Monetizing the Social Platform

February 13, 2013 by  
Filed under Articles, Blogs, Industry

How many people do you know who don’t use Facebook or anyother form of social media platform – Xing, Google+, Instagram…etc? I think you can count them on your fingertips, and I can’t discount parents and grandparents because my folks are on Facebook too!

Over the last few years, these platforms found a way to integrate into our social scenes, and I find them to be BRILLIANT tools. A bit intrusive at times, but mostly very useful. I recently found out through Facebook that one of my favorite professors from my business program was visiting Dubai. That was a reunion worth a million bucks. Thank you, Facebook. And I’m not the only one who believes that. Daniel Kirkpatrick’s book about Facebook is littered with success stories of how people have met or found each other after several years.

But this blog entry isn’t about general social media reunions. Instead I thought I’d discuss how companies are moving beyond setting up these platforms – more specifically, the monetization of social media and how to make money off the very popular platforms.

It is akin to the government first providing us with roads and then installing toll gates to monetize them. Another potential example could be of how some hotels provide Wi-Fi to differentiate but then charge for it at a later stage. As a frequent traveler I expect Wi-Fi to be a utility like water and electricity – included in the room rate.

Facebook (used as an example purely) introduced several new features since its IPO that seek to make money from the platform. I was both amused and disappointed when I found out about the Pay to Promote mechanism where corporate FB pages have to pay for a message to cover 100% of their existing fan base. Amused and disappointed because companies spend a lot of money advertising to build a fan base only to learn that they have to pay several times to reach out to the same fan base.

Games by Zynga and other developers have become a very popular pastime (I find it quite irritating to see my newsfeed littered with play requests from my friends) and they embody the monetization of the platform spirit. Initially the games start as free-to-play, but once addicted, players are asked to fork out real cash to get extra bonuses or advantages.

I recently read about Facebook testing a system where users pay $1 to message people not on their friends list – as a trial, users could send Mark Zuckerberg’s inbox a message for $100!!! But isn’t Facebook about messaging YOUR Friends, i.e., the existing ones? Maybe there is a business sense in messaging strangers?

This is similar to Linkedin’s Inmail service, which I profess that I use as a valuable business tool, but I wonder if Facebook will start charging to even see the profiles of people not yet in my friends list. Or ask users to pay to download high res pictures from your friend’s profile to print on a 4×6 inch photographic paper. The funniest thing would be if Facebook (or any other platform) started charging for every time you login. I bet that would be a natural dampener for anyone using office time to log on to check his/her FB status.

Manish Punjabi, Marketing Manager (MENA) at AMD. His postings are his own opinions and may not represent AMD’s positions, strategies or opinions. Links to third party sites, and references to third party trademarks, are provided for convenience and illustrative purposes only. Unless explicitly stated, AMD is not responsible for the contents of such links, and no third party endorsement of AMD or any of its products is implied

Five tweaks that BlackBerry should make to the BB10 Hub

February 11, 2013 by  
Filed under Articles, Blogs, Smartphones

The more I play with the recently released BlackBerry Z10, the more I like how it works. When I’m not using the Z10, I have found myself unintentionally swiping up whatever device is in my hand. As I mentioned in my review, I think RIM BlackBerry has laid out a great foundation with BB10. However, as their CEO Thorsten Heins mentioned, this is just the start for them and there is still lots of work that needs to be done. I completely agree with that and thought I’d highlight five changes that I’d love to see implemented on the messaging Hub in a future update.

1) Shrink messages to fit screen

On the iPhone and very recently on Android device, you have the option of opening an email in a zoomed out view so the entire message fits the screen. With BB10, the default view is expanded and you can pinch the email to fit in its entirety on the screen. I would very much like an option that lets me set that as the default view as I can always double-tap to zoom into an area.

2) Move between emails and chose what to do

Right now you cannot move between emails. If you’re looking at an email, you HAVE to go back to the list and open the next emails. From what I have heard, this will be implemented in an upgrade to the software so lets keep our fingers crossed.

