PDF is not e-book

Often I find it difficult to explain why reading should be done through e-books and PDFs are not supposed to be considered as books. However, when I tried to explain, people showed no patience to understand. There is an old saying, ‘while in conversation, most people are way too keen to hear the other person only to react and not to comprehend”. Therefore I will try to explain why PDF is  not a recommended choice for avid reading. Before I start, here is the declaration: I still like physical, hard copy books and hence in digital world I need those functionalities and any additions for better.

What is PDF (Portable Document Format)? A simple Google search gives this answer “a file format for capturing and sending electronic documents in exactly the intended format”. One more definition, from derived straight from Wikipedia, “Portable Document Format is a file format used to present documents in a manner independent of application software, hardware, and operating systems. Each PDF file encapsulates a complete description of a fixed-layout flat document, including the text, fonts, graphics, and other information needed to display it.”  Both definitions give similar functionality assessment – the format is expected to behave constantly irrespective of hardware and software. So the very objective of PDF is to retain its original format, and make sure only that is retained as far as possible, independent of devices. We have numerous screen sizes and various applications that can support PDF view. All the time it shows up the same way, except for zoom in and out, while accommodating a bit of annotation. Is that sufficient for reading? Probably yes for a few but never for me!

Let us look at couple of prominent e-book formats that are freely available on the market. One is Amzon’s Kindle which supports proprietary .mobi format, while other readers, including Apple’s iBooks application, support .epub format. Because hardcopy books preceded digital books in terms of human invention – we tend to compare everything with what we previously experienced. So we need to make short notes, highlight, underline, bookmark and so on. If we want to migrate away from hardcopy to soft copy, we should be able to retain such features and should be able add a few more. Therefore, any software (or combination of applications) that lacks such functionalities should not be called ‘book’ (rather e-book). I consider the software that can support .mobi and .epub formats – Kindle and iBooks (there are other apps which can support e-books too). File organisation has not been a problem either on PDFs or e-books. However once we open an e-book, we can browse through index pages and based on selection of the topic. The reader can reach to desired page, and topic in a single click using index page. This very function is not possible in most PDFs. Even if the index pages have links to topic title page, coming back is not one click. And this navigation becomes painful in touch devices, because of unavailability of mouse cursor/pointer based navigation.

We would like to make short notes while we read, and it often happens on hardbound books. Same can be done on PDFs through annotation capabilities of various apps. However, e-books can show all the notes in one place, and a single tap/click can take the user right on to the page where notes were written. Highlights, bookmarks and underlines are quite obvious options available on e-books and they also can show up in a summary! These are the functionalities from real world, while e-books made the navigation really convenient. iBooks can change the page orientation to two pagers, single page and even the continuous run down or scrolling view. Imagine you would like to read while lying on the bed and your spouse wants to sleep and hence switch off the light. It is the best experience to read with night mode on – and I really want to know how many apps can switch amongst multiple PDF themes (of course night mode is available in Adobe Reader). Then comes change of fonts both family and size – which is at least not a designated property of PDFs. Paragraph styles, margins and line-spacing can also be adjusted for e-books but I need to know how many apps can do these functions on PDFs. Moreover, Kindle and iBooks can offer adding dictionaries, sharing right from the app, showing remaining number of pages in the chapter, going back to previous location in the book over and over, etc. Most important of all – the skeumorphic feel of page navigation, I need to see how many apps can do that on PDFs.

Is there anything that PDF handling apps do that can not be done on e-books? That could be about saving those annotations or highlight related edits and send to someone else. This also can be done on .epub or .mobi but requires a bit of advanced skills. Next option was – OK, let us convert the PDF to either of the e-book formats. Obviously, file conversions never help and the whole (converted) e-book gets messed up with pages, index all over. You may recall the definition of PDF on second paragraph of this article. If you want to read  digital format – buy original e-book and select the format based on the app available on your device. PDF is not e-book.

