for it due to its 1 GB RAM, but I flashed it with Cyanogenmod last year for its unofficial KitKat upgrade. It had also begun signs of slow down around the 2 year mark, but the flash gave it some breathing room. It also became my Android gaming platform for my Humble Bundle games, and a mobile mini tablet of sorts.

Samsung Galaxy Pop CDMA (2012)

I finally upgraded my CDMA connection with this device out of barely a dozen choices as I had grown tired of having to maintain a disconnected phonebook on a dumb phone. It cost me around Rs 8,000 which was a significant premium over the equivalent GSM model, and that too for just 256 MB of on board storage. Moreover, my CDMA SIM did not support data and I actually ended up using it as a wifi only smartphone. Though it was stuck on Android 2.2, it wasn’t a bad experience overall considering the fact that I used it almost exclusively for voice calls. Overall, not the best deal but given the limited options in the CDMA space it served its purpose. This was also my first online phone purchase.

Nokia Lumia 720 (2013)

I began having network reception issues with my CDMA connection, and after a few months of bearing it, decided to move over to a GSM connection which obviously meant a new phone. Windows Phone was looking quite promising at that time with 8.0 having been launched a few months back with pretty positive reviews. I was sure that I didn’t want another flagship and so narrowed down to the Lumia 720. It cost me around Rs 17,000 and was one of the best value models of its time. The camera was the best in class and the battery lasted 2 days comfortably. It wasn’t a fast phone, but it had a smoothness that Android lacked. The OS update situation was also quite rosy with the Windows Phone preview updates trickling in without any troubles. I was very happy with the phone until I dropped it at home and shattered the screen. That of course meant a replacement of the phone and not the screen.

Apple iPhone 5s (2014)

I made some nice phone comparison spreadsheets to rationalize the different model features, and the iPhone 5s was definitely not the best value even though it had a price cut due to the imminent iPhone 6 launch. I was looking for an upgrade in the photography department as well. The Lumia 925 and not yet launch 930 were top contenders as the 720 replacement, but the app situation finally won over as I had built up a good collection of iOS apps thanks to my iPod touch and iPads. I ended up getting the 16 GB gold model for around Rs 46,000. Almost a year later, the only gripe I have with it is the limited storage, but the iCloud photo library optimization has managed to keep things going. The photography has definitely been a revelation, and I don’t see the performance of the phone becoming a limiting factor anytime soon.

Xiaomi Mi 4 (2015)

This completes the Android circle for the time being, with the 64 GB model coming in at Rs 22,000 – just a little over 10% more than my first smartphone. It has pretty much all the bells and whistles one can hope from a flagship including an IR blaster and the specs are top of the line as well. It was a long deliberation between this and the OnePlus One, but the size and IR blaster finally won out. So far, I haven’t had any reason to complain, but given that it’s an Android phone I’ll reserve the final verdict for a year down the line as that’s when the slowdown begins. For now, it is definitely an excellent phone and a big upgrade over the Galaxy S3 it replaces. Let’s see whether it matches the 3 years of service as well.

Thinking about the most forward thinking smartphone in the world

As with the “S” iPhone releases so far, the iPhone 5s continues the trend of looking practically the same as the previous version while making radical improvements under the hood. I have never had and iPhone of my own so far, but that should not stop me from sharing some thoughts on the new release:

