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.

Pebble Time: In hand and First impressions

I was one of the late backers of the Pebble Time smartwatch, and finally received it today. I backed it after the Apple watch event in early March and deciding that the first gen Apple watch was a bit too expensive for me. I also got lucky with the Pebble Kickstarter campaign and managed to switch my initial pledge of $169 to the early bird $159 when people had started backing out towards the end of the campaign.

The shipment was delayed by nearly a month, but that’s not too bad by Kickstarter standards, and as I had opted for the expedited option with prepaid duties and taxes, I received my package within a week of dispatch. I did have to stay in regular touch with the DHL support, first for the KYC documents and then for the description letter to the customs team. There was also the currency goofup on the invoice with labels in EUR though the payments had been in USD. This was something many of the Indian backers who received their packages before me had observed on the campaign portal. Fortunately for me, the DHL team seems to have managed to sort out these issues with the customs to ensure that I received the package just a day later than their estimate.

Anyway, coming to the Pebble Time, it is definitely quite lightweight and pretty comfortable to wear. The silicone strap seems quite comfortable as well and the material feels just like those silicone cupcake moulds and other similar kitchen accessories that one sees in stores. As for the display, it is fairly colourful, but a bit dim even with the backlight as many reviewers and users have observed. It is especially problematic in the current monsoon season with cloudy skies most of the time. That said, I’m sure app and watchface developers will start optimizing their products for the display in the coming months to improve readability. The double bezel is also on the thicker side by modern gadget standards, but haven’t found it to be very distracting so far. As for the coating on the steel frame, I suspect Pebble might be facing the same durability challenges as Apple did with the iPhone 5 black version, given the scratch reports from early users.

I opted to pair the Pebble Time with my iPhone 5s instead of the Mi 4, and loaded a bunch of apps and watchfaces on it including the PebbUp watchfaces that I’d backed on Kickstarter. The notifications have been trickling in since the pairing as well and the vibration is fairly gentle. I’d already done some notification management on my iPhone, so haven’t been getting flooded thus far, and even cricket scores are showing up thanks to the ESPNCricinfo app alerts.

I also did a full charge of the Pebble while installing the apps though it was well over 60% when I got it. It charged up pretty quick even from a laptop USB port. Also, no faulty cable.

Some of the other things I’d like to test in the coming weeks are Android support and voice replies, fitness tracking (already installed some apps), usage at work (currently working from home with a broken arm) and of course the battery life. In the meantime, checkout the unboxing and initial setup photos below.

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From Piku to Dil Dhadakne Do

I ended up watching quite a few movies over the last 2 weeks starting from Piku and then doing Bombay Velvet and Tanu weds Manu returns in one day, and ending with the first day last show of Dil Dhadakne Do yesterday. 4 in 1 post coming up:

Piku

Shhojit Sircar’s latest creation puts Bongs front and centre in the character list with superb performances. It made me feel both conservative due to Piku & her father’s philosophies that did not echo with me, and nostalgic with the ancient family mansion that I could really relate to. Watching it in Kolkata also helped set the atmosphere. Moving on to the tech:

  • The first meeting room scene with Lenovo laptops raised some hopes of making the movie less fruity, but that turned out to be the only non-Apple spot
  • Wonder why Piku had an ancient iMac at work when she was using a MacBook most of the time…
  • iPhones galore in the movie, and I’m pretty certain that Deepika Padukone is an iPhone user given the way she used the volume keys to click a shot on the move
  • Also found it interesting that they did away with the front seat head rests in the Innova in the Delhi-Kolkata stretch, only to have them come back on the return trip

Bombay Velvet

Enjoyed the movie more than I expected and it was in some ways a documentary for how Bombay evolved into its current state. Pretty good job by the creators with the retro setting except for the cage fight portions which felt out of place. Also marked Karan Johar’s proper screen debut after his small part in DDLJ.

The “Smoking kills” displayed throughout the movie should’ve probably been replaced with “Smokers kill” given the trigger happy hero. I also suspect a spike in the search for performances of a certain Rosie in Goa after the release of the movie.