Apple Juggernaut, now with IBM

Lots of news from technology world over the past weeks and biggest of them was about Apple and IBMpartnership, exclusively for iOS devices.It is surprising and exciting to think how this could unfold opportunities for Apple and IBM. Let us be honest, Apple has services that could compete with Citrix, then the server business, business purchase programme, and so on. But as a company, Apple has a very minimal presence in enterprise market. Steve Jobs in one of the AllThingsD conferences said, “(In the consumer market) every person votes for themselves”. “If enough of them say yes, we get to come to work in the morning.” In the enterprise, he said, not so much. The people that use the products aren’t the ones that choose which products are used, and the people that make those decisions, Jobs said, “are sometimes confused.” Apple is all about simplicity, elegance, user experience, which are all very vital for consumer market success. The famous WinTel era helped Microsoft the push Apple out of the big enterprise business. However, ever since iPad launch, Apple has dedicated fair bit of resources that can help iOS device deployment in business organisations.

iOS and Android devices have redefined the word productivity. The person who is a data driven decision maker need not deal with large chunk of data anymore. Analytics is taken care by data experts, they put that in cloud and decision are taken using interpretation that can happen on four-inch handheld device. This made PC usage for back end big data analytics and devices like iPad for front-end decision-making. Steve Jobs’ another famous quote about PCis worth mentioinig here, “…PCs are going to be like trucks. They’re still going to be around, they’re still going to have a lot of value, but they’re going to be used by one out of X people.” If I am a fund manager looking to analyse, I need not sit in front of a PC, put 100s of thousands of data into spreadsheet, create my own charts, make complicated pivot tables to arrive at a dashboard. Rather these all can be done over the cloud and an iOS app like IBM Cognos Mobileor Numericscan handle my meetings with external clients as well as my internal analysts. I have written about how Microsoft Excel is no longer the only way out for productivity. Everyone exulted for Microsoft Office suite on iPad but I was not. Every software has been written for solving a problem, Apple had sold 200+ millions of iPads without an option for Microsoft office.

Apple has been emphasising on productivity through iOS devices for a couple years already, and touted 98% usage of iOS devices in Fortune 500 companies. However, big enterprise businesses had already invested in technology and processes already. Apple definitely enjoys fan following in consumer market but enterprise IT wouldn’t bother for one. The deployment of iOS devices calls for change in process of workflow as well as investment of financial and human resources. Most important of all, enterprises need support from other channel partners too, and this is exactly where IBMcan come into picture. They have an established presence in large enterprise business in various segments such as big data analytics and software services. Looking at the IBM Annual Report 2013, couple of things caught my attention:

"Thanks to a proliferation of devices and the infusion of technology into all things and processes, the world is generating more than 2.5 billion gigabytes of data every day, and 80 percent of it is “unstructured”—everything from images, video and audio to social media and a blizzard of impulses from embedded sensors and distributed devices.
This is the driver of IBM’s first strategic imperative: To make markets by transforming industries and professions with data. The market for data and analytics is estimated at $187 billion by 2015. To capture this growth potential, we have built the world’s broadest and deepest capabilities in Big Data and analytics—both technology and expertise. We have invested more than $24 billion; including $17 billion of gross spend on more than 30 acquisitions. We have 15,000 consultants and 400 mathematicians. Two- thirds of IBM Research’s work is now devoted to data, analytics and cognitive computing. IBM has earned 4,000 analytics patents. We have an ecosystem of 6,000 industry partners and 1,000 university partnerships around the world developing new, analytics-related curricula.
An IT industry remade by cloud: At the same time that industries and professions are being remade by data, the information technology infrastructure of the world is being transformed by the emergence of cloud computing—that is, the delivery of IT and business processes as digital services. It is estimated that by 2016, more than one-fourth of the world’s applications will be available in the cloud, and 85 percent of new software is now being built for cloud.
Engagement in a world of empowered individuals: The phenomena of data and cloud are changing the arena of global business and society. At the same time, proliferating mobile technology and the spread of social business are empowering people with knowledge, enriching them through networks and changing their expectations. This leads to IBM’s third strategic imperative: To enable “systems of engagement” for enterprises…"

IBM has been touting EPS of $20 by end of 2015, and they are facing tough competition by many large (SAP, Intuit) and many small companies engaged in big data and SaaSbusiness. They need someone not only who has presence in the market but also very efficient at executing a plan. Apple has been the best vertically integrated companyby way of its product offerings. With iOS 8 they have done several things that could help deploying iPhones and iPads in enterprises. There are a few key points IT teams look at, while deploying new technology or devices: Security, OS Support, Collaboration and management.

