Category Archives: Gadgets

Deferred Information Consumption

You are sifting through the work emails for the day and somewhere in between is an e-mail about the latest TED talks.

You are tweeting about your company latest feature and see a WIRED article in your stream that you can’t wait to read.

But work calls, so they have to wait.

You either leave the TED email unread, letting it consume prime visual real estate in your inbox. Or you download the video on your Desktop where it will lie for the next several days. You open the article in a browser tab and let it be. Or you bookmark it and then forget all about it.

Our computers have become now the primary device for discovering AND consuming information – be it work or leisure. But how do I reduce this information overload and at least consume it when I want and where I want? One answer: new devices and services that can deliver to those devices. Which is why I love my Kindle and my iPod Touch.

These days when I find an interesting article, I Instapaper it. My Instapaper is set to automatically send new articles to my Kindle at the end of the day, and then I can happily read them in the most important room in my house. TED has this awesome functionality where you can ‘Download a video to iTunes’. Whenever I connect my iPod Touch, it syncs them and then I can watch one of these videos right before I sleep (I wish iTunes had Wi-Fi sync).

So what’s the point? I am making a case for devices that do one thing and one thing well, like a Walkman or a TV. But obviously, that’s not going to be the case – because you know, ‘there’s an app for that’. So what we then need is devices which when doing one thing do it really well. This is a case for full screen immersive experiences. A case against the taskbar that shows which applications are open. A case even against tabbed browsing.

You say that already exists. An iPad. You’re right. It’s just that I realised how much of a disruptive innovation that is. Johnny Ive (a man who vocal chords need to be preserved as much as his right brain) may be overstating the case when he says ‘I don’t have to change myself to fit the product. It fits me.’, but it definitely fits the activity you are trying to do.

But more than letting out some iPad love, this is a case for the missing piece in this puzzle besides discovery and consumption which is delivery.

Something like Instapaper. When combined with Amazon’s WhisperNet it takes no more work that clicking on ‘Read Later’ to get an article to my Kindle.

But what about music? Why can’t a song I discovered on Shazam be delivered to my Sansa Clip?

YouTube videos? Why can’t I just ‘Send to TV’.

So the question is: How might we get to a point where a discovered piece of information or media it can be effortlessly delivered to my ideal consumption device?

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Old Whine on New Bloggle

(I am allowed the use of imaginary words as and when befitting. See blog URL)

Remember how I pledged to get my drafts out faster than I can write new ones? Well that hasn’t happened as yet, but I keep trying. Atleast I am blogging more regularly (T~30 days) than I did (T~300 days). So another strategy is to blog multiple items together as against blog each one separately. I have picked 2 for this one which were still lying around in my Blogger account – completely unrelated, the only denominator is that unka number pehle aa gaya, and I had something written down already.

1. The Problem with Sony

Sometime back I attended a Group Discussion at an ad firm to help support a pitch they were making to Sony, for their forthcoming MP3 player launch in India. Obviously, a lot of comparisons were made between the iPod and a Sony MP3 player. The thing is I had nothing good to say about Sony MP3 players. First off there were too many of them – several undifferentiated, tacky, yet expensive models, preventing any one from becoming big. Second, what I hated most was how late they were in endorsing mp3, meanwhile continuing to stuff down prorietary ATRAC3 down our throats. As a result, the hallowed Walkman is now dead (except perhaps the brand being reinvented with Sony Ericsson mobile phones.)

Then I thought, did something go wrong with Sony? I mean the Walkman, the PS, the PS2, most things Sony have been great products to use and irresistible to own. When did they start going wrong and why?

And I realised that they had taken their copy protection, anti piracy antics a bit too far. One of the key strategies which Sony adopts to achieve this is by create proprietary formats around their products. While this makes a lot of economic sense to them, several these eventually gets phased out, but nor before customers have spent a lot of money on the trusted Sony brand.
There is the MD, rendered obsolete by the death of line-in recording of audio. There is the UMD, especially UMD movies, only playable on the PSP – which has no TV Out, plus it is a closed format so that no one can put their movie collection on their PSP (alternative being an obscenely expensive 2gb Mem Stick Duo). (Aside: I recently learnt that now you can buy ready to plug and play PSP ISOs from Palika on a 2 gb mem stick for 2.5k – as long as you have firmware 2.71)

