Archive for September, 2012


The Apple launch affair was a stellar one. From highlighting the slimmer and taller design of iPhone’s latest variant to showcasing the new iOS6, it seemed like Apple had the structure and resources in place to prove all its doubters wrong. But a couple of weeks after its official launch, Apple looks like treading shores unknown.

What was essentially supposed to be the Big Debate between iPhone 5 and Samsung Galaxy S3 has been overshadowed by unified claims of a failed product launch in the form of iOS 6 Maps. In coming out with the iPhone 5, Apple decided to completely ward off with YouTube and Google Maps; two of the most popular app services amongst Smartphone users. And in came the all new iOS maps which have been developed from the ground up (legitimate spokesperson quote).

During the official keynote, the crowd was given a firsthand look at how the Maps service on iOS works. The vector-based map system has the benefits of Local Search for getting photos and reviews of places they are about to visit. Apart from the standard turn by turn navigation and reroutes integrated with Siri, the Maps have been made capable of making your drives easier and time-saving. Another wonderful feature within the iOS maps was it “Flyover” feature, wherein you can actually see a live time human eye image of how places look like while flying over them and also allows you to adjust viewing distances and angles as per your convenience.

Now anyone who would have watched the keynote would have no doubt been left impressed the strategic innovation and enterprise on Apple’s part for the Mapping system. But the actual live use of this app has given less than impressive results. Users have used various social mediums with images showing glaring defects in the service. From poor route suggestions to obscure satellite imagery, mismarked and mislabeled places to obliterated building and structures, the iOS maps have left a lot to be desired. Various technology experts have been eager to highlight that Apple on its part had pre-meditated the reaction the service would get and expects to rapidly improve the mapping with the user inputs it get. As bold as the move looks, it jeopardizes Apple’s stance of being oblivious to safeguarding user interest.

 

 

Now taking things into context, this is a short term risk Apple is willing to take for long term benefit of its users. And their engaging approach of constant improvement through real time user data is also commendable. But as I see it, maybe Apple would have been better off releasing their Maps service app with the next update on iOS6. That way, they would have been able to improve on an already worthy alternate option to Google Maps and gather more concrete data to avoid the widespread glitches in iOS maps is facing at the moment. By rushing into replacing a Mapping service which has proven to be reliable worldwide with a half-baked mapping and navigation service which is still in its nascent stage has put Apple in the face of risking wrath of its loyal yet massive consumer base.

Being more of a technologically knowledgeable girl in the group, most guys in our college group were fond of me. Even though the whole group used to hang out together, I was more engaged in multiplayer split screen PS2 gaming with the guys rather than gossiping with the girls. And the two favorites at the time were “Counter Strike” and “Left 4 Dead”. So much were we engrossed in these multiplayer games in split screen mode that our parents have had many a sleepless nights.

Without belittling the Split Screen technology, it is compromisingly manageable at best. No denying the late night virtual raids were enjoyable to be a part of, the four divisions on a 32” screen used to confuse us with everyone losing track of which screen his player was in as well increased the scope of cheating in a versus mode game mainly the racing titles. Sony’s Simulview display for full-screen multiplayer gaming looked a decent step in that direction but it turned out to be damp squid with a meagre 24” screen size. And since it would have costed a lot at that time, even the richest brat in the group went against spending the moolah on it.

Fast forward 6 years, and LG has taken full advantage of the untapped avenue and developed a pretty similar technology which goes by the name of “Dual Play”. And unlike the screen restrictions in Sony’s display, the Dual Play feature is ubiquitous in all the models of 2012 LG Cinema 3D range. The tact of making Dual Play lies in putting two same-side lenses within a Glass Frame so that you view only a particular side or in other terms tricking your brain via your eyes only to perceive the view of a single side through same-sided polarized lenses. That way, you get a full screen view of your vehicle/player without interfering with the other person’s game play. Mind you, this feature is still in its progressive stage and limited to only two players but I fully expect LG to expand the horizon for up to four distinct players at the same time. The other minor drawback is a little loss to the screen resolution as basically one part of the screen is being stretched over the whole TV frame.  Although you won’t face any such resolution loss issue on LG’s 4K UD 3D TV.

