Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Will the rumored Apple tablet have the wings to fly?

One of the hot and much debated topics this week has been the Apple Tablet. The number of rumors and the varied sources they come from, all but confirm the imminent launch of an Apple tablet by the beginning of next year. What is more interesting is the debate as to whether the Apple tablet will really fly.

Some of the most intriguing questions raised are
- What is the target market? Well, even worse, is there a target market at all?
- Is it a true tablet or just a giant sized iPod? (Most rumors say it's just a 10" screen iPod)
- What is it's value as a gaming device? Well, a big screen always helps but one that big without any key controls doesn't gel well as a gaming controller.
- What is it's potential as a media device? Again, the big screen helps but well, do you just lay it flat in your lap to watch a movie? Naah!
- What is it's potential as a ebook reader? Well a lot in fact. But then, can't be the killer feature as I wouldn't shell out $500-$600 as compared to $150-$200 for a standard one.
- Biggest question: Is there a killer feature?

Well, I think some of the questions above are genuinely troubling when gauging the prospects of the Apple tablet, esp the question on it's target market. Is it an UMPC (well, the category is almost dead) or is it a gaming tool? Who will buy it? More importantly, when I own an iPhone and a Mac, what more can this tablet do and where does it fit? Well, am sure Apple have answered these questions (atleast to themselves) before crystallizing the idea into a real product. When Apple said it was developing a phone four years back, people had their share of laughter. In fact the major phone companies took no heed till the product was officially demonstrated. And all it took was less than a year for Apple to beat the big guns on their own backyard and become the leading mobile phone (atleast temporarily) in US. All this happened because Apple saw tremendous hidden potential in the mobile market, which was dwindling and losing steam day-by day. In fact, if there's someone who can create a market from plain thin air, I would place my bets on Apple to pull it off.

All said, I must agree that the challenges posed to the Apple tabloid are way too many and way too genuine. Throw in the fact that we are in a recession market and the odds don't look promising for a $600 device. Also to note that Apple has had it's own share of failures in it's long history. Standing examples amongst them are Newton, Lisa and Macintosh Portable. Meanwhile, Some of the products like the Apple TV haven't been runaway successes and have needed years of evolution to reach a refined stage.

In the end, the challenges are many and the prospect aren't outright encouraging. But then, every one of Apple's products (both successes and failures) have been valiant attempts to revolutionize it's target market and the Apple Tablet can be no different. While my perception of the Tablet's prospects is one of cautious optimism, I am more excited to see what is it that Apple really brings to the table. After all, when the world's most innovative company (arguably of course) has got something to show, you can't help but take heed to it!

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Apple iPhone 3.0 announcement: a different look

Last week was quite a week for the iPhone... It started with all buzz around the highly anticipated iPhone 3.0 announcement. Every columnist, tech blogger, iPhone developer and user had his own wishlist for iPhone OS 3.0. Then came the actual announcement itself. While a few were underwhelmed in not seeing their most-wanted feature being announced, the general consensus was that the new OS had a few surprises, a few disappointments but it was more or less on target with the user's expectations.

When I got to sit down and reflect back on what's the most significant aspect of the iPhone 3.0 announcement, it struck me that it was neither the copy/paste nor the push notification feature that was significant. In fact the announcement lays emphasis on two important aspects of the changing dynamics of the mobile/computer industry

The power of Software
In this rapidly changing world, where mobile devices get dated so quickly, how does one cope and stay on top? For long, the hardware has been the sole distinguishing factor. The best device was the one which could boast of an array of high end hardware components like processing chip, camera, battery, etc. Any phone that you buy would get outdated in a matter of few months due to constant hardware advancements. Developments in software was considered minor and there was no concept of pushing software upgrades on existing devices (at least not for a layman). This is where Apple came in and demonstrated the power of Software on a mobile device.
The iPhone when released in fall 2007 was a revolutionary device. But what's more revolutionary is the way that Apple has managed to keep the iPhone on top through regular software updates. The power of software is that it can be refreshed continuously and in fact remotely too. The amazing thing is that it's been two years since I got my iPhone but still it gets a new lease of life every June, with features that keep it atop with competing phones that are newly released. Every time when someone says that the iPhone lacks a specific feature or utility, all I say is 'Wait till the next release' (unless there are hardware limitations). This also goes a long way in strengthening consumer loyalty as buying a phone is like an investment for what it is now as well as what it can evolve into, in the future. When I look at my iPhone, I see it as 'a intelligent bot that grows smarter every June'.