3) Allow customization of soft buttons

When you open an email, the soft buttons across the bottom show Reply, Reply All and Forward. Instead, I would love to see just ONE button that you could set as the default action (holding it would bring the other options.) The extra two buttons could then be used for a “delete” button and a prev/next button split diagonally to move between open emails. That would solve #2 as well.

4) Swiping actions on the list

The latest update to GMail on Android allows you to delete or archive your emails by simply swiping horizontally on that email from your list. This makes dumping emails quickly very fast and easy. Mailbox app for the iPhone uses a similar concept and takes it up a notch. Something similar would work wonderfully on BB10 which is all about swiping.

5) Power scrolling

Getting back to the top of a list might not seem like a very time consuming job but if you have a Universal Inbox with hundred of messages, it can become a bit of chore to continuously swipe up. While there are buttons on the side menu to do just that, I think using two fingers for power scrolling would make it more efficient.

So there you have it- my list of five updates that I think would be a welcome to the current BlackBerry 10 Hub. Hopefully BlackBerry is in the listening mode and we’ll some some, if not all, sooner rather than later.

Orchestra Mailbox app

Old habits die hard. But every once in a while you come across an experience that forces you to change the way you’ve been doing something. Mailbox app from Orchestra is exactly one such experience- an app that treats your inbox as a to-do list allowing you to mark emails as read, delete them, list them into categories or snooze them for a later time to get back to- all through a simple swipe. While all of these concepts have existed in one form or another, it’s the execution that forces you to fall in love with the recently released Mailbox app by Orchestra.

While I’ve always understood the concept of an Inbox 0, it’s one that has never really intrigued me. For me an inbox has simply been a space that holds all my emails. If an email is read, it is generally replied and forgotten. But that’s not always the case and I’d be lying if I said that I’ve never missed replying an email that required my attention. That’s where Mailbox app comes in and executes in a manner that has suddenly made me a fan of Inbox 0- and a little less envious of the superb Gmail app found on Android devices.

To use Mailbox, for the moment you need to have an iPhone and GMail as your service provider as thats the only combination that it currently supports. Orchestra is planning on porting the app to other platforms like Android, iPad and Macs as well as other email providers such as iCloud but they haven’t given any timeframe yet. Also, they’re rolling out the service to users slowly and gradually to make sure their servers are capable of handling all the Gmail that passes through it and last I read, there were close to half a million users waiting in the pipeline.

If you do have an iPhone and use GMail and manage to get to the front of the waiting line, there is one last pill to swallow. Mailbox app requires you to permit it to pass all your Gmail through its servers before delivering it to your iPhone. This is done so Orchestra can cut out all the unnecessary info from your email such as previous quotes etc. and only keep the actual content so while viewing it on your iPhone, it appears as a threaded text conversation. This is primarily the reason why the wait for the app is so long as Orchestra probably has to process millions of emails and they want to make sure they can handle the load.

If you are ok with everything above and are ready to jump into Mailbox, be prepared to find an astonishingly efficient email client that makes almost every other mobile email client feel like it’s something out of the previous century. The way Mailbox App works is by organizing your email in three panes- your current conversation, messages marked to be checked at a later stage and messages you’re done dealing with. Here’s a video of how it works:

As you saw, swipes to left and right determine the action you want to take with your email from your main- the conversation view which is where all your new emails land. A halfway swipe to the right archives the email which means that you’re done dealing with it while a full swipe deletes the email. A half swipe on the left brings up the later menu where you can designate a time such as later today, tomorrow or next week to come back to the email or swipe all the way to the left to add the email to a list (or a label) such as “For later reading” or “Expenses.” Color codes on swiping make sure you’re performing the action you intended to.

As good as Mailbox App is, it’s not perfect and there are areas where Orchestra can improve upon. For example, I couldn’t find a way to delete a particular email from a conversation- it was either deleting the entire conversation or nothing from it. Also while viewing a message, an option to move to the next message would be nice instead of forcing you to return to your inbox. As far as app navigation is concerned an undo would certainly be welcomed after an accidental swipe- although that might be coming by a shake to undo as per my conversation with Orchestra.

