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Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

It is that time of the year again. As I emerge from my writer’s block (I have not blogged for a year- not counting the reproduction of my Pangong post in Jan 11) I have this strong desire to de-clutter & organize all over again. Over the past year I have acquired a ton more gadgets, been getting fair doses of nature’s fix through wildlife outings and been leaving a trail of Gigabytes accumulated over various mediums for  consumption on a variety of screens. The whole attraction of what the Mac stands for in my mind – to simplify clutter and to do it ably and efficiently sometime gets challenged with the sheer amount of content explosion in the digital medium I seem to get myself into lately these days.

My contribution to Apple's market value - all in the name of Convergence - gadgets in various screen sizes - all geared for multimedia of all kinds - Audio, Video, Ebooks, digital magazines, pictures. Pictured L to R - 20" iMac, Magic Mouse, 16Gb iPhone 3G, 32Gb 3G iPad1, 13" Macbook Pro, iPhone4. 500Gb Lacie & 1TB WD hard drives behind iMac. Another 1TB WD drive behind the Macbook.

After cleaning my audio collection and digitizing my home DVD concert collection (in 2009), I have to deal with other  mediums now –  primarily photographs taken from every other week.  The rest are still manageable –  eBooks, digital Magazines, the latest applications.  Movies and  gripping TV serials from across the pond.

Will be quite the feat when I get through with this. Will this be the year I get on a cloud (Mobile Me)? or invest in a RAID backup setup? Will I organize all my photos with Aperture? How far back will I need to go for geotagging? The task of simplifying seems that much more daunting as it requires clarity with respect to organization!

While I have managed digital Convergence in the last few years – most of the clean audio and video content stored in a few hard drives, streamed over Wifi, controlled via the “Remote” app on iphones and the iPAD and played on the home theater through the Apple TV.  How far can I extend this to other mediums? I hope to write about more Use Cases soon on my digital Convergence at home. Stay tuned.

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My wife surprised me a few months ago when she gave a tech gift for our anniversary. I was touched by it because she had given enough thought to give me something that I would find exciting. I got an Eye-Fi card, a WiFi enabled memory card for cameras that automatically backs up your photos on your hard drive and to a designated photo sharing website using a WiFi connection.

Apparently, wireless photo sharing is quite the rage in the US but it has not quite caught on in India. Thanks to a number of cousins in the US, the latest gadgetry always seems to find it’s way home when it is not easily available in India:) The advent of WiFi on SD memory cards gave rise to a world of new use cases. Wireless photo sharing and backup has got to be one of the most popular use cases for WiFi enabled memory cards.

How does Eye-Fi help end users ?

The Eye-Fi card does the following for an end user –

  • Transfer files automatically to a specified location in the hard drive of a computer/laptop
  • Transfer files automatically to a photosharing website such as Flickr or Picasa
  • Users can choose to backup all files taken in their camera or do selective transfers

However, I got gifted the base 2GB card meant for Home use and this card has limitations as it can transfer JPEG images alone. For someone who shoots primarily in the RAW format, this is a big disappointment.Despite the shortcomings, I am excited with the product and have started shooting RAW+JPG!

To really get all the capabilities of Eye-Fi cards, one needs to go up the memory curve. Here are all the other things the range of Eye-Fi cards can do –

  • Upload Videos of the most popularly used formats (4GB, and 8GB Pro X2)
  • Upload RAW image files (8GB Pro X2)
  • Geotagging the location of pictures using a triangulation of WiFi signals in the area (4G Explore and 8GB Pro X2)
  • AdHoc Transfers enables user to upload to their computer without a WiFi router using a camera to laptop wireless connection (8GB Pro X2)
  • Endless Memory mode will automatically free up space after backing up photos (8GB Pro X2)

There is even an iPhone app (available free for Eye-Fi users) to backup and share pictures taken on the iPhone!

This truly is a comprehensive list of features to simplify wireless sharing & backup of media between gadgets, computers and the Internet. A true convergence of hardware, software, transport and application! If you are someone who appreciates innovative products that help simplify things in your life, go get one for yourself and see what I mean.

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I woke up this morning to a barrage of complaints from tech pundits – at the disappointment of the iPad.

The hype reached such a crescendo that nothing, I repeat NOTHING Steve Jobs could have done would have satisfied gadget freaks the world over expecting a new way of life which was so rudely dismissed by a simple 9.7″ display, 0.5″ thick offering. All the castles in the air vanished. If only Apple would allow collaboration, it would have the world’s largest bee-hive of Product Managers – all tasked with one unsaid goal – build a superior product that can change the world.

