TagApple

Of course, I’ve always wanted the best camera possible in my iPhone, but the size of the Plus has never been right for me. I like to stay nimble, lightweight, and discreet—especially with my cameras. Today, I can confidently choose the iPhone XS knowing it’s smaller and lighter yet wields the same powerful camera as the iPhone XS Max.

[Source: Austin Mann]. Even as a pro photographer, Austin echoes my sentiments when it comes to making a decision about what iPhone I should get. This year, Apples makes it easier for me. I did not enjoy the large-sized Plus but the camera shot much superior photos than my wife’s regular-sized phone of the same year model.

Privacy vs. Free

“I’m speaking to you from Silicon Valley, where some of the most prominent and successful companies have built their businesses by lulling their customers into complacency about their personal information,” said Cook. “They’re gobbling up everything they can learn about you and trying to monetize it. We think that’s wrong. And it’s not the kind of company that Apple wants to be.”

Tim Cook presented this blistering attack on most Silicon Valley companies in his speech at EPIC’s Champions of Freedom event in Washington, DC. Privacy concerns about your online data have always been existed ever since Google started offering their awesome web services for free but have received renewed attention since Edward Snowden’s revelations. No one can deny the truth in Tim Cook’s words. You can nod and still choose to use the services of the companies he refers to. But hopefully, you’re making that choice consciously i.e. you’re trading your privacy for free services.

I’ve been trying to move away from Google services and choose to pay for any services that its competitors offer if it is nearly the same quality [1]. It may be near-impossible to not use services from companies that rely on your personal information to make a dime but it may help to spread them out across these companies. At least with Apple, I’m relatively sure that it is not using my private information to earn money. They charge a premium for their excellent products and I’m more than willing to pay. That way, I’m putting a cost to my privacy. Most may not and that’s fine. But it’s misleading to assume that you care about your privacy and yet have all your eggs in Google’s basket; simply because their entire business hinges on marketing your data. More than 90% of Google’s revenue still comes from advertising; a technology they learned to monetize in the mid-00s.

Apple was hated in its initial days for proprietary software and incompatibility with most hardware. That hatred was justified because if everyone owned an Apple product then the world would have fewer choices. Right now, the only criticism against Apple seems to be its high prices which is a strange protest because it begs the question of willingness to pay. Are you willing to pay what Apple asks for their products? If not, there are several alternatives out there that either compromise on quality or have hidden costs that require your private data to make up the difference. You may make an argument based on economic disparity but advertising dollars often are skewed toward the higher income demographic.

Similarly, given Android’s marketshare, if everyone is using Google products and services just because it is free, the world is worse off because not only are you tied into their ecosystem but also are subject to their targeting algorithms for marketing and advertising. But Google is smart. They often provide opt-out settings so the tech-savvy people who fill the comment threads can stand above the fray and claim that they’re not being taken advantage of. But for all the tech savviness, they forget the arguments they made against Apple and neglect the fact that most people do not opt-out and that makes everyone worse off. Further, you cannot opt-out of certain services. Just try to disable your search history and then try to use Google Now. Obviously, it wouldn’t work but you fail to see why it isn’t in Google’s interest to make it work. I’ll definitely not be using Google’s new fangled photo service. I prefer to spread my data across various providers. That way, no one has access to everything.

In the end, it all boils down to what’s important for you. In some societies, privacy is not valued and price is the primary factor for making buying decisions. Google fits well there. In other societies or sub-sections of the populations, quality of product and willingness to pay for that quality matter, Apple wins there.

Footnotes:
  1. I still haven’t found decent alternatives to Google Search. Gmail is good simply based on search capabilities. But most of my communication is now spread across WhatsApp and Messages for Mac []

Apple OS Updates from WWDC 2014

I’ve long given up on reading and being interested in Apple rumors. I rather wait for Apple’s official announcements and keynotes when they unveil all the goodies with specific launch dates. The rumor sites got this WWDC 2014 mostly wrong because apart from the HealthKit, which was a minor feature, they missed most of the awesome features. Perhaps because it is easier to keep software development that happens in Cupertino under wraps than hardware whose supply chain reaches as far as China.

Anyway, this is in no way an overview of the changes in OS X Yosemite and iOS 8 because there are dedicated blogs that do that for a living. And yeah, yeah, lots of these features were available in Android before. I’m just listing some changes or features that are great from my perspective.

OS X Yosemite

Continuity, continuity, continuity – the most exciting feature for average and pro users alike. Your iPhone, iPad, and Mac will now effortlessly talk to each other. You can start writing an email on your phone and continue where you left off on the Mac. Best of all, you can take your phone calls on the Mac and use its speakers/earphones to talk. Similarly, you can make phone calls using your Mac if your phone is nearby.

iCloud Drive – Apple seems to have given up on its efforts to create a space for documents and files without the file-folder hierarchy. Earlier you could open a document only in the app you created it in. Now, iCloud Drive is basically like Dropbox where you can save any kind of document and open it with any application that has access to it. You get 5GB free and can pay $3.99 per month for 200GB. That’s Google-level pricing [1] Of course, iCloud Drive is a OS X and iOS feature.

