Thursday, April 4, 2013

eBay Now and Google Shopping Express will ensure you never have to leave your house

When it comes to getting you hands quickly on the stuff you bought on the internet no e-commerce company can match the quality and efficiency of Amazon Prime, the shipping service provided by Amazon that delivers products in 1-2 days. Well now it seems like some of Amazon's rivals are testing the waters with same day delivery service.

eBay Now

eBay Now is a new mobile iOS app and local shopping service from eBay. It makes shopping at eBay simpler than it already is. Once the user downloads the app in his phone and logs in with the eBay user account, he can browse through 1000s of local retailers(Babies R Us, Best Buy, Free People, GNC, Guitar Center, Home Depot, Macy's, Office Depot, Radio Shack, Target, Toys R Us, Urban Outfitters, and Walgreens) and add items to his shopping cart. Finally hit "Bring It" and laze around on your couch while a valet goes to the store, picks up the items and delivers at your doorstep within an hour! You can then pay with Paypal or any other major credit card. This service is currently available in San Francisco, San Jose and New York city. eBay is now charging a flat fee of $5 for each order. Don't like what you just got, don't fret; the valet will come and pick it up from your house and return it to the store.

Google Shopping Express

Close to eBay Now's announcement, Google has rolled out its own same day delivery service called the Google Shopping Express. Google calls this service a "new experiment" and is inviting San Francisco Bay Area residents to take part in the trial. Interested users need to sign up for the service and will be intimidated if they are selected. Google has enlisted a number of national and local retailers for the initiative, including Target, Walgreens, Staples, American Eagle, and Toys "R" Us, plus San Francisco's own Blue Bottle Coffee and Raley's Nob Hill Foods. And when you think it cannot get any better, Google is offering the testers a free 6-month membership for unlimited same-day delivery! There are no plans yet about long-term pricing for this service. Perhaps Google wants to check out the response and then decide about getting its feet wet.

Apple iPhone now ships in a day
Well, technically Apple is not a e-commerce company and sells only its electronic products online but that has not stopped Apple from announcing a free one-day shipment for all iPhones. Currently a user can order a maximum of two phones at a time. Such services are generally announced by Apple during the holiday season. Wonder if this move is in response to the recent Samsung Galaxy S4 release which has received some rave reviews.

These services seem like the next logical step to e-commerce evolution -reduce our need to step out of our houses completely so we may enjoy watching more cat videos online and shunning human contact to a bare minimum!

Disclaimer: All ideas, thoughts or reviews published in this blog are my personal opinion and not that of my employer (Samsung).

Monday, April 1, 2013

What's the time? Ask Firefox

If the past two years of the electronic industry was about getting shiny touchy rectangles in every person's hand, 2013 seems to be the year where electronic manufacturers want to get even personal; get on user's wrists. Ever since the Pebble watch was announced on Kickstarter there has been a lot of excitement among the fatigued tech users to own a 'smartwatch' that will relieve them from the vicious circle of pulling out the phone, unlocking it and checking out the notification updates every couple of minutes. The initial batch of Pebble shipments coupled with the Apple's intentions to work on its own iWatch have added to the euphoria and now everyone wants a piece of the action. Apart from established players like Samsung and Google planning for their own smartwatches, Guoke, a Chinese manufacturer is also planning to launch the Bambook Smart Watch running Firefox OS according to CNet.

In the recently concluded Mobile World Congress where Firefox OS was unveiled to the world, a lot of critics mentioned it was a bit rough on the edges and not yet ready for prime-time usage.In fact, the Ubuntu OS pipped Firefox OS and won the Best of MWC award. So whether or not, Firefox will be ready to tell the time by the end of this year remains to be seen. If the speculated watch ran Firefox OS it will be a 'mini smartphone', syncing all the bookmarks, user passwords and other data stored on the cloud and the HTML5 based interface should be enough to get the basic things done.

So the question that looms large is why has the battlefield shifted from user's pockets to wrists. For starters, the first true smartphone - the iPhone announced in 2006 was revolutionary. Nobody had seen or used such a seamless interface until then. Then came Android which created the market for budget smartphones. Though both iPhones and Android handsets have received significant upgrades in terms of processing speed, memory, battery capacity, display, etc all these features seem 'evolutionary' rather than 'revolutionary'. Despite having it all, it's human tendency to expect the next big thing and the humble watch seems to fit the category perfectly. Though smartphones help us stay connected all the time, sometimes we are inundated with more notifications than we care and have developed an obsessive compulsive disorder to keep checking the phone every couple of seconds . This needs to stop and that is what a smartwatch promises to deliver - display only the 'important notifications' and filter out the noise. As to how each speculated watch is going to handle it, remains to be seen.

It is quite clear that this year we are going to see a lot of smartwatches from various electronics manufacturers - known and unknown. Will Apple be able to repeat its success in this category?

May the best watch win!

Image credit: CNet

Disclaimer: All ideas, thoughts or reviews published in this blog are my personal opinion and not that of my employer (Samsung).

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Roundup of the latest Facebook and Google+ changes

Facebook and Google Plus seem to be churning out new features every day in a bid to keep users from abandoning the social networking sites. This is the roundup of all the latest features rolled out by both.

Facebook gets Reply button
Despite Facebook's huge user base, brands and public figures have trouble leveraging Facebook to engage with their followers. Currently comments on a post are sorted chronologically and by the time you reply to a particular comment, there are already few more in between; resulting in a chaotic mess. Finally Facebook has realized that it is power users like brands and public figures who keep the social network buzzing and has  added a Reply button for pages and people with more than 10,000 followers for now. The Reply button sits alongside the Like button and lets a person to respond to a particular post and carry on a separate sub-threaded conversation. This is a much better way to have a meaningful one-to-one conversation than the typical Comment option.

The Reply feature is currently available only in the desktop site and maybe rolled for mobile users hopefully soon.

Google+ gets some retro filters
Lately photos are taking the center-stage in all the social networks(as was seen in the recent Facebook Timeline update and Google+ Profile update) and Google+ doesn't want to be left behind. In the recently unveiled Facebook timeline change, users are provided an option to sort their Feeds based on various filters and an option to see just Photo updates from friends. Now Google+ has a similar option to sort the search results that contain only photos.

