First 12 hours with the iPhone 6

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So, I was gifted an iPhone 6 recently. It arrived last night and because of a fairly ridiculous AT&T policy, it was about to be shipped back to China before I rescued it. I’ve spent a little over 12 hours with it now and here are some points about it –

  1. iOS 8.0 has chinks. (See how I underplayed it there?) There’s no reason to expect that Apple, the company that created the OS, has been through 8 iterations of it and literally is one of the richest companies in the world can’t hire a few testers. You know, those people who test your stuff and tell you what’s wrong with it.
  2. The iPhone 6 is too big. The iPhone 6+ is bigger still. These are interesting positives (specially for me as a writer and reader), but huge negatives too. When I take out the phone from my pocket and start using it, it tilts forward. If I’m not careful, it tilts just enough to fall. In fact, in this short 12 hour period, it’s had one serious fall and many little falls. Which leads me to my third point.
  3. Please buy Apple Care. Up until now, I’ve had very little use of Apple Care, since I tend to care for my devices just enough to extract maximum use from them before they crash and burn (not literally). But this time, I’m sure that no matter how much I care for this phone, it’ll fall, slip, drop, dive (yes, dive) and slide away from me and towards the hard, cold earth. Which means that 6-8 months from now, I’ll need it replaced. Time to fill Apple’s coffers now so we can raid them later. Also, when you do get that inevitable replacement, make sure to run every possible hardware test on it, because Apple will give you a phone which will have a bad wifi, or crappy LTE antenna, or weird memory defects. You’ll have only 7 days to return the thing and ask for one which actually works, so use those 7 days well. Over and over again if necessary.
  4. This phone is too thin. That kinda got covered above, but the point is, Apple, that you could have done a slightly better job with the battery. Mine works well for now, but it could have been better. Your future phone is the iPhone 6S, not the iPhone 6++, no matter what phony tech analysts and market gurus say to the Wall Street Journal. So yeah, here’s a spine; now please put a real battery in the phone. I will prefer, nay, demand, a fatter phone in the future.
  5. The lock button being on the side is weird. Screenshotting is going to be a challenge now. I get why you did it Apple, I’m just saying I’m one more person not used to change. Or maybe I am, we’ll find out.
  6. Reachability, Apple’s innovative approach to ridiculous screen sizes, is a Godsend. Whoever thought of that in the Apple UI/UX team deserves a Medal or something. This is literally the thing I’ve used more than anything else on the phone till now. Samsung, this is your cue. Copy this. People need this. But one thing – the person who implemented the actual features needs to sit down with their manager for  . The thing works in at most half of the OS. There are so many menus and screens where I’m double-tapping the home button but nothing is happening.
  7. About the Touch ID, the less I say, the better. I’ve had an iPhone 4S all this while, so I’m slightly behind the curve. Also, the new keyboard is good, but it could have been better.
  8. Apple, here’s a tip – next time, please release iOS 9 as late as possible. Take all the time in the world. There’s a misconception in the enterprise world that if you don’t release software on a fixed time table, your customers will hate you and abandon you. You know when they’ll hate you? When you bring crappy code to the table. Somehow, Apple seems to have adopted this yearly time table thing. It was cute for the first few tries, but it’s time to retire this habit. Wall Street will bash on you for a bit, but who are those puny mortals to question the behemoth that you are?
  9. I saw that my iPhone was downloading 5 concurrent apps last night. That’s 2 more than my iPhone 4S does. Awesome!
  10. There are a lot of apps that I have had to drop because of shifting to a new phone, apps like Sunstroke and Neater. I’ll miss them. I might still be able to get them loaded through iTunes, but they’ll probably not work well. I’m sad because of that. On the other hand, I opened up iBooks and loaded Lionel Shriver’s “We need to talk about Kevin”. The bigger screen is definitely a plus there! Loved the reading interface.

Oh well, there’s my 10 points about my new iPhone. Tell me what you think about yours.