Tanu weds Manu returns

Watched this right after Bombay Velvet on the same day, and I ended up enjoying it even more than Piku. If the first part was a surprise hit, then the second was an even bigger surprise. Not much to say here other than appreciate the performances all around.

Dil Dhadakne Do

Watched the 10:30 pm show and enjoyed it as much as the other movies even though it was nearly 2:45 hours long. Pretty enjoyable movie with the typical Zoya-Farhan Akhtar touch of silent moments that speak tons. Not quite in the league to Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara in my books, but the key conflicts are quite relatable though they happen to the rich and famous. However, this movie pretty much showcases how far we’ve come since the days movies focused on Indian poverty, and anyone watching this movie would think that Indians are globe trotting Apple fanboys. And that brings me to the tech:

  • Another ancient, but large screen iMac being used by Kabir at home. Guess the rich and famous don’t always live on the edge of tech.
  • Ayesha makes a good impression as a budding entrepreneur with her simple encased smartphone, but right after that we are treated to a travel site office that’s almost entirely based on iMacs. A design firm with iMacs I could’ve digested, but this was a bit too much. Then again, I’ve not visited any travel site office.
  • Then of course there’s a sort of laptop class barrier on the cruise ship with the really rich separated from the not so rich in the form of MacBooks and PCs.
  • Sunny (Farhan Akhtar) choosing to use a mirrorless over a DSLR and the absence of any DSLR in the movie shows how things have changed in just 2-3 years.

The Banality of ‘Don’t Be Evil’ by Julian Assange

Makes you think differently about what Google is doing for sure:

The book proselytizes the role of technology in reshaping the world’s people and nations into likenesses of the world’s dominant superpower, whether they want to be reshaped or not. The prose is terse, the argument confident and the wisdom — banal. But this isn’t a book designed to be read. It is a major declaration designed to foster alliances.

“The New Digital Age” is, beyond anything else, an attempt by Google to position itself as America’s geopolitical visionary — the one company that can answer the question “Where should America go?” It is not surprising that a respectable cast of the world’s most famous warmongers has been trotted out to give its stamp of approval to this enticement to Western soft power. The acknowledgments give pride of place to Henry Kissinger, who along with Tony Blair and the former C.I.A. director Michael Hayden provided advance praise for the book.

The Banality of ‘Don’t Be Evil’ by Julian Assange – NYTimes.com.

Quora: Given our current technology and with the proper training, would it be possible for someone to become Batman?

Na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na! Batman!

Answer by Mark Hughes:

I know everyone hates having a question answered with “it depends,” but…

It depends. WHICH Batman, the one in the current film franchise, the one from the current monthlies, the one from the Justice League, etc etc?

I am going to make an assumption here, in order to best answer your question.  We’ll put aside the issue of Batman trained by ninjas in the films, or the question of whether in the comics Batman operates with sort-of-superpowers when interacting in stories alongside Superman and other such characters.  By “become Batman” you mean the basic concept of Batman that we all could agree upon — a master of martial arts, of forensic and detective skills, of gymnastics, of science and chemistry, of history and geography, of the workings of organized crime, of criminal psychology and physiology, and a man with a suit offering protection against bullets and knives and electrocution but which allows him to move as fast as an Olympian runner and acrobat.

The simple answer is, no.  Unless you really boil Batman down to a very diluted level as just a really strong, fast, good fighter who can jump far and with good street smarts plus an education in crime and psychology, and who wears a lot of armor and a mask.

The genius of Batman is that it pretends to be realistic, it lets us convince ourselves that with enough money and training, we could become Batman, too. But it’s still fantasy, it’s just a fantasy that is more compelling and convincing and thus more fun.

If you joined the military and became something like a Delta Force commando of the highest quality, while studying nights to get a double-major in criminal justice and psychology (with a minor in chemistry), then you might also have time to take weekend courses in detective work and get a P.I. license. Then, after probably 10 years to reach all of those levels combined, you might be 28 (if you started right out of high school) and would then need to maintain your physical level while getting a job as a police officer in order to learn real crime solving and detective work on the streets and at crime scenes, to get the experience it would really take to be a master.  Let’s say you are so good it only takes you perhaps three years to become a top detective and expert in these regards — now you are 31, and just finished the most basic level of preparation you need to be an expert in just some of the most obvious fields required to match Batman.