Not to be left behind the Google+ mobile app too gets a few goodies - retro filters(Warm, Cross, B&W, Cool, Contrast, Retrolux, and Drama) and a few basic image editing options courtesy of the Snapseed acquisition by Google. You also get adjust saturation, contrast, brightness and lots more by sliding your fingers up-and-down, then left-and-right. Why should Instagram users alone have all the fun. Go on, click some snaps and apply some crazy filters and keep sharing!

Image credit: ZDNet,GPlusProject

Disclaimer: All ideas, thoughts or reviews published in this blog are my personal opinion and not that of my employer (Samsung).

Monday, March 18, 2013

Launcher8 brings some Windows Phone goodness to Android

Platform: Android

Rating: 4.5/5

Bottom line: Brings together the best of both worlds - Windows Phone and Android

Love your Android phone but wish you could have the tacky tile interface found in Windows Phones. Well don't wait any longer; Launcher8 does just that by delivering a tile based homescreen found in Windows8 devices to Android. Once the app is installed, the next time you press the Home button, you will be prompted to select the launcher - the stock launcher that came with the device or Launcher8 and you are all set.(On a personal note, it is better to restart the device after this step, since pressing the back key from some apps lands you in your phone's stock homescreen. Probably just a minor bug but it goes away once you restart the device)

Windows Phone OS has been lauded for the slick response even on low powered handsets and this launcher does justice to it by being slick and as fast a Windows Phone would have been. The app not only changes the default homescreen but also the lock screen, so now you have to scroll from bottom-up to unlock the device. The default homescreen has quite a few live tiles for all the necessary functions. Each tile is mapped to a particular application like the Messages, Email, Contacts, etc. There are also options to add more tiles, customize the existing ones by changing the text, background color, icon, animations, the app to be launched when it is clicked and a plethora of various other goodies.

Normally Windows Phone homescreen has an arrow on the right corner to guide the users to the list of installed applications. That arrow is missing here but nevertheless swiping to the right brings up the list of installed applications sorted alphabetically. There is also a search icon to do a start menu-esque search for an app. Personally I found this an easier way to locate an app as compared to a typical Android homescreen  which becomes a nightmare to navigate when you have lots of applications installed.

Overall the app runs smoothly and it hasn't crashed in the past one week that I have been using it. The only shortcoming I could find in this app is notifications are not updated on the lockscreen. This can be a bummer at times when all you want to do is just peek at the messages or emails you have got. Also the Android's notification tray is accessible only after the device is unlocked.

People bored with their existing launcher or those who want to check out the Windows Phone user interface can give this app a spin.

Disclaimer: All ideas, thoughts or reviews published in this blog are my personal opinion and not that of my employer (Samsung).

Monday, March 4, 2013

Yahoo takes out some trash this spring

The furore over Yahoo's decision to ban work from home is not yet over but CEO Marissa Meyer is already ruffling some feathers by killing off over half a dozen apps including the Yahoo! app for Blackberry as a part of the 'spring-cleaning' process. Ouch! Marissa Meyer earlier said in one of her interviews that "Yahoo needs to cut down the number of apps from 60 to 12 to better focus on its users needs and "daily habits" of checking sports, news, stocks, and email" and looks like she is right on track. Over the past few years Yahoo has had trouble making out if it was a technology company or a media company, but Marissa has made it clear that Yahoo will be once again be known as a technology company.

The most high profile app that will be axed is the Blackberry app. While the app will no longer be available for download from April 1st, it will continue to work for users who have already installed it. Some of the apps sound familiar but some like the Yahoo! Clues or Yahoo! Avatars don't ring a bell at all. It makes a lot of sense to drop support for the apps that are rarely used and don't bring in any revenue for the company and instead focus on providing a better experience for the Yahoo! services that are more widely used.

When companies grow, they try to get into every business and end up in a messy situation like Yahoo currently is. So it is now time to trim the fat and get going.
Here is the complete list of products that will be axed soon:
Yahoo! Avatars Effective April 1, 2013, we will no longer support Yahoo! Avatars across our properties. If you like your existing avatar and want to keep it, please go to the Avatars download page, pick a picture size and format, and click the appropriate download button. Similarly, if you want to edit your avatar, you can download the image and then use a photo editing service of your preference. If you want to continue using your avatar with our products, go to Yahoo! Profile and upload the avatar you downloaded. For more details, please click here. Additionally effective April 1, we will no longer support the Avatars YQL table.
Yahoo! app for BlackBerry Effective April 1, 2013, the Yahoo! app for BlackBerry will no longer be available for download. For those of you who have already downloaded the app, you can continue to use it but it will no longer be actively supported. 
Yahoo! Clues (beta) Effective April 1, 2013, Yahoo! Clues (beta) will shut down. 
Yahoo! App Search  Effective April 1, 2013, Yahoo! App Search will shut down. 
Yahoo! Sports IQ  Effective April 1, 2013, Yahoo! Sports IQ will shut down. Your final lifetime Sports IQ score and rank will be automatically transferred to and preserved within your Yahoo! Fantasy Profile.
Yahoo! Message Boards website Effective April 1, 2013, the Yahoo! Message Boards website will shut down. Our message boards on individual properties (like Yahoo! Finance and Yahoo! Fantasy Sports) will remain active. We also encourage you to ask and answer questions on Yahoo! Answers, and discuss issues in the comments section on Yahoo! News.
Yahoo! Updates API As of April 16, 2013, we will no longer support the Yahoo! Updates API.
Image credit: Tech Blog

Disclaimer: All ideas, thoughts or reviews published in this blog are my personal opinion and not that of my employer (Samsung).

Friday, March 1, 2013

Google finally launches eBooks in the Google Play(India) store

Google has finally started selling e-books via the Google Play store in India after rolling out the Play store to purchase books, movies and songs in US and certain other countries a couple of months back. Google is quite late to the market, coming three months after Apple opened the iTunes store in India. This is ironic considering the fact that Android phones have a high penetration in India compared to the iPhone. However Apple currently sells only music and movies and not books and guess Google is just testing the waters with the e-books.