 

Word of the Day: Fungible

 
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Fungibility, according to Wikipedia, is an economic term used to describe the property of a commodity whereby it is directly interchangeable with something else. For example, if you don’t care whether the rental car you get is a Mercedes or a BMW, then they are fungible. It was used by journalist Stijn Debrouwere in an awesome article about the future of newspapers and media companies in the age of the Internet, by calling his article –

A treatise on fungibility, or, a framework for understanding the mess the news industry is in and the opportunities that lie ahead.

Source: Fungible

The article, pointed in my direction by GigaOm, talks about an interesting situation about the news industry – that newspapers are being replaced by something completely different than online newspapers. They are being replaced by sites and services that have nothing to do with the news, or journalism as such. Sites like CraigsList, Gawker, Byliner and IMDB are replacing individual sections of the newspapers and there’s not much the newspaper can do about that.

To understand this, let’s look at what a newspaper is. It’s made up of various sections and those are – National/International news on the front page (reddit, iGoogle, Yahoo’s Homepage replaced this), local news and information (Pinwheel, Facebook, Foursquare replaced that), Entertainment (OMG, what hasn’t replaced this? YouTube, TMZ, various fashion blogs, Engadget), Sports(twitter. Seriously, twitter has replaced this), Comics (webcomics, here you stand united), ads(are everywhere on the Internet and also on CraigsList, which deserves special mention), Editorials (?).

Now, the quick newspaper reader looks at headlines, ads, sports and entertainment and all of those are covered by services I listed above. This means the core of how the newspaper earns money is gone. What’s left is the Editorial. I’ve left a question mark there because a lot of companies have tried to become the online thought leaders, the OpEd page of the Internet and it invariably fails. Byliner came up with an excellent model – charge small amounts of money to people interested in reading good stories. But they were nearly out of business when someone acquired them. The Magazine, an interesting attempt to conquer the attention span of geeks and non-geeks alike failed and is ceasing publication soon. Medium has, of late, done a really good job of being the Editorial destination of the Internet, but they’re opening it up to everyone, which will invariably lead to a decline in overall quality.

The solution, at this point is unclear – editorial-only publications have failed, trashy listicle sites are loved as a time pass but hated as serious news (BuzzFeed, anyone?), there have been some wins for Internet journalism on both sides – startups and newspapers going online (I’ve talked about Quartz and their take on journalism before) have both had some wins and some losses. But one thing is clear – newspapers are not just fighting online news any more. They are fighting everything that catches the user’s eye. Any website or service that gets eyeballs means less attention paid towards the news. This is specially true for sybaws (smart-young-bored-at-work) since they look towards the Internet as a distraction (and so, why would they read serious journalism, they’ll read BuzzFeed).

But there’s no need to dispair. As the Internet-always generation comes of age, they’ll ask for serious journalism, they’ll ask for editorials and be willing to pay for them. They’ll need a view of the day’s news before they start the day. Perhaps that’s where online newspapers will flourish. Facebook, Yahoo, iGoogle could never capture people’s attentions for everything from social to personal to political because of perceptions – if I’m going to my social network site, why would I want all my news there or if I’m reading a funny listicle, why would I need news about terrorism on the same page? But that’s not true for newspapers – we know they do everything. So here’s my advice – built platforms online. Build communities that interact with you, that value the information you put out, whether it be local ads or opinion pieces on international issues. Be the CraigsList+Twitter+Medium+Dilbert for someone. People are bound to find value in that. But don’t just put everything analog online, think about what the entire direction will be. Sit back and think; that’s what  you folks are good at! Heck, acquire a few companies you like, that shouldn’t just be the birthright of tech giants.

Because if you don’t, you’ll be fungible with just about any information dissemination website out there, even if it’s a one page list of daily news items.

 

License, don’t acquire

 
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Silicon Valley has a bad habit – that of buying outright any company that might prove useful to them and the tech community. When Google bought Waze, Facebook bought Spool and Pinterest bought Icebergs, they all did it to bring to their platforms, users and companies, ideas, technologies and features that they believed would be a good fit with their own setup.

