Abhi 2.0 on Technology

Abhimanyu Radhakrishnan’s Tech Archive: Columns, reports and video

Tech Tonic #0: Gadgets to look out for in 2008!

with 4 comments

(Although this piece was published before Tech Tonic became a regular columnm it has been given an honorary title of #0 since this was the start of it all!)

Tech Tonic 0

Making predictions about the future of technology is one of the easiest things to do. Unlike astrology, palmistry, election polling, technical analysis of the stock market and other assorted hocus-pocus, tech punditry doesn’t even require the pretense of intelligence.

Heck, the wronger you are, the better company you’re in! Whether it was Bill Gates who allegedly said in the ’80s that “640K of memory ought to be good enough for anyone”, or the grand old man of IBM, Thomas Watson, who is believed to have predicted a world market for (gasp) maybe five computers or even the exasperated fellow who, legend has it, said that “everything that can be invented has been” before downing shutters at the US Patents Office in 1899, we’re all wrong every now and then. So if my five hot tech picks for 2008 turn out to be complete hogwash by the end of next year, remember… that’s your cue to BUY shares in my nascent little startup!

1. Apple iPhone 2.0: Expect a spiffier, 3G-capable iPhone in 2008 that will include some basic features like video recording, group SMSing etc. which were missing earlier, and more importantly allow users to install programmes of their choice. All the major desi operators have reportedly initiated talks with Apple to sell the iPhone. Expect it in India halfway through ’08!

2. Google Android: Like the iPhone in ’07, Google could change the mobile phone industry in ’08. But Google’s approach is different. They don’t want to make their own handset; just hope to put their software and search onto any device that claims to be a mobile phone. The ‘platform’ is codenamed Android and will most likely transform the generally poor quality of software on low-end mobile devices.

3. Polymer Screens: Not much point having fancy phones if you have to strain your eyes to peer at those tiny screens, is there? One ingenious solution is the use of flexible screens that fold in and out of handheld devices. They also solve the biggest problem with newer smartphones – battery life. LCD screens are the biggest battery hogs. Replacing them with polymer based displays reduces power consumption. The leading company in this field, Polymer Vision, began manufacturing ‘Readius’ – a phone with a 5-inch rollable display – earlier this month and Telecom Italia will be the company’s first major client in 2008.

4. GPS Cameras: In 2007, online photo sites launched a feature called Geotagging. This allowed users to pinpoint the location where a photo was taken on a map and add it to the photo information. Millions of users were geotagging photos which got camera makers’ antennae up. A number of top manufacturers have announced 2008 rollouts of cameras with built-in GPS so that pictures are automatically geotagged.

5. Wireless HD: For those who’ve pulled their hair out trying to hook up a 7.1 speaker system into an amplifier, through your PC, under your washing machine and then maybe into your TV, Wireless High Definition audio and video transfer will be the answer. Nearly all the big players in the industry have agreed to work together on a common standard that will enable your DVD player to wirelessly beam full HD audio and video to your amp and your big screen TV respectively.

Advertisements

Written by Abhi 2.0

December 30, 2007 at 8:28 pm

Posted in Hindustan Times

Tagged with , , , ,

Mobile in Macau

with one comment

First published in the Hindustan Times (Mumbai edition)

Column in HT Cafe

Column in HT Cafe

After nearly 24 hours of travel on a plane, ferry and bus, I thought it would be wise to ask the hotel to give me a wake-up call lest I get up too late to attend the keynote sessions at the Mobile Asia Congress in Macau. I needn’t have bothered. At precisely 6:30 in the morning I woke up to a loud sound that was something of a mixture between a boom and a buzz. I floundered out of bed and opened the wide windows of my room only to witness a grand scene. The Macau Grand Prix test drives had begun and Formula-3 cars were screaming along the ridge of a mountain outside my window – the same mountain I was cursing the night before for ruining my view of the riot of neon from the casinos in the distance. High speed mobility suddenly took on a whole new meaning as I enjoyed my ringside view with early morning tea.