A New Look – Following the UI overhaul for iOS last year, OS X also got a major UI revamp. Overall, it looks nice but unless I get to use it [2] The default font is now Helvetica, a distinct change from Lucida Grande.

Spotlight – The nifty spotlight feature get placed center stage, like the Alfred app. Now you can quickly launch apps, do searches and “view rich suggestions from Wikipedia, Maps, Bing, App Store, iTunes Store, iBooks Store, top websites, news and movie showtimes.” I use Alfred to do quick calculations and since Spotlight does it too right now, the center placement will make me use Spotlight more often.

Mail and Safari – I’m one of the Mac users who relies on the default Mail app (for work/exchange emails) and Safari app for my Internet browsing needs. I have Chrome and Firefox too but I use them for specific purposes [3]. Most changes are improvements and bug fixes along with nifty features like birds-eye grid view for tabs. I had wished for pinned tabs but guess Apple wants you to scroll thru tabs instead of pinning them.  As they joke, Safari always seems snappier after every update so I hope that’s true this time too. DuckDuckGo as a built-in default search engine is interesting and perhaps worth a try for privacy sake. Previous extensions to make it so weren’t really good. I don’t enable saving my Google Search history anyway and don’t use Google Now either so apart from sheer quality of search results, it may not be different.

iOS 8

Family Sharing – “Family Sharing accounts will get access to purchases made by a family member without having to log into iTunes with the same Apple ID; the same credit card will still be used, but each family member will keep their own Apple ID and won’t have to switch to another account to redownload purchased items for free [MacStories]” This is awesome on so many levels. Ash and I have two different iTunes accounts since our app needs are different. But this feature will let us share some apps that we both love. Perhaps this is the nudge she needed to hop on the 1Password bandwagon.

Touch ID APIs for apps – This change will let developers of third-party apps to use Touch ID as authentication. No longer do we have to tap in 4-digit pass codes in Mint and Betterment and the long master password for 1Password. All you do is hold your finger on the home button and you’re in. Touch ID is one device feature I’m glad Apple implemented and in typical Apple-style, it works smoothly and is something that I can no longer live without on my phone.

App Extensions – This may be the most Android-like feature but it comes with the Apple-backed guarantee of working seamlessly. Basically, it is the ability to use one app’s features within another and customization of the notifications screen with widgets you want. I’m not much of a widgets guy since I keep the apps I frequently use on my home screen but the inter-app compatibility sounds useful.

App Battery Shaming – Although this wasn’t demonstrated on stage, iOS will finally list apps by the degree in which they are consuming battery power. Unless we see a leapfrog development in battery technology, conserving battery is the top priority for all smartphone users.

Homekit – This is a feature that will not see its full potential unless devices and developers tap into it. HomeKit will offer a common network protocol to let iOS apps control compatible locks, lights, cameras, plugs, switches, and more. So now all we have to do is to make all our household devices compatible to the iPhone.

Third-party keyboards – I have heard how third-party keyboards like Swype, Swiftkey, etc. are great on Android. I don’t know how useful they will be until I use them. So I’m just curious at this point.

So it promises to be an exciting fall when both these operating systems come to the devices near you. Hopefully, developers will get going on developing some cool features and even new apps based on slightly-more open Apple.

Footnotes:
  1. I’m paying $1.99 per month currently for Google Drive for 100GB. I primarily use it to manually backup my RAW photos and Lightroom catalog. []
  2. Technically, I download a now-available-for-public beta and give it a shot but I don’t have a spare Mac that I can experiment on. My primary one belongs to my employer and my personal one is late-2008 so I doubt it will be the best test machine. []
  3. Firefox is specific to my work-related web data system and Chrome for things that sometimes don’t work in Safari []

My Brief iPhone 5S Review

After getting the new iPhone after standing in a line outside the Apple Store for 40 minutes and braving an unexpected thunderstorm, was it all worth it? If you are expecting unicorn dust and a glorious rainbow, you will probably be disappointed. But if you were expecting a faster device with a better camera and the expected superior hardware, then probably.

Since I upgrade every two years and now every six months as some ‘pro smartphone users’, whoever they may be, the upgrades always feel more significant. At the first feel, the phone is insanely light compared to the 4S; at times even too light for comfort. It’s almost we expect a little heft in order to keep us from dropping it. I always feel that I’m going to drop it so I handle it very gingerly or perhaps just that it is a new phone that I have opted not to take AppleCare+ for. The retina screen, just like on the previous three editions, makes iOS 7 and its thin fonts shine. Lots of people hate the colorful iOS 7 but I love it. I dislike some icons but overall, the change was good.

The phone feels much faster. No lag in launching any apps including FourSquare which took forever (read 4-5 seconds) and everything seems more spiffy. The touchscreen scrolls just right and data refresh is quicker. Of course, being on 4G LTE also makes a big difference. The camera, for me, was the biggest upgrade-worthy aspect. The quality is noticeably better (sensor size makes the difference) and is much faster to launch. Also, the quality in low light is the best I have seen and even comparable to dedicated cameras. The video quality has an upgrade. The slo-mo feature is fun and almost anything you shoot with it, be it your kid or dog running around, looks super cool.