But they did it wrong. Waze is a great app and when it finally disappears (as do all Google acquisitions), it will be a great loss for it’s users. Waze has a unique UI, a dedicated user following and features that are not at all present in Google Maps. While the integration went well, Google Maps is an overloaded app with too many features. Eventually, they’ll simplify and drop a few features, getting rid of many core things that Waze is known for. In no circumstance will Waze ever recover from this setback.

Spool was a good app. Today, it’s site is a default “Apache is working on your cPanel server” message and it’s features are nowhere to be seen in the Facebook app (a bloated, messy app as is). Icebergs was something I signed up for and promptly forgot. Recently, I got an email from them to tell me that Pinterest was acquiring them. The email was very upbeat and listed out how Icebergs would be ‘joining forces’ with Pinterest, adding private messaging features to the platform. Icebergs would feel perfectly at home at this visual discovery tool. Unfortunately, in the second last paragraph, Icebergs was planned to be discontinued from the first of this month, it’s users asked to download their data. There’s nothing like Icebergs out there. There’s no place for Icebergs data and no open-source or a thin-client which users can use offline. It’s dead.

All of these calamities could have been avoided. Each service could have benefitted hugely if the larger company would have licensed their technology instead of acquiring the company outright. The users would have benefitted from a company that has a steady source of corporate income, the company would have been able to think long term and use the incoming money to expand features and services for their core product and their ‘free’ users. Waze could easily have licensed to Google, providing them with the data that Google Maps now uses to show me traffic patterns on my routes, Icebergs could have used their internal design team to help guide Pinterest into making better services for their users and Spool, though a two-man effort, could have spent time helping Facebook and raking in potential millions through that effort; though sadly, many apps out there are made often with the express interest of getting acquired.

Currently, silicon valley has an unhealthy obsession with acquiring companies. This manifests mostly in VCs forcing entrepreneurs into making services that are ‘acquirable’ and entrepreneurs often trying to game the system by making apps that gather huge following only to sell them to the highest bidder as soon as possible. This is bad because –

a. It’s a system that can be gamed. (Kind of how VCs and PE Firms make ‘real money’, I guess)

b. It promotes short-term thinking and very little real problem solving.

c. Large companies get into fits of trying to become lean, firing teams, cutting down features and splitting apps and services into multiples, thus destroying the value created by the acquired app.

d. It leads to distrust in the users. Any new app or service is looked upon as potential deadweight. The more popular the service, the faster it’ll start talking of getting acquired and the worse it is for users. In this, the users are still trusting folk and keep falling for the same old trap of spending way too much time and effort in build ecosystems around platforms that die out too quickly. But eventually, they’ll wisen up to the act and start punishing new services.

e. Dont even get me started on investors eternal question of “So how exactly did that old acquisition add value/provide ROI ?”

Licensing is a good thing for the larger companies too – it gives them the opportunity to dictate the general direction of the service while maintaining the necessary distance from the actual operation. If at any time, they feel that the service isn’t worth their time any more, they can simply walk away at the end of the contract, without costly layoffs, shutting down of services and disrupting their own apps and features too much. This’ll only lead their users to trust them more, because when they see a new feature, they’ll realize it’s coming only after a good amount of thought and effort, instead of a hasty acquisition from the head honchos.

There are, of course, risks in licensing instead of acquiring. While a license (and contract) gives them some control over the service’s future, the larger company cannot be guaranteed complete control over every aspect of the smaller service. This headache is reason enough for the larger fish to swallow the smaller one whole. But the contract can be binding in drawing a roadmap for the future of the smaller company and in case of financial issues or creative differences, the larger companies can then acquire the smaller one out-right anyways. The habit of buy-first-ask-later is bad for the image of the larger companies and the trust of the users of the smaller ones.

I don’t expect this modus operandi to change overnight or to change at all, but it’s time for companies to stop thinking of acquisitions as the ‘easy way out’. It’s more troublesome and less healthy for the industry, the users and the companies themselves to acquire than to license, and the exhaustive large list of “failed” acquisitions are a testament that something needs to change, and this is just ONE recommendation!