******

The first day’s keynote sessions were beginning to depress me. NTT DoCoMo’s CEO was talking about 4G trials in Japan while China Mobile’s Chairman announced that 8 cities would be trialling 3G by the end of the year and Beijing would have complete 3G connectivity in time for next year’s Olympic Games. On the other hand Bharti’s CEO was forced to showcase how his company was innovating to provide 3G like apps on 2G networks. Geniune mobile broadband, it seemed was just not in our “kismat”. As if almost on divine cue, I got a “mobile alert” news flash that the DoT had just announced the new 3G policy. I thanked the Lord and for the first time in a conference, actually bothered paying attention in the sessions discussing 3G.

******

The speaker line-up at the opening keynote that I just talked about, is the best evidence possible of the peculiarity of the mobile phone industry. The operator – the guy who provides you an easily commoditized, utility like service – has the biggest clout in the industry. Imagine the premier global conference for …umm… ‘Home Appliances’ having the CEOs of the electricity companies as the big draws. Or say, a high-powered internet conference with the ISPs stealing the limelight! The outlook for operators though, will definitely get less rosy as standards like WiMax catch on and data becomes a carrier for voice as well. If my entire city is WiMax-ed, all I need to do is install Skype on my laptop or PDA and enjoy blazing fast internet and super cheap calls without even having a telephone number.

******

The other thing thats different in the mobile world is that Google isn’t all powerful … yet! I asked an executive from JumpTap – which competes directly with Google to provide a mobile ad platform – why his company was even bothering to be in business ever since Google’s dominant online ad system got ported to the mobile. He said that many of his clients did in fact switch to Google, but quickly came back to him saying “You guys make Google look like Microsoft”. A compliment indeed. Google’s wireless business chief for Asia was himself gracious enough to admit to me that, in China, HE’s the tiny startup and Baidu.com is the overpowering giant with nearly 70% of the mobile search market share. But the G seems to have a bigger masterplan. It’s bidding for wireless spectrum in the US and seems intent on putting an end to the fractured world of mobile applications with its new development platform called Android. Watch this space!

Written by Abhi 2.0

November 19, 2007 at 1:48 am

Nothing Office-ial About It !

with 2 comments

Column in HT Cafe

Column in HT Cafe

First published in the Hindustan Times (Mumbai edition)

Everyone it seems, is intent on taking down Microsoft’s cash cow – MS Office. IBM decided to back Sun Microsystem’s pet project Open Office – a completely free, open-source version of MS Office – while Sun’s own Star Office began to be bundled by Google in its free-for-download software pack. Google for its part, got IT services giant CapGemini to endorse and evangelize it’s Web 2.0 take on Office called GAPE (Google Apps Premier Edition). The future of the online document is currently a slugfest between all these parties. Microsoft wants Office Open eXtended Markup Language (.OOXML) to become the global standard format for saving documents while the rest are pushing for the OpenDocument Format or (.ODF) at the International Standards Organisation which has the decision-making mandate. The ISO is currently gridlocked because there were more than the required number of dissenting countries against the Microsoft standard, in a round of voting earlier this month. India, which is represented at the ISO by the Bureau of Indian Standards was also a naysayer and there will be frantic lobbying in the next few months to get the BIS to take its final stand at Geneva in February.

************

I haven’t bothered to install Microsoft Office on my relatively new desktop, purchased nearly six months ago. I’ve been banging out all my “Word” and “Excel” masterpieces on the completely free of cost and extremely user-friendly Google ‘Docs & Spreadsheets’. It started out accidentally, I must admit. On the first day of using the new PC, I needed to create a spreadsheet. Hypothetically speaking of course, I could have downloaded a pirated version of MS Office and a crack, but thanks to my (Exatt) “fraudband” it would have taken forever. I swear, the thought never crossed my mind but I’m just laying out the options. Piracy is evil! Anyway, I decided to check out the online options and the rest as they say is history. However, before you get inspired and start to uninstall, do analyze your usage. The online versions are fairly useless for complex documents with tons of images, tables, macros etc. and make a mess of charts, graphs and most functions beyond the basic ones. If your Excel usage borders on programming, then you definitely want to hang on just a little longer.