While many companies have tried re-inventing email, I don’t think any of them have really been successful. Its an aging messaging protocol that will probably always be around but if you have an app like Mailbox, you’ll never want it to go away.

RIM BlackBerry Z10 Review

January 30, 2013 by  
Filed under Articles, Reviews, Smartphones, Spotlight


It’s no secret that over the years, many BlackBerry users have switched to the iPhone or Android based phones. Some even to Windows Phone. But there is still a very dedicated and vocal group that has patiently stuck with the platform and the moment of truth for these hardcore fans is finally here as RIM launches their first BlackBerry 10 OS based phone- the Z10. Is this latest BlackBerry based on an entirely new platform worth the wait? That’s what we’re here to find out today.

Before I get into the review, let me tell you a bit about my Smartphone history as I believe that plays a very important role for anyone evaluating any new platform. My first experience with Blackberry was with the Curve 8300 almost seven years back. Ever since then, I’ve always had a Blackberry. Over the last few years, the BlackBerry shifted from being my primary device to a secondary one but its always been there. I primarily use the iPhone as my main device although I do switch to an Android or Windows Phone based device when something new comes along. So I was certainly excited when the Z10 landed on my desk as I’ve always had a soft spot for BlackBerry.

Like most modern phones, the BlackBerry Z10 is a slate that somewhat resembles an iPhone due to it’s minimalist look. Following the footsteps of the BlackBerry PlayBook, RIM has chosen to not put any buttons on the Z10 and instead rely on swipes for getting around. Measuring 130mm x 65mm x9mm and weighing around 125g in your hand, the BlackBerry Z10 feels much lighter than you would assume. Although the plastic body does not feel as premium to hold as the iPhone 5, it still feels very solid and well constructed.

The back cover snaps out, somewhat like it does on the Samsung Galaxy S III and, is very flexible though it has a bit of a rubberized finish giving it a pretty good grip on the phone. On the top you have the power/lock button along with a 3.5mm audio jack while the right side has volume buttons as well as a convenience key that, at the moment pauses media or switches to a Siri like voice recognition app. The left side has USB and mini HDMI connectors allowing you to charge the device or easily connect it to a display while an 8MP camera with a flash is expectedly placed on the back.

The BlackBerry Z10 has a 4.2” screen enclosed within a bezel that is also covered with glass. The slightly larger sized screen than the iPhone 5 continues to be very usable with one hand which I certainly prefer over gigantic screens that require both hands. Right above and below the screen you have two pieces of matte plastic giving it a somewhat similar look as the iPhone 5 from the back. Over the course of a week I noticed some marks around this area- they’re not exactly scratches but more like scruffs. Above the screen sits a front-facing 2 megapixel camera as well as the notification LED that BlackBerry is famous for. The speaker grill and the mic reside at the edges of the glass panel.

Specs-wise, RIM has loaded the BlackBerry Z10 with a dual core 1.5GHz Qualcomm MSM8960 SoC which is the Krait based SnapDragon S4 with the Adreno 225 GPU. RIM adds 2GB RAM to the device to keep things moving fluidly on the 4.2” screen which has a resolution of 1280×768 pixels that roughly equates to a PPI of 356- higher than the iPhone 5. You get 16GB of storage built-in along with a hot-swappable MicroSD card slot. The only area where the Z10 disappoints as far as specs are concerned is the exclusion of LTE in the Middle East. While other parts of the world will get an LTE device, we will be restricted to 3G/HSPA connectivity. Other radios present on the Z10 are Bluetooth 4.0 and 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi.

Tech deals not to miss this DSF

There are two events that tech enthusiasts look for in the UAE- GITEX Shopper and DSF. Both of these events allow us to fulfill our lust for latest gadgets with some amount of justification such as “Honey, the deal is just too good to miss.”

To save our viewers the hassle of going all over Dubai, our team of editors visited some of the power retailers and have picked up deals that we think are worth checking out. The retailers we visited are Emax, Jacky’s Electronics, Jumbo Electronics, Plug-ins, Sharaf DG and Virgin Megastore.

