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.

Revisit

I have been in Bangalore for the past nine years and I wanted to revisit my life prior to that. So, that’s what this article all about. My parents left their home – a joint family of four brothers – in early 1980s in a year after I was born, to a different village, of course with same occupation – farming/agriculture. The new village we moved had no electricity, vehicle connectivity, telephones, school or any other infrastructure. The farm land was good but any crop would attract nearby wild animals, and hence life was tough. My parents did not get through primary schooling, but my dad fought hard to get a primary school in our village, while the village didn’t even have one. I never went to Kindergarten while my first three years of schooling had only three days a week since the school teacher came only during Tuesday to Friday in a week. I still remember clearly – the school teacher gifted me my first pen and notebook, when I started third standard. Until then I wrote on a small chalk-slate. I went out of my home to my parents ancestral home (the one mentioned previously) to continue my studies. That meant I was just eight years old and wasn’t staying with my parents.

There were other students who stayed in that home for schooling and we had to walk 1.5 miles to reach the school. My dad’s brothers were farmers as well, and I should say, it was a nice time of my childhood. Many kids and lots of fun. I would come back to my parents home only during vacations – for a month in October and during April-May summer. I was the topper in every class which had less than fifteen students each year. I recall the teacher there, one day, wrote my name Basker and I went to ask him to rectify the spelling to Bhaskar! This sparked a debate/gossip for a few months in the village (50 odd houses) that, ‘a student rectified a teacher’s mistake’.

I completed my primary schooling as a very good student but again, my parents had to figure out a home who’d accept my stay for going to high-school. Our village would never get anything beyond Lower Primary School because of the lack of facilities and lack of numbers. The whole village had no person who studied beyond primary school and nearly half the people did not even have any kind of formal education. During those days, many families who had better education in their villages let the nearby village students to stay at their home to go school, for, in most cases, free. By mid 1990s our village got a road that could be useful during summer and of course no other facility. If there was a medical emergency, people would carry the patient on their shoulders for five miles in hilly dense forest area to reach to the nearest state transport bus facility, and there were buses only for four times a day (to this writing the village has same infrastructure). And the bus would take 2hours to reach the town. By the time academic year was starting, my dad found a joint family of 20 families who accepted me to stay there for schooling, of course for free. In fact it was so weird as neither of the us knew each other before (introduced by a common acquaintance). The school was good, and I am in touch with a few of my friends from there even to this date. But stay was difficult for me, and I got humiliated by that family members, quite often all twenty members sitting together. I was no longer the class topper but I managed distinction in year-end exams. I asked my dad to change my staying house, and he managed to get a house of an elderly couple in a different locality and school altogether.

In the second year of my high school, I felt even more terrible with the way things went at home I stayed at and hence my dad found yet another home for my 10th class stay. With all these, I finished my high school with a distinction grade, staying at unknown places, punching above my weight all the time. Then came decision point in our family – should I continue my studies? Parents finally decided to send me to college with a condition that ‘I would come back and continue farming after college’. After all, I had already ‘studied’ and was more educated than my parents! During my college, I managed to stay in top league of students, was good at presentations and got recognised for sports commentary. Well disciplined student with distinction grade who had no intentions to get into white collar job! I stayed with my sister during college in a rented room, with just two pairs of clothes and some uniform which was compulsory. Even I recall a situation where we had no money to pay for my college in fifth semester having stood first in the class in previous semesters. I did not even have a bicycle, and whatever little I earned – like organising trade show and scholarship – used it up for the home not spending personally. I had a habit of keeping account of every penny I spent during those days – I even counted small money that was given out to beggars or coins put into temple donation boxes.

During last year of my graduation, just after sister’s marriage – my dad was diagnosed with cancerous brain tumour. I completed my graduation in 2003 and went straight back home to make a living out of farming or rather to make my dad undergo surgery. Family was in debt and the village had just got electricity but no other facility. I started leading the family – as my dad who was under constant medication suffered short term memory loss. He would simply forget anything and everything – and the family was more dependent on labourers than ever before for getting the work done. We grew various crops like Arecanut, cardamom, black pepper, paddy, sugarcane etc. along with a hobby apiculture. I learnt a lot – working in the farm land by myself, managing 15+ labourers and so on. In January 2005 my dad had a surgery for his brain tumour and to our dismay he was not getting cured.

After two full years in agriculture and managing the family – I picked up the books for MBA entrance exams and managed to score 38th rank in state level exam! So, since 2005 July, I have been in Bangalore. Life has taken lots and lots of turns! I always admire people who could change their careers and be successful… After all, I believe you have only one life, move on!

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.

Apple and Microsoft: Computing Battle

If we were to take Apple SVP, Phil Shiller’s words from 22 October 2013 keynote event, ‘here is the line-up for the holiday quarter…’, Apple is unlikely to announce anymore products for 2013. Apple shares swung hard and fast in last fourteen months, especially since the introduction of iPhone 5. Of course most financial intuitions do have exposure to Apple stocks while it’s a fashion to talk about/advice to AAPL as to how to run their business. I wonder if most analysts can at least run a petty shop on their own before they teach business to billion dollar companies like MSFT or AAPL. I talked about everything that was right with iPhone 5s and 5c even though whole media industry unanimously tried to tarnish Apple. Meanwhile, Microsoft decided to go Apple way – purchased Finnish mobile phone maker Nokia. Microsoft will have its new CEO in coming months to start a new era. Nine months into indigenous hardware business, Microsoft wrote down $900 million for Surface RT. Surface Pro did not do that bad and Microsoft stuck to iterative upgrades to both Surface tablets, namely Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2. October 22 was one of the biggest product launch day for Apple, while on the same day Surface line-up was out for sale and Nokia announced about six new devices, ranging from Asha series to Lumia phablets and tablets.