And it looks like this seems to have woken up the Japanese giants to bring the Simulview in a much larger 84” 4K screen with the launch of their KD84X9005 4K TV. Much more than competition, it is good that the major players are getting serious about the next phase of multiplayer console gaming. The only major drawback of this screen size would be the cost factor which puts it out of reach of the majority of people.

And yes, as a potential consumer, you will be right to complain about the exorbitance of 4K prices which make these technologies perform with resolution losses. But from a long term perspective, companies are right to bring the bigger screen sizes now so that the downscaling is cost effective I the future. As it stands, companies like LG and Sony have the groundwork in place and as soon as 4K’s become affordable, one will be able to enjoy full screen multiplayer gaming in its HD glory!

Despite my critical ascertainment with Apple’s persuasive legal course as a hindrance to innovation in the Smartphone arena, there’s no denying the fact that the latest avatar of the iPhone has been a runaway success. With Apple alongside its various carriers receiving close to 2 million pre-orders within the opening 24 hours and analysts expecting the sales to reach the 10 million mark within the week, the hype and curiosity surrounding the iPhone 5 is greater than ever.

And the way Smartphone markets work in US is what makes for an interesting reading for an average Indian mobile user. All the major mobile carriers namely AT&T, Verizon and Sprint have collaborated with Apple to sell their newest offering on no-commitment as well as 2-year contract plans. A no-commitment plan is similar to purchasing a new iPhone without any network services for 649$ (34,663 INR) while a 2-year contract means that the customer ends up paying just close to 200$ (10,682 INR) with a monthly data and call usage plans of between 85$-100$ (4540-5340 INR). Yes, the first part of a contract agreement is enticing enough to get your budget restraints wagging but it’s the premium monthly charge which translates to the analyzed fact that every iPhone 5 user will be able to actually take full benefit of his device after a good 9 months after purchase without burning a hole in his pocket.

From a consumer’s perspective, it is a good enough deal as they are getting the latest gadget for a knockdown price and willing to part with a substantial monthly amount for it. And you can’t blame them considering the phenomena an iPhone is considered in US. Some experts have even quoted iPhone 5 as the “new cash milking cow for the mobile carriers”. The contract system is a camouflaged and nifty business practice which allows mobile carriers to give products like the iPhone at subsidized prices and recover the costs and make handsome profits via the contracts. And with most of the phones in these contracts not being unlocked, change of carriers becomes increasingly hassle some once the contract period expires. But hey, Apple might just launch a new iPhone till then to keep the cycle running!

What I have always wondered is why mobile carriers have not been able to tap in on and successfully replicate this business model in India. And the latest advancements in the local Smartphone arena showed me exactly why. One, we are spoilt for choices both expensive and cheap when it comes to selecting a handset so this ideally leaves the companies at risk when it comes to subsidizing the handset costs due to numerous handset launches and upgrades. Secondly, Indians are not the splurging kind and are very particular about their cell phone plans; be it Prepaid or Postpaid. “Call per second” is a good example of that. And most importantly, the shelf life of a Smartphone being used by an average mobile user is 12 months at maximum which leaves the contracts proposition less profitable. Reliance and Tata Indicom have already tried this with low-end CDMA offerings which ultimately failed to excite. And even though Nokia is providing a few handsets with such contracts, it is not preferable for majority of the mobile users.

PC Gaming vs Console Gaming

Now before I even start to write on this, this is a spoiler warning that this opinion would not get much into the technicalities of both the platforms but be an unbiased comparison of the two. Quite a few of these days I have thought about getting a gaming console for my LG LM6700 3D TV. And its been the obvious tussle between the Sony PlayStation 3 and Microsoft Xbox 360. Obviously I decided to read some reviews for both and that’s when I came face to face with every gamers’ dilemma: Whether to go for a Game Console or get a gaming PC assembled?