Apple does take security very very seriously. In February this year, they showcased their commitment to security with a white paper,and for me the architecture looked awesome. On the contrary, Android continues to be targeted by sophisticated malwareattacks. Later on, in iOS 8 they doubled down on the security and I am fortunate to come across a fantastic researchby Luis Abreu, a UK based UX and UI designer. There is plenty of stuff and I felt this is what worth mentioning from his report:

"Account Privacy
CloudKit does not give Apps access to the real user’s Apple ID or data from other apps, instead, CloudKit creates a Random User ID on a Per-App basis, and there’s no access to private data outside of your app’s CloudKit Drive Container.”

 

Then comes OS support, and Apple has done a tremendous job by accounting for future software updates. Generally a new generation device gets three further software updates, and that software up-gradation is provided without additional charges to the user. But Apple needs to invest resources for development, deployment and maintenance, which is an outlay for the company. So Apple accounting system is quite fascinating and forward thinking, they announced subscription method of accounting way back in April 2007 Q2 earning call. iOSusers have always enjoyed the latest possible OS updates,thereby latest apps when compared to any other operating systems. In comparison, Android, the major player in consumer market still suffers from fragmentation and enterprise IT may not be interested-intaking such risks.

Not everything is safe, for work!
Not everything is safe, for work!
Software Update Status as of Nov 2013
Software Update Status as of Nov 2013

Even though most analysts, and tech press ignored 64-bitarchitecture as a marketing gimmick, biggest advantagecame in the form of encryptionand decryption efficiencyin iOS devices (iPhone 5s, iPad Air and iPad mini with Retina Display). Even though Apple has not been best known for helping enterprise ITadoption, they did a remarkable yet an unnoticed job.

iOS 8 and IBM partnership really showcases the workthat went on behind the scenes. Features like Find my iPhone are really understated ones, but Apple continues to advance the feature with some of the unique mechanisms.Even with so much of excitement there is a bit of scepticism from a few corners. Apple and IBM had a few less successful partnerships previously, recent one was Power PC.Unlike this time, all the time, they were competing in the market for some other businesses. IBM now needs someone with whom they can assure their clients about the quality of devices, software updates, etc. For Apple, it is a market in which company lacksdepth. Apple’s iPad business showed no positive growth for two successive quarters. Apple did not announce new product categories as of this writing but there seems to be lots of new strategic partnerships being worked out. Am I predicting the success of this partnership? No, time will tell. But ever since Tim Cook took over as CEO, the company is not a ‘rebellion, take on the world’ types. Instead they behave more matured, they open up to the public wherever possible, and Tim Cook is the guy showcasing the company values.

Waiting is not always bad!

Quite often, people get appreciation for adopting latest technology and hence they’re typically called ‘early adopters’. Technological world changes rapidly and in recent years pace has been higher than ever before. Typically the products outside FMCG, attract the attention for analysis. Automobile industry does not have a luxury of consumers changing their vehicles to embrace new technology. People buy when they feel the need, not because a new vehicle has come to the market that can increase fuel efficiency by, let us say, 3%. Slight improvement in gear shifting mechanism may not attract existing car owners to upgrade. Overall, it’s the disposable income of an individual that determines desire to buy a product. On the other hand, consumer electronics, specifically the devices that are portable, have higher product turnover. People buy new mobile phones every 18-24 months, and they buy new electronics items because of the trend, perceived utility of new use cases, brand loyalty, etc.

I have said this before, ‘a person’s financial success/failure is directly proportional to the ability/inability to prioritise short term as well as long term expenditure’. I see often people who complain about their poor financial fortunes. And more often than not, they may have spent on things that weren’t necessary or shouldn’t have been the priority to spend. I never bought a cassette player or a DVD player, and they’re dead now. I do not feel having missed a bandwagon. Eating out in a restaurant once/twice per week is not advisable if your disposable income does not support purchasing an apartment. Just because Samsung has launched a new version of Galaxy smartphone does not mean that you have to buy that right away. If a perceived utility is superfluous and does not really translate to real world lifestyle enhancement, then avoid buying such products. In 2007, iPhone was launched and 1000s of other smartphone brands have come since. But do you need a smartphone? That depends on your requirement to improve your lifestyle. Unless infrastructure is right and the lifestyle needs a realistic improvement buying gadgets is not worthy.