************

Lest I come across as some sort of Microsoft basher, let me quickly inform you that I’ve tried most of the alternatives to Microsoft Office over the years and they’re all junk. I worked on Star Office for nearly a year in an organization that had both licensing and ideology issues and swore never to use it again. I used the absolutely free Open Office for nearly six months as well, but gave up after missing a very tight deadline which involved waiting for what seemed like six hours for a document to open. The other day, someone from IBM invited me for a demo of the latest version of Lotus Notes and my first reaction was “They’re still making it? Pray – why?” I know only one person whose company still uses Lotus Notes. Needless to say, nearly her entire team interacts and exchanges documents using their Gmail IDs, with ‘Notes’ being used as nothing more than an intra-company “official correspondence” notice board for formality sake. Now if only Google gets a PowerPoint equivalent up and running soon, I will never have to download a cracked version of … sorry, I mean never have to legally purchase a licensed version of MS Office ever again.

Written by Abhi 2.0

September 17, 2007 at 1:47 am

Facing The Google-y

with one comment

First published in the Hindustan Times (Mumbai edition)

Column in HT

Column in HT

For someone’s who not even six months into the job, Shailesh Rao seems incredibly at ease. The new Managing Director of Google India made his first major television appearance as a panelist on the CNN-IBN special program called “Rules of the Orkut Age”, which was telecast over the weekend. You would think that Shailesh has little patience with the media after all the trouble with the Shiv Sena, Mayawati, murder cases and government discomfort about Google Earth. Well, not only did he agree to come on the show, he was also rather honest. He admitted for starters, that his company really had no idea why Orkut is such a rage only in Brazil and India and not even on the radar in the rest of the world. The panel was televised with a live audience comprising parents, teachers and schoolchildren. Rao was mobbed by the kids after the discussion was over and he looked a bit overwhelmed for the first time that day. Some of the children seem to be masters of the medium and made some pointed suggestions. “Uncle, when you click on that page, there’s one link in the corner that gives you only three options and there should be a fourth option for ..” and so on and so forth.

******

My own use of Orkut, in a way breaks all traditional rules. I’ve put up my real picture and my actual contact details such as email ID and office address. I add ANYONE who asks to be added, EXCEPT people whom I know. Thats right, each and every “friend” of mine on Orkut is someone whom I’ve never met. That’s because, we have a large Tech 2.0 community on Orkut and we’ve decided to use it as a sounding board for the website and the TV show. All Tech 2.0 team members are online and are encourage to accept all friend requests. Tons of readers and viewers, all inherently interested in technology join the group and go berserk arguing with each other in the message board about which mobile phone is better and how they hate each other’s digital guts! They start their own opinion polls and put in requests and feedback. A lightly moderated community on a social networking site can be a terrific tool for anyone in the business of building an audience. As for the people I know, I add them on Facebook! Seperation of church and state ie personal and professional is essential in cyberspace!

*****

I’m not sure if this is directly related to any diktat from the Indian government but it seems like too much of a co-incidence. The tiny cantonment town of Wellington near Coonoor in the Niligiris has been blurred out by Google Earth. I was using Picasa – Google’s online web album service – to tag some old photos taken when my father was posted at the Defence Services Staff College. The program was not allowing me to zoom into the area, though the adjoining towns were clearly visible. This seems strange because although Wellington has a military facility, its an educational setup and not an operational base with weapons. Civilians can roam most parts of the town freely and officers from friendly nations also attend the one year course. Could this location be on a list that the government has given Google India? Well, the harbour, jetties and other facilities, for instance, of India’s massive new Naval base at Karwar on the coast of Karnataka are crystal clear in the satellite imagery. Obviously there’s some gray area here – and I’m not talking about the map of Wellington!