We will start with gaming PC’s first. This was the original platform for which all games were designed under the PlayStation showed up. Getting a gaming PC assembled can be a breeze if you have the knowledge of the components you will be using but can become a maze filled with many options if you are a noob. Secondly, you also need to differentiate between which component brand will suit your gaming needs. This will include the right selection of processor, motherboard, Graphics card, monitor and CPU cabinet. Delhi’s Nehru Place is a haven for everything related to PC’s and laptops and as a prospective customer, you have an abundance of options in your hardware purchase process. The most important factor while assembling a gaming PC is the Graphics Card you will use. Here is a forum link from Think Digit giving you the various options as per your budget. The most relevant factors to consider while going for a Graphics card is its GPU series, Shader clock speed, number of stream processors and its memory. One might even be able to find company overclocked cards in the high end range.

Pros: Cheaper game titles, easily upgradable and better for LAN gaming.

Cons: Expensive initial setup cost, compatibility restrictions because of Graphics Card make.

Now let’s come to a Gaming console. A gaming console is basically the next generation successor of the video games using PCB cartridges. It can be directly connected to your TV for HD gaming experience. And unlike previous years one has more choices with Sony PS3, Xbox 360 and the Nintendo Wii, even though they cater to distinct gaming needs. And unlike installing games on PC’s, you just need to insert your gaming DVD’s and you are good to go. Plus if you are using your Console with a large TV screen and home theatre, you can experience these games in their full glory. Another thing which is a unique plus about a Console is a sense of calm while purchasing game titles as compatibility issues hardly ever arise.

Pros: Ease of use, compact in nature and no worrying about hardware specs and game compatibility.

Cons: No component upgrades, game titles cost almost twice as that of PC.

At the end of the day, it boils down to what you expect from your gaming system. A working class individual like me would prefer to go for a simple Gaming Console as gaming would just be a leisure activity. But any hardcore gamer would swear by PC gaming as it can easily optimized as per the changing graphics and gaming trends and provides a much more immersive gaming experience.

The last month in the techie arena has been overshadowed by the patents wars between California based Apple Inc. and Korean heavyweight Samsung. In the aftermath of this decision, the Cupertino giants have unveiled their latest iPhone 5 with the all-new iOS 6 and a much more responsive SIRI. And in spite of the venom spewed by Android users and analysts alike, the response to Apple’s newest gadget has been nothing short of overwhelming as Apple received 2 million pre-orders within 24 hours of launch. However, the unfavorable ruling has left a bad taste in Samsung’s mouth who has devised a series of Anti-Apple video commercials depicting the Galaxy S III as a far superior phone.

This has triggered a cyber war of sorts with both the legion of fans from both sides defending their favored product. What has gone unnoticed is the gradual emergence of Windows phones from the shadows of these two dominating OS’s. Nokia had been the biggest sufferer since Apple and Android handsets flooded the market as the Finnish mobile manufacturer was left digging at the heels of latest technologies. So much so that one could be forgiven for assuming if Nokia phones were actually competing for a market share. But instead of taking the easy route and jump on the same bandwagon as other brands, Nokia decided to re-invent their flagship handsets on Microsoft Windows OS. And even there have been a few major drawbacks in it with the lack of apps and operational glitches, WP8 promises to iron them out.

Looking at some of the major features available in the three Operating systems, I observed a few favorable factors inclined towards the Windows phone. One of them is the video-chatting – while iOS and Android have their own specific software, a WP8 is going to use a Skype for the same purpose, which is considered one of the best software for video calling. It will also allow seamless Facebook and Twitter integration for getting status updates, photos, contacts etc. Even the messaging service on a WP8 is comparable to that in iOS and Android. And unlike either one of them, a WP8 uses an organized icon grid structure for better arrangement of notifications and icons. And the Redmond based unit has been signing licensing agreements to make sure that Windows 8 becomes a safer OS for manufacturers in the future. But in spite of these advantages, there are a few weaknesses that the Windows Phone suffers from as well. Features like Browser sync, Voice Commands and Media streaming needs to improve a lot.