There is a wide variety of books available and books by almost all the famous Indian writers are listed on the Play store. The prices are listed in INR, as is done in the case of purchasing apps. Once a book is purchased it can be downloaded on any number of Android devices through the Google Play Books app, which is quite similar to the Kindle app by Amazon. The one interesting  feature is Google allows users to read the book via the browser too. The recently released Oath of Vayuputras(the final part of the Amish Tripati's Shiva trilogy) was available for a nice deal. Once you start reading a book on the phone and then open in a browser, it automatically opens in the last page you read on the phone!

The Android app has options to adjust text size, theme and other display options. There is also an option to 'Read Aloud' but the voice sounds so mechanical, you wish you didn't choose it. There is also an option for 'High-quality voice' which is slightly some human. But it requires internet connection and slows down even when connected via WiFi network.

Finally the Indian consumers seem to be getting some choice for consuming digital media. The market is still in its infancy. Apple is still taking baby steps and ative players like Flyte(owned by Flipkart), Gaana, Dhingana, Saavn, etc are also coming out with interesting contents . Now is the time to go and get that popcorn.

Disclaimer: All ideas, thoughts or reviews published in this blog are my personal opinion and not that of my employer (Samsung).

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Marissa Meyer wants all Yahoo! employees to work together...literally

Image credit: CNet
Yahoo CEO Marissa Meyer made yet another ballsy move to get the company back in shape by eliminating Work-From-Home(WFH) option for all Yahoo employees. The memo circulated to the employees by HR head Jackie Reses reads “Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.” This move shouldn't come as a surprise considering the fact that Marissa Meyer took on the role as the CEO of Yahoo! when she was five months pregnant and bounced back into her role after just two week of maternity leave.

The move to stop WFH option is expected to mostly affect employees who work from home full time and NOT employees who wish to avail the facility for a day or two in a week as being reported in this quora thread. Ever since Marissa Meyer took the helm at Yahoo! she has been keen on building employee morale by giving out free food, iPhones but the policy to revoke WFH is generating strong opinions both within the company and on Twitter. Well you cannot expect life to be sunshine and rainbows all the time. Tough times call for tough measures.

The changes comes into effect from June and employees who do not cooperate will have to quit. Looks like a good strategy to fire employees without actually firing them. Let us just hope that Yahoo workforce will shed only the slackers and not the bright ones.

The complete memo from AllThingsD:
Over the past few months, we have introduced a number of great benefits and tools to make us more productive, efficient and fun. With the introduction of initiatives like FYI, Goals and PB&J, we want everyone to participate in our culture and contribute to the positive momentum. From Sunnyvale to Santa Monica, Bangalore to Beijing — I think we can all feel the energy and buzz in our offices.
To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices. Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.
Beginning in June, we’re asking all employees with work-from-home arrangements to work in Yahoo! offices. If this impacts you, your management has already been in touch with next steps. And, for the rest of us who occasionally have to stay home for the cable guy, please use your best judgment in the spirit of collaboration. Being a Yahoo isn’t just about your day-to-day job, it is about the interactions and experiences that are only possible in our offices.
Thanks to all of you, we’ve already made remarkable progress as a company — and the best is yet to come.

Disclaimer: All ideas, thoughts or reviews published in this blog are my personal opinion and not that of my employer (Samsung).

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Glovebox brings some Ubuntu magic to Android

Platforms: Android
Rating: 5/5
Bottom line: A nifty way for app switching in Android.

Smartphones have always boasted of their capability to multitask. While that is true, none of the smartphone platforms provide a convenient and easy way to switch between apps. Be it iOS, Android or Windows Phone, users have to return to the homescreen to launch a new app and there is no way to seamlessly launch another app while inside one. Long pressing the home key(on iOS, Android or Windows) generally provides a list of recently opened apps that are currently in RAM, but still there is no way to launch an app that is not in the list. Ubuntu promised a better way for dealing with app switching when it was unveiled this year and this has inspired a lot of launchers based on Ubuntu's interface and Glovebox is one which stands out from the crowd.

Once the app is downloaded and installed, the app-switcher bar can be accessed by swiping from the left edge of the screen. Initially only the Home icon is displayed which takes the users back to the homescreen no matter from whichever app it is accessed. Once inside the app, you are provided with options to add a list of your favourite apps to the list. Apart from that, there are options to control the transition effects, length and width of the bar, notification method and also the option to select whether the bar should be displayed on the left or right side of the screen. It depends on your usage and normally if you are right handed, you might find it convenient to access the bar from the right because a lot of apps like Flipboard have a back button on the top left corner and you might end up pulling out the switcher bar accidentally (most of the times!). If you opened the bar by mistake then swipe back to within the bar to cancel the action.

The app currently provides five themes - Default, Ubuntu, Light, Dark and LBP. The premium versions promises unlimited favourite apps/shortcuts, transition effects, and mainly support for widgets and of course, future updates. The paid version of the app costs about Rs.108 (in India) and users who like the free version can definitely give the paid version a try. Overall, the app ran smoothly always and there wasn't any problems with it as such.

Android fans who like to tinker around with their phones should definitely check out this app.

Disclaimer: All ideas, thoughts or reviews published in this blog are my personal opinion and not that of my employer (Samsung).

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Google planning to open retail stores

Image credit: 9to5Google
As per a recent 9to5Google report, Google is planning to launch its own chain of retail stores. Until now the Internet search giant's products have been almost software services such as GMail, Maps, Youtube, etc. but now Google seems keen in entering hardware business with its Nexus line of android based smartphones, tablets and Chromebooks. Users like to touch and feel the phones before they buy it and Apple understands this better than anyone; the Apple stores with the complete arsenal of iDevices and the Genius bar have become a golden standard for providing the best electronics retail store experience to users. Even Microsoft has gone aggressive to promote its Surface Tablets by launching retail stores and there are reports that even Amazon is considering launching one too. So Google had better get its game together soon in the retail space if it wants to be taken seriously as a hardware vendor.

