Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Project Expense Calculator: Phase 2 kickoff

Project Expense Calculator: how it all began
Many a time, we find missing those simple things which make a big difference. Hmm, what happens then - something you just sit and brood. Sometimes you just decide to make the move and make it happen.
Here's one such story - all I wanted was a simple expense management tool which consolidates all my group's expenses. I hang out with a big group of friends and often consolidating all the group expenses (since usually only one person shells out the card) is a huge nightmare. I tried out a number of online expense management softwares - some dont do what i want, some are way too complicated to use, some just lack the transparency - it never worked out. And so it began - i wrote my own simplistic group expense manager tool which caters to my needs. And the platform - our very own simple Microsoft Excel.

Phase 2: The motivation
Its been almost two years since I rolled out ver 1.0 of the Expense Calculator and till date been a tremendous success and still accomplishes the purpose. But then, I realized that every product had to evolve over time and this is no exception. One is never really satisfied in achieving - you just gotto raise the bar. A clear thought on a fine day made me realize that while the Expense Calculator is good, there's room to get better.
Also I work at an investment bank where they use plain old Microsoft Excel to develop a trading system which churns out billions of dollars on a typical day. This heightened my respect for Excel. And there begins the groundwork for Phase 2 of Expense Calculator.

What's in Expense Calculator v2.0?
A small list of features added in
- Categorize your accounts
Now you assign a category (Food, utility, entertainment, etc) for every expense that you make. The rows are colored based on the category and it also provides a category based breakdown of the entire expense sheet.
- Customized for one and all
Now the expense calculator is fully customized for a layman. Start off the first time by customizing the list of people and the categories that you want. And the sheet does everything else for you. With tons of checks and helping aids you can never go wrong.
- Automatic payment calculator
The current version merely gives the net account value of everyone involved. And it was left to the user to decide the actual transactions as who pays whom to settle the accounts. This was quite a daunting task considering the fact that there are tons of possibilities. So the next gen calculator will have an automated system to propose the payments. What's unique about this is the fact that it analyzes tons and tons of possiblities and proposes the one with the least number of transactions.

There we go - a limited set of goals but those which will make the whole job of gathering and settling accounts a pleasurable experience henceforth.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

A new wand - a new beginning

Well, yes - it is that time of the year again. Time for the wizard to replace his wand. The wait is over and in comes the iPhone.

Evolution and Revolution - two factors which drive every product, every business, every industry. A hearty mix of both is what drives a healthy balance. Every product evolves over time - a slow process taking one step at a time. And then comes the revolution - a big bang which redefines the basic equations and opens to a new world of possibilities. On the same context, I would place the iphone as a revolutionary product as it redefines the basic principles on a lot of factors. And with this, I begin my long story of 'The good, the bad and the ugly'.

After a few months of painful wait - i finally got my very own iphone. I've toyed with it for almost a week now and here are my first impressions.

What makes it a Killer
  • The interface: Mindblowing is the only way I can describe the user interface in iPhone. The 3.5 inch touchscreen, the uncomplicated and intuitive layout, the cool "scrolling" and the multitouch zoom - all stack to account for the amazing look and feel of this device. Everything is integrated so seemleesly. Actions seem to just flow from one step to another.
  • Internet browsing: Surfing the web from a mobile device has always been a challenge. Buoyed by a 3.5" screen and the revolutionary Safari browser, iphone neatly scales up to the challenge. But for the slow AT&T Edge network, browsing is now exactly the same as on a computer.
  • The best iPod: With the touchscreen and the coverflow feature, this is easily the best iPod to date.

What kills the iPhone?
Well, its no big secret that most of Apple's first generation products are ridden with harrowing bugs and voids and the iphone is no exceptions. Here are a few which kill the iphone.
  • The phone: At the end of the day, the most important function of the iphone is being a Phone itself and this is where it falls short. The call quality is strictly average, the phone volume isnt so loud, the speakerphone is but a misnomer. Definitely more work required on this front.
  • Apple's narrow-minded approach for third party apps: Apple wants to dictate what apps should be present on my iPhone and to me this is highly unacceptable. I need to be the one to decide what is on my phone. Moreover, with a device so powerful, opening them to third-party software can unleash a whole new exciting world. No apps, no games - are you kidding me? Most of all, I miss the Poker game and the brickbreaker game.
  • Sub-par camera: With no zoom and no video capture, the camera of iPhone falls way behind its competitors.

No plus, no minus
Some features which have their own niceties and their own drawbacks
  • Touchscreen keypad: I must agree that I was very skeptical on a touchscreen based keypad. After a couple of days of using it, I am able to type in pretty accurately. And this is partly helped by the neat spelling correction utility. Still I miss the tactile feedback of a physical keypad. Also this index finger typing will never be as fast as the two thumb typing in blackberries and smartphones.
  • Sms: Impressed by the neat tagging of Sms messages into a single conversation but highly disappointed by the lack of Mms support.

What I want to see next up in the forthcoming updates
  • Flash support: Easily the most desired feature in the iPhone. Web browsing looks a little incomplete without flash support. Every mobile company is on a race for this.
  • A2DP: Audio over Bluetooth is something nice to have and is a basic feature in most modern phones.
  • Cut copy paste: Well a lot of lives just revolve around this. A must have.
  • Games, games & more games: Leave alone third party apps and games, it's high time Apple started supporting its own games and utilities.
On a final note, I think the iphone is an amazing phone, and ofcourse has its own shortcomings. And I really hope Apple improves the phone with some good software updates.

PS: If any is a good indicator of how fast you can type on an iphone - this whole article was written and posted from one.