Now stepping back for a few bird’s eye view thoughts. You’d say this debate on proprietary formats is a much larger one, and Sony alone can’t be blamed. Why – even the iPOD uses a proprietary AAC format. Well, agreed that it does, but it never prevented you from playing MP3s, from day one. Infact it even allows you to burn a CD from the AACs, and then who is stopping you from converting it back to MP3? In the whole piracy debate (which by the way is a long one, so I shall not get into it in this post), I think Apple is one company which has struck the right balance. It has built in a set of filters which would deter most, while vella people looking for a workaround – like me – can do what they want, which they would have done or tried anyway with any other format. Plus, it addresses important gaps – so, for example, the iPOD video has a TV Out. Stopping Piracy does not mean strangling usability. And in my view, it is very often the Sony experience which can become limiting. I shall leave it at that right now.

2. Smoking – Risk Death for the Life
As I said, two completely unrelated posts :). Smoking. At one point in time, one of my favorite topics. It used to be a pet hate. I have lived through an annoyed dad , embarassed but relenting friends (Me: Yaar, meri gaadi main smoke mat karo), amused women (Me: You smoke? I think it is disgusting!), shocked/angry strangers (Me: This is a public place sir, can you please not smoke?), the works.
Not so much anymore. I am still a non-smoker but over the years I have come to accept it, thanks to most of my friends being smokers. I can now survive living in a passive smoking cloud. I have had a pseudo-cool-smoker phase when after I had had exactly one puff of ganja in Goa, I came up with the very pretentious “I only smoke marijuana!”, which I used to say as if it was the most original thing in the world :)). I have also had some of my demented mental states where I have smoked a whole cigarette or two.

Anyway, this is not about smoking or why I hate it, its me ruminating upon smoking as a social phenomena. So the top-x format again (whenever you are struggling to write coherent prose/ running short of time, it is your best way out):
1. A person and his/her cigarette is a self contained system. Ever been to a coffee shop or restaurant all by yourself? Personally, I get conscious and resort to reading a book/playing with my cellphone/acting like I am expecting someone to seem occupied. Now picture the another person but with a smoke. They never seem out of place, on the other hand they seem rather distuinguished and content.
2. Smoking is a very effective means of social bonding. ‘Got a light?/Got a smoke?’ This is probably one of the most commonplace bonding call s between smokers. And, as far as I have seen it works really well.

Also, (I can’t remember much of it now) Malcolm Gladwell has done some good analysis of the Smoking phenomena in his book ‘The Tipping Point’. (Aside: By the way, Malcolm Gladwell seems a lot less impressive after you have read Freakonomics – both books have parts where they analyse why crime fell in New York in the Nineties, and boy how wrong Gladwell is – typical case of confusing correlation with causation).

Motorola V3i Update

मैं और मेरा V3i अक्सर ये बातें करते हैं। तुम चलते तो ऐसा होता, तुम चलते तो वैसा होता। तुम उस कॉल पे इतना बजते, उस SMS पे वाइब्रेट करते। मैं और मेरा V3i अक्सर ये बातें करते हैं।

Alas! All attempts to get the RAZR V3i repaired under warranty from Motorola have been in vain.

For those who do not know my V3i story kindly refer to my earlier post here .

The phone promptly stopped working within 4 days of me criticising it on my blog. While I had taken the “don’t-dare-make-the-RAZR-Gods-unhappy” theory to be true, the Motorola service centre guy had a more believable story to relate, (and a rather sad one at that – one which voids your warranty), – Liquid Damage.

He showed me some white deposition on my phone’s innards, said its liquid damage, gave me an uncalled for ‘don’t lie’ look when I told him it has not been exposed to any liquid beyond normal usage, and told me it would cost Rs. 5k to fix. This is when the phone costs about Rs. 7.5k these days.

He also said he had not received *any other case* similar to mine. Look who’s lying now!

Anyway, so though my sweat glands do work overtime, I figured the phone would be resilient enough to withstand that and I might have a chance with the warranty.

I have till now tried the following:

1. Called up customer care – they said I should show it to another service centre somewhere in Badarpur – which I have no plans of doing.
2. Wrote to their customer care email address some 20 days back. No reply, not even an acknowledgment.
3. Written a physical letter to the Motorola HO in Gurgaon. Nothing.
4. Written to the customer care email address again today.