As of now, Google currently has 'pop-up' Chrome Stores in hundreds of Best Buys in the U.S. and in over 50 PCWorld/Dixon’s in the U.K. These stores are typically manned by experts who can answer questions about Chromebooks and help users make a decision. These stores do not have any hardcore sales target to achieve and are more for showcasing the inexpensive Chromebooks. Compared to Chromebooks, Google has a better sales record for the Nexus line so it is almost essential to have brick and mortar stores where users can experience the 'stock Android' in all its glory before checking out the offerings from other Android OEMs.

Another use of opening a retail store will provide Google a platform to demo the ambitious Google Glass project when it arrives. Being a completely new product that could change the way we interact with machines, the Google Glass definitely needs to 'worn and used' by users to understand how it works. Apart from this, Google is also working a secret X-phone and also sell its apparel and other Google-branded merchandise.

Despite everything moving from the physical to the virtual and every service delivered over the cloud, there is one thing that a retail store can build better than a customer support line - customer relationship. A retail store acts as a face for a software company and helps influence customer perception about the product and the brand itself. The retail stores war has just begun and lets see if anyone can come even close to the Apple experience.

Disclaimer: All ideas, thoughts or reviews published in this blog are my personal opinion and not that of my employer (Samsung).

Monday, February 18, 2013

Is Microsoft right in keeping Office suite away from iPad

Image credit: AllThingsD
Last week, there were lots of articles saying Microsoft is losing $2.5 billion dollars by not making the Office suite available on the iPad. Whether or not the figure is accurate, it is interesting to note the stand taken by Microsoft in this regard. Technically speaking Microsoft  is not actually losing any money because they have not even released the Office suite for iPad yet! However Microsoft is definitely missing an opportunity to milk its cash cow. So why is Microsoft doing this?

Windows OS and the Office suite are the bread and butter of Microsoft and drives a major part of the revenue. Naysayers may complain and whine about it but there is no denying the fact that these two software are almost a de facto standard for many. So it only makes sense that Microsoft should make the Office suite available on as many platforms as possible. The rationale behind Microsoft's move to not release an iPad version is to give a competitive advantage to the Surface tablet. Windows 8 being a new OS has few apps and needs at least one killer app to even make people consider spending around $600 (for Surface RT and upwards of $1000 for the Surface Pro that can run legacy applications). But I think this strategy won't work because the sales of Surface tablets have not been great and perhaps Microsoft should take a leaf out of Google's book.

For long Google has made its services available on multiple platforms especially on Apple devices. In fact, Google has even been panned by Android fans for launching better versions of Google apps first in the iOS platform :) When Apple removed Google Maps during the launch of iOS 6, Google soon came out with its own app and it soon topped the charts and refuses to come down. Apart from Maps, other Google apps like the Chrome browser, Google Drive, Youtube and GMail are used by a majority of the Apple users. While Google had the chance to leave the Apple users in the lurch and instead provide these services only on the Android platform, Google went ahead and gave beautiful apps to iOS users in turn tying them more to the Google ecosystem and act as a subtle reminder to users to check out the Android platform to get all the best goodies. It is a good move by Google; they not only get to cash in demand but also grow their user base.

Maintaining an aura of exclusivity worked for Apple because people were emotionally connected to the company and its founder Steve Jobs but when it comes to Microsoft, not many are smitten by Steve Ballmer's on stage antics :P For Microsoft's (and his)own good, Steve Ballmer should come out of his dream that Surface will be a runaway hit like the iPad and instead make some money while people still care about the Office suite and should not end up coming late to the party like the Windows Phone.

Disclaimer: All ideas, thoughts or reviews published in this blog are my personal opinion and not that of my employer (Samsung).

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Apple Watch - Myth or Real

Image credit: Techcrunch
Looks like the rumored Apple's iWatch may see the light of the day soon. Ever since the Pebble project was announced in KickStarter, there has been rampant speculations about Apple developing its own watch. But Apple never seem to be interested much in building a watch until now. With the recent slump in Apple's share value and the increasing competition from Android powered handsets from Samsung and other Chinese manufacturers like Huawei, ZTE, etc., Apple needs something revolutionary like the original iPod, iPhone or iPad to set the cash registers ringing again.A latest report form Bloomberg says that Apple has a team over 100 people working on a watch-like device.

"The team's size—which has grown in the past year and includes "managers, members of the marketing group and software and hardware engineers who previously worked on the iPhone and iPad"—might mean that Apple is no longer just experimenting with the watch. That it could be something more than that."
Designing a watch is a completely different ball game as compared to designing a phone or a tablet,even for Apple.
  • The biggest challenge will be battery life of the device. No one would be interested in charging their watch every single day along with the other gadget paraphernalia. The watch,if it were to be real, should not run out of juice at least for a week. 
  • The other big challenge is keeping the interface simple. At the end of the day it is a watch that does a few other tricks and not the other way round. Cramming a full version of iOS would do more harm than good. For example, the Pebble cannot send mails or messages but it merely connects with iPhone/Android device over Bluetooth and uses the phone's resources such as GPS and displays the notifications on the watch screen. Apart from this, the makers of Pebble have released a set of APIs that developers can use to build apps for Pebble. Perhaps Apple should take a cue from this and not try to overdo simplicity like the button-less iPod Shuffle.
  • The iWatch's display should be bright and crisp especially outdoors where it will be used most of the time. The best choice would be to go with e-ink with a backlight display that be used both outdoors and indoors.
Apple stocks have plummeted down more than 30 percent since the high of September 2012 and investors are worried if Apple has lost the golden touch after Jobs' passing away. Apple CEO Tim Cook is under a lot of pressure to assure investors and Apple fans that the company can once again create a billion dollar market like it did with the iPhone and iPad.

Like all rumors, this report needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. As of now, there is no detail about the timeline for the Apple Watch project. So don't hold your breath, for it might forever like the mythical Apple TV.

Disclaimer: All ideas, thoughts or reviews published in this blog are my personal opinion and not that of my employer (Samsung).

Monday, February 11, 2013

Microsoft Skydrive: Now, open for all

Microsoft announced last week its cloud sharing service, Skydrive  now hosts over 1 billion documents. Like Google Docs, Skydrive allows users to create and edit Office documents(Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, PowerPoint presentations and OneNote notebooks) via the Office Web app in a browser using a Microsoft account. To celebrate the achievement of hosting 1 billion documents, Microsoft has now announced that users can now view and edit documents saved on Skydrive without signing in with a Microsoft account.