The App Store
When Apple first introduced the IPhone and the device became a runaway success, it realized the importance of taking advantage of the lead. Apple had to establish differentiating factors which would set it apart from the competition. The iPhone hardware was good and the software was amazing. But how long would it take for it's competitors who had spent years and years in the mobile industry to catch up? Well, not many. Apple's arrival was just a wake-up call. It did not mean the competition would sit back and languish on it's fate. Apple had to take advantage of it's position to set up distinguishing factors - those which will keep the customers loyal and which will make the competition tough to catch up with. The answer: iPhone App Store.
It is ironic to note that the very Apple that was stubbornly against native apps during the launch of the iPhone, not only reversed it's stance but set up an ingenious model of native 3rd party app development for both developers and consumers. For the users, it ensured a simple rating-based one-stop shop for all applications with a dead-easy iTunes based one-click payment system. What's more, all of this is OTA (over the air), thereby removing the dependency on computers to a great extent. As for developers, besides setting up a simple model where they don't worry about marketing and distribution, Apple also provided them with a powerful SDK kit for development and even went so far as to set up a 100 million dollar venture capital program to lure potential developers. The outcome was this: 25000 apps in just 9 months with a user base of 30 million. Apple had shot ahead in the blink of an eye. Now as other companies like Palm and Microsoft are developing equal or better phones and softwares, they are stumped against the biggest hurdle - the App Store. The developer and user base that Apple has established are a mighty challenge to oppose.
The rise of the AppStore has led to another significant development - the emergance of the iPhone as a mobile gaming platform that competes against the likes of Sony and Nintendo. The SDK provided great interfaces for developing powerful games for the iPhone. But the real reason that iPhone has evolved into a mighty gaming platform is the easy of content delivery and the rise of network games. A Nintendo DS or a Sony PSP, while being really advanced in game development and also features physical keys, did not have a suitable mechanism for buying games on the go. Apple revolutionized just that and now it boasts of more games than those of the DS & PSP together. Also it has set a precursor to the future of the mobile gaming world.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Coming this Summer: "Will the real Jesus Phone please stand up"

Announcing this summer's hottest release - "Will the real Jesus phone please stand up" - a combined production of Apple Studios & Palm Pictures.

Oh yes, this is better than any movie you'd seen.

Last year, Apple storm-ed (no pun intended) through the smartphone market, thanks to the release of the 3G iPhone and the App Store. But just when it all seemed like Apple had obliterated the competition with a swish of it's wand arose a worthy competitor, one that was written off by many - Palm. With it's new Palm Pre device, which boasts revolutionary features like seamless backgrounding and complete integration of the user interface, Palm is attempting one last like-a-Pheonix-from-the-ashes attempt to duel the mighty Apple and reclaim it's long lost throne as the King of Smartphones. At the same time, Apple is aiming to keep it guards up and bring new magic to the iPhone to hold it's throne. This summer unveils an epic battle between two mighty giants, the outcome of which will determine who holds the throne for almost the next year or so. So here we go, an analysis on the Strengths and the Weakest link of both the giants.

  • User Interface: Apple is the undisputed leader in designing an intuitive user interface and the IPhone is no different. That a phone can do so well even without a real keyboard is due to the wealth of features and the always intuitive layman features which Apple brings in.
  • App Store: Easily the biggest strength for Apple over Palm. Started only a year back, the App Store has grown in enormous proportions with more than 20000 apps. Any mobile application is bound to find it's way to the Apple App Store first, due to the huge user base and high returns. With demands not subsiding and new features and APIs being added in, the App Store is only going to draw more developers and naturally more customers to it's realm.
  • Well refined touchscreen OS: Developing an intuitive touchscreen OS is a big challenge. Even Apple stumbled a lot in the beginning with issues in connectivity, performance and reception. But over the past two years, Apple has toiled hard to produce a very stable and reliable operating system. This will be a huge strength against the new-kid-on-the-block Palm Pre.
Biggest weakness
Though the IPhone has been a runaway success, it has its own share of quirks. People have long lamented the lack of very basic features (like MMS, copy/paste,etc). The latest IPhone 3.0 is more of a catch-up game to plug some of these holes. However very many features like flash, background apps and video recording are still missing on the IPhone and to Palm's advantage, they've nailed a few of these. Whether these lacking features will really bite Apple is the question that remains to be answered.

