Category Archives: Technology

Tablets Vs PCs


There is a lot of debate these days about the future of PCs vis-a-vis Tablets. There is a school of thought that believes that Tablets are an inevitable replacements for PCs. A second school of thought believes that we are heading into a “PC plus” era where Tablets will only augment PCs, as Tablets will be used more for “content consumption” and PCs will remain the mainstay for “content creation” in the years to come. They believe that only PCs and desktops will have the necessary features such as bigger displays, more memory and higher processing power needed for programming, graphics design etc. The tablet supporters, rubbish this notion by showing how smartphones and tablets have evolved into powerhouses which can handle complex content creation tasks (as displayed by iMovie for the iPhone/iPad) and will only expand in their abilities to handle additional complexities.

Both these arguments are slightly flawed however. The future is simply, the Cloud. In another 5 – 6 years, the processing power or memory capacity of the system (PC or Tablet) will not matter. The strength and speed of a broadband connection will. All complex processing tasks will be performed on the Cloud and content delivered to a user’s system. A netbook will then be able to handle as complex processes as a PC. All data will be stored online and so will applications which will manipulate data real-time on the cloud. Hence, the user’s devices will be nothing more than a smart display (with hardware, software or gesture based I/O systems including voice recognition) which will receive the content from the cloud and send data back to it.

The cloud is already here. Atleast for data storage. Think about it. All your photos are mostly on Facebook (atleast the non-embarrasing ones). Movies are increasingly being streamed online. We probably listen to and share music more over Youtube and other such cloud based services. Why then would we store such data on our desktops? Onlive is a startup which is working on delivering games to your PC through the Cloud. All the processing power required by the game will be handled by Onlive’s servers and the content will be delivered to your system. That means one will not need to bother about the kind of video card or RAM installed. All you need to have is a good HD display and a strong broadband connection. True, this technology is still in its nascent stages, but even Microsoft and Sony are working to strengthen their cloud based offerings in their next console. It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to see such gaming happen post 5 years.

What about applications? Word and Spreadsheet processing is already happening on the cloud (think Google Docs, Office 365). IT majors are all focusing on cloud application development under a SaaS (Software as a Service) and PaaS (Platform as a Service) model. There are cloud-based image editing softwares which aim to replace Photoshop. While this is a tall order currently, there is no denying that these can become much more powerful in the coming decade.

Tech Giants such as Apple, Google and Microsoft are recognising this. Hence, they are increasing their focus on cloud solutions with iCloud, SkyDrive etc. They are also busy integrating their OSes to work across all devices. Hence, Apple’s Lion was a move to integrate their iOS with their traditional Mac OS X and maybe with a potential Apple TV in future. Windows 8 aims to be a common platform for Tablets as well as PCs and maybe even Xbox and smartphones in future. Future versions of these OSes are being designed to run on smartphones, tablets and even gaming consoles/TVs. A common OS across devices, because in the future, content will be streamed to the device and hence the nature of the device itself will perhaps become unimportant. What will probably matter is how the content is consumed on these devices and the user experience each of these devices can offer for the content (think: iOS and Google’s “App Tiles” versus the Win7 “live tiles”.) HTML5 based applications then, though not very powerful today can soon become the most major threat Apple, Google and Microsoft might face, and not each other.

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Where is the Apple “Kinect”?


Microsoft released ‘Kinect’, its all new motion control system for the Xbox, last week. Kinect is an Xbox peripheral which allows users to play games without the need for a hand-held controller. The Kinect basically uses a camera and sensors to track the movements of the player’s body and translates that into the specific action on-screen. Think players swinging their arms at Table Tennis or throwing punches in Boxing. The Kinect hardware system as such has been receiving mostly positive reviews with users pointing out the need for having a very controlled environment and a lag in games as the only negative points.

For long I have wondered about the feasibility of a game controller which would make gamers stand in front of their TVs and swing their arms and jump and perform all sorts of juvenile actions. You see, we gamers are essentially a lazy lot. A bunch of couch potatoes if you will. Theres nothing more we would like than to unwind by slinking on the couch, playing the latest Call of Duty while hogging on a bowl of chips dipped in mayo. But more on that later.

Point is, the Kinect is a revolutionary way to interact with game systems and any system for that matter. It also has voice-recognition which allows users to issue voice commands to the Xbox. Combine the voice recognition and gesture recognition features and we have an intelligent way to interact with our computers or A.I systems.