Earlier, inviting other people to work on a shared document required them to be added as collaborators and then they had to login with their Microsoft account to access the documents. However now the process is even much simpler. When you want to share a document, simply choose between a "View link" or a "Edit link" and share the URL to the collaborators. They can now access and edit the documents via the browser or the Office application and even work on it simultaneously with other people!

Image credit: Microsoft

What it means to Microsoft
There are pros and cons to this strategy for Microsoft. The good thing is a person without a Microsoft account need not create one just so to access/modify a file stored on Skydrive. This will provide seamless experience for people using different cloud storage services without having to jump through a lot of hoops. The downside is Microsoft cannot add more users to its portfolio though Skydrive now that anyone can access the documents as long as they have the URL of the files.

What it means to Google
For once, Microsoft has actually taken the lead in online document collaboration space and this should ring some alarm bells to Google. We shouldn't be surprised if Google came out with a similar feature for Google Docs, but then Google would end up shooting itself in the foot. Google's core business is ads and Google needs to know as much it can about its users to serve them the right ads. So if Google allowed users to access their services without a Google account, then the ads we see will be random. Shouldn't it have been like this anyways? The answer to this question depends on user's preferences - would they like to see ads based on their preferences or not. But it definitely will be good to have a choice.

Microsoft has taken a risk with the bold move to allow users to access their services without a Microsoft account. There is no doubt this strategy will provide a simplified experience for users but whether or not it will help Microsoft in the long run cannot be answered now.

Disclaimer: All ideas, thoughts or reviews published in this blog are my personal opinion and not that of my employer (Samsung).

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Chrome - Browser-as-an-OS

When Google launched the first Chromebook in 2011 running Google Chrome OS, the questions on most people's minds were why and how; why would anyone want to use a browser as their operating system and how on earth is it going to work out. Fast forward to 2013, the situation has changed a lot. While the first Chromebook Cr-48 was manufactured only by Samsung, now HP, Lenovo and Acer have jumped in the fray and have launched their Chromebooks which are typically in the range of $200-$350.

How it works?
Image credit: Labnol
Google markets Chromebook as a notebook that boots in seconds, always runs the latest version of the OS and is inexpensive; all three things users expect from a Windows laptop! But all good things come with a catch - in the case of the Chromebook it is the availability of an Internet connection pretty much all the time. Basically the Chrome OS is just the Chrome browser made to run on a laptop on its own and deal with the work done by a typical OS. So typically a user would be accessing their mails, documents, movies, music,etc over the cloud through the browser. In case of Google services like GMail, Google Drive, Google Docs,etc there are apps available on the Chrome app store. They are pretty much the same as accessing through a URL except that some features like document editing, viewing files on Google Drive will be made available offline. Changes made to the files are stored locally and then synced when the user connects to Internet.

Not that bad an OS after all
So the question is will users take the big leap of faith and buy a Chromebook. The answer seems to be Yes. Acer reported brisk sales of Chromebooks and the top selling computer on Amazon during the holiday season was Chromebooks! Surprised? yeah me too. But when you think about it, it actually makes sense to spend $200 for a laptop that can do pretty much what a tablet can do, but with a keyboard and a bigger screen. Chromebook's target audience are people looking for a spare computer, schools in developing countries which cannot purchase expensive PCs and first time users. The fact that the Chrome OS is just a browser with a single search cum navigation bar means it doesn't get any simpler than this.

Google Drive - More than just storage
Google has worked a lot on its core services GMail, Docs and Drive to ensure that users are able to do the basic tasks easily through a browser. Some of the latest updates include a Chrome extension to save images from webpages directly to Google Drive. Google has also added cool features like zooming to images stored on Drive, selecting a region and adding a comment to it. Another new addition is the Forms; they let you easily create questionnaires and automatically collect responses in a spreadsheet. Say you want to organize a team outing and want to know which places your team  members would be interested to go, just create a form, share the link to them via mail, Google+ or Facebook and its done. Another totally awesome feature Google announced on Tuesday is developers can now host their websites on Google Drive by storing HTML, CSS and Javascript files! Sure not everyone would want to host their website on Google Drive but it is still a great way to build and design a prototype and share it with the client.

Like all great ideas which make a debut before their time sound crazy, the thought of using a browser as an OS sounded ridiculous way back in 2011 but it doesn't sound so weird now. Google has always taken bold risks by venturing in new areas and the Chrome OS is just another milestone for the Internet giant. Will the Chromebook become mainstream this year? We will just have to wait and watch!

 Disclaimer: All ideas, thoughts or reviews published in this blog are my personal opinion and not that of my employer (Samsung).

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Happy Birthday, Facebook!

Image credit: Vince's Blog
Facebook, the world's largest social networking site turned a year older and celebrated its 9th birthday yesterday. +Mark Zuckerberg founded Facebook  on February 4, 2004 along with his friends Eduardo Saverin, Andrew McCollum, Dustin Moskovitz and Chris Hughes when he was a sophomore student at Harvard University. Nine years later, the site has transformed from a "hot or not" game(Facemash) for Ivy League students to a ubiquitous social network for a billion plus users.

When Facebook went public in 2012 it was considered the largest IPO for a tech company with a peak market capitalization of over $104 billion. However the hype was short lived and the stock prices soon spiraled downward. Lately Facebook's efforts have been directed towards mobile, through which a large proportion of users are accessing the social network. Despite a lot of users accessing Facebook via mobile, the experience has largely been less than satisfactory until now. Facebook has ditched HTML5 and gone native to provide a fluid user experience in Android and iOS. Apart from the official app, Facebook has increased its footprint in the mobile arena with the FB Messenger and Poke(available only in iOS).