I have been in a job since mid 2007, but never had a camera as I don’t travel to tourist places that often. If you feel the need for camera, buy a high quality smartphone. We bought a DSLR this month and that based specific pro plan and not based on a (expensive) hobby. Just because a few of your Facebook friends/acquaintances post DSLR pictures should not be a reason to buy one for yourself. I never had a washing machine and nor a maid for household work. We did our household work by ourselves and that helped us to save money. Now that I have a baby to take care, washing machine became inevitable and hence we bought the best possible IFB front loading fully automatic machine. It consumes less water than typical hand wash of six KGs of clothes, and consumes less power than most low cost as well as competing machines. Before purchasing a washing machine, there were countless suggestions for not buy a fully automatic front load model. They said, fully automatic models consume more water, more power, more detergent, no option for manual intervention and so on. But after buying the machine, I realise an individual’s world is as big as he can imagine because my machine did not give any one of the problems listed so above. Most people who suggested, did not realise technology improves over time while they might not even have bought the best!

I have always advocated for experiencing a few best in class products over buying countless mediocre products. If you cannot restrain, quite often you end up mediocre product experience. Think about right priorities, do not spend based on windfall income (such as bonus in your salaried jobs), do some homework before buying any consumer durable product. Early adoption in itself does not mean anything. Waiting for the right product and the right time is not bad!

I Sold My Smartphone

I sold my smartphone, and now I do not even have a phone that has camera in it. I sold my Nexus 4 on 13 February 2014, knowing that I will live without a data connectable mobile phone for a foreseeable future. I used a low-end Xperia tipo and a decent Nexus 4, in total for 17 odd months. Everyone around me started to ask why did I sell, and what next? Answer is, I would like to be in the Apple ecosystem, at least until the present executive team remains to run the company. However, for now I choose not to buy a smartphone as I have a cellular iPad, along with an iMac which my brother (@prabhakarbhat) uses for programming. We do have a Sony Vaio Ultrabook that runs (crawls?) Windows 8, but for now let us continue with mobiles.

I was less aware of mobile technology until the first half of 2012. Living in India, Apple was (and is) most aspired brand for some, and a hated consumer technology company for others, probably because of the price tag. I went with the tide and ended up purchasing a low-end android phone that could do some basic functions like emails, map navigation and run social networking apps. Even though I was not a programmer per se, I liked software apps to be up to date. But after buying Xperia tipo, I realised updates weren’t the only problems. Even in 2014, India has one of the slowest mobile and broadband speeds in the world. Obvious issues I faced with low-end smartphone were two — 1) random data disconnection which wouldn’t come back unless the device was restarted; and 2) the phone simply wouldn’t respond to some basic functions such as opening the address book and dialing a contact. In addition, I realised that most apps were not compatible to install, while a few of the updates would not work! Sony said, ‘no upgrade to Android Jelly Bean version’. So I sold the device to a college student in an online marketplace.

Meanwhile, I and my brother had been using iPad since November 2012 and immediately fell in love with it, both in terms of hardware and the lovely skuemorphic iOS 6. We really loved the iOS apps that were far better at user experience. It was in June 2013 that I decided to sell Xperia tipo, when Apple was showcasing iOS 7 in its annual developer conference, WWDC. Having seen android and iOS 6, I simply could not take iOS 7 (even today I do not like a few design inconsistencies in iOS 7). So, I decided to buy LG Nexus 4, which promised software updates. The other reason to buy Android device was, android app testing requirement of my brother. Looking at the lack of aesthetics in iOS 7 we were skeptical about the responses from developer community because most apps had to be completely redesigned. Statistically, android’s running on more devices and hence my brother and I decided to buy android that has OS updates. We liked Nexus lineup because it resembled Apple style in android world — no battery exchanges, no external memory card and so on.