Unfortunately, even Apple employees are not privy to the Roadmap most of the time, leave alone the whole world. Is it possible that Jobs did not tell the world what they wanted to hear? Dissing Netbooks has not won him any favors as the iPad in it’s current iteration is a somewhat lesser than a lot of Netbooks in the market as it can’t do video chat, multitasking etc… Had Jobs positioned this as a E-book reader that happens to do other things – would all the disappointed fans in the world be more placated?

Could it have been positioned differently?

The iPad marks the start of the 3rd store – Music, Apps and now Books. Assuming that Books as a store would be made available universally (Music is still not), it gives rise to a whole new category. This for me is THE iPad.

Dreamers the world over wanted a solid reason to make them run and buy one and the reasons given were not enough apparently. For me the iPad is an eBook reader that can also handle magazines, be a fancy remote, a multimedia player & Internet surfer. Had I had more expectations, I would have been sorely disappointed also.

Scarred critics who have written off Apple products in the past are more cautious – rightfully so! The pricing and books alone will end up doing the trick. However, will I buy one now? Will try one in the store. But it looks more likely that I may wait for an iteration or two.

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Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo - image courtesy Virgin Galactic

Five Years after SpaceShipOne and Virgin Galactic was formed as a company, Virgin Galactic rolled out SpaceShipTwo day before yesterday – billed as the world’s first commercial Spaceline! What an achievement! I applaud the vision and execution of Sir Richard Branson to propagate Consumer Travel into Space – and boy, does he do it with style! See the rendition for his Spaceport below – completely love the design and how it has been conceived.

The Virgin Spaceport under construction in Southern New Mexico

We have recently read about rich billionaires paying ridiculous sums of money to  piggyback on Russian Space programs and travel into space during the last few years. Given how expensive it is for space travel, the prospect for consumers to travel into space remained a distant dream. All of that is now shattered with the possibilities that Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo offers – affordability (on relative terms) and a consumer friendy (to the extent possible) experience that can only be offered by a brand such as Virgin.

How it Works

The concept is really simple – in an awe inspiring way. Build one space module (SpaceShipTwo) with the ability and characteristics to renter Earth’s atmosphere, attach it to a mothership (WhiteKnightTwo) to carry it to a high altitude of 50,000ft, release the Space Module (SpaceShipTwo) and fire the rocket till you are in Space! The picture below explains it in a very simple manner.

A unique Wing Feathering design inspired by a shuttle cock allows the SpaceShipTwo to re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere without having computer or manual guidance. Incredible!

Wing Feathering for Re-entry was inspired by the Shuttlecock

Sure, Space Tourism will be very much doable for our grandkids or at least that’s what I thought. How naive of me. This is happening in my life time! I for one cannot contain my glee. The possibilities offered by affordable, safe Space Travel are endless and I hope I make it to Space in my lifetime. Just the prospect and “what it would be like” feeling fueled by this incredible video is enough to make my hair stand on edge! May it fire up all our dreams and serve to inspire us everyday.

Here is the link to make your booking to Space.

Here is the Press Release for Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo.

All images courtesy of Virgin Galactic.

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An amazing milestone for India indeed! One has to look back to understand the significance of this milestone.

In 1997, when I was a Product Manager for Base Stations in Motorola’s Cellular Infrastructure Sector, we were amazed at the rapid pace of Telecom growth in some parts of the world. Back then, Japan was adding 1M subscribers a month. We used to be amazed at the vibrancy of that market and 1M per month was an unbelievable number.

Times have changed dramatically. India today adds a whopping 10-15M subs a month! India recently crossed 500M subscribers (~470M wireless and around ~35M wireline) and is showing no signs of abating. This is significant for many reasons. In addition to all the economic benefits,  job creation and accessibility of communication infrastructure, India has benefitted tremendously in terms of the Social impacts that communication has had on common people. All of this growth has come in the last 6-7 years. What a hockeystick growth! To put things in perspective, here are some facts about life in India not very long ago (around the telecom topic):

  • When I went to college in the 80’s in India, the entire hostel (dorms) had access to one landline telephone
  • Owning a landline telephone was considered a luxury even in the 90’s
  • Even in the early to mid 90’s, one had to wait for weeks on end to get a landline connection
  • Calling rates to India were highest in the 80’s and 90’s from other countries. In the late 80’s, it used to cost on average $2/min between the US and India. Today it is a few cents!
  • Teledensity (number of users as a percentage relative to population) in the 90’s was well in the low single digits
  • A large swathe of the population had access to a telephone primarily through calling booths (ISD/STD booths) – Thanks to Rajiv Gandhi and Sam Pitroda
  • When Mobile services were introduced in India, per min calls were Rs. 16/min for both incoming and outgoing calls. Today, the norm is Rs 2/min and a number of operators have moved to 1p/sec billing!
  • Color phones were not the norm up until 2003-04
  • Mobile handsets used to cost a fortune in those days (Rs. 20k to 30k). Today, one can get laptops (Netbooks) for that price. High end smartphone offer amazing levels of productivity through the features offered in high end prices today.
  • Email on phones were a novelty even 5 years back
  • This list goes on and on – one just has to go back a few years to a few decades to see how far we have come!