 

Note: This post was edited by my brother and lifelong editor, Nipun Khanna. His changes are extremely valuable to the shape of this post.

On Fear

 
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I was recently thinking about fear, particularly that fear is a genetic gift. Our forefathers instilled it into us to ensure we stay away from predators, darkness, and other harmful things. But there are two things about the nature of fear that confuse me –

  1. What about fear of our parents? Is that genetic? Is it instinctive for us to be afraid of our parents’ anger? Or is that something that comes to us after we’re born? If the latter, think about the immense sense of abandonment and betrayal a child must feel when their parents scold them for the absolute first time. At first, it may well be a very odd phenomenon for the child – an angry parent. But slowly it would dawn upon the offspring that the progenitor is expressing a negative emotion, a negativity asserted towards them and in context of something they did recently. After that, is it because of our lack of genetic fear that some children do not pick up on fear of parents, even when faced with physical punishment; while others become so afraid that even the idea of an angry parent that their tendency to do the “right” thing supersedes all other emotion.
  2. What about fire? When the flame is big enough that we feel “hot” instead of warm, we instinctively stay away from fire. But every time I see a candle flame, I feel like I must touch it. It is an enigmatic phenomenon which just be explored by touch and that urge overpowers all logic that cautions me to stay away. Is this because fire came into our knowledge a little too late to be a part of our genetic makeup? Had it been with humans longer, maybe it would have gotten stuck into our genes as something to use, but be wary of. If that is true, I wonder what other things came too early? Could a fear of large animals or snakes or cliffs be because of such circumstances and maybe we shouldn’t be afraid of them as much as we are?

I’d love some of my readers to respond with what they think about these fears. If someone has specific knowledge about fear, I’d love to have a conversation, either in the comments below, or you can email me or find me on social media. Thanks for reading.

VRL – The Virtual Record Label

 
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Most of us know what an MVNO is. For those who don’t, an MVNO is a Mobile Virtual Network Operator – a company that doesn’t known any mobile phone network of it’s own, but piggybacks on someone else’s network and simply puts their own branding on top of it. US MVNOs that I am aware of are FreedomPop, Boost Mobile and Cricket Wireless. They all resell AT&T or Sprint’s network under their own labels. This is a good business because it fosters competition while still providing best-in-class facilities to consumers. Of course, the profits of the MVNOs go in part to the parent Network Operator, because they are essentially leasing out their network to these smaller companies.

We’ve looked at online music streaming companies as libraries of music. In our minds, Spotify, Rdio, Pandora and Google Play are subscription services where users pay a monthly fee to listen to any music in the entire collection, instead of buying the music personally. Of course, the trade-off is that you never own the music, no matter how long you pay for the service. Thus, the ‘library’ analogy works and we tend to think of these services as places to ‘borrow’ music. Obviously, since we’re ‘borrowing’ music, we’re not paying full price for it and so the music industry has this big complaint that streaming doesn’t pay the bills. That makes sense. Where they were selling CDs at ridiculous profit margins and the only ‘free music’ people ever heard was on the radio, record labels are now contending with super cheap single-song sales and even cheaper streaming services.

But is the next step forward or back? Will record labels clamp down on streaming services and force them into either paying more (like Netflix) or risk losing their collection or will they force companies to reduce user choice in a Pandora’s Box scenario (pun intended)? I’d say the ball is in the streaming services’ court. Those companies will need to recognize that if they’re the only player left in the music-sales game, the costs of playing music are going to increase. The best step forward would be for streaming services to become virtual record labels, pushing sales of genuine goods (music) instead of tertiary goods like merchandise. The streaming companies would then be responsible for reeling in interested users to buy music instead of just renting it, much like MVNOs push people to using the same mobile networks by changing the branding.