  • Strong background: Palm was the pioneer in introducing the concept of smartphones and proved that cellphones are more than just a substitute for the Plain-Old-Telephone. Though it had lost ground in recent years to Blackberry and Apple and is now the underdog, it has stayed the longest and carries a wealth of experience backed by a strong developer and consumer base.
  • User Interface Integration: What makes the Pre a mighty competitor to the iPhone? The biggest lesson for Palm from the success of the iPhone is the importance of user-friendliness and intuitiveness in making the iPhone (and smartphone) a ubiquitous device. Also from the release of Google G1, Palm learnt that it is just not enough to catch up wirh the competition but instead bring something new to the table to make a real impression. Palm's Pre is a complete rethinking from it's past devices and has an integrated and intuitive user interface, called Synergy. Synergy tried to hide the details beneath the covers and actions happen seamlessly. For ex, it has an integrated contacts of all mail accounts, chat clients, facebook and twitter users. The Messaging application is one which bring together all kinds of messaging (SMS, MMS, all chat clients, facebook, etc) together so that one can see all the conversation is the same panel.
  • True Backgrounding: One critical feature which Palm touts and Apple lacks is true backgrounding in applications. While Apple settled for the Push Notification alternative, Palm claims to have perfected the art and has opened up to inbuilt background apps. If Palm lives up to it's claim without a significant reduction in battery life, it can entice a huge gamut of applications that can only be dreamt of on the iPhone.

Biggest Weakness
Palm's biggest weakness is that of starting from scratch and going against the well established Apple customer base. For eg, The new Palm App Store and SDK will be an infant standing up against the mighty and refined Apple App store which boasts of more than 20000 apps.

End Note: Palm's reentry is promising and has got people to turn their heads. The Pre is loaded with features that can make the device stand out in the limelight. Apple on the other hand, brings in a plethora of new features through the iPhone 3.0 OS. As for Palm, unlike the introduction of iPhone by Apple, itdoes not have much time to get its OS right. It has to get it's act together fast and that too, on the very first attempt. In all, the battle of the Titans is equally matched!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The IPhone Jailbroken AppStore: Will it fly?

The IPhone has been on the news buzz consistently and well, for multiple reasons. The latest buzz is that of the introduction of the Cydia App Store for the jailbroken world (the dark side).

To me, this is a very interesting development. The biggest question which will also help us answer whether the Cydia App Store will really kick off is this - Why will application developers flock the Jailbroken App Store instead of Apple's own App Store which has a higher reach? Also can the Jailbroken App Store provide something really special that motivates users to instead unlock their phones and switch over?

The IPhone App Store has been one of the biggest hits of the previous year and has grown in leaps and bounds. But it is not without it's own quirks - thanks to Apple's restrictions (some mindless). If the Jailbroken App Store leverages Apple's restrictions and provides unique Apps which can entice users, it can not only become a big success but also sound an alarm bell (deservedly so in some cases) to Apple.

Here're some Apps which can make big on the Cydia App Store and tempt users to jump to the dark side
  1. Turn-by-turn navigation: It's weird that Apple neither allows developers to develop apps for turn-by-turn voice guide navigation not has it release one on it's own. People have proved in the past that the IPhone GPS is good enough to build turn-by-turn navigation apps. This will a hot category of apps in the Jailbroken world
  2. Tethering: Well, using the IPhone as modem and connecting your laptop to the Internet is very enticing possibility. Besides the fact that Apple has no App to do this, it is clear (due to AT&T restrictions) that IPhone Tethering with come at a big cost (atleast 30$/month and with a data restriction - like 5Gb). The high cost and the insane restriction alone can lure people into the jailbroken world where this is available without a penny cost.
  3. Copy/Paste Functionality: Well again, not a dealbreaker but Apple still has no solution for implementing Copy/Paste Functionality and already there're apps on the Jailbroken world which has some implementions of Copy/Paste apps (may not be clean solutions but who cares!)
  4. Video Recorder: For some reason, Apple App Store has no apps which allow video recording. Neither is there a native implementation by Apple. One can find a few apps (like Cycorder) to do this in the jailbroken world.
  5. Adult apps: This category alone can rocket the Jailbroken App Store to success. No more shall I comment...
- Others: MMS apps, podcast apps, new browsers, (maybe flash apps), the list of apps which Apple doesn't allow currently are many...