We could give voice commands to run programs and use hand  gestures to navigate through menus . Its a whole new user-experience. While the input systems for mobile devices have shifted from hardware keypads to touch screens in the last 5 years, the input systems for the PCs have still remained pretty much what they were in in the 1990’s. High time for a change don’t you think? Touch-screens have not seeped into the PC space as, research has shown (and as Steve Jobs pointed out recently) that touch-screens are not easy-to-use for vertical displays i.e our PC monitors. Its called the Gorilla Arm Syndrome. So, that rules out touch screen inputs for our PCs. The next logical step would be voice commands and/or gesture recognition.

And Kinect has shown that this is feasible. Is it possible that Kinect for the Xbox was a testing ground for this feature to be implemented in Microsoft Windows too? Steve Ballmer has already mentioned that Windows 8 will be their most risky venture till date. Does Microsoft have plans of using this Kinect system as a new mode of user interaction in the next Windows?

And if Microsoft has such plans, can Apple be far behind? Steve Jobs definitely prides himself on revolutionizing the music and mobile phone industries. He brought mobile touch screens in vogue, changing the way people used their mobile devices. I’m dead sure hes got an eye on the Kinect and realizes how it can change every single form of device-user-interaction across all industries. While the next Mac OS Lion does not have any such features, there’s no telling that Apple is not already working on its own Kinect-like system for its Mac and other devices like Apple TV. With his strong focus on providing an innovative high quality user-experience on Apple products its only a question of when, and not if, Steve Jobs will announce Apple’s own “Kinect”.

Introducing: Google Music (India (Labs))


Google has launched a new online music service (for fans of Bollywood songs) called Google Music India. Google has a tie up with other sites like in.com and saregama to allow streaming of songs from their music libraries. To be fair, a pop-up window basically just plays all these songs from one of the aforementioned sites. However, I dont think the majority of people were using in.com to listen to music earlier. With Google coming into the picture I think a lot more users would find it easier and more natural to use Google Music India to listen to online music. Google claims this service is to help fight the rampant music piracy in India. Users can only stream the songs online and cannot download them.

I tried it out and found that Google Music(or should i say in.com?) has a pretty comprehensive music collection. Whether you want to listen to a soothing retro Kishore-da track or the electrifying Tanvi in Delhi-6, the obscure Altaf Raja or the Pakistani rock band – Strings, you’ll find your type of music here. More power to the cloud.

http://www.google.co.in/music

Presenting: Youtube Movies


Yes thats right!! Youtube now has a dedicated movie channel where hundreds of full length movies have been uploaded. You can access it by going to http://www.youtube.com/movies. As of now a bulk of those movies are on the edge of what we could classify as C-grade ( and highly NSFW) cinema, nevertheless there are a few classics up there and a few good documentaries too. Surprisingly the one category which has a slew of good movies is “Bollywood”. Among cheesy fare such as “Vivah” there are also quite a few classics like “Padosan“, “Amar Akbar Anthony“, “Andaz Apna Apna” etc. A good collection for people who want to watch retro Bollywood flicks. I even stumbled across the National Award-Winning “Kanchivaram” and started watching it. The quality was good and streaming was smooth .

This new feature could also provide a very good platform for documentaries and small budget indie films to reach out to everyone. Even though the current collection of “good movies” is minimal, im sure that within a years time this would turn out to be a popular destination to watch a good chunk of movies.

Last year Youtube launched its “Youtube Shows” where people could watch some popular TV shows from certain networks. And now movies. This is a gradual move by Google to make Youtube a one-stop entertainment portal. This is in sync with their plans for Google TV, where an android based device connected to a TV set will run the Chrome Web Browser, effectively merging the internet and television. Google wants people to be able to browse the web, watch TV shows and movies, all with Google TV.

This brings into spotlight, the timing of the launch of Youtube movies, as it has happened just days before the Sept 1st Apple Press Conference, where Apple is widely expected to announce the new “Apple TV” — their own digital media receiver which is touted to run on iOS.

And the great game unfolds….once again.

Easy Storage on the Cloud: Dropbox


Dropbox is a cloud based file hosting service which allows its users to store files and folders on the net and even share it with others.