I did not experience the data connection and app compatibility issues. Within a couple of months usage, Nexus 4 started heating up too much! I could not speak over the phone without headphones for more than two minutes. Guess what, I could not even carry it in my pocket just after unplugging from charging! The phone was not rooted, hardly had any games in it, but still was problematic. I took backup of the device on a highly rated app and showed it at LG service centre. LG had service centre experts who did not know about Android 4.4 KitKat which was already running on my Nexus 4! They did a factory restore but my backup failed and hence I literally downloaded every app, put media files back for about a day. The device worked fine, however I realised there’re many issues with android as an OS (I wrote about them before during my spare time hereand here). Biggest irritating ones were — home screen not deleting app shortcut when app was uninstalled, all home screen settings vanishing randomly, adding blank home screens while adding widgets, display not waking up from sleep to attend calls, randomly becoming a brick, etc.

My brother had already developed an iOS app (Chanakya Neeti) which heported to android in December 2013, having thoroughly tested on my Nexus 4. Of course, we did not have any promotion budget for either of the platforms. Chanakya Neeti was all about an Indian philosopher whilst iOS presence in India was way too limited. So what would I expect? I expected Android app to overtake iOS in terms of installations so also ad revenue. Within no time we were in for a shock — Chanakya Neeti app was responding differently in every device! Why? Simple, every device had a different touch sensitivity! We decided to be patient and fixed whatever problems we could. But as of this writing, the android version’s yet to earn first complete dollar of ad revenue and also yet to reach 200 active installations. The app ranks 12th in Google Play search with 4.61 average rating. It is OK if we did not make money but question is not about the apps but about the myths. Comparatively, iOS version has been earning revenues and we see 100s of new installations.

Most people around say becoming a developer for Apple is costlier than Google. Here is our experience. You need to pay $99 every year to be a developer for iOS. If you are developing a basic app like Chanakya Neeti, you might get away without even buying an iPhone. Simulator was flawless for our requirement. On the other hand, you need to own at least 15 latest high/low-end devices to develop a simple app like Chanakya Neeti for android. Simulator in Android was nearly useless. But still, let’s assume that you develop an app that is compatible with most devices. But android is not a place for the one who likes to showcase someone else’s ads. It is good for the one who wants to propagate his own products through ads. Chanakya Neeti on iOS is not a success by any stretch of imagination yet. But the app has more active users — iOS users use their device. In most business cases, population number does not matter. What matters is interaction! People aren’t watching ads on TV because it is so passive. Power users in android platform are happy to root, customise ROMs while normal users do not go beyond whatsapp and Facebook! Intermediate users love to play with a few free apps or APKs (check out Chair Entertainment’s Infinity Blade creators). I am really interested to know how many stories are there like the ones we see on Apple website.

Obvious curiosity was, I could have continued to use Nexus personally, instead of selling it within eight months of usage. Call me a fanboy or an iSheep, Android can not make me fall in love with its design language and UX. Moreover, it is not always about adoption of latest technology, it is also about the infrastructure. India just finished auctioning for 2G spectrum in February 2014. As a country, India lacks technology infrastructure. We all know, original iPhone didn’t have 3G because infrastructure wasn’t ready, and Apple introduced LTE only on iPhone 5 which was soon after 4G network became mainstream. 3G connectivity in India, especially in Bangalore, is too unstable. Inconsistent network drains battery quite fast. I do not want to use a real smartphone, paying $850, with such infrastructure. Rolls Royce on Autobahn is apt but not probably at countryside roads. I love that Steve Jobs theory — looking at the world in a binary view. A real smartphone is the one which can have apps likeConvertible, Infinity Blade III, iMovie, Garage Band, etc. Such ecosystem is definitely worth it. I would like to use a technology product that is best (in my affordability and priority) and can last for at least three years with latest software support. Most intermediate quality devices end up eating my time for fixing issues forever, without actually helping for productivity or entertainment. Google provides support for Nexus lineup for only 18 months. I do not expect next or next to next version of Android to be supported on Nexus 4. Android world continues to gadget spam with ‘new’ devices every week. No one cares about user experience, it’s just the spec competition. Moto G launched in India, so also Nexus 5. My Nexus 4 would not fetch anything once it completes it’s warranty period in coming June. So I sold it to reduce my losses!
(PS: I wrote this whole story on iPad using iWriters — an amazing app!)