We looked out for deals in five categories- TVs, Phones, Tablets, Cameras and Laptops, and, over the next few pages, have listed the models that we would pick and where to pick them from. If you have seen any other deals worth not passing up on, please feel free to add it in the comments section to help other viewers

Samsung Galaxy S III LTE speed tests

January 21, 2013 by  
Filed under Features, Smartphones, Spotlight

Samsung released the super successful Galaxy S III in the middle of last year with a model number I9300. Last month, an update was released to the S III in the UAE with a model number of I9305. There really are only two key difference between these models- first Samsung upgraded the RAM from 1GB to 2B for snappier performance when you have multiple applications running and second, the radio has been upgraded making the Galaxy S III the first official handset in the UAE operating under the 4G/LTE.

We asked Samsung to send a unit across so we could test the network speed of this updated model and that’s what we are reporting on today. We’ve already reviewed the device earlier so we’re not going to go into details but it’s worth mentioning that the unit feels snappier with the upgraded RAM and the upgrade to the latest Android version Jelly Bean. You also get the Premium Suite of apps which includes a slicker looking gallery and the ability to use multiple applications at one time- ala Galaxy Note II. Also worth mentioning is the new gray colour with a brushed look- it surely makes the S III look sexier.

Keep in mind that out of the two carriers in the UAE, Etisalat is the only one that has launched their 4G network. In fact, the Samsung Galaxy S III is the first handset that Etisalat is selling with 4G connectivity. You can buy one from them for AED 2499 and subscribe to a bundle created specifically for the S III LTE- 4GB data, 200 messages and 800 minutes of calling for AED 249 per month. So exactly how fast is the data speed on the Galaxy S III with LTE? Here are three screenshot of speedtest from our office located on Sheikh Zayed Road near Safa Park.

No points for guessing that the Samsung Galaxy S III LTE is in the left with 32Mb download speeds and 12Mb uploads. In the centre, we have the 3G/HSPA version of Galaxy S III on du with 5Mb downloads and 2.7Mb uploads while the far right shows the iPhone 5 at HSPA+ on the Etisalat Network with 7Mb downloads and 1.19Mb uploads. Besides testing from speediest, we also compared loading pages on the two Galaxy S III devices and the 4G version always completed loading the page about 30-40% faster than the 3G version of the Galaxy S III.

Do keep one thing in mind though- with the 4G network being new, you won’t necessarily find excellent coverage everywhere. However, the Galaxy S III easily falls back to HSPA+ so it’s not a matter of not having a signal- but just making sure that the 4G signal is strong enough which will only come with time as telcos add more towers that support 4G.

I also wanted to see how big of a battery impact 4G has over 3G and while I did not conduct any scientific tests, the Galaxy S III 4G lasted me about the same time as the non-4G version did so don’t expect as massive of a hit in battery life as we did when we moved from 2.5G to 3G networks a few years back.

It’s quite clear that 4G will become a standard on mobile phones and not a feature and this will happen much sooner than in took 3G to become mainstream. The speed differences between 3G and 4G are quite obvious- web pages load faster, music downloads faster and you spend a lot less time waiting for your YouTube video to start or buffer. There’s just no going back once you get used to 4G speeds and simply put, the Samsung Galaxy S III 4G is the best handset to get at the moment if you want to enjoy a super speedy mobile connection in the Middle East.

Samsung shows us a peek into the future

January 16, 2013 by  
Filed under Blogs, Industry

We recently posted a news feature about Samsung showing off high-resolution flexible screens at CES that I highly recommend watching. The demonstration by Samsung is followed by a concept-video where you can basically unfold your phone into a tablet or vice-versa showing us a glimpse of what our devices will look like in the next few years.  I also remember reading about convergence of screens in a blog post by AMD’s Manish Punjabi on tbreak a few weeks back.

When you think about it, as popular as tablets are, they’re really just a stop gap solution as our personal device until foldable LCDs become the mainstream. The biggest thing that the tablet might be credited for is for getting us used to typing full-fledged on glass surfaces. We started doing that on phones with the launch of the iPhone a few years back and it won’t be long before we’re very very used to it on larger form factors. In fact, it was recently reported that Apple’s CEO Tim Cook ditched the physical keyboard in favour of the iPad in an interview he conducted with NBC last month.