Written by Abhi 2.0

September 3, 2007 at 1:45 am

Flight Mode!

with 2 comments

First published in the Hindustan Times (Mumbai edition)
Column in HT Cafe

Column in HT Cafe

So there I was, sitting in a Jet Airways flight frantically scrolling the “Pearl” trackball on a Blackberry Curve, engaged in a fearsome battle between paddle and bricks, when the air hostess tapped my shoulder. “I’m sorry Sir, you have to switch that off”, she says politely. “It’s in flight mode”, I tell her, hoping that I haven’t let the ball fall while looking up. “There’s no such thing as flight mode, Sir”, she tells me knowingly. Politeness can be annoying when combined with ignorance. “But if you’re letting people use laptops, how is this any different? It’s just a small computer”. I’m not giving up easily but she doesn’t seem flustered. “No sir, the ‘waves’ cause the screens in the cockpit to flicker”. Now she’s just making stuff up. When I question her as to what waves exactly, since all the radios (GSM, GPRS, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth) on my phone are off, she pulls out her trump card. “I’m sorry sir, DGCA notification 133, prohibits use of phones, sir”. I give up and put my phone away. It could still have its radios on in my pocket and there’s no way she would know. Just to test the idiocy of the rule, I keep my data card in my laptop switched on throughout my next flight. This makes the laptop work exactly like a phone but no one asks me to turn it off. I’m quite certain that I’m not endangering my co-passengers or the aircraft equipment, because I’ve cross checked with at least three people before boarding this flight. A telecom company CTO, a pilot and a professor of electrical engineering all tell me it’s a big bogey with no scientific basis. The rule itself is archaic and my experience clearly proves that it has no way of being effectively implemented even if it were true.

************

The new on-board DTH (or actually shouldn’t it be called DTS ie. Direct-To-Seat?) on Kingfisher Airlines is awesome. Watching live television in the air is quite a kick and even makes long flights bearable. The LCD screens have a very good viewing angle and in fact I was easily able to see the screens of passengers sitting on either side in addition to my own. The brightness and contrast control buttons don’t work and not all channels have equally good reception. There was no disturbance at all on my flight though colleagues tell me that it doesn’t work perfectly in bad weather and they’ve had blackouts on certain flights. Scrolling tickers on news channels are a bit blurred but imminently readable and the pixelation is visible only when you stare hard at something static like a channel logo. The headphones that come in the little kit are supposed to clip onto your ears and start biting the earlobes after about an hour. Some of the frequent flyers around me seemed to be aware of this and were using their own headsets. Overall, the experience gets two thumbs up and is definitely a differentiator. The only annoying part of the experience is when the captain interrupts the TV audio feed to make an important announcement: “Ladies and Gentleman … introducing live TV on Kingfisher …”. Considering every single person on the flight is already tuned into some channel or the other, the timing is awful. Suddenly, a bunch of people burst out laughing. I peer through the seats in front of me, expecting to see them all watching The Great Indian Laughter Challenge. Nope, that’s Yana Gupta giving flight instructions in Hindi. I agree – that’s pretty hilarious!

Written by Abhi 2.0

August 27, 2007 at 1:44 am

Social NOTworking ?

with one comment

First published in the Hindustan Times (Mumbai edition)
Column in HT Cafe

Column in HT Cafe

Orkut has finally decided to acknowledge that it is a rage in India by announcing that it will conduct special Independence day polls on the site. Google’s social network has been getting all kinds of bad press lately, not to mention threats from the Shiv Sena, even though the party patriarch’s grandchildren are fairly active users. I’ve always wondered why Orkut is such a big hit in some countries (60% of the traffic is from Brazil and about 15% from India) but a complete dud in Europe and North America. Very few Indians use MySpace which rules the roost in the US though Facebook is apparently becoming very popular especially among those who’ve studied overseas. In fact the whole “social networking” thing is a bit crazy and no one knows who’s going to survive and more importantly what can be monetized and how. The original pioneers like Friendster, LinkedIn, Ryze and Classmates have rapidly been overtaken and specialist networks like Youtube (videos) Flickr (photos) and Digg (News) have just complicated the whole thing.

************

The social networking scene in India is displaying classic “bubble” symptoms. President of Reliance Entertainment, Rajesh Sawhney recently told contentsutra.com that Big Adda, the ADAG group’s social networking site would break even in 3 years. That’s an eternity in the internet business and thus such a prediction about something that nobody in the world has figured out how to milk, is pretty ambitious to say the least. The Indian arm of Sequoia Capital recently invested in minglebox.com adding to its portfolio that already includes dating portal fropper.com. I’ve checked out all these sites and while they seem interesting enough, I don’t see the need to sign up for more than one or maybe two such services. The other day I was in Bhopal and introduced to a local internet entrepreneur who runs scratchmysoul.com which claims to be the world’s only people mapping site. The project is based on the intellectual property of Raghav Chandra who belongs to one of the most important offline social networks in the country – the Indian Administrative Service!