This model is starkly different from the library model because by default libraries are looked at as places that reduce the need for personal purchases of books. This is great if the books cost a lot (as hard covers do) or if there’s community value being derived from the establishment. But this is no longer the case for music. iTunes and Amazon Music have reduced the cost of buying music by a huge margin and the next step in the game is to increase profits. This can only come if music streaming goes hand in glove with music sales, instead of opposing it. As usual, Apple is slightly ahead of the curve and their iTunes Radio service seems like an interesting solution (where you are encouraged to buy the tracks you enjoy listening to). But like I pointed earlier, Pandora (and FM Radio) are steps back, not forward. All streaming services need to recognize that people who stream music could also be convinced to buy high quality versions of those tracks and that is the best way forward.

Note: This post was driven by the topic and links provided in this post on the TeleRead website, where the author Juli Monroe was trying to decipher if streaming services hold some kind of lessons for eBook sales and subscription services.

Well, what about the jailbreak?

 
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iOS8 is here today and as I always do before an iOS update, it’s time to audit my jailbreak. Of late, I’ve grown distant from the jailbreak idea as such. I still have a jailbroken iPhone 4S and iPad Mini 1, but there’s barely much happening there.

RAM? What’s that?

The first problem with my jailbreak is that it’s on a device that’s now, well, old. The iPhone 4S has 512 MB of RAM and as much as Apple fanboys will tell you that you don’t need RAM because Apple has a) tight integration with their hardware or b) amazing tricks up their sleeves that put apps to ‘sleep’ as soon as you minimize them, the truth is that if you jailbreak, you need RAM. Continue reading

Word of the day: rubric

Quartz_homepage
 
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According to TheFreeDictionary, rubric means a title, class or category. It’s also used when referring to a subheading or the full title of a file/post or page. Neiman Journalism Lab used it as follows –

The Brief, a tailored summary of business and international news under the rubric of “Your world right now.”

Source: Maybe the homepage is alive after all: Quartz is trying a new twist on the traditional website front door » Nieman Journalism Lab

The article talks about the redesign of a news site, Quartz, in which they added a homepage to their site. Till date Quartz did not have a homepage, but they did have an email newsletter that was their main source of reader retention. Their other means was to target social media. Like a lot of other sites, Quartz has depended on quality content and focussed social media campaigns to drive readers to their site.

I’ve been reading Quartz since some time now. I probably discovered it via twitter or perhaps through WordPress.com’s post streams, which is the platform Quartz is based on. I have often headed to qz.com and till date, I was received by an infinite scroll of articles, one after the other, simply flowing through. This was at times, irritating and at others, helpful. But it was a homepage none-the-less. The new homepage is a lot more traditional. It’s called “The Brief” and focusses on short snippets about top stories. Users can then click through and will again be at the doorstep of that infinite scroll. Other headlines on The Brief are actually short notes, where Qz has linked to news stories from other sources and given you a quick overview to read and share.

The redesign is nice because of design reasons – bigger pictures, more space, less clutter. But here’s something important. The Neimanlab article quotes Qz senior editor Zach Seward as saying that it’s essentially “a chicken-and-egg scenario”. If you build a homepage, people will see it. If you don’t, they don’t. For news sites, a homepage is an essential tool. Throw in some of the important stories of the day and latch on some other stories that you want to push and users will spend a lot more time on your site. There’s an analogy here. Instagram has been a mobile only app for the longest time. They believed that there was no need for a website simply because they were growing at breakneck speed even without one. Yet, the biggest complaint they probably ever received was the lack of a desktop environment and this spawned a host of sites like webstagram. Now, Instagram has an official desktop site, but it still defers you to the mobile app for things such as opening accounts, user management and photo uploads.

The Neimanlab article states that Quartz was receiving 90% visitors through article pages (from their newsletter or social media) and only 10% from qz.com directly (I’m part of that 10%). Yet, this shift shows that they too recognize the need for a homepage from where the casual user can easily find more things to read and the dedicated reader can keep track of headlines. Whenever I go to Qz.com, I’m logged into my wp.com account. Who knows, maybe in the future, they can use my login to tailor posts to my interests and maybe even mark news items as Read/Unread for me. Whatever the future may be, the rubric of Quartz is getting more attention by the day because of quality journalism and excellent design.