Now you have to quit the force, and develop a good cover story for yourself so nobody suspects that Batman might be the guy who is an expert in all of those fields Batman is a master at.  You have to have made sure you lived your life never revealing your true feelings about crime and vigilantism etc, and in fact covering it up unless you want to be arrested as a suspect the first time Batman has been around town. You need to spend some time doing dry runs around town to find your way around rooftops and fire escapes, practice running around at night in the shadows and not being seen, and presumably start practicing using your ropes and grappling hooks and other equipment you need for nightly patrols. Do some dry runs, make final preparations in case of emergencies, etc.

And you need to have been investing money and amassing a fortune the entire time, because the technology you’ll need to even get close to a real-world version of Batman will cost millions of dollars.  So you’ve done that, and now you start spending the money to get an armored suit full of electronics to communicate with assistants and have night vision and so on.  You need a base of operations, so you buy one of those old used missile silos the military sells (yeah, they really do that, and it’s pretty cool inside them) and turn it into a secret headquarters for the computers and monitoring equipment and car and bike and other equipment you need for your vigilante life.

Conservatively, you should probably be about 32 at this point. And you are only about to go out on your first night as Batman.  Okay, it’s taken longer than expected and been pretty hard, and honestly you are not quite as much a master of all fields as Batman, but at least you got the basics and are pretty well trained and smart and equipped.  So off you go, looking to stop crime…

…and you’re looking.  And looking. Oh, wait, you hear police sirens or you get a transmission from picking up the police radio calls, there’s a domestic disturbance in progress… well, that’s not really what Batman does, so you let that one go to the cops.  Then you get another call about a robbery, ah ha!  Finally Batman is going into action!  You run across those rooftops, swing across to another roof — whoa crap, that was a lot more dangerous than it looks in the comics!  But you’re booking it, running flat out and probably hitting, what, a good 10 miles per hour? Maybe less actually because of having to dodge things and stop at the edge of the roof to swing down again.

Anyway, there you are, rooftop to rooftop, and it occurs to you that the cop cars are so far gone now that you barely hear the sirens. So you think “Hmm, no wonder the real Batman has a car, this rooftop thing looks cool but I’ll never make it in time to stop a crime that isn’t happening within a block or two.”

And you don’t — make it in time, that is.  The first few nights, you keep showing up and the robberies or shootings or whatever are already over, and you realize that this makes sense because most reports about crimes are only after it happens, not while it’s taking place.  And you also remember that as a cop, you almost never just walked up or drove up accidentally right where a crime happened to taking place. In fact, you were just one of several thousand cops in your city, and most of you never just stumbled right across a significant crime in progress.

By your second week, you are getting unhappy that 90% of the crimes you’ve even seen up-close are just pathetic junkies buying crack from another pathetic junkie selling drugs to support his/her own habit. And nothing makes you feel LESS like Batman than scaring sad homeless crackheads.  You tried to chase down a kid who you saw punch a lady and take her purse, but you can’t really pursue that kind of thing by running on rooftops, you gotta do it the hard way by chasing him on foot down the sidewalk… in your full Batman costume, where everybody can see you. People are taking photos on cell-phones, and yep there’s a cop car at the intersection and he saw you, and now he has his lights on and it’s YOU he’s after. Great, you have to let the kid go so you can run down an alley and climb up a fire escape to the roof to get away.

At last, week three, you get lucky — an armed robbery, right there across the street!  You leap down onto the hood of their car, cape over the windshield just like in The Dark Knight Returns. And a teenage kid in the passenger seat fires a shotgun though the windshield in panic, blasting your torso.

You are wearing armor, though, haha!  So it merely shreds your costume and knocks you off the car onto the street, but man that hurts!  And it takes your breath away just long enough for the car to speed off. You get up, angry and just in time to see everyone taking your photo again and staring at your shredded outfit.  Then the police come around the corner, and you run off again but this time you are injured because although the armor stopped the slug it still bruised you and broke a rib.  You are fast, but not fast enough this time.  The police draw their guns and order you to stop.  You turn and grab for the smoke pellet on your belt to help hide your getaway, but unfortunately for you the cops see you reaching for something and open fire… and you suit’s armor is already a mess from the shotgun blast earlier. Uh oh.