Another feature that Apple launched with the 5S is the Touch ID. You scan your fingerprints unto 5 fingers and it uses that to unlock your phone. The way this is designed and implemented, it makes having a passcode on your phone frictionless for your use. I was using my iPhone for the past year without a passcode except when I was traveling. This was a big security risk but given my use with the constant locking and unlocking, it was far more convenient to not have one. Now with the iPhone 5S, you just tap on the home screen button once and keep your finger on the button for a second and bam! you’ve unlocked your phone. It hasn’t failed me yet no matter what angle I place my finger in.

To give an example, this is especially useful for launching the ‘Find my Friends’ app which is an underrated app that I’ve not heard many people use. Earlier, you needed to either set a passcode to launch it immediately or enter your Apple ID password, if you didn’t enable a passcode on your phone. This made it extremely cumbersome to use and you couldn’t use it with the help of Siri either. Now I enable my passcode so you don’t need to enter Apple ID’s password to launch the app and can access it quickly when you unlock your phone with Touch ID. So when I want to know if my wife has left work, I just ask Siri – “Where is my wife?” – and it looks up her location on the map and shows it to me on the lock screen. that usually is enough but I can always touch the home button and go directly to the app for more details.

Finally, the most significant upgrade for me is battery life. I always had a subpar experience with battery life on my 4S. It almost never lasted the entire day and it was in the 20% range by 6pm even with limited use. As part of calibrating my phone, I charged it fully and let it run out completely. The results are below:

Photo

If you used my previous phone, this was mind-blowing! [1] I was almost willing the battery to die as it got late in the night. I unplugged it at 8am and plugged it back at 1am. I used Twitter and Facebook as I usually do. I took the average number of photos, used iTunes Radio for an hour, used driving directions on Apple Maps for 30 mins, etc. It lasted me almost twice as much as my last phone. The standby time is astounding. Future uses gave me similar times. I used FaceTime with folks in India and it used up 20% of my battery life for a 40-minute call. Earlier it used up 80%. Now I can safely use my phone all day without keeping an eye on the battery (I might just turn off the percentage).

So this is my very brief non-technical review. My photos and videos should give you a better idea of the photo quality. I’ll try to also load them directly on Flickr to avoid compression that Twitter or Facebook does.

Footnotes:
  1. Apple says, 10 hours LTE browsing but the cell coverage near my home and office sucks so that takes a hit []

Getting the iPhone 5S

Given how the cellular business is structured in the U.S., every two years, I’m eligible for a smartphone upgrade at the subsidized price of $199 (+tax). I was eligible in May but decided to hold out for the new iPhone to be announced in September. Of course, if you know me well, you know I’m not switching away from Apple yet. The new iPhone was announced on September 10 and as expected, it being the ‘S’ year, it was a modest update over the iPhone 5 announced last year. I have always been aligned with the ‘S’ years due to my contract since I owned the 3GS and 4S earlier.

Strangely, this year, the iPhone 5S was not up for pre-order but the newly-released 5C was. I always go for the top of the line model so I wanted the 5S from the start. I guess, I would have to wait until release day. I would just go to the store [1] and see if it is available. After hearing about it on Twitter, I also placed a ‘pre-order’ at a local Target store [2]. As the release day got closer, rumors were swirling in the tech blogosphere that supplies were running low and surprisingly, the new gold model was getting tons of interest. I wanted the Space Grey 16GB model so was hoping it wouldn’t get as much interest.

On September 20th aka release day, Twitter tells me that orders are already backed up by 7-10 business days and I hadn’t heard from Target by noon. So we thought, what the heck, let’s go to the Apple Store and see how bad is it. It was a Friday so basically a slow workday. The only hitch, thunderstorms were rolling in. We passed the AT&T store in the mall where we were told that only the 5C and 64GB iPhone 5S White were available. From a distance we saw the Apple Store still had a long line outside so decided to forget about it and go home after lunch. We had lunch at the food court and just on a lark decided to at least go check out the phones in person.

The line now looked shorter and the girl handing out the tickets for the line said that only Space Grey 16GB phones were available and the wait was approximately one hour. Now I had swore never to stand in line to get any product…

So as the wife browsed around the mall, I stood in line with a bottle of water and ‘enjoying’ the line experience. The line moved quicker than I expected and we were ushered in after only a 40 minute wait. Was ‘under-promise and over-deliver’ at play here too? The buying process took hardly anytime and the only delay was in processing the wife’s old iPhone 4 for which we received a $121 credit. Not bad for a 3-year-old phone, huh? I was offered $225 by Gazelle and my workplace offers me a $100 credit every two years for a new phone so in fact, we were making $8 after including all taxes.