BONUS Word: sybaws (“smart young bored-at-work”) source

New Trent Airbender Mini 1.0 review

New Trent Airbender Mini 1.0
 
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I recently bought an Airbender Mini second hand from eBay. I needed a case+keyboard solution for my first gen iPad Mini and this seemed to be a good solution.  The ideal case would have been the new iPad Mini Clamshell, but this was available for a fifth of the price and so, worth the try. I have been using it all afternoon and frankly, this is not the solution I am looking for.

The case is solid, the hinge between the iPad cover and the keyboard is strong and allows me to hold the iPad at any angle (which is nice, since that’s my biggest complaint about the WingStand) and the keys themselves are pretty good, instead of flaky plastic keys that I’ve seen in some other cases. But the design of the keyboard is flawed. Since the general design of keyboard cases is to have the same max size as the device they ensconch, the Airbender Mini’s keyboard is the same width as the length of the iPad Mini, which is not nearly enough to be comfortable while writing longform. (I am writing this using the setup described and frankly, it is not comfortable.)

Besides the small design, New Trent has tried to fit in a lot of functionality into the keyboard, thus cramping the keys even further. The topmost key is the +/=/Lock key and not the Delete key, thus making this the least ideal key for writing instantly. Also, vital keys such as the apostrophe, both slashes and the question mark are all only accessible using a special Function key, thus making it rather difficult to write fluently.

My usual setup is an Apple Bluetooth keyboard with the WingStand. It’s not a covenient setup, because of all the disparate parts, but it works fine because of the Bluetooth keyboard’s large size. The main problem, as I mentioned before, is that the WingStand does not have multiple angles, which makes it very uncomfortable to use when sitting upright. I have even tried a credit card sized solution called the QuikStand by the same people who make the WingStand, but it’s too flimsy.

I believe that I need a keyboard case that’s built for the larger iPad but allows the user to fit the Mini into it as well. That would be the optimum solution. I’d like to write more about that idea, but I’m writing using such a small keyboard that my hands have started to hurt. Oh well, time to restart my search. Thanks for reading and sharing.

Word of the day: calumny

 
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(Scott Olson/Getty Images)

According to Bing Definitions, calumny means defamation or a defamatory statement. Most certainly applied where the writer wants to depict the vilest of attacks on a person’s character, calumny is used by Sunil Dutta in his piece today, talking about the terrible tragedy currently unfolding in Ferguson, MO. He uses it as follows –

It is also a terrible calumny; cops are not murderers.

Source: I’m a cop. If you don’t want to get hurt, don’t challenge me. – The Washington Post

Sunil talks about the Ferguson riots and the near-military state situation from a seat of experience. He was with the LAPD for 17 years before he started his teaching career. While some might see the article as a simple Do/Do Not list for when one is approached by a police officer, the underlying tone is that of frustration. Too often, people overreact to a casual situation when a cop is involved, myself included. Sunil explains how the officers themselves are mere humans who are trained well to be calm in all situations, but have legal backing to take action in case they feel that their own life or the lives of others is threatened.

Sunil’s explanation for police violence is that it is never brought forth against people who follow the rules, remain calm and obey orders. He agrees there are exceptions in terms of corrupt or aggressive cops, but the majority of incidents that happen are because of people who act out against cops. This might seem like a very opinionated view, but that’s exactly what’s needed right now. No one is talking from a coherent point of view from the other side. The police are being demonized by media from all over the world and no one from the authorities are talking about the investigation into the incident.

John Gruber, a blogger and Internet personality, has criticized this article by summarizing the suggestions laid out by the article as follows – “Don’t question authority or you might get beaten or shot. Astounding.” Frankly, that’s a fairly negative and populist opinion. What happened that night in Ferguson was a tragedy, but if you look at it from the side of those charged with not just uphold the law but also to enforce it, you’ll realize that there’s more to every such story than mere shades of black and white.