To use Dropbox you must first register an account and download the Dropbox desktop client. This will create a Dropbox folder in your Documents folder. The same Dropbox folder will be present in your account on the Dropbox website. Any files or folders you paste into the Dropbox folder on your PC, will automatically get uploaded to your Dropbox account. Hence, if you are working on multiple computers but you wish to access some files on all your systems then you can simply add those files to your Dropbox folder and they will be uploaded to your Dropbox account. Sure, Google Docs does provide the same functionality, but only with documents. If you wish to have access to say videos, music or pictures irrespective of the system you are working on then the best solution would be Dropbox. Any changes that you make to these files, in any of your computers, will be automatically reflected in all your Dropbox folders in all your computers. So no hassles of having to repeatedly email them to yourself or use pen drives to transfer them.

It also acts as a great place to back up your important documents which you can access from anywhere. If you are working on your friend’s system and you wish to access some files from your Dropbox folder, then you can simply log onto the Dropbox website and download those files from your account. If you start working on a new system and you wish to have access to all the files from your Dropbox account, then simply install the Dropbox desktop client on the new system and it will download all the files you have on your Dropbox account into your Dropbox folder on the new system. And this file syncing works irrespective of the OS on each of your systems. It could be Windows, Mac or Linux. A great way to sync files.

Inside the Dropbox folder you can create how many ever new folders you want. All these folders will get synced with your Dropbox account on the Dropbox website which in turn will sync it with all your Dropbox folders on all your systems.

Dropbox is also a great way of sharing files. You can upload the files that you want to share onto your Dropbox account and share that folder with your friend through his Dropbox account. And even if your friend doesn’t have a Dropbox account and doesn’t wish to join, no sweat. All Dropbox accounts are provided with a public folder. Any files you put into the public folder can be shared with a non-Dropbox user. You can simply send the link of that folder to your friend via email or chat and he will be able to download those files onto his system.

As with any cloud based system, this requires a good broadband connection to work efficiently.

A basic Dropbox account is free to use and provides 2 GB of storage space. If you want more storage space, you can upgrade your account to a Pro 50 or Pro 100 account, but this would cost you 99$/year or 199$/year respectively. But, with a free account, you can extend the storage capacity up to 8GB, by inviting your friends to join Dropbox. For every friend who accepts the invite your storage capacity increases by 250 MB!!

Dropbox also has a host of other features including an in-built versioning system. Users are also coming up with innovative ways to use Dropbox as highlighted in this article.

Here is a video explaining the concept behind Dropbox in a simple way.

Here is another video explaining some of the features of Dropbox. This video was done when Dropbox was still in Private Beta, but it still gives a very good ideas of its capabilities.

The Evolution of Facebook’s Piracy Policy … err Privacy Policy


There are already tons of articles out there on the web, ranting about the changes made to the default privacy policy settings of Facebook (which makes your personal info public by default). So, ill keep this short and try to sum it all up using infographics prepared by Matt McKeon, a developer with the Visual Communication Lab at IBM Research’s Center for Social Software.

The 2 graphs below indicate how much of your personal data is accessible by third parties online and how that accessibility has changed between 2005 and 2010. The dark blue represents the availability of your personal data, by default.

availability of personal info in 2005

availability of personal info in 2010

What does Facebook get by giving third parties more access to your personal info? Its the ad revenue stupid. Think Google.

According to the Wall Street Journal, in the first quarter of this year, Facebook pulled ahead of Yahoo for the first time and delivered more banner ads to its U.S. users than any other Web publisher.

And why not? Facebook makes money when you click on the ads presented to you. You would be more willing to click on those ads if they were personalised for your needs. Facebook also sits on a wealth of your personal info. Now Facebook is providing that info (as the default setting) to third parties who can target you with more personalised ads. Simple, isn’t it?

The main issue here is that Facebook lured in people with its foundation of strong privacy settings and is now pulling that very foundation from its user base. I dont think most FB users are complaining though. According to this Wired article most of the current anti-Facebook rantings are by adults over 35 years and not its core user group in the age bracket of 18-34 years. However, there is this interesting article in the New York Times about people realising the long term implications of sharing private information in the public world of Facebook.

Tech Startups and Rock Bands


Found this really interesting analogy between starting a tech company and a rock band here. Image credit to Shane Snow.