With the launch of Lumia 820 and 920 nearing and HTC WP 8X and 8S also being unveiled recently just reflects that even major manufacturers are willing to migrate to the Windows OS. If Microsoft can address the niggling weak points by the time WP8 reaches users, the Windows 8 OS is capable of operating on a level playing field with iOS and Android from Google.

Smartphones, tablets and HDTV’s have come a long way in innovative terms. Going one by one, the first feature that anyone would look for in a Smartphone or Tablet is the design, OS version, Camera as well as the touch interface. Similarly for TV’s, one generally goes looking for designs, its Picture Quality as well as other grizzly features. Now there’s no denying that these aspects are truly important, but what every layman misses out on is the understanding of the actual “Smart” features of these devices.

One of the most important USP’s of any Smart Gadget is its connectivity features. While not required all the time, these features really bridge the gap for wireless data transfer. We do remember the good old days of Infrared and Bluetooth for sharing photos and music. That has been replaced by the new age NFC (Near Field Communication) which allows quicker media sharing through a simple tapping of two Smartphones. Even Wi Fi has become commonplace these days, with multiple laptops in a place accessing internet through a single secured wireless router. I remember this kid who used to sit for hours outside my apartment’s stairs every evening engrossed is his Android phone. This peculiar habit caught my attention and on inquiring I got to know that the sneaky fella was using my Wi Fi connection for free downloads..

But the number of connectivity features that have come into use in the space of a few years is the real talking point of this post. Any Smart TV owner having multiple electronic devices at home would be aware of DLNA i.e. Digital Living Network Alliance. This technology is a very convenient interface for sharing data between the various devices you have at home. For example, you can view video clips and pictures as well as listen to music on your phone on the big screen. Or even use your TV to access the movies on your lappy’s hard drive for HD viewing. It also allows you to save and record data you have on your Smartphone directly to your laptop wirelessly like a home cloud network. And the best part is that since DLNA is a universally certified and accepted medium, it can work between DLNA-enabled devices of different brands. Obviously you will need a hi-speed Wi Fi router to enjoy this service but would you really mind spending a little bit extra for so much convenience?

And popular brands like LG and Samsung have taken the feature seriously with the availability of SmartShare and AllShare applications present in their Smart TV’s respectively. This allows seamless data transfer and sharing between the various devices of their brand through Wi Fi routers. I mean I have been using the Wi Di feature in my LG Smart TV for viewing my photos on the big screen for as long as I can remember. Even the MHL (Mobile High Definition) port (although not wireless) in Smart TV’s is a boon for experiencing widescreen mobile gaming.

I have personally seen the glowing advantages of the connectivity options at my disposal and even though not a very important feature in everyone’s mind, it is bound to become indispensable in the years to come.

It’s that time of the year again when the traditional side of me overpowers the practical modernist Indian woman. And that’s for the entire duration for the celebration of Mushakraj’s birth. Me residing in Delhi at this time does not take anything away from the fact that I am still a hardcore Mumbaikar at heart. The birth of Lord Ganesha is not only spiritually significant for the Marathi community but also a way of paying divine respect to elephant God.

I still remember when I was young and had read a very fascinating account of the adventures of Ganesha. One such was the instance when the little son of Shiva and Parvati is invited by King Kuber for lunch to show off his riches and power. What happened next was something that not even the God of Wealth could have contemplated. Filled with hunger, Ganesha does not stop eating till everything in Kuber’s kitchen has been consumed. And even after that, the little kid is starving. Afraid of what might happen next, Kuber rushes to Lord Shiva and asks for forgiveness and promises to get rid of his false prestige and vanities. It is then when Maa Parvati gives a home-made sweet to Ganesha to put an end to his hunger.