Facebook has been steadily adding more goodies to its apps; the Messenger app allows users to do audio calls free of charge using VoIP. This feature is currently available only in US and should soon make its way to the rest of the world. The Poke app generated a lot of attention when it was launched and even made it to the top of the charts in the Apple App Store albeit for a short time. This app was developed as a competition to popular messaging app SnapChat which lets users send images and videos that self destructs within ten seconds. (A detailed review of the app can be found in my earlier post)

Apart from mobile, the other pain point for Facebook is Privacy. There have been quite a lot of instances when a post meant for a group ended up being shared with the whole wide world..cough..Randi Zuckerberg's family photo....cough. The main reason for this is most users are not aware how privacy settings work or do not bother to change the privacy settings to limit the visibility of their status updates, likes or photos but the default settings are so to ensure that every update reaches a wider audience. Though some might argue that Facebook cannot be held responsible for user negligence neither does Facebook provide clear privacy settings. All that has not stopped Facebook from bringing face recognition tagging back from the dead after it was discontinued a while back because of privacy complaints from users.

It has been a long, bumpy ride for Facebook filled with moments of surprise and letdowns. Facebook has been concentrating heavily on the mobile front and it remains to be seen if those efforts will pay off. Happy growing up, Facebook.

Disclaimer: All ideas, thoughts or reviews published in this blog are my personal opinion and not that of my employer (Samsung).

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Blackberry launches Blackberry 10, Z10 and Q10

Image credit: Verge
 For those of you scratching your heads over the weird headline, get used to it; for Research In Motion(RIM) shall henceforth be known as Blackberry. CEO Thorsten Heins' choice to choose a "simple and elegant" commercial name associated with the best product of the former RIM shows that the company is ready to wipe the slate clean and start all over again. The fabled Blackberry 10 (BB10) operating system which has been under development for over a year finally makes an appearance at the Blackberry launch event yesterday along with two devices to carry it forward - the Z10 and Q10.

Blackberry 10
Image credit: Verge
Blackberry 10 is all set to be the underdog of the smartphone race but does it have what it takes to be the most smartphone platform. The OS looks like a fusion between iOS and Android. There are no physical home buttons (on the touch based Z10) and the focus is more on the gestures to get things done. This is a very bold move from a company whose strength has been physical keyboards.  BB10 is best described by Verge as an operating system with four main states: on your homescreen, in an application, in your messages (BlackBerry Hub), or in your app drawer.

There are two main gestures for navigation - swipe from down to top from any screen to go to the home screen and swipe from down to top, hold and swipe to right to view the Blackberry Hub, the unified notification center of BB10. Once you are back on the home screen, the app becomes a widget(like the Weather app) or just appears as an icon link to the app. The crazy thing is there can be only 8 apps at the most on the home screen. Open the 9th app and there goes your old app. So there is no way to keep your favorite apps forever on the home screen :( The icons appear too large and border on being cartoonish.

Blackberry Hub
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Blackberry has done a good job of consolidating all the messages, emails and social network accounts in the same place via the Blackberry Hub. Like Windows Phone, access to social networks like Twitter and Facebook are built right into the OS itself. Though this notification system is 'different' from Android and iOS it remains to be seen if it is better. Complaints are already surfacing that though the Hub shows new Twitter messages but one has to click on it to open the full message. Guess the folks at Blackberry don't use Twitter much, eh!

Blackberry World
The renamed Blackberry App store boasts of 70,000 apps as of date but how many are actually useful is the more important than numbers. Of course, Blackberry must be applauded for its efforts to bring in so many apps right on the launch day. Gaining developer confidence is a hurdle that all new smartphone operating systems have to deal with. At the moment there are no exclusive or killer apps, but the regular favorites are right there from Angry Birds, Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare,etc. Apart from apps, Blackberry World also provides users a wide choice of music,tv and movies from major and independent labels such as  4AD Records, Domino Recording Company, finetunes, Matador Records, [PIAS] Entertainment Group, Rough Trade Records, Sony Music Entertainment, The Orchard, Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group, XL Recordings and Zebralution. Blackberry has promised to even bring the BBM competitors Skype and WhatsApp to BB10!
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Blackberry Messenger(BBM)
BBM can be called the father of all the recent instant messaging apps like WeChat, WhatsApp and the likes. Blackberry has added more features to BBM by providing audio/video chat and even screen sharing! While audio/video chat may pass off as good additons, it is the screen sharing functionality that should help Blackberry woo back the enterprise customers who have moved on to greener pastures of iOS and Android.

BlackBerry Z10
The touch based flagship device features a 4.2-inch HD display with 356ppi (pixels per inch) and comes with the usual bells and whistle of modern day smartphones like a dual-core 1.5GHz processor, 2GB RAM, 16GB of internal storage, an 8-megapixel camera, NFC, LTE support and a 1,800mAh battery. Navigating the device for the first time with a tutorial is not going to be a cake walk for many users but should feel natural once the user gets used to the gestures. One of the most touted features is the Timeshift feature of camera which lets users capture images in a burst mode and select the best shot and the predictive keyboard which seems to do a good job from the demo videos on the Verge. Complaints about poor battery life could dampen user's interest to try out the new OS.

BlackBerry Q10
The BlackBerry Q10 is the first BB10 smartphone with a keyboard, offering a 3.1-inch (720 x 720 pixel) 330ppi display,  dual-core 1.5GHz processor, 2GB of RAM, 16GB of internal storage (microSD slot included). Not much is known about this device as only controlled demos of the device has been made available.

Overall, Blackberry has a made an impressive debut and the hard work the company has put in developing a completely new modern smartphone OS definitely shows. As of today BB10 officially joins the race for the best smartphone OS and all the best to it!

Disclaimer: All ideas, thoughts or reviews published in this blog are my personal opinion and not that of my employer (Samsung).

Monday, January 28, 2013

Air Droid - the one app to get rid of all those cables

Platforms: Android
Rating: 5/5
Bottom line: A must have file manager for every droid device.

It is 2050 and you are living in a world free of ugly, knotted cables. No more cables to charge all the electronic gizmos or a special 29 pin connector for the flashy you-know-what gadgets. Well, I am not sure if all of those will come true but there sure is an easy way to manage your Android phone sans cables. Airdroid  makes it possible to manage the droids via the humble browser.