Year in Review: 2013 – Contribution to Future

We are through with an eventful year 2013. I didn’t manage to write the whole thing about year end review, here is a kind of look back. Usually, we cannot understand the possibility of a revolution within a span of six to eight months, and hence it’s better to ascertain the contribution to future. Lots of attempts have been made to revolutionise consumer electronics last year by various technology companies. However, not all worked well and hence we can take a look at them by events and attempts.

Biggest disappointment of the year came from Microsoft with Windows 8, and Surface line of tablets. The company took a write down of $950 millions. However the company did not give up its hardware attempt when it announced sequel to Surface line up and also acquired its Windows Phone partner Nokia in a $7.5 billion. They brought in ‘Visual Studio Anywhere’ and also a few more advancements to help programming community. In addition, Windows 8.1 was released with the start button amidst helping better hardware integration. Microsoft didn’t manage to turn search business, Bing, profitable. Windows Phone OS could not attract enough competitive developers and hence device sales numbers were relatively higher at the low end market segment only. The company failed to negotiate with Google for services on Windows Phones and hence as users are still waiting for Google maps, YouTube, Gmail, etc. Microsoft restructured itself with an objective of becoming services and devices company, like Apple. Sometime in 2014, the company will find a new CEO as Steve Balmer will leave. PC market has had another troublesome year, while recently introduced Windows 8 interface, which combined desktop as well as handheld device UI, was a major turn off amongst majority of the users. Overall, 2013 did not see much from Microsoft that could really contribute to future.

Wearable tech became a fashion especially with Apple related rumours, even though Apple did not introduce anything in the segment. Google finally introduced Google glass but the price tag of $1500 to begin with. Even with the limited availability, developers were interested for sure but either success or failure of this whole thing is definitely in years to come. Another rumour was about so called iWatch from Apple which again never materialised. However, Samsung jumped into the fray too soon with Galaxy Gear – so called smart wrist watch (in addition to gadget spamming throughout the year). However, poor implementation lead to bad press from the moment review units were distributed. Indeed there were other companies like Sony and existing player Pebble, with their version of smart watches but until now none of them are able to add realistic value to consumers. Of course, future could be bright for wearable consumer electronics with technological advancements, but nothing substantial has been in the market yet.

Curved and flexible displays in consumer electronics were introduced in 2013 by a few of the big names like Samsung, LG, etc. Unfortunately, they had no value addition to consumers and hence just came and went. Samsung Galaxy Round and LG G Flex were not technically deemed dud but found hardly any takers. Samsung continued to gadget spam the market with continuous push into new smartphones and tablets. Premium devices like Galaxy S4 and Note III received incremental updates along with bloated features such as gesture controls. Gesture controls are yet to be adopted by mass smartphone OEMs, as Android phones continued to target so called ‘mass market’ with lower price tags. Google indeed put the step forward in the right direction by announcing Android 4.4 KitKat that is designed to work well enough on 512 MegaByte RAM. The latest version of Android launched with Nexus sequel was appreciated in tech press but new products are yet to arrive from other OEM partners. There were no signs of Google looking to exercise stricter norms on Google Play and security as well as privacy concerns remained.

Apple did not get into a new category and innovation dead at Apple were making headlines nearly every week. Supply chain leaks and many other leaks weren’t really accurate. iOS 7 came out with its all new design and many handy features. Apple ignored NFC but introduced iBeacons in iOS 7. iBeacons far better than GPS and hence expected to boost location based alerts, mainly useful in shopping malls and stadiums where pinpoint accuracy is desired. The best thing about iBeacons is, the usage of BLE rather than traditional GPS. In addition, Apple introduced a new chip in iPhone 5s dubbed motion coprocessor. The chip is designed to track the movement of the device. Best case scenario are health and fitness based applications. The chip is indeed so advanced that, it can track motion of the device without draining out the battery, such as trying to catch nearby wifi when the person with iPhone 5s is travelling by car in city. Apple did couple more things with iPhone that benefits are likely to be in the coming years. Their SoC A7 is a 64 bit desktop architecture. Right now, there aren’t really too many apps that can take advantage of it. But because they’re using same SoC for iPad, the developer community can start building apps for the future. OpenGL 3 support and multi path TCP were couple more things that can help users for long time. Radical new design of Mac Pro is definitely the best consumer PC available now and it is the cheapest when compared to assembled PCs. However, not all Mac Apps are ready yet to take advantage of phenomenal performance offered. MacBook Air got a nice little processor bump that enables it last 12 hours on a single charge. iPad Air and Retina iPad Mini are the most advanced tablets around and they’re gorgeous as well. New wifi technology MIMO also enables them to transfer at substantial speed. Apple also started offering iWork and iLife suite free for all new iOS and OS X device purchases. Best of them was free upgrade to OS 10.9 Mavericks.