And the purpose of the Ganesh Chaturthi is quite rightly highlighted in the miscreant ways of Lord Ganesh who taught the wrong-doers a lesson with his kiddish fervor. The actual festival itself is a very colorful affair for which the preparations kick off almost three months in advance. Skilled artisans from all over India gather and prepare clay and POP deity figures of the Elephant God for resurrecting in the various Pandals through Mumbai. Devotees turn up in thousands to pay their respects to the spiritual God of success. The speciality of the Chaturthi is the modak sweet (made much in the same way as momos or wontons but with rice flour, jaggery and dry fruits) The celebrations with the added fanfare close on the final day with the immersion of Ganesha’s sculptures (also known as Ganesh Visarjan) to leave for their holy abode in Kailash mountains. The 10-day gala affair complete with fireworks gets a hefty amount of TV and media coverage these days. Due to the ever increasing population rush during the festival, organizers have made it a point to get big TV screens and projectors involved in and around the areas of festivity so that the worshippers do not miss the proceedings.

I for one have to say that the Lokhandwala area has one of the best crowd and receptions for the Ganesh Chaturthi. But even a festival as beautiful as this has a few negatives. One of the major ones is the immersion of sculptures during the final day which is incessantly increasing water pollution. The other one is the modern dressing element where in scantily clad people during the last few years has caused quite an outrage amongst the devotees. The trend has no doubt been spearheaded by the glamorous film fraternity faces.

Ganesh Chaturthi holds a special place in our hearts much like the Durga Puja in the Bengali community. The essence of both the festivals is also strikingly similar with Ganesha and Durga being sculptured and then immersed and believed to take away all the troubles of their devotees every year. But if the festival can become a bit more environment-friendly and devoid of free culture attire issues then the prodigiousness of the festival would get vastly elevated.

I have already spoken about my admiration of Touchscreen Glass technology which is capable of taking the human lifestyle to the very next level. However, it will take a significant time period for the technology to be scaled down for consumer use. But the flexible displays that major manufacturers like Samsung and LG are speaking positively about may just see the light of the day pretty sooner.

Flexible Displays have turned quite a few heads with Samsung’s unveiling of OLED flexible displays and LG’s prototypes of an E-Reader. The technology is not new to hear of but has certainly gained momentum during the past twelve months. Mainly because of the possibility of throwing conventional displays like the ones used in Smartphones, tablets, PC’s and even TV’s into a mire. The most basic essentials one needs to know about this technology is that the flexible (or bendable) nature of this technology means that glass displays give way to polyamide sheet which is sturdy, endurable and can be bent up to 40° in angle. Couple that with the Touchscreen technology and you have a hell of a display at your disposal. The super advanced technology holds the potential to turn the industry of displays upside down with its unique attributes. And the probable ubiquity it holds just paints a vivid yet convenient picture of how Flexible Displays may give major products a facelift.

I have been very impressed with LG’s flexible E-Reader and how it might change the way we read news and books. No need to stash bundles of papers as the news will be updated every day. Even reading books would give you a much more realistic experience with the Display’s bending capabilities. Samsung, who has pioneered flexible OLED displays seems to be attracting the interest of potential buyers already.

But what can be a convenience for a consumer may also be a headache for its developer. Considering the key components that will be put in the thin bendable sheet and the amount of bending and wear and tear it will undergo, it remains to be seen what the exact shelf life of a bendable display might be like. And how the major manufacturers are able to replicate the technology on devices like Smartphones and TV’s in the future makes it an intriguing technology to look forward to in the coming years.

So the much awaited iPhone 5 has finally been launched after Apple’s powerhouse victory over Samsung in the patents infringement lawsuit. The US giant’s latest offering had been hyped up to no extent by company’s PR and tech analysts alike. So does Apple’s newest iPhone really justify the hype preceding it? In my humble opinion, not really!