At the moment, there are only two things that really separate tablets from smartphones besides the larger screen. The first is a better/faster processor and the second one is a bigger battery- both possibly because of the larger form factor of the tablet compared to the phone. Processors will continue getting smaller, faster and more power-efficient and while that will help us get better battery life out our devices, we really need to focus on an alternate way of powering our devices that keeps them going for days and weeks and not just hours.

I doubt we’ll get to see such battery technology by the time foldable LCDs become mainstream so we might have to wait until the idea of one screen that becomes our phone/tablet/laptop is realised. But it’s one that I’m very much looking forward to. Exciting times ahead.

ASUS ET27 All in One PC Review

We recently published a review with one of Intel’s VP, Mr Christian Morales and I remember him mentioning that sales of All-in-One PCs are on the rise. This doesn’t come as a surprise when you see something like the ASUS ET27 that dropped into our labs a couple of weeks back. There are quite a few models with different configurations that ASUS has released around this 27” AIO- the one we are specifically looking at is the ET2701INTI.

Build quality & design

If I was to describe the the ASUS ET27 in one word, it would be gorgeous. The black frame around the large screen flushed below a glass panel along with a silver bar below it gives the ET27 a very sophisticated look. Add to that the metallic looking stand and you have a device that will look equally at place in an art gallery as it would on your desk.

Where ASUS can use a bit of reworking is the sides of the device. On the right you have a Bluray drive however instead of being a slot-in type, its a tray that pops out spoiling the look. Also on the left, a hinged door hides some of the ports, however, with the sub-woofer connecter here, the door is pretty much kept open all the time making it unnecessary. ASUS should have reposition the subwoofer connector to the back of the PC where the video inputs and networking port is present along with two USB ports. On the left where you have the subwoofer port, you also have audio outputs, an SD card reader, an eSATA port as well as a pair of USB 2.0 ports.

Specifications & Performance

Depending on what you want to use the computer for, the ASUS ET27 could appear as a pretty decent or a very mid-range PC to you. If you mostly use your PC for things like web surfing, using office applications and watching videos, then its plenty fast. But if you like to game or run a whole bunch of applications at the same time then the lack of an SSD and the low powered GPU spoil the fun. Here is the list of specs of the unit we recieved.

CPU Core i7-3770S Quad Core CPU @ 3.10GHz
Memory 8GB RAM
Storage 2TB Hard Drive
Blu-Ray/DVD Writer combo
Display 27″ Display with 10 point multi-touch
GPU NVIDIA GT640M with 2GB Dedicated
Connectivity Gigabit Ethernet
WiFi 802.11b/g/n
Bluetooth 4.0
Side Ports 2 x USB 3.0
1 x e-SATA(USB2.0 Combo)
1 x 3 -in-1 Card Reader
1 x Headphone
1 x Microphone
1 x Audio Line Out
1 x ASUS AIO Subwoofer Jack
1x mini B-CAS Card Slot (Optional)
Back Ports 2 x USB 2.0
1 x HDMI-In
1 x VGA(D-Sub)-In
1 x RJ45 LAN
1 x TV Jack (Optional)
1 x Kensington Lock
1 x DC-in
Dimensions 660 x 508 x 233 cm (WxHxD)
Weight 13.4kg

 

The following table shows the benchmarks posted by the ET27 and for comparison, we have taken the recently reviewed HP Spectre ONE and Acer Aspire 5600U All-in-One PCs.

ASUS ET27 HP Spectre ONE Acer Aspire 5600U
PC Mark 07 2727 2696 3025
3D Mark 06 8881 5075 9031
Performance Test 1252.6 1663 1466
WinRAR 2685 2895 3547
Geekbench 5140 7789 6459

 

Screen and Sound

The ASUS ET is equipped with a 27” LED backlit touch screen with a ten point multi-touch sensor. The resolution of the panel is full HD or 1920×1080 which, on such a large screen makes text appear pixelated. I can understand that Windows 8 makes good use of touch however a 27” screen is not going to be placed right in front of your face and thus, extending your hand to reach the screen becomes a bit of a chore. Also with video inputs on the back, you will probably not be touching the screen much when watching TV or movies. I think ASUS should have used a higher resolution non-touch panel on the ET27 which would have given a crisper look to the fonts and might have even resulted in a slightly lower cost that could have been allocated to using a better GPU.