We picked up two iPhones 5S and were set up in no time, thanks to our iCloud backups. The staff, as widely known, is super friendly and very helpful. They make small talk but not the kind that seems scripted. The girl helping us said, it was her first day working on a new iPhone release but had heard from her colleagues that it was less crazy than when the iPhone 4 released. The lines snaked around the mall and outside at that time. I was glad I wasn’t eligible then.

Finally, new iPhones in hand we drove home in pelting rain. It still gives me joy on the first day of owning a new tech gadget. Yup, Buddha couldn’t convince me to give up on materialistic pleasures.

Footnotes:
  1. Now I live in a city with an Apple Store []
  2. I got a call from Target only on Wednesday that my phone was available. Four days later was not bad in hindsight []

Apple’s Gamble

I’m neither a Wall Street analyst nor a MBA-types who knows much about running successful companies. So the following arguments about Apple can be taken with a grain of salt or you can stop reading now to avoid thinking how much more stupid I can get.

Everyone was surprised (not in a good way) when Apple announced a new ‘cheaper’ version of its flagship product, the iPhone and called it the iPhone 5C. Some had hoped the ‘C’ stood for cheap but perhaps Apple meant it as color. It is priced at $99 for its base model under a two-year contract or for $549 unsubsidized. People had expected it to be much lower; some even posited that it would be as much as an iPod Touch ~$250-300. For months leading up to the keynote, rumors floated around first on the product specs starting with the existence of a plastic (actually polycarbonate) around a steel-reinforced frame. If you see the video of its manufacturing, it is pretty cool. But it is still a plastic iPhone even though Jonny Ive calls it ‘unapologetically plastic’. After the existence of the plastic iPhone were almost confirmed prior to the keynote, the rumor blogs moved on to why was Apple doing it? And this is where the wheels come off.

iPhone 5c Colors

Tech blogs are great at reviewing technical specifications and analyzing OS features but in judging and predicting business strategy especially for Apple, it doesn’t have even a modicum of success. Not just Apple, the tech pundits have no clue why Amazon enjoys unprecedented trust from its investors in spite of zero profits. But then if everyone could tell what made a successful business, we all would’ve had successful businesses. So after the plastic iPhone was near-confirmed, people rumored that perhaps Apple was targeting China and India where most smartphones are sold unsubsidized and need to be cheap. Based on my anecdotal evidence when I was visiting India and spent 10 minutes in a cell phone shop, the first thing new customers (almost 10 people) mentioned was their budget and asked to see what phones were available in that budget.

So Apple targeting these huge growing market almost seemed obvious. Of course, known for their secrecy, Apple said nothing. This supposed foray into India and China was based on the assumption that Apple needed to expand marketshare after Samsung was handily beating them. Apple still said nothing. If it needs to expand marketshare, Apple needs to sell a cheaper iPhone because that’s what most customers in India and China will buy. Apple still said nothing. The near-confirmed iPhone 5C will be the cheaper iPhone and price points ranging from $200 to $350 were being floated in spite of having no knowledge or understanding of the manufacturing cost, supply chain management, and ability to maintain high profit margins. So now the stage was set – Apple was going to announce a plastic iPhone 5C costing somewhere between $200-$350 aimed at China and India to expand marketshare. All this time, Apple still hadn’t even hinted at anything being discussed furiously online.

The disappointment and fall in stock price was almost as unexpected as the continued high price of the iPhone 5C. Even I was disappointed.

You may argue that Apple’s secrecy that had served so well in the past is now biting them in the ass and setting unrealistic expectations that they repeatedly fail to meet. But was Apple really aiming for India or China to expand their marketshare? Does it really need to?

Sameer Singh makes the case that it was never aimed at emerging markets[1]:

The iPhone 5C effectively replaces the iPhone 5 as Apple’s new “mid-range” device and retains the same subsidized/unsubsidized pricing structure of $99/$549. The most obvious question to ask is why Apple felt the need to replace the iPhone 5 with the 5C when they’re practically the same device, at the same price.

I believe the answer is related to the level of cannibalization caused by the iPad Mini. Apple was spooked when it saw a “new”, “good enough” product sharply eat into sales of their flagship tablet. As a result, Apple attempted to minimize the pricing gap between the two “new” iPhones and attempted to differentiate them based on casing and color. Therefore, I don’t believe the iPhone 5C is targeted at emerging markets at all, but is an attempt to defend the iPhone’s margins & ASP in subsidized markets.

Apple furiously guards its margins that generates tremendous amount of profit to the tune of $500+ per iPhone sold. It is also its luxury and premium brand status that still makes it special. Contrary to popular opinion, it was never the most popular smartphone. It was always Nokia and Blackberry and then when those declined, Android-powered Samsung phones took over. As crass as it may sound, perhaps Apple is not interested in diminishing its brand value by flooding the market and joining the ranks of cheap smartphones. As in any product category (clothing, cars, etc.), there is a luxury segment and brands in those segments do exceedingly well.Something that 37signals argued several years ago:

If you try to please everyone, you won’t please anyone. When we built Basecamp we focused our marketing on design firms. By narrowing our market this way, we made it more likely to attract passionate customers who, in turn, would evan gelize the product. Know who your app is really intended for and focus on pleasing them.