Apple’s keynote event for 2013 fall was expected to steal lime-light and it did so in a very big way. In fact, I would like to call it a worst day for Microsoft since iPhone and iPad launch days. There are plenty of reasons to cheer if you are an Apple customer or a loyalist as a whole. New Mac Pro told the world that, Apple still thinks there are real pro users and Apple intends to take the computing to next level. By all means, Mac Pro is a super personal computer that anyone heard of. Reduced price for MacBook Pro with Retina Display line-up was just an indirect announcement of changing time, so also the technology industry as a whole. OS X (10.9) Mavericks is clearly the most advanceddesktop operating system with some of the extraordinary features that has ever been shipped. Extensive reviewstricks and tips are already in, from a few of the incredible sources. Best part is, the whole OS upgrade is free and is available at a single click. Apple announced that, iPad line-up is available now in various price points to cater to different customer needs. 64-bit architecture, Motion Coprocessor, Retina Display, Fastest Data transfers, etc. are becoming a norm. iPad Air and iPad mini with Retina Display are technically identical except the display size which means consumer will not feel performance difference irrespective of screen size chosen. In addition, there were updates for iLife and iWork which are now free over new device purchase.

Switching to Microsoft’s latest effort on saving PC industry, the reviewed and revived Windows 8.1 showed up with an upgrade price tag of $119.99 while price tag shoots up to $199.99 for Pro version. Problem is, Microsoft nearly assumed that, there aren’t any personal system built computers. So as I write this, Microsoft is yet to make Windows 8 system builder licenses available. So once you bought Windows 8, you still do not have Office suits or iLife quality suites. Yet Microsoft claims that MS Office is the most needed application for any computing device user. MSFT is also in its own Reality Distortion Field when it comes to Office suite. I have been using MS Office actively for about eight years now. However, for simple home and small business requirements tailor-made apps are more handy. For a moderate user, iWork is decent enough. The new collaboration features and this years updates are great, but the biggest news is they are coming free. If someone really wants to write Visual Basic and scripting, he can buy Microsoft Office suite.

Let us talk about the customers for iWork or MS Office suite. I have been working for six years and I never wanted to do VBA at home. If I were to run a small business, I would require simple calculation and charting functions which are available in Apple ecosystem. Even if I have to run specialised mathematical or statistical tool I can always bank upon softwares like RSAS or S-Plus. Ever since introduction of iPhone and iPad, Microsoft has been thoroughly confused. They have been good at striking deals with enterprises but they did not understand individual users. They think that still think that, everyone on this planet can be productive only by using MS Office. Instead, Apple thinks in terms of empowering users and developers. Bloomberg, SAP, FacSet data analytics are available on iPad because these companies realised, work environment is changing. Spreadsheets are reduced to data presentation tools rather than holding millions of calculation formulae. Every possible computation is done in cloud and presented in spreadsheets. Most data analytics are carried out by Big Data handlers and the user simply needs to make decisions from readily interpreted data. This is the simple reason why MS Access is hardly found presence even in enterprises. iLife suite in Apple ecosystem is available just out of the box too. And the good news is, if you do not want just ignore to set them up to avoid clutter.

If Microsoft considered themselves a software company, then they should have come up with touch optimised MS Office by 2009 on iPhone and 2011 on iPad. Last year Apple removed YouTube and Google Maps, but Google re-submitted the apps and everyone uses ‘em. In fact, Google services are better on iOS than Android (except for Google Now)! Even if Winodws phones and tablets were to be there, what is Microsoft’s problem not to have their services fully available on iOS? Just like Apple’s map against Google Map, Microsoft cannot compete with Apple in hardware software integration. Just to remind ourselves, Google’s Motorola posted $248 million loss  in Q32013 and they’re yet to show profits. Why would an individual/small business chose Windows ecosystem if they can understand, every year OS upgrades are free and hardware line-up is most reliable out there. Apple’s Mac line-up received best customer satisfaction score for a decade now and latest review confirms that. If Microsoft were to be productivity leader, why Windows 8 did not sell well? Because of iPad and smartphones? Probably yes but also because of unreliable hardware from OEMs. So if Microsoft was quick to grab the opportunity, they would have made millions of dollars from iOS device app sales itself. iOS devices have one of the best anti-piracy measures! Of course MSFT is the market leaders with some of the deals struck in late 1980s through 1990s. But the problem is, they simply are failing to strike the right partnership. Unavailability of Google Services is the key reasonwhy Windows Phone sales are minimal. Unless Lumia range succeeds, Microsoft will be in danger of getting back to the era of early 1980s when they’re struggling to sell BASIC, COBOL and FORTRAN. Apple’s formula for success is simple: reliable hardware, fully integrated with OS ecosystem empowering developers to succeed. Mind you, Google has an altogether a different business model, Microsoft needs realise where they want to focus. Microsoft will not be doomed but they will be alarmingly less relavant.