  • The A7 processor with its 64 bit architecture is undoubtedly the most forward thinking part of the launch. In 2 years, Apple’s entire mobile portfolio should be 64 bit, and 3-4 years from now, most iDevices will be 64 bit as well given the typical upgrade cycles.
  • The A7 also probably sets the foundation stone for a possible move to Apple’s own SoC on their larger devices like the MacBook and iMac. The A7 is in touching distance of Intel’s new architecture for Atom, and 4-5 years of incremental updates should bring it up to the good enough mark. Of course, Intel would have pushed the performance envelope even further by then, but how much of that will be meaningful remains to be seen.
  • It should be interesting to see what happens to the Apple TV going forward. It has the most modest of specs at present, and without an app platform there is no need for much improvements in performance. This is likely to change by the end of the year, or at most within the next year.
  • The GPU is also interesting as it supports pretty high resolutions (well above 4K). Another point to think about for the Apple TV.
  • Then, there is the M7 motion processor that is decoupled from the main SoC. This serves as a perfect test bed for whatever wearable device that Apple may be designing, but also indicates that there are likely to be A7 based devices without the M7 – iPads maybe or even a future Apple TV.
  • Motion processors seem to be getting popular, and Google-Motorola arguably beat Apple to market in this regard with the Moto X. On the Android front, this is bound to bring in some efficiencies resulting in better battery life. And there is of course Google Now which is bound to start making greater use of such processors sooner rather than later (Kit Kat & Nexus 5?).
  • The TouchID fingerprint sensor is likely to be just as radical, and I’d say a bigger feature than Siri. Initial usage feedback is pretty positive. Let’s see how it holds up in the longer term given that the 5s is supposed to be a future thinking device.
  • The lower “s” of the 5s is also pretty forward thinking given that we’ll have a Galaxy S5 in 5-6 months.
  • As for the Android copycats, we can be sure that the flagships of next year will feature 64 bit processors, motion processors, fingerprint sensors (S Finger a la S Voice?) and dual tone flashes. Hopefully they also get out of the megapixels race on the camera front and go for larger pixels (Windows Phone seems to have avoided it so far).
  • iOS 7 also possibly indicates what a notification centre on Windows Phone would look like given the similar design language in many areas.

Update: Some very interesting thoughts by Cringely as well about Apple outmaneuvering Microsoft on the no compromises PC model:

Jump forward in time to a year from today. Here’s what I expect we’ll see. Go to your desk at work and, using Bluetooth and AirPlay, the iPhone 5S or 6 in your pocket will automatically link to your keyboard, mouse, and display. Processing and storage will be in your pocket and, to some extent, in the cloud. Your desktop will require only a generic display, keyboard, mouse, and some sort of AirPlay device, possibly an Apple TV that looks a lot like a Google ChromeCast.

iOS 7 on the iPad mini: First impressions

I managed to install iOS 7 on my iPad mini over the course of last night. Some initial thoughts on the experience so far :

  • It’s a pretty large download at around 750 MB OTA.
  • Lot of greetings in different languages once the device reboots & the setup begins.
  • It is evident that iOS 7 is designed for Retina displays from the setup screen itself with the jagged fonts & display elements, and definitely increases the chances of a Retina iPad mini release this year as some reviewers have noted.
  • The notifications finally make use of the larger display of the iPads.
  • Quite a lot of animations, and it really taxes the hardware resulting in some choppiness at times. Seems to happen the most on the revamped task manager. This is bound to be a lot worse in the iPhone 4, which has the most dated hardware of the devices getting this update, and it’s pretty clear why Apple left out many features on the iPhone 4. I doubt the iPhone 4S will fare much better than the iPad mini or iPad 2 for that matter, as it has a higher resolution screen than either coupled with slower hardware.
  • Speaking of the task manager, it is totally revamped, and totally resembles the Windows Phone task manager including a card for the home screen (which in turn was inspired by WebOS). The multi-finger gesture (4 finger+ upward swipe) to launch the task manager is still the same, but feels odd as the feature is full screen now.
  • Flickr & Vimeo are now first class citizens of iOS, just like Facebook & Twitter.
  • iPhone apps look a lot better now as they use the Retina assets and run only in the 2x mode. Definitely a big improvement on the looks front.
  • Folders seem to have no app limits anymore and open up full screen. However they show only 9 apps at a time, which results in a lot of wasted space. Should’ve been 16 IMO.
  • Auto app updates are finally here, but haven’t seen it in action yet due to the App Store behaving wonky at times possibly due to the load from the iOS 7 release – app updates seem to show up and disappear periodically.
  • The title bar clock now has am\pm in small letters, and can change its colour depending on the app. E.g. Facebook makes it blue

Below are a few screenshots of the iOS 7 on my iPad mini.

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Numbers: Who’s Winning, iOS or Android?

The reports may contradict each other in numbers for iOS and Android, but one thing for sure is that Microsoft and Blackberry have been comprehensively relegated to the “Other” category. It’s also clear that Google and Apple are both winning (Google wants the ad\service revenue which comes from a market share majority, while Apple wants the profits from hardware):

Android if you’re talking about market share; iOS if you mean financial success. So far, this is a strikingly different market than the PC business back in the 1990s, when market share translated directly into financial success.

via Who’s Winning, iOS or Android? All the Numbers, All in One Place | TIME.com.