Perhaps Apple is better off with not having a large marketshare and tons of more customers for cheaper iPhones. More customers means more infrastructure in handling their needs and keeping them happy. You attract a certain segment of the market whose first criteria is not product quality but price then you’re never going to keep them happy. So why should Apple take a hit on its profit margins to attract more customers who are more likely to be unhappy? When Apple was silent on all this speculation of expanding into emerging markets, it perhaps was not. If you think about it from that sense, the iPhone 5C pricing is right where Apple’s prices usually are. The iPhone 5 is discontinued and its innards are put in a new plastic shell and sold for $100 less than its premier product, the iPhone 5S.

Now Apple may choose to do a complete about-turn and in fact, trade profits for marketshare next year. After all, this year’s iPhones 5C will be a year old and can be sold for cheap. But considering the iPhone 4 still sells for $420 in China, I’ll be surprised. Then again, as I mentioned, I’m no business guru.

From a personal perspective, why should you be worry about a company expanding its marketshare just because you bought a phone from them? As long as you can buy it for a reasonable price in your country, why should it matter to you if they sell a cheaper one in India or China? Most people making prognostications aren’t even Apple stockholders. I own shares in a mutual fund in which 3% are Apple stocks. Given the amount I’ve invested in the mutual fund, I’m sure I own less than 10%…of a single Apple share. I couldn’t care less what its stock price is as long as the iPhone I buy every two years serves me good. I care about the customer service they provide me and not how many customers they will gain in India. In fact, I don’t want them to serve more customers than they can reasonably handle. I’ll gift an iPad to my parents so we can FaceTime once a week but otherwise, even your family in India not owning an iPhone is no biggie.

Why anyone gets into serious Apple-Android debates is beyond me. I like to tweet out a few zingers on Twitter but you should know better than to take me seriously on there. You buy the phone you like the best and might better your life. At most, you can influence your immediate family because it may make things easier to share (Shared Photostream, FaceTime, etc.) but apart from that, it shouldn’t matter if a hundred million more people in a faraway country also use the same phone as you do. If your phone is discontinued or the company shuts down due to bad business decisions (like not selling for customers in India or China), you can always buy a phone from its erstwhile competitor. It’s not like your investment of less than 10% of a single share in the market capitalization of the said company will ruin your life. It will be sad to see a design-conscious company decline (and it isn’t really any time soon) but there will always be others.

Footnotes:
  1. strange term now after the economies have stopped growing as rapidly []

Thoughts on Samsung v. Apple

On Friday, the jury awarded Apple a resounding victory against Samsung in addition to more than a billion in damages for willful copyright infringement and patent violation. The tech world has been abuzz for months now and nearly everyone has an opinion on the validity of the verdict. Personally, I think the jury made the right decision given the blatant copying by Samsung. While most believe that this may result in even greater control by Apple in the marketplace and further strengthening of the already-draconian patent system, the verdict in favor of Samsung would have been far worse. It would have legitimized widespread copying of patented hardware resulting in billions of dollars in losses not just for Apple but other innovative companies as well.

While some may disagree, Apple has been at the forefront of amazing industrial design and highly effective marketing for their products that enabled them to come back from insolvency to becoming the most valuable company in the world in a matter of 15 years. The almost-strict adherence to user-friendly and aesthetic designs and highly efficient customer service made its consumers highly loyal. For once, good design also meant good usability aka form follows function. It may not be as open as people want it to be but in exchange for a little bit of freedom, Apple succeeded in giving their consumers a higher level of user satisfaction. If people didn’t like that, they still had access to more open choices.

This at-times intense feud between Apple loyalists and others remained on the fringes until the iPhone debuted in 2007. Suddenly Apple was so successful that in 2012, the iPhone revenues surpassed all of Microsoft’s revenues. Apple suddenly had a product that was so successful despite its early naysayers, that not following in its path was almost suicidal for a company (ask RIM). Even in this day and age of industrial espionage, others were caught lagging far behind but soon in a couple of years, powered by a free ‘open’ mobile OS Android by Google, several phone manufacturers released their versions of the iPhone i.e. a touchscreen smartphone that leapfrogged its predecessors. But that’s ok. That’s how innovation works. Someone shows the way and others follow. As long as they are not trying to deceive consumers that they are the original thing. That, in my opinion, was Samsung’s mistake.

We all remember how Steve Jobs had claimed that Apple had “patented the hell out of the iPhone” when it was announced in 2007. So obviously, it did have a claim over several technologies that are now claimed as ‘obvious’. But I’m sure, Apple considered that others would replicate some features into their products in order to compete with the iPhone. That is the cost of doing business. However, Samsung took it a step further, heck several steps further. They became the second-most profitable mobile handset company after Apple (some in the tech circles are actually admiring them for making this choice) by blatantly offering the non-Apple iPhone in as many varieties as it could and in as many aspects as it could. I think it crossed Apple’s tolerance threshold when they started even imitating the USB charging cables, adapters, and even packaging boxes. In short, it bordered on deceiving the consumers into thinking that they were actually buying an Apple product or at least one that could be easily mistaken as such. It wasn’t just a question of copy a rectangle or a pinch-to-zoom feature (Update: the pinch-to-zoom patent wasn’t in play but instead these three patents) but in fact, creating this whole package that shamelessly reeked of unoriginality. Even if the ‘rectangle with rounded corners’ that seemed so obvious now, Apple was the one that took a huge risk by coming out with the first original model. It could’ve failed spectacularly (remember the doomsday predictions when the iPad came out in 2010?) but instead it succeeded thus creating a market. To follow in a market thus created is the easiest thing one can do.