I start first and foremost with the design. The various designs leaked for the new iPhone depicted an overhaul job with sleeker lines and a bigger screen. Well, it does have a half an inch lead screen as compared to its predecessor iPhone 4S but that is about it. Apple, who takes pride in innovation, has just about done the opposite. The design is staple Apple and if anything it looks like an elongated version of the 4s. So no brownie points for the phone’s make. Even the Camera hasn’t been upgraded from the 8 MP with the only addition being the Panorama feature. Maybe the much anticipated Optimus G would have something to say about that. But it’s not the exterior design that is the USP of the phone but what it runs on. The iPhone 5 comes with the 4G LTE enabled iOS 6. Instead of me going over the details, it better you get it from the official Apple website here.

 

Now without trying to sound like I am bashing Apple, we have to look at the cold hard specs available. There is nothing revolutionary or path-breaking about the latest iPhone. In fact, overall it has come as a major disappointment. Most of the features except the iCloud are majorly available in major high-end Android handsets. I do not believe in accepting blatant reshuffling being termed as innovation and I think any Smartphone user would have the same opinion. Sadly, the Apple Samsung lawsuit is just a precursor to how things will get even uglier between the Smartphone giants as just a day after its release, Bloomberg Business weekly has speculated Samsung and HTC to now sue Apple over 4G LTE and ADC communication patents. Even Apple’s co-founder Steve Wozniack has given a nod of disapproval to the recent verdict stating patents and technologies should be shared to bring the best products for consumers.

 

Apple’s act of dragging its competitors into lawsuits is not helping anyone. They may gain a financial and moral victory for trivial patented rectangles but the bigger picture is that it’s a depressing regression of innovation.

My Love Affair with Oasis

Commuting from home to office and back is a grueling affair in Delhi, especially if you’re reliant on public transport. The never ending bumper to bumper traffic and constant honking makes it travel of the worst kind. I like many other commuters have managed to find a way around that with the help of music. Just plug in your headphones and start your favorite playlist (or FM in some cases) and you are good to go.

Take yesterday for instance. After somehow squeezing myself into the bus and finding a seat, I just opened a random track list in shuffle mode and locked the phone’s keypad to slip it back into my denim pocket. A few peppy numbers like “Pani Da Rang” and “Drops of Jupiter” was followed by “Don’t look back in Anger” by Oasis. It had been just a few hours since I last heard it in office but the beauty of its music never wanes. I guess I was so happy while hearing the track that I hummed along a bit too loud for the co-passenger’s liking. You guys should have seen their faces when I got down; looked like to had encountered an undiscovered nuisance xD

If I am being honest, I laughed to the hilt and even felt nostalgic about it. And that’s because me and Oasis go way back. The first time I heard Oasis was at a college sleep over cum pajama party. A guy friend (who had a crush on me at that time”blush blush”) had made an mp3 CD which I took along. It majorly consisted of Oasis tracks and some other alternative rock bands. With a couple of pegs of vodka down my good self, the player started playing “Champagne Supernova”.

“How many special people change, how many lives are living strange… where were you while we were getting high…..”

That drunken moment was when I knew I had to know more about Oasis and so I did. The thing with Oasis is that I find every track of theirs very unique and that is largely down to the fact that the Manchester based band intrinsically enjoyed writing and compositions. I for one haven’t been able to pin down a top 10 from their albums even though tracks like “Wonderwall”, “Sad Song”, “Gas Panic”. “Don’t look back in Anger” and “Champagne Supernova” are standouts. Now fast forward to the present and after a hilarious bus ride, I quickly climbed to my 3rd floor apartment with a plan of what to do next. Throw the bag, pop open a beer and watch Oasis in concert. I accessed the YouTube app on my LG Smart TV and watched their “Live in concert-Argentina” vid in full HD and 3D thanks to the Resolution Upscaler feature in my 3D TV. Elder people keep echoing the same belief that Western music has changed our generation for the worst or as Noel Gallagher would put it:

“Please don’t put your life in the hands…of a Rock and Roll band…and throw it all way…..”

I think otherwise. Music is as essential a part of our life as breathing is. Why compromise on something which helps you to survive?! The ones reading this are most welcome to share your views on your own musical preferences.

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