Add to the above restrictions, the weird Approval Process by Apple. Besides being very strict on following good standard and being high quality, the Approval Process is a mystery as it has in many cases rejected apps for no logical reason. The latest is the Sirius radio app developed for the IPhone. It is a pity when people's time and money are wasted when their fully-tested apps are rejected for no obvious reason. It is but a logical fallout for these people to take their apps over to the jailbroken world.

In my opinion, I think the Cydia App Store will have it's own niche market and in fact will spark off an increase in the number of jailbroken phones. This will also be a rude awakening to Apple to plug some of the pitfalls in the SDK and types of apps allowed in the App Store and actually make the Application Review process more transparent.

Will I be one of those to jump to the dark world: would love a turn-by-turn navigation app and the video recording one... But will hold off for another couple of months to give Apple another chance and to see what more the Cydia can really deliver.

Monday, February 9, 2009

An online handcrafts store to showcase Rural India

Since the last month or so, I've been engrossed in a few home decor ideas and mini handmade projects. Special thanks to Niks for the innovative ideas and designs :)

While pondering over the idea of selling handmade stuff over the net, we came across ETSY (, a site dedicated for people to sell their handmade products. I am impressed by the site and more so by the concept itself - leveraging a common man to be a seller himself. Etsy provides you all the tools and guides to set up and market your own shop, right from creating a banner for your shop to tracking analytics as to which items in your shop are the most viewed.

All this got me thinking on setting up an Etsy-like model in India.

The Fundamental Idea
Besides providing a common platform for people to buy and sell handmade items, Etsy provides a global outreach for any individual/small-business seller. The target customers are no longer just friends or the local community. Now you can showcase your products across to the whole country or maybe even to the international community of people looking for handmade items.
India is a country with diverse cultures and a rich arts and crafts tradition. However most of these are home-run and small scale businesses which cater to a local market only. Setting up an Etsy-like site for people to sell their handmade products will give these businesses a new perspective and widen their reach. Many of unique Indian handmade products right like silk sarees, jewellery and clay and wood products will now get the global shine.

Why is now the best time?
Handcrafters and artists have thrived in India for generations. They have typically relied on tapping the local market which is mainly rural in nature. However the last decade or so, they have come under extreme pressure and competition, thanks to globalization. Retailers and wholesellers have started making inroads into even the smallest of villages and are making their products and services available at very competitive rates. However the effects of globalization has not seen a reverse trend - that of small and local businesses reaching out to the urban and the global markets. The lack of education, technology and patronage has caused these local businesses to succumb to the industrial giants.
It is high time that we created an environment that helps these homegrown businesses before their unique arts, crafts and talents all become history.

An online homemade items market
Most of these local artists and crafters cannot set up brick-and-mortar stores like that of big businesses to gain a bigger outreach. Their best bet would be to set up online stores which can accessed by anybody anywhere anytime. One of the effects of globalization has been the widespread growth of technology and Internet. More and more people in cities, towns and villages have access to the Internet and are resorting to using the same as an effective medium for their daily shopping. In addition, the falling rates and the ease of shipping to domestic and international destinations makes the whole world your consumer base. Hence the idea of setting up an online handcrafts site will not only boost the rural arts and crafts merchants in India by giving them a global outreach but will also help to showcase the great Indian culture and artifacts to the outside world.