In terms of branding, perception is everything and if people who dislike Apple criticize its users for simply buying into the hype and its products just to appear cool, Samsung was tapping into that basic human sentiment and signaling to its potential customers that if not Apple, you could buy our products and perhaps be mistaken for using Apple products. For all the talk of their phones simply being “rectangles with rounded corners”, it was proven decisively in court that Samsung executives and engineers debated and communicated internally on various facets of Apple’s designs before working on their own. This ‘willful’ infringement was the sole reason Apple won such a decisive victory. As Nokia shows with its equally impressive Lumia series phones powered by Windows 8 [1] that it is possible to make equally impressive phones without being mistaken for an iPhone [2]. In short, Samsung wanted to take the easy way out and bring products immediately to the market without investing in original research. This would be tantamount to incorporating J.K. Rowling’s characters in creating a whole new series at the same time her books are in the market. Such a move in fact deters innovation. Samsung wanted it all without putting in the effort and simply tried to ride the wave of negativism against Apple among techies. For example, the Galaxy Note 10.1 released recently tried hard not to be the iPad, stylus and all, but it was panned so badly that you wonder if Samsung was really invested in design, would they ever released such a bad product?

Now it has been established in the court of law that Samsung is a copycat although the extent of the damages hasn’t yet been determined. We don’t know if Samsung will be required to pull the incriminating products off the shelves or will it be asked to pay a ‘licensing fee’ for each product sold henceforth. And its not like Apple has not been at the other side of the fence either. But the damage has been done. It could’ve invested resources in coming up with a truly original phone with equally impressive technologies but it choose short-term profit over long-term respect. It could have even done it before Apple announced the iPhone but that needs foresight. It deserved what it got. Hopefully this will let the genuinely interested original innovators break free [3].

Footnotes:
  1. Naren Balaji rightly points out “Lumia Series is currently powered by WP7 and WP8 Lumia phones aren’t out yet and current phones won’t get WP8.” A bone-headed move by Microsoft but my larger point of design differentiation stands []
  2. This verdict may be a blessing in disguise for Microsoft as Android manufacturers and consumers might flock to its stores for an Apple alternative []
  3. Reforming the patent system is a dead horse everyone keeps beating without suggesting what actually should be changed. Everyone involved currently plays by the same rules however ridiculous so blaming the system is not the core issue here. That perhaps is a topic for a separate post []

Apple’s FoxConn Factory in China via Nightline

[via Nightline on YouTube; Original here]

Apple recently allowed ABC News’ Nightline to tour their FoxConn manufacturer to give American viewers an inside look into the working conditions. It is balanced and fair reporting and touches on several aspects unique to China. The reporter even visits the villages the young workers come from to contrast the working and living conditions there. The hunger to work long hours is palpable among the thousands who line up everyday outside the FoxConn gates and from what I saw, the conditions although arduous seem to be safer than any place in India I have seen. It can be likened to migrant workers who come from U.P and Bihar and live & work in Dharavi. There were similar reports about warehouse employees working for Amazon in potentially unhealthy conditions…in the United States!

Of course, the working conditions could be better but as long as no one is enslaved, misled or duped from their honest wages, there is not much here to complain about. As consumers, we too are similarly free to not buy products that we consider, as per our relative standards, are made in unsafe conditions.

Two Killer Features of Mountain Lion

Apple unexpectedly announced the next version of their Mac operating system, Mountain Lion. Unexpected because it has been mere seven months since Lion, the previous major upgrade was released. Also, surprising because of the way it was announced. Apple’s VP for worldwide marketing along with two other PR and Marketing guys gave personalized briefings to prominent tech journalists and bloggers; something that the usually secretive Apple had never done before. It was told that they are trying to do things differently after you know what happened in October last year. You can get the rundown of all the interesting features of Mountain Lion on Apple’s website or Andy Inhatko’s review. Messages (SMS + chat) on the Mac apart, this post is about the two killer features that I consider very important.

Mountain lion Apple

AirPlay

As I mentioned few weeks ago, we ditched cable and are now completely reliant on online streaming options. Most of the problems in this solution lie with content providers playing hardball with either not providing easily accessible digital content or restricting the content to their websites only instead of making it widely available on apps. In some instances, even if the content is available on apps like Hulu, the AirPlay option is not available which is absolutely befuddling. We’re willing to sit through ads but prefer to watch them on the big screen instead of crowding around the iPad. Of course, we simply mirror our iPad to the TV via AirPlay and use the ‘Scale to Fit’ option on our HDTV’s picture options. There is very little loss of quality but it does make it a bit cumbersome since I can’t use my iPad while watching TV (cue #FirstWorldProblems).