Coming to the sound, ASUS has certainly packed a good pair of speakers along with a sub-woofer. While the PC sounds pretty good, the subwoofer did not add as much of an impact as I thought it would. It’s a bit small in size and is more suitable on a desk than the floor where subwoofers are generally kept. Regardless, the short cable on the subwoofer doesn’t allow you to place it on the floor even if you wanted to.

Conclusion

I’ve skipped the heat and noise section in this review because the ASUS ET27 is extremely silent and temperature levels barely reached lukewarm at best. Were it not for the light on the power button below the LCD, I wouldn’t even be able to tell if the PC is turned on or not when the screen went off.

Priced at AED 7299, I found the ASUS ET27 a bit on the higher side. It is certainly very well designed but in the end, you know that you’re paying for the design as the components inside aren’t really super-highend.

2013: World Wide War in the Tech sector


At the tbreak awards 2012, Jumbo’s CEO Mr. Vishesh Bhatia gave some predictions for 2013 and I tend to agree with most of what he said. If you weren’t present at the event, here are some of trends Mr. Bhatia saw going into 2013:

1) Tablets will continue to eat into PC Sales

I think this one is quite obvious given the insane popularity of the iPad. While the iPad will continue to sell really well in 2013, the overall market share for the iPad (in terms of percentages) will predictably drop because of the sheer number of Android and Windows tablets entering the market.

With Android, we’ve seen the Nexus 10 tablet from Google/Samsung priced very competitively on the higher end, while tablets from the likes of axtrom will continue to attract the price-conscious buyer curious about tablets. On Windows side, it is expected that Nokia and HTC will showcase their devices. You can also expect giants like Samsung and Sony continue to take a bite of the tablet market.

2) Smarter and more 4K TVs

In 2012, Sony was pretty much the only company selling the ultra hi-res 4k display but we will see a lot more players enter the market in 2013 if CES is anything to go by. All of the major players, Sony included, have announced a large number of models ranging from 55″ to 110″ and this will certainly bringing prices for these stunning displays lower.

As rightly pointed by Mr. Bhatia, the TV interface is still clunky and best used with a remote designed 40 years back. While we’ve seen gesture and motion based remote controls, I don’t think anyone has gotten it quite right yet. Will a certain fruit company show us how it’s done?

3) Android will continue to dominate on Smartphones

Google’s Android decisively won the race as far as numbers are concerned in the mobile phone space. While I see them in the lead in 2013, like the iPad, I think their overall market share will drop with Windows Phones gaining more ground and the new BlackBerry 10 based devices launching.

It will also be a somewhat tricky year for Google as Samsung has pretty much been responsible for the great success of Android and they have shown that they’re not committed to just making Android devices by releasing the Windows Phone based ATIV as well showing support for the upcoming Tizen OS. Samsung is also going to increase the usage of their Apps (Calendar and Notes at the moment) that replace Google Apps while Google is supposedly working with their acquired Motorola division to create a killer Google phone.

So there you have it. If you thought 2012 was a year that provided some great entertainment as Apple and Samsung battled it out, be prepared with even bigger showdowns in 2013.

Interview with Christian Morales- Intel EMEA’s Corporate VP and GM

We sat down with Mr. Christian Morales, Corporate VP and GM of Intel EMEA, and talked about how the PC experience will be reinvented with the arrival of Maxwell based CPUs in 2013, Intel’s lead in energy efficiency over other architectures with the move to 22nm and 14nm technologies in 2014 and that Intel sees the Middle East transforming into a knowledge based economy.

[youtube video=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tpo-zX2ekPA&list=UUB4IVZ6hK6Nu4qNSYS0FE4A&index=1&w=600]

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