When you wake up in the ICU, your mask and costume are gone, you’re in a lot of pain, but the doctors successfully removed the bullets and re-inflated your lung.  The downside is the set of handcuffs trapping you in the bed.  As a master detective, you can of course easily pick the lock on the cuffs to escape, but on the other hand the staph infection you caught after surgery is pretty bad and you feel like s**t. So you wait until night to sneak out — except you fall asleep on your pain meds, and wake up the next morning to the police coming to pick you up and take you to the infirmary at the state prison. Where you will spend a month recuperating until they can transfer you to the county jail for your first court appearance. During which your only comment to the judge is, “I guess it’s not really possible to become Batman.”

Na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na! Batman!

 

The mobile computing revolution – choosing your next PC

To figure out your needs, ask yourself these questions:

  • What is your budget? Are you willing to stretch it a bit if you get a significantly better device for a little more?
  • What are you planning to do with the device?
    • Make phone calls? – you will need a SIM card enabled device like a smartphone or tablet
    • Take photographs?
    • Check mail?
    • Send messages – SMS and\or an online messaging service?
    • Browse the internet? On the go, or at home?
    • Create documents? – smartphones and tablets are still quite limited in this area
    • Read documents and e-books? – a large screen with high resolution screen will help
    • Use maps and navigation capabilities? On the go? – GPS will be required
    • Watch movies?
    • Play games? Demanding ones or casual ones? – the hardware will have to be fairly powerful for a good experience
    • Edit images and videos? Casual or serious?
    • Make video calls? – a front facing camera will be required
    • Listen to music? At home or on the go? Radio or MP3?
    • Play CDs and DVDs?
  • How large a device are you willing to put up with? This will affect both usability and portability.
  • Do you need expandable storage?
  • How comfortable are you using an on screen keyboard?
  • Are you willing to spend time tinkering with the device to improve your experience?
  • Do you care if your device does not get the latest OS updates, but just serves your needs as it is?
  • Do you plan to install additional software on the device, purchasing them if necessary?
  • How important is battery life – are you willing to charge the device at least once a day?

Once you answer them, you will see that you can’t have it all. There will be trade-offs, and you will have to evaluate the areas where you are willing to compromise. Here are a few tips to help you decide:

  • If you don’t have a smartphone yet, get it – you’ll be able to do lots more with it as it’ll be with you all the time.
    • Android is the smartphone OS to go for if you are a big user of Google services like Gmail, Picasa, Maps etc. and also like to tinker with your devices.
    • Windows Phone provides a very good out of box experience with very little setup needed, and the phones are available at pretty attractive prices.
    • The iPhone is definitely nice to have, but the Android and Windows Phone alternatives are much better value propositions.
  • If you are serious about editing documents (Word\Excel\PowerPoint), you still require a laptop as the smartphones are too small for editing and the tablet software is not completely compatible with the document formats.
    • On a tight budget (below Rs 20,000) – AMD ones and not the Intel Atom ones.
    • For portability on a higher budget (above Rs 40,000), consider the Ultrabooks as they are significantly lighter than regular laptops but just as powerful.
  • Video and photo editing is possible on smartphones, tablets and laptops, but for heavy duty editing, you are better off with the laptop as these tasks require a good amount of computing horsepower.
  • Tablets are much better than laptops, netbooks and smartphones for watching movies, reading e-books and internet browsing.
    • Apple has a definitive edge due to its better app ecosystem, albeit at a single size – 10″. The iPad is priced quite reasonably in this area compared to its Android counterparts.
    • Smaller tablets are lighter and better than their larger cousins for reading while handheld.
    • If you are considering Android, then definitely look for the tablets with Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0) or higher as the user experience is much improved than the older versions.

Just to add to the fun, Windows 8 will bring with it a multitude of tablets and hybrid devices (laptop + tablet combo), and the next year should completely overhaul the laptop market. So, if you are looking for a laptop, wait a few months. And, in case you thought the iPad was a bit big for your tastes, but wanted an Apple device, there might even be a smaller iPad announced by the end of the year. Revolutionary enough?