So mostly I have given up on the phone and I have the following choices.
1. Continue to use my N-Gage. I know, the damn thing still works!
2. Get the V3i repaired (I will probably sell it off if I do that. Anyone interested drop me a line :)). It kinda does work sporadically.
3. Buy a new phone. This one is very tempting. Sadly, some of the most promising ones, and the best priced are Motorola.
Unfortunate that my first Motorola experience had to end so badly and sincerely hope the company goes back to their puny marketshare in due course of time.(BW reports that they are the new India No.2 and have increased their market share from 2% to 10%)
(By the way, Motorola has definitely set some trends on the liquid damage front)

Motorola RAZR V3i © AG

The fading glory of the RAZR V3i

Oh how I coveted that thing! That object of desire dressed beautifully in black – surely it was created by some divine design. It belonged to someone else, yet I would steal glances at it from across the table.

Finally I gave in. I bought myself a brand new Motorola RAZR. I had decided that I would wait for the V3i to arrive on the scene, with its sexy gun metal finish, 1.2 mp camera and iTunes. Plus it came with a 256 mb microSD card. All that for a mere 14,500. Yeah, I know its 10,500 now, but even then it felt like more than VFM.

The headphones were nice, I could put music on to it through iTunes, not as convenient as using Windows Explorer like I did with my N-Gage, but not too bad either. The sound quality was good. It did not scratch easily, which was quite something considering the last gadget I bought before that was the iPod Nano. I could put animated .gifs as screensavers – nice. Some minor problems did surface, like it would hang up a on a few occasions, and the voice quality was not as great as my N-Gage, but that was okay – it looked so damned neat.

After a point I came up with an corny analogy – The Moto RAZR V3i is like a really hot girl friend – she is dumb, demanding and a pain to deal with, but you take it all in your stride because she is so damned hot (I am just going by what Bollywood movies has taught me).

Times have changed and somehow that analogy does ring so true any more. When every third guy (and girl) in the country start seeing the same hot babe, where’s the novelty? Now I have just have a phone – called the MotoRAZR – oh you have one too? Thought so.

Now I would give you a list of reasons why you should not buy the the MotoRAZR, starting now.

1. It’s has an MP3 player with iTunes. Great, except that putting music on that phone is the most infuriating thing on this planet. For starters it is USB 1.0 and works like USB 0.3, it takes forever to put one song on it. Plus you cannot put music on it from another computer. If you do, first it will delete all the songs you have, because you see, it can be associated with only one iTunes library. BS. Plus, even with that one iTunes library, what happens if you removed a song from your library? Plug in your phone and it gets deleted too – it needs to be ‘updated’! To prevent that you have to uncheck some minuscule check boxes next to the song. Compare that to my N-Gage – agreed it looked like an elephant ear, did not have the best sound in the world, but not only could I put music on it easily, I could put it in any damned folder and it would find it.

2. 1.2 megapixel camera. Ha! Good Luck Photoshopping what most likely are the darkest photos clicked ever, even in broad sunlight – and they all look a bit yellowish and hazy. On the bright side you can probably pass it off as a vintage snap.

3. It hangs up. All the time. Not because I do anything wrong, but because I try to answer a call when the clamshell is open. It hangs, I have to close it and wait for 2 minutes while it recuperates and then wait for the person to call me again. Nice touch.

4. The voice quality just plain sucks. It is slightly better than the sound quality I got from my N-Gage when I was holding it reverse and speaking into the speaker (I had not understood the elephant ear dynamics then).

5. It cannot search through your phone book in real time. Now is that stone age or is that stone age? I have to type a few letters and then say Search. Did you just type ‘Sa’ and you have several contacts starting with those two letters? What would you do if you were Nokia – you would add another letter. What do you do if you were the MotoRAZR? You would type S-a-whatever again and press Search. Still didn’t find it? Type away some more baby.

6. Call me finicky, but could they have picked an uglier font?

Alas, I can’t afford a new phone anytime soon. So will have to make do with it for now. Maybe when we are alone, away from this RAZR infested world, we can reminisce about the good old times.

Update : The RAZR Gods don’t like me anymore. Within four days of me writing this post, my RAZR  stopped working, just like that! The other culprit could be myself, also known as the Sweatman – this phone might have succumbed to the same fate as my earlier phones. Better check the Warranty quick.