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Skype 3.0 – Time to reconnect

By on December 31, 2010

FaceTime doesn’t matter anymore.

When Skype finally listened to their customers and released the video calling feature with their latest update, it was truly a blessing in disguise. In case you didn’t know, one of iPhone 4’s most touted features, FaceTime, which allows free video calls between iOS4 (and Mac) users over WiFi, was taken out by Apple when the iPhone 4 launched within the Middle East region. This feature was sorely missed, but not for long as other apps, such as Tango, sprang up to allow video calling not only over WiFi but 3G and Edge as well. Sadly such apps could not really meet the high standards of FaceTime.

Not until Skype came along to save the day. After v3.0 launched on the App Store 2 days ago, literally everybody I know who knows an iPhone 4 downloaded/updated to v3.0. Skype on its own was a wonderful free app because of its brilliant quality over VOIP and the fact that people could communicate for free using their data plan while on the move. Although some people did feel the need for video calls, pretty much everybody was sort of quiet on the issue since iPhone 3GS didn’t have a front facing camera. Heck, many even wrote the lack of video calls on Skype as a technologically insurmountable feature. However, with FaceTime, pretty much the entire Skype community clamored for video calls.

Sure enough, after more than half a year since launching iOS4 devices, Skype has allowed video calls over WiFi and 3G. So the first thing I did was call up some folks in the family and some old friends whom I hadn’t talked to in a while. Firstly, it was nice to geek out with everybody over the iPhone 4; secondly it was good to finally catch up with some of them. It’s just much more convenient to video call people whenever one feels like, no matter the place, instead of taking some time out and sitting in front of the PC. I’m surprised, to be perfectly honest, that Apple allowed video calls on Skype, since they are known to take down apps that directly compete with their own apps on the App Store. I guess Skype was too big a name to say no to? No matter, everybody, especially people in the Middle East, will definitely welcome this new functionality and enjoy it till it lasts. While people on du will obviously have no problem, Etisalat users are still left in the dark. If only they unblock the ports for Skype on their 3G network…


The importance of being beautiful

By on December 30, 2010

The world may be getting more superficial but at least it’s pretty.

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As geeks, the concept of beauty and looking good is generally lost on us. As a personal example, I probably wear the same pair of jeans four times a week, rarely shave and my entire wardrobe now consists of promotional t-shirts from various technology launch events I attend. However, we can tackle my dress sense or rather lack of it at another time. What I want to talk about is the importance of being beautiful.

As human beings, we naturally like beautiful things. If we didn’t, things like paintings would have no meaning at all. Why would we care for colors on a piece of paper? But we obviously do care about it. And if you really think about it, everything around you has probably gotten a bit more beautiful with every passing year. Cars have gotten better looking since the 90’s, websites have gotten prettier over the past few years and soap containers which used to be once white little boxes now come in all kinds of curvy shapes and colors.

In a similar vein, technology has also got more beautiful. Think about mobile phones for instance. My first mobile phone was shaped like a brick and was slightly worse to look at. However, phones now are so beautiful that they can be thought of as fashion accessories rather than a means of communication.

The iPhone for instance is a gorgeous phone. But then again, Apple have always understood the importance of beauty. Everything from their operating system to the fonts they use is just beautiful and they realize it’s a lot easier to sell beauty than performance. Take the Macbook Air for instance. Sure, it’s a capable device but for the same price I could easily get a different laptop with twice the performance. So, why then am I so tempted to buy the Macbook Air? Probably because beauty matters more than brains in this form vs function equation.

Sure, there’ll be those who can look beyond the superficial surface and will want their ugly Linux boxes over a Mac but I for one am liking this trend of everything turning prettier and better looking. Here’s looking forward to a beautiful 2011.


Let’s Save Wikipedia

By on December 28, 2010

Why Wikipedia deserves your dollar.

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When I heard about the Wikipedia project years ago, I confess that I was skeptical. How on earth could a project where millions of users contribute and are free to edit anything they want ever work? Why wouldn’t someone just edit every article and put “l33t h@x0r” all over the place? What on earth is stopping this site from becoming one big resource for all kinds of male enhancement drugs promotions and inheritance scams?

However, Wikipedia has turned into what I would consider the single greatest achievement of mankind. Never in the history of mankind have we had one epic encyclopedia where people from different countries have been able to contribute their knowledge freely to one source. The wealth of knowledge available on Wikipedia is beyond extraordinary and is a testament to what we as a people can accomplish when we collaborate.

The academic uses of Wikipedia alone make it indispensible as a website. Face it, if you’re between 15 to 21 years of age, you probably get most of your homework or research data from Wikipedia.

The beauty of Wikipedia is the amount of knowledge available on the site and the fact that Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia has kept it advertising-free for all these years. Jimmy Wales says on the site, “Commerce is fine. Advertising is not evil. But it doesn’t belong here. Not in Wikipedia. Wikipedia is something special. It is like a library or a public park. It is like a temple for the mind. It is a place we can all go to think, to learn, to share our knowledge with others. It is a unique human project, the first of its kind in history. It is a humanitarian project to bring a free encyclopedia to every single person on the planet.”

