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).