However, the main problem is with content providers offering content on their websites only and sometimes using only *shudder* Flash. We can watch such content on the Mac but apart from hooking your Mac to the TV using two sets of cable (HDMI + Aux for audio), there is little option to watch it on your TV. But now with AirPlay mirroring, you simply mirror your Mac to your TV and hit the fullscreen option on the videos you want to watch. Content providers now can try to resist the digital revolution by restricting access and short of not providing their content online, they can do little to prevent us from streaming it to our TV. So the natural question would be, why not make it easier and convenient and let the consumer pay for that convenience? But I assume, candle makers will be always around until they are driven out of business.

I think this AirPlay mirroring option as a systemwide option for the OS is a giant FU by Apple to the traditional media and may just be part of their negotiating strategy in the rumored iTV.

Documents in the Cloud

As Andy Inhatko points out, this might be a stealth change in the way we work with documents. Although iCloud has already been in our lives for a while now and Apple tried to get us to ignore the file system structure in our OSes, it didn’t really catch on. In our traditional system, we can see files in Finder or Windows Explorer and then choose to open them with their respective applications. Of course, the Recently Opened files within applications don’t require us to know where the files are saved but traditionally only 5-10 recent files are available.

Instead Apple wants us to not bother with the file system or Explorer-Finder type utilities. It merely wants us to open the apps and get started on the files we are working on while saving them continuously to the iCloud. So when we want to continue working on the same file on our iPhone or iPad or any other connected Mac, we don’t have to worry about copying files over or syncing them. This subtle yet drastic change is a step beyond the Dropbox solution. Dropbox still requires us to install a physical folder on our hard drives and keeps them synced across devices. Apple wants you to forget that file and folder structure and go directly to the files.

Obviously, since this is a drastic change, you will still have the option to save the file physically to your local drive if you choose not to save it to the cloud. Also, non-Apple apps like Lightroom that don’t yet have a hook to iCloud can’t use this feature yet but for day to day word processing, editing, and spreadsheet stuff, this would work great. If only MS Office would follow suit and if not hook to iCloud would at least sync to its Skydrive (iPad and iPhone apps for MS Office are already rumored to be in development).

Other

Apart from these two game-changing features in Mountain Lion, there are other changes that bring the Mac OS X (now just called OS X) closer to iOS. Features like systemwide Notification Center, Share Sheets for seamless sharing of photos, videos, and URLs (Twitter is now Apple’s social network), Gaming, and of course, Messages. Gatekeeper gives third-party developers the shivers but the three options to run apps make it fair to all. Obviously, since it is still in development, there might be other changes planned (Siri?) that we will only know in the months to come.

All this iOS-ification of the Mac will only help Apple sell more Macs and as we know, Apple is primarily a hardware company so those profits will just keep going up but only if the Mac experience remains constant. These Mountain Lion changes are aimed just to do that.

A More Flat World

Last week, an article in the NY Times on how the U.S. lost out on iPhone work made the rounds on the Internet; so much so that it was posted on Reddit at least a dozen times with different excerpts depending on your tech ideology. Spoiler: it is not just low labor cost but also expedient labor and manufacturing due to fierce competition in Shenzen, China complemented with China’s favorable yet centralized manufacturing-oriented policies. The article is a fascinating read into the machinations of 21st century manufacturing to fulfill the instant gratification needs of the electronics consumer market.

However, the way it is written, it pits American labor class against the Chinese labor force, although unfairly in my opinion. Although there are several layers and aspects to the article, the typical reaction among the American blogosphere and young idealists at Reddit is how Apple is taking advantage of the desperate Chinese worker who is slaving away long hours to make the iPhone that you use to compose frivolous tweets. The fact that FoxConn, the primary company described in the article, also manufactures/assembles XBoxes, Kindles, Nooks, and other electronics from Samsung, Nokia, etc. is often lost in the din.

But that’s not the troubling reaction the article elicits. The primary complaint is, how China enslaves its people and forces them into working long hours for minimal pay to make goods for the Western world. People often are distressed not just by what they consider unfair labor and trade practices but also the unfair advantage China enjoys by having the ability to dictate policy from top down. While China’s autocratic rule making might be a factor, the complaint that these workers are slaves in the FoxConn behemoth is often exaggerated. The case of suicides makes the news and makes us believe that people are desperately trying to kill themselves rather than work in the factories. However, the fact that the suicide rate per capita at FoxConn is significantly less than the suicide rate at American universities but we aren’t worried that our colleges are killing us.