The setup
Once the app is downloaded and installed in your phone, you need to pair it with your PC. This process requires both the PC and the mobile to be connected to the same WiFi network. Point your browser to the URL and then either enter the pass code shown on the mobile or just scan the QR code in the browser and you are in. The homepage displays the device details, WiFi strength, battery indicator and a couple of other icons to manage your phone.

The usual
Now you can check all your latest SMS messages and reply to them from your PC. Apart from checking your messages, you can also manage your contacts, files, music and even apps via Airdroid. This app is very convenient for quick file transfer to and from the device. The upload speed was just average and is no problem for transferring some songs or files occasionally but it does take quite a while to transfer large videos. However, despite the time there was no other problem in transferring large files and the process is as smooth as it can get.

The interesting
Airdroid has quite a few tricks. For instance, you can mange your apps from your PC. Apart from the option to uninstall an app, you can also download the apk file to your PC or even upload a apk file to the mobile device and install it! You can also choose and set your favorite tone for call, alarm and notifications. One quirky feature is entering a URL in the browser and launching it on the phone (I agree it is not something revolutionary but it still is cool).

The bizarre
The app requires the phone to be rooted to capture and manage screenshots. However if you just want to see the captured screenshots, just go the appropriate folder where it is stored using the file manager! The only weird thing I notices about this app is the way it handles memory cards. When you click on the Files icon, you can notice the window shows SD Card and System. Conventional knowledge would say that the former is where you can access the SD card, but it is not the case here. To access the SD card contents, you need to navigate to System -> Storage -> extCard. Quite bizarre and I have no know idea why this happens. (It took me quite sometime to figure out how to do this anyway)

On the mobile front, pretty much the same options are available. The one thing that puzzles me still is there are no ads in this app, despite being a well polished one! The closest thing that comes to ads is the Recommendations section which provides links to some other apps. There were no lags or crashes while using this app.

Overall this is the best looking and efficient Android app I have ever seen and it definitely requires a place in the must-have-app list.

Disclaimer: All ideas, thoughts or reviews published in this blog are my personal opinion and not that of my employer (Samsung).

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Captio Expenses - an app to declutter you pockets

Do you travel a lot but hate having to stuff all the bills in your wallet and pockets to keep track of how much you are spending. Fret not, there is an app to that dirty work for you - Captio. This app acts a virtual book keeper by consolidating all your bills and making them accessible from anywhere. This app is available for iPhone, Android and Blackberry. All your scanned receipts can be accessed via the browser too. (This review pertains to only the Android version)

A bumpy start
Once you have downloaded the app to your phone, the sign up is actually quite simple. Enter your email id and the password and you can start accessing your account. The problem begins a bit later. The app kept crashing twice. I had to Force Stop the process and clear all the data before I could use it again. However after that app didn't crash.

The good
The free version of the app allows you to scan up to 10 receipts. I started off with a crumpled credit card statement. To my surprise the app did make out the merchant name(in this case, it showed my bank's name), the date of the bill and the amount correctly. There are options to add the bill to a specific category and also mention some comments. I tried scanning various other bills and the app did make sense of most of them. There is also an option to change the currency settings based on the country.

The bad
The categories are all in Spanish and I had to translate them to know which is what. Also, there are only very few categories. Hope the makers extend support for English soon. The app is simple to navigate but it gets quite ugly when you are viewing a receipt and want to go back to the previous screen. The back button keeps redirecting a couple of times before you hit the home screen. Even if the same receipt is scanned multiple times, the app is unable to identify it is all the same. Though this is not a deal breaker, but such a functionality will be useful to avoid duplicates.

The ugly
The biggest complaint with the app is it is - extremely slow! The scanned images are uploaded to the server, where they are processed and the information is sent back. This process takes quite a while; about 1-2 minutes for a single scan even when connected to a WiFi network. Also while uploading the image, the app sometimes throws up an error or is struck forever in the same screen!

The concept of having a virtual ledger of all expenses that can be easily tracked is a great idea but it is the implementation where all hell breaks loose. Wonder if the iPhone app is any better than this. Overall this is one app to watch out for.

Disclaimer: All ideas, thoughts or reviews published in this blog are my personal opinion and not that of my employer (Samsung).

Monday, January 21, 2013

Done Not Done - a bucket list app for the things you want to do

Every passing week a new to-do app makes its way to the mobile app stores and begs for your attention by promising to remind you to pick up the milkBetaworks, the makers of Done Not Done, have decided to build something different - an app that keeps track of the stuff that we want to do rather than have to do. Currently Done Not Done is available as a web app and on iOS platform. (Hope the Android version sees the light of the day soon)

Signing up and exploring
The sign up process is fairly simple and you can create an account with a Facebook or Twitter login. The one good thing about the app is, it explicitly mentions that it requires only Read Access for the About Me section in Facebook and nothing else. I am liking these guys already! Once you are done selecting a username and password, you are guided through a series of questionnaire like forms that asks you whether you have watched the Casablanca, The Dark Knight Rises, etc. The app smoothly guides the first time users to explore around and get comfortable using it. For each activity you want to do - be it watching a movie or reading a book, you can select the corresponding option: mark it as Done or Not Done, add a little comment why you did/want to do it and a rating.

Finding friends
You can currently link your Facebook and Twitter accounts to find friends. Since this is a new app, there is not much chance that your friends are already on it but that is no excuse to not try this app. You can spread the word through Facebook and Twitter. The only complaint I have is the status update on Facebook looks a bit dull and boring - hope they have come out with some Pinterest-like board that will get some eyeballs.

Exploring around

Exploring in Done Not Done
The Ideas section shows all the things your friends have done and that you haven’t. In Find & Add section you can search for anything that you want to do - say watch Harry Potter. Then you can filter the results whether it is the movie you want to watch or the book you want to read or the audio book that you want to listen to. Click on each option - add a comment, rate it and share it via Facebook or Twitter.

On iPhone
I got to play around the app only on the browser. But some of the reviews about the iPhone app mention the UI is beautiful but slow and lags at time, something usually unheard of for an iPhone app. But we can give the makers the benefit of doubt and hope they fix it soon.

Overall, the idea seems to be good and there definitely is lot of scope for improvement and the team admits it too on their blog. The team also intends to give us more 'verbs' to do as stated in their purpose page.