The Challenges
While the underlying concept of an online handcrafts store for the Indian rural market seems sounds by itself, it is important to realise that the presence of such a site alone will not be successful with the rural home-run businesses. Some of the challenges are as below
  1. Technology: Rural India is still way behind in technological advancements in comparison to the big cities. Home based Internet access is but a luxury and not an essential in many villages. In fact, many villages and towns have only one or two Internet cafes for net access. Also to host your own store using the proposed handcrafts web store, one needs atleast to have a webcam or a camera - another factor which is rarity in small towns and villages. Hence these local merchants and traders do not have the necessary technological infrastructure to leverage the concept of setting up an online store.
  2. Education: A wide range of the targeted home-run arts & crafts businesses include people with no or very little education background. Many would not know to read/write English and have followed their profession as a generational occupation. Also the idea of reaching global markets and advertising on the Internet will be very alien to these people who for years together have targeted the local market only.
  3. Shipping methodologies: Besides technology, numerous other infrastructure deficiencies pose serious challenges to the viability of the plan. One of them is the shipping options and ease of shipping globally. On one hand, one must agree that great improvements have been observed over the past decade or so in terms of reachability, cost and time for shipping items in India. However, there's no flexibility like flat-rate envelopes and web-based shipping calculators. This could pose a challenge in terms of estimating the shipping costs to various destinations without taking the item to the local post office.
  4. Payment systems: Payments and money transfers over the Internet is still a growing concept in India. The lack of a standardized payment sending and receival protocol like Paypal poses a serious challenge in terms of logistics for transfer of money to these local sellers.

Setting up an overall Infrastructure
The challenges pointed above clearly outline that Rural India lacks is more than just a website for these local merchants to become online sellers. It is important to invest and ensure the setup of a suitable technological and related infrastructure to take the idea to a successful implementation.

  1. Agent-based approach to reach the masses: To educate the rural merchants and also to facilitate a conducive infrastructure, an agent-based approach can be used. In the system, potential villages and towns will have local agents who will educate the people on how the system works and convince people to take their businesses to a global level through the online marketplace. They will also be equipped with necessary technological infrastructure (Internet/camera) and related computer knowledge to help out potential businesses getting on board. In addition they will be able to advice on all fronts right from tips on setting up a successful store to deciding a suitable price for their products. In return, the agents will get a small cut of the profits of the items sold. While the agent-based approach helps to bridge the technological and the educational divide, home-run businesses which have the essential tools and facilities can avoid the middleman and set up store on their own.
  2. Leveraging Government help to educate and reach the target audience: The scheme proposed has the underlying aim of creating more jobs and uplifting rural Indian businesses. Hence the government help can be sought to help reach the masses of rural India through campaigns and support. Additionally the government can help to streamline processes like shipping and present them in easy-to-use methods to these businesses.
  3. Social organizations and private sectors: This scheme presents a tremendous opportunity to tie up with social organizations working in rural areas. They can help in taking the idea to potential businesses and also facilitate in setting up agents for the businesses. Similarly one can set up links with private organizations to provide better infrastructure systems in areas like payment and shipping.

In all, while the challenges are many, the opportunities in setting up an online website for selling handcrafts, backed by suitable infrastructure, are tremendous and will go a long way in giving India the true boost of globalization. Well, finally it is time to show the world the Real India!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Tree House restaurant & cafe: One of a kind

During my recent trip to Costa Rica, I came across this impressive place by the name of "Tree House restaurant & bar", during my stopover at Monte Verde.

The place struck a chord in me for two reasons. At the very first glance, it was the appearance. The place sure lived up to it's name - a restaurant built around a gigantic Higueròn tree, so placed that you certainly feel as if you're perched in the tree itself. While I enjoyed the setting and the ambiance, the real surprise came when the waiter came over to take our orders.
Contrary to using a conventional sketch-pad, he was punching away to glory on a tiny handheld device. Unable to resist my curiosity, I prodded him on what it was.

Whoa.... It was just an iPod touch! Incredulous - using an ipod to take in orders! The waiter explained how the whole system worked. Every server carried an iPod touch. The restaurant has an internal wifi which hosts an applet to take in orders wirelessly. All the waiter needs to do is connect to the server wirelessly, choose the items from the online menu, and voilà - your order is through. What's more cool is this - all the drink orders automatically go to the bar terminal and the rest to the kitchen terminal. Now that's very neat!

Why hadn't anyone thought of this idea before? The pros are many
- Innovative, cool ordering system that can attract more customers.
- In places like the Tree House which have multiple floors, it saves the waiter from making a trip all the way to the kitchen to place the orders. So in turn, lesser waiters are needed.
- Go green. What an environment friendly concept! No papers at all. All electronic.

The only cons of the whole system is the initial investment setup. Well, if we factor in the savings brought about by the pros, the investment is highly justifyable and will pay for itself in a pretty short time.

Well, at the end of the day, I had a hearty laugh over the fact that I had to go all the way to Costa Rica to see such an advanced restaurant ordering system!