However, it takes money to keep a site like Wikipedia running. The amount of servers required to cope up with the amount of traffic it gets easily runs into millions of dollars. Wales is hoping that if each of the 400 million users who use the website on a regular basis donate $1 to keep the site alive, they should be in business for a long time.

So, if Wikipedia has helped you to graduate high school or University, or if you’re feeling gregarious enough to help support a project that benefits mankind, I ask that you go donate a dollar (or more) to Wikipedia.


Time Magazine Eds are a bunch of…

By on December 24, 2010

Why Julian Assange deserves to be the man of the year.

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Time Magazine have picked Mark Zuckerberg as the Man of the Year for 2010 despite the fact that Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks won the reader’s choice vote. Is it likely that they decided to stay away from Assange given that he’s not the US Government’s favourite person at the moment or in light of the recent sex allegations against him? Or did they just discover Facebook this year and happen to think it’s the coolest thing this year?

Since it was obviously a close battle between Assange and Zuckerberg this year, let’s compare the two Internet evangelists:

1. Both Mark Zuckerberg and Julain Assange started off as Hackers. Zuckerberg hacked into Harvard University’s website to collect photos of students and created FaceMash. At the age of 16, Assange began hacking under the name “Mendax”. He and two other hackers joined to form a group which they named the International Subversives. Assange wrote down the early rules of the subculture: “Don’t damage computer systems you break into (including crashing them); don’t change the information in those systems (except for altering logs to cover your tracks); and share information”. Assange was reported to have accessed computers belonging to an Australian university, the Canadian telecommunications company Nortel, the USAF 7th Command Group in the Pentagon and other organisations, via modem.

2. Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook, a website that collects most of your personal information and then lets corporations use this information to target and advertise to you. Julian Assange founded Wikileaks, which takes information from corrupt corportations and government agencies and makes it available to the public.

3. Wikileaks exposed brutal US tactics in Iraq and Afghanistan. Facebook helps you spy on ex-girlfriends.

So, has Time Magazine made the right choice? Perhaps yes and perhaps it’s better for Wikileaks’ sake that the focus not be on Julian Assange. As much as he deserves credit for founding the site, the website itself and the stories it helps breaks should deserve the limelight.


Five Smartphones I’ll never forget

By on December 19, 2010

I consider these devices as game changers.

I’ve been a Smartphone user for a very long time- 1998 to be exact. That was before the term Smartphone existed. During these last twelve years, I’ve played with many form factors, Operating Systems and manufacturers. And of the countless devices that I have looked at, the following five are probably what I consider the best for their time.

1) Nokia 9110 Communicator – 1998
The Communicator from Nokia was nothing short of revolutionary. It was the first time that you could take an always connected computer with you everywhere. Based on an AMD CPU running at 33MHz and the GEOS Operating System, the Communicator allowed me to send and receive faxes while being mobile. Yes, you read that right.

2) PalmOne Treo 600 – 2003
I can still remember the default ringtone on the Treo 600 and its still music to my ears. This was the first Smartphone that I fell in love with. With its 144MHz Processor, 32MB RAM and PalmOS running on a 160×160 pixel touch screen, the Treo was the phone that Steve Jobs used. In fact, I wont be surprised if the vibrate switch of the iPhone is inspired by Treo which had it all along.

3) i-mate Jam or HTC Magician – 2005
Although Windows Mobile had been out and about for a while, the i-mate Jam’s incredibly sexy form factor is what did it for many of us. The zippy 416MHz and QVGA resolution bundled with the Today screen on Windows Mobile nailed the concept of what a Smaprtphone’s quick-look screen should look like.

4) BlackBerry Bold 9000 – 2008
RIM revolutionized the concept of mobile email and messaging and I still think that the BlackBerry Bold 9000 handset is their finest to date. Although the device had its fair share or issues, it still has the best keyboard and bling that I’ve ever used in a Smartphone. If only RIM would update the Bold 9000 hardware and use a touch screen in the same exact form factor- a guaranteed formula for success.

5) iPhone 4 – 2010
You knew this was coming and like or not, Apple changed the Smartphone market with their iconic iPhone. The original iPhone was released in 2007 and its interface was revolutionary. It did take Apple a little time to open up to Apps but once they did, they created a multi-million dollar market. Every touch-screen based Smartphone is compared to the iPhone. It has become a standard.

So there you have it. These five Smartphones will always be held near and dear to me. That being said, I am really looking forward to 2011 when I think Android will find its wings and MeeGo will surprise.


A geek’s view of The Social Network

By on December 15, 2010

Why Aaron Sorkin does not get geeks or the Internet.

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Thanks to our wonderful friends at Empire International, who distribute the film in the region, I had a chance to see The Social Network at the cinemas a few weeks ago. I was very excited to see the movie for multiple reasons. Firstly, I’ve watched every episode of the West Wing and I’m a big fan of Aaron Sorkin. Add to that, the fact that the movie is about Facebook, probably one of the biggest success stories of the Internet — it was reason enough to take an afternoon off work to go see the movie.