*************

“Desis” seem to have gotten the short end of the stick as far as cashing out on the social networking boom in Silicon Valley is concerned. Jawed Karim, whose father is Bangladeshi, was the third, ignored co-founder of YouTube and only got crumbs from the sellout to Google (a mere $64.6 million as against $326 million each, for the other two co-founders). Facebook’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg is facing a high profile lawsuit from a group of former Harvard colleagues who claim that he stole their idea. One of them is a young man called Divya Narendra, who reportedly works for a hedge fund these days. In both cases the desis seem to have been the technical whizkids who did most of the backend work while the smooth talkers laughed all the way to the bank. In fact Indians or people of Indian origin are yet to make a big impact on what being called “boom 2.0” in the valley. Possibly the most influential Indian 2.0 in the valley these days is Om Malik who runs the Gigaom.com blogging network. Its core competence? Extensive news, information and analysis of the Web 2.0 phenomenon – circular ain’t it?

**************

FULL DISCLOSURE: There is a rather large official “Tech 2.0” community on Orkut.com

Written by Abhi 2.0

August 13, 2007 at 1:43 am

iPhone At Last!

leave a comment »

First published in the Hindustan Times (Mumbai edition)
Column in HT Cafe

Column in HT Cafe

We waited for the “unlocked” piece that would, rest assured, hit the Indian grey market a few days after the iPhone launch in the US. It never came! All that chest thumping in the newspapers from the Palika bazaar and Nehru Place wheeler dealers proved to be an empty boast. This baby was secure and unbreakable. There was only one way to do it – the legal way. We called up TV18’s New York bureau chief, Indira Kannan and asked her if she would buy one, activate it and send it across to us. Luckily Indira’s existing plan was coming to an end and she wanted to switch operators anyway. In the US they have number portability which means she could retain her number even if she changed to AT&T. So she bought it, got it up and running, routed her calls to voicemail and set up a cheap international roaming and dialing plan on it. She packed it, shipped it and sent it. Just to make sure that there would be no customs hassles, we asked her not to send it in the box. It arrived safe and sound.

*****

Suddenly, the geeks at Tech 2.0 are the coolest, most popular people in the office. We’re getting mobbed and manhandled. People are asking us for autographs! Ok, maybe not that last sentence, but the rest is true.

I’ve been reviewing gadgets for half a decade now and never has anything in my hand got the reaction that this gets. Just seeing the joy and wonder on people’s faces when you show them some of the nifty multi-touch tricks, is fantastic. Tech 2.0 Editor, Varun Singh, got to spend a night with it and I’ve pried it outta his hands for a couple of days till the reviewers take over.

I’ve been an iPhone skeptic in the past, but I may just cease to be a naysayer. None of the cool features have any real utility but Apple has never been about pragmatism has it? The sheer “cool” value of flicking your fingers on the screen and “pinching” photographs puts you in another league of user. I’m sure our reviewers will find lots of glitches but the first week preview is a total thumbs up.

*****

A source at NASSCOM tells me that they’re trying to get Apple founder Steve Jobs to address the big annual summit in February next year. It’s definitely going to be a stretch since Apple has little interest in India. Not only have they refused to officially set up shop in one of the world’s fastest growing markets but they were among the first to pull back tech support from Bangalore.

I suggested that NASSCOM try the emotional route to bringing him here. Jobs, at Stanford’s 2005 convocation, admitted that he used to have his only meal of the week at a Hare Krishna temple. This was when he was hanging around at Reed College for a year, even after dropping out and learning ran dom stuff like calligraphy, which eventually inspired the superb Mac intosh fonts. He then backpacked around India for a bit with a friend before going back to start Apple. And if all that isn’t enough, his spoof online avataar, the consistently hilarious ‘Fake Steve Jobs’ loves saying “Namaste!”

Written by Abhi 2.0

August 6, 2007 at 1:41 am