FoxConn has offered hundreds of thousands of Chinese people a shot at earning a livelihood which otherwise wasn’t possible in their rural hometowns. It has lifted several million people out of poverty. Of course, they live 10 to a dorm on bunk beds and work long hours but often Americans think their suburban life with a house and a backyard with two cars, kids, and a dog is the norm when in fact it is the exception. Most of the world works and lives in comparatively abject conditions. The fact that the one person in a 10-dorm room might be sending money to his village to support a whole family is often not told. I’m sure, FoxConn is not shackling the workers to the assembly line and the turnover rate is high. However deplorable conditions at FoxConn may seem compared to the luxurious working conditions from where I type this blog post, the workers have made a conscious choice and are working hard. Imagine thriving businesses within Dharavi and then look at the conditions that they live in but people there have similarly made a choice to leave their poverty behind and earn a honest living in the city. We are in no position to judge what conditions someone in a foreign country in an alien culture should live and work in.

The other argument is that Apple and other companies shouldn’t mind pricing their products a little higher if it means manufacturing them in the U.S. Unfortunately, that is not how the free market works. People optimize their benefits by seeking a balance between the price of the product and their willingness to pay that price. A few dollars here and there would mean gigantic shifts in manufacturing costs, profits, and even quality of products. The factories in China adhere to the strict quality guidelines laid down by Apple and yet are able to deliver a product that many in the U.S. can afford ($199 + $15-20 per month is a pretty sweet deal for the Internet in your pocket). Also, the U.S. has moved past the rigors of manufacturing and moved toward services that require a higher skill set (hence the tag – Designed in California. Assembled in China). By seeking to forcefully bring back the jobs from China to the U.S., you would cause a net increase in poverty in the world as millions would be laid off. Now that would be a grave injustice, economically and socially.

So before getting all pissy about doing here what they exactly doing in China for less and just as good, we are not making any progress. Obviously, there are caveats about leveling the playing field for competition but more often than not, it is not a level field at any given time. We just have to keep seeking the higher ground. That’s how the world goes around.

Update: NY Times is on a roll and really doesn’t want you to buy an iPad. However, they wait until the 11th paragraph to mention this:

Apple is not the only electronics company doing business within a troubling supply system. Bleak working conditions have been documented at factories manufacturing products for Dell, Hewlett-Packard, I.B.M., Lenovo, Motorola, Nokia, Sony, Toshiba and others.

And then never mention them again.

Apple in Education

An excellent initiative by Apple to self-author textbooks and sell them in the iBooks Store for $14.99 or less. Obviously, their primary goal is to sell more Macs and iPads so all the authoring and publishing tools are free. Go forth and publish. Or rather go first.

[Source: Apple in Education]

Working in the top tech companies

The stress from keeping such secrets becomes too much for some. Jobs made a habit of personally conveying to employees the confidentiality of all-company broadcasts. Recalled one ex?employee: “He’d say, ‘Anything disclosed from this meeting will result not just in termination but in the prosecution to the fullest extent that our lawyers can.’ This made me very uncomfortable. You have to watch everything you do. I’d have nightmares.”

As much as I like Apple products, I wouldn’t want to work there.

Google does offer free food, massages, and nap time so it may seem like a fun place to work at. Unless you have a family. But it is definitely more open, no sarcasm intended.

Top Reasons Why Apple Could Trump Amazon in Digital Textbooks

Amazon Digital Books uses its proprietary format called MOBI (also called Kindle format), while Apple uses an open format called ePub

Wait! Apple is open?

[Link to Top Reasons Why Apple Could Trump Amazon in Digital Textbooks]

Android = Box of Chocolates

The “Android” Nook won’t run the Kindle app, because Barnes & Noble doesn’t allow it.

The “Android” Kindle Fire doesn’t offer Gmail or Twitter, along with other apps, because Amazon doesn’t allow it.

Hulu Plus is available for Android, but not for Android-based Google TV, because Hulu doesn’t allow it to work there.

The Nexus S for Sprint, which is perfectly capable of working on Sprint’s pay-by-the-month Boost Mobile sister-company, can’t work there because Sprint doesn’t allow it.

My Droid Charge Verizon LTE phone can’t run Android 4 now, and perhaps never, because Samsung hasn’t said anything about it.

[Source: For Consumers, Android Is More “Clopen” Than Open]

So much for “open”, huh? This article was too awesome to not share. Yup, it is about the perennial iOS-Android battles. I couldn’t care less what you use (why?) but if you asked for my opinion, you know what I’ll recommend. This article perfectly describes why I stay away from Android. Because it is, as Mr.Gump’s momma said, like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’ll get.

What should I use? Whatever works for you

You should use whatever works for you. And I no longer have the patience or hubris to convince you what that should be. All I can offer is one data point: what I use, and how it works for me.

I've been leaning more and more toward such an attitude. I will offer my advice only when asked first and usually will try not to oversell people on making the same choices that I do usually because it will not work the same way. This linked post may be about evangelizing Apple products but I think it applies to all facets of life including personal opinions.

Why do we believe in a particular thing? Because it works for us and makes us feel comfortable. It may not be the case for anyone else no matter how closely you're related to them. Offer your opinion when asked; when vehemently countered, don't persist because nothing is going to make them change their mind so why waste your breath?

[Link to What should I use? Whatever works for you]

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