All in all, there were not many ground breaking announcements in 2013. But most companies continued to stick to their own methods. Google brought in lower hardware configuration for Android OEMs while Samsung continued to throw in everything to market. 2014 will be fantastic if the companies continue with their momentum they created in last 18-24 months.

Touch Screen Latency Debate

Ever since Agawi TouchMarks revealed the screen latency test results, a few of the android fans seem to question the methodology itself. From the TouchMark’s blog, “…our latency experts are using their knowledge to introduce the first quantitative and objective benchmark of app response times: TouchMarks. By introducing TouchMarks to the market, we hope to bring more rigour to discussions around touchscreen response times, device lag, streaming latency and other topics related to how responsive an application feels on a mobile device”. Throughout this article, I have mentioned content straight from the iOS devices seem to fare really well in touch responses and hence most users seem to like the interaction with iPhone, iPad, etc. Below graph vindicates the same.

touchmark_graph_1

In addition, Microsoft Research visually (as well as technically) shows us if such issue exist and does it affect any touch device user at all.

These days, people do not believe such results as fanboy element creeps in to most results. Let us see from the comments section of TouchMarks website itself, if there are any valuable points.  First comment from @craigsg said “No one should confuse you for scientists. You have an agenda and preconceived notions” But this reply was quite interesting from @Ian “@craigsj . With regard to perceived latency, we are working on an app where accurate timing is critical to the proper functioning of the app. On iOS we have it working great, on android we are contending with high audio latency + high touch latency. It virtually makes the app not doable on android, without some fairly hacky latency subtractions. We need to be able to measure a touch to within 200ms of an audible cue. With audio latency of 100-400ms and touch latency of >100ms you can see the problem.”

People are good at finding problems in every outcome, I was obviously surprised to hear a comment wherein, the question was about non-selection of stock Android devices. Moreover, visitors felt that, TouchMarks is positively biased towards Apple. @Rohan’s reply was interesting, “Hi Adam, We picked flagship phones from each manufacturer that we had available to us- unfortunately we didn’t have a Nexus 4. The Moto X is pretty close to a stock Android experience though (and it’s actually my personal phone, contrary to most people’s belief I’m an iPhone user now). We did kill the background processes, but didn’t put the phone into airplane mode. It’s an interesting theory though, I’ll test it on a few devices and see if there’s a difference”. People love their devices is not a problem, world is never flat and each individual has different choices and tastes. I would never bother to comment on them. I have been loving Apple devices not because I am a fan of the company, but the products seem to work well every time as per my expectations that includes feel of experience which could vary. I like snappy fluid scrolls but that itself is relative. These researches try to convert subjective remarks to numbers and I am happy to see the effort put by TouchMarks. I guess following remarks best conclude the whole thing:

@Ritesh “Almost all high end Android phones since 2012 have the touch layer fused with the glass. That includes all the Android phones in this test and many more like the One X, GS3, LG OG, Nexus 4 from 2012. You’re probably talking about cheaper/older Android phones. LG and Samsung make the displays/touchscreens for Apple, so it’d be really odd if their own devices didn’t use the same. Hardware is not the issue here. Software is.

I’m an Android user and also an audio engineer+producer. I know first hand how bad latency on Android is. It does not affect daily usage but it definitely sticks out like a thorn when it comes to realtime apps such as midi controllers and synths. For audio apps, I use LivKontrol and TouchDAW on a Nexus 10 and LivKontrol and TouchOSC on an iPad 3. The difference in response is pretty noticeable.

Having said that, Android is getting a lot of work done in the audio latency department and the next version will have major improvements with an option for a realtime kernel. Once that arrives, I’m sure Agawi would do the tests again.”