Click on Article for Zooming in on article.

Access to the common man

The Telecommunications revolution has gripped India to such an extent that the common man now equates it to that of a watch – a bare necessity. The core value proposition – voice communication is understood by all and the many dazzling offers in the market will only help India move ahead even further.

In spite of this growth and volumes, India does not enjoy some of the qualities of other nations:

  • QoS (Quality of service) is inconsistent and abysmal in some areas for both voice calls and data. One can attribute this to spectrum availability. I think there is also an element of operators not optimizing their networks enough.
  • There is absolutely no ‘telephone etiquette’ in the country amongst users – consumers talk anywhere, at any volume without any regard or common courtesy to others.
  • No respect for privacy – Tele marketeers run amuck  in this country. Mobile numbers get traded freely and there is no sanctity to the process of approaching people. Even though operators offer DND (Do Not Disturb) as a paid service, reports are that they are not very effective.

The next big opportunity is the rollout of 3G services in India. Licenses have been delayed for more than a few years already due to various reasons – clearing of spectrum in the 2.1GHz band being one of them. As India continues to play in the bottom of the Pyramid, I hope at least one of the Indian operators change tactics towards potential high ARPU users. There are huge gains to be had to cater to a list of high end users by differentiating not just customer service, but also QoS – for which a band of customers are willing to pay a premium! As Metros are more than a 100% penetrated, high end differentiated services can provide a fillip to sagging ARPUs for a lot of operators.

The other opportunity lies in increasing Broadband penetration. As ‘last mile’ technologies evolve – it is expected to  harness all the Fiber criss crossing India, it is only a matter of time before India stands to gain tremendously in this area too!

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In 1992, at my first job with the Motorola IVHS (Intelligent Vehicle Highway Systems) SBU, we were tasked with coming up with an Automotive Navigation System as an aftermarket product. In those days, GPS devices were the size of a ice-hockey puck. A shoebox sized computer sat screwed in the trunk. A CD carried Digital Map data of the US. The hardware and software engineers built one of the earliest full fledged Automotive Navigations Systems – with Turn by Turn Route Guidance; Voice Guidance;  POI [points of interest] integration;  Touchscreen;  multiple location inputs through GPS, wheel sensors, transmission sensors, all helping out accuracy of the car’s position by means of dead reckoning software! Unfortunately, the product got shelved in 1995 due to a myriad list of issues – aftermarket pricing, liability issues in the event of an accident etc..

The lessons learnt at that time – the user finds these devices most useful when he/she does not know where they are going. That is why automobile navigation devices go hand in glove with the rental car industry in the US. Daily commuters with the same route did not see the usefulness to dish out $5k in order to put one in their car in the mid 90’s. The industry has evolved since then with most auto manufacturers offering in-dash navigation systems today in most of their cars. Automobile manufacturers use the navigation display as a multi-display function for controlling a lot of the car’s audio features and displaying it’s engine health parameters.

2009: It is now common to see Google Maps available on Smartphones – iPhone, Blackberry, Windows Mobile, Android devices with various degrees of integration to the Map for navigation purposes.  The availability of maps in these devices allowed a slew of location based applications to crop up for these phones. For example, Movie applications will not just provide reviews for new movies, but will play trailers from YouTube, display the list of cinemas it is running in and if you the user deems,  will tell the user how to get to the movie theater closest to them from wherever they are. The ability to combine Yellow Pages information with location and navigation serves as a powerful tool for users globally.

droid-car-home-dock
Motorola Droid docked in a car

Android 2.0 devices ups the ante with true turn by turn navigation for FREE with Voice based dialing, displaying live traffic info en-route to one’s destination, Street and Satellite views and the ability to dock in a car! While this functionality has been available on the iPhone as a fairly expensive paid application, Android clearly is driving a signal to other mobile OSs by integrating it. Thanks to miniaturization (as with all electronics) –  GPS chipsets can now be integrated on the slimmest of cellphones! True Convergence of hardware (pinpointing location) with software (digital maps) and packaged in sleek devices to allow end users to never worry about getting lost. I cannot wait to see how this is going to further evolve in the coming years..


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