"Verbs! — We want you to think in verbs, not nouns. Don’t search for a movie; search for something you want to watch. Don’t just add books to your Done list; read more books you love. Nouns pile up. Verbs get things done."

 Go ahead and give this app a spin and drop in your comments about it.

Disclaimer: All ideas, thoughts or reviews published in this blog are my personal opinion and not that of my employer (Samsung).

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Facebook launches Graph Search - a social search tool

Facebook CEO, +Mark Zuckerberg unveiled a new social search tool called Graph Search that should hopefully lock us in FB Wonderland for all eternity. Gone are the days when we called our friends to ask their suggestions on what movie to watch or where to go out for dinner; now we just google it. Yup, 'google' is considered a verb and it sounds better than the task it does - online search.

Image credit: Facebook

So what exactly is the new Graph Search
 Is it another search engine? The answer is No. It is not meant to compete/replace Google, at least not for now. While Google is meant for looking up anything under the sun on the world wide web, Graph Search is exclusive to just Facebook. So does this make the Graph Search lame? Again, the answer is No. With over 1 billion users and 240 billion user uploaded photos and millions of status updates, likes, pokes and what-nots, Facebook is data miner's paradise.

What is wrong with Google Search
It depends on what you are searching. If you doing some research for your project or checking the weather or trying to dig up a news article you read long long ago, chances are Google will get it right most of the time. The trouble begins with personalized searches. Right now, there are many apps for recommending books(Amazon), restaurants(Zomato), movies(IMDB), local businesses(Yelp) and so on and so forth. Though all these apps provide us a heads up, there is always a nagging question in the back of our head - are these reviews credible? Will we travel all the way to a restaurant which we have not even heard of until now just because food_lover1234 recommends it? The answer is, probably not. I am more inclined to consider a review from my circle of friends than some random usernames. This is the problem Facebook is attempting to solve with the Graph Search.

What you can actually do with Graph Search
Find out what restaurants your friends visited or if any of your friends have already seen the latest movie you are planning to watch. You can also step a bit outside your network and cast a wider net - what songs do doctors like, where do software engineers in your area hang out or find out friends (or friends of friends) who can refer you for a job opening at a particular company. Sweet! The possibilities are endless. As this feature is not yet rolled out to all users, it is too early to comment if Graph Search will be used to search for anything useful or just to improve one's stalking skills.

What about my data
Before the privacy pundits cry foul that this new feature is yet another attempt by Facebook to steal user data, Zuckerberg has clearly emphasized that a person will be able to view only the data that you have shared with him/her. Facebook seems to have learnt a bit or two about ticking off users with privacy gaffes so it has made an explanatory video to demonstrate how Graph Search works with privacy settings. That ought to put the conspiracy theories to rest for a while.

The future of search is personalized search results. Google has been on this track for some time now. Search, plus Your World tailors search results based on +1s or comments from connections on Google+. But the biggest problem is, there aren't that many people on Google+ and so there isn't enough data to make suggestions. On the other hand, Facebook knows everything about our lives and now it has the means to make sense of it. If you are unable to find an answer for something on Facebook (God forbid), you can use Bing to search online for the same query. Microsoft, which has been cosying up to Facebook for quite some time, is probably sneering now for it has got to the one place that Google couldn't, right into Facebook's pants :)

Disclaimer: All ideas, thoughts or reviews published in this blog are my personal opinion and not that of my employer (Samsung).

Monday, January 14, 2013

Will 2013 be the year for Sony

Image credit: Sony
This year's Consumer Electronics Show, CES 2013 seemed a bit dull without the usual biggies like Apple and Microsoft. But the rising (Huawei) and the fallen tech giants (read Sony) seemed to have made the best of the situation by hogging the limelight with some really awesome devices. While Huawei is trying to change its image from a manufacturer of budget android phones to a true technology leader by launching products like the Ascend Mate and Ascend D2, it was Sony who really took us all by surprise.

The past
Sony once had a strong pre-smartphone market-share with its Walkman series. But the last two years, Sony had failed to adapt to the touch era and truly leverage Android's potential. While all the manufacturers went quad core last year, Sony was content rolling out mediocre phone with single and dual core. Though Sony has the Xperia line of Android devices it has no flagship product that could stand against the Samsung SIII or the HTC One X. And finally the spell is broken and Sony is back in the game.

The present
Sony unveiled the Xperia Z smartphone at the CES 2013 and it sure is a beauty. The bright, big and beautiful 5 inch display and the sturdy solid build make it look and feel like a premium device. The device has a breath taking 1080p Full HD and it incorporates the Mobile Bravia Engine, Sony's proprietary video rendering technology found in its Bravia line of TVs. The phone is powered by a quad-core processor and is powered by a 2400 mAH battery. The other cool fact about this phone is, it is water resistant! No need to wipe your phone on your shirt to get rid of the smudges, just hold it under a tap! The Xperia Z heralds the arrival of the world's first image sensor with HDR (High Dynamic Range) video for smartphones. The devices should be available for sale by March and is expected to set a new benchmark for smartphones.

Sony also launched the Walkman W273, an ultra-portable music player that is completely wire free and has all of the MP3's internals built right into the headset. It comes with 4GB of storage and is available in black, white, blue or pink! It is completely water-proof, so you don't have to worry about wiping that sweat off again. What is even more impressive is the battery life - 1.5 hours of charging gives a full 8 hours of playback time. Apart from these products, Sony also launched its 4K TV - the Sony 4K Bravia X900A, which will be launching in spring and will be Sony's flagship 4K TV set.

The future
Sony seems to have started off this year with a good start and I surely do hope it has a hit in the smartphone race, where it badly needs one. The main problem with Sony phones have been the branding. Sony's custom UI skin on Android phones are neither great nor worse but a bit more attention to it wouldn't hurt. How about starting by naming it first, really isn't it about time. Beneath these minor scuffs, lay a diamond in the making. Will Sony be the chosen one and make a comeback in 2013, we'll just have to cross our fingers and wait.

Disclaimer: All ideas, thoughts or reviews published in this blog are my personal opinion and not that of my employer (Samsung).