Before I continue, a caveat – I’m not a film critic and this is not a critical review of the movie. If you were hoping to read a critic’s review of the movie, I suggest you take a look at my colleague, Faisal Hashmi’s review on ME Movies instead. This article is more of a personal view on The Social Network.

As a geek, what I found mildly offensive about the movie was its characterization of geeks as being anti-social, super smart, terribly greedy and incredibly condescending. Mark Zuckerberg’s character almost seems like an anti-social version of Doogie Howser. While, in reality, most people have come out to defend Zuckerberg after the movie was released stating that he’s generally been shy and slightly nervous at times. Well, Jesse Eisenberg who played the role of Zuckerberg in the movie just got nominated for a Golden Globe award for his portrayal of the billionaire Facebook boy genius, so looks like the stereotyping paid off.

I also thought Aaron Sorkin completely missed out on the most important aspect of Facebook – and that’s the fact that it epitomizes the opportunities afforded by the Internet. Facebook is a company that started with a very small initial investment. It was built mainly on open source software, all of which is available for free and since the business was online, they could work out of the comfort of their own homes with a small team of people to create this site. With very little or no marketing investment, the site became popular just through a network of people online who were using the website and inviting their friends to join. You’ll be hard pressed to find many non-Internet businesses that can start from almost a zero investment and get hundreds of thousands of customers without any marketing spend.

While not a great representation of geeks or the value of the Internet, the movie is still a great watch and Sorkin’s writing is as sharp as ever. If you’ve seen the movie, use the comments box below to tell us what you thought of it.


Google Chrome OS: The OS of the future

By on December 8, 2010

Your life in sync. Welcome to 2011

At an event held in the US last night, Google talked about their upcoming Chrome OS and also introduced their Pilot program by giving away free laptops to users interested in beta testing the OS. You might wonder if there is a need for another OS in this day and time as we already have OS X, Windows and Linux based Operating Systems. With someone like Google behind it, I think the answer is yes. Let me tell you why.

Nobody understands “the” Internet better than Google and cloud computing is the future with many of us already part of it. For example, if you you use Gmail or have a blog or even watch videos on Youtube, you are already involved in cloud computing. Current Operating Systems are still very dependent on your local hardware like your PC or laptop. Most of you probably use Microsoft Word to type your documents, Photoshop to work with your pictures or iTunes to listen to your music and absolutely nothing to back your files up. If your PC suffers from a crash, your information is gone.

Cloud computing stores your data on the cloud, or the Internet for layman. For example, if you use GMail and your PC crashes, you don’t lose any of your email. Similarly, if you use Google Docs, your spreadsheets and documents are stored on the cloud and a crash will not effect your work. The tech-savvy amongst us already do that. In fact, we have a policy here at t-break that all documents such as reviews, blogs and features are done on Google Docs.

With the Chrome OS, Google is taking charge of automatically storing your data and your apps on the cloud, so losing your PC does not mean you lose your data. You log on with your Google account to a new machine and all your data and apps follow you to it. Everything is always synchronized. That’s how an OS should be in 2011.


BlackBerry- neither down, nor out.

By on December 1, 2010

BlackBerry has the #1 market share in the UAE.

While the iPhone manages to attract a lot of limelight, it’s still BlackBerry that has the lion’s share of the market in the Middle East. At the BlackBerry Innovation Forum held at Dubai yesterday, Khaled Kafel, the General Manager at Research in Motion, Middle East, shared some numbers for the region. BlackBerry has the number one Smartphone market share in Saudi Arabia and the UAE. According to analysts, BlackBerry shipments in the UAE accounted for 45% of the total number of devices meaning almost every other Smartphone user has a BlackBerry.

You don’t really need to look at the market but just around you to validate these claims. Within my immediate family, there are four iPhone users, one Android user and six BlackBerry users. In our office, we have three people using a BlackBerry and three using an iPhone.

Advantages for the BlackBerry on a corporate level are pretty self-explanatory, however, a lot of consumers also enjoy using a BlackBerry and BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) is probably one of the biggest reasons why the BlackBerry is so popular.

BBM started out as a simple instant messaging application that allowed BlackBerry users to chat with each other for free over their telco’s BlackBerry plan. Over time, RIM added support for sending voice notes and pictures to your contacts making it a great and informal communication tool between friends and families. On BBM today, you can initiate group chats on which your contacts can post pictures and comment on them.

Khaled Kafel mentioned that BBM has become the number one mobile social platform in the world and I can see why. Of the countless devices that I’ve used multiple chatting applications on, I can vouch for BBM being the most reliable and connected option.

So while the iPhone continues to make a lot of noise, its the BlackBerry that quietly steals the show.


One Smartphone to rule them all

By on November 28, 2010

With the connectivity of a Blackberry, extensibility of an iPhone and the multi-tasking of Android.

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This might sound a bit odd but I can’t remember the last time I stuck to one phone for more than a month. I keep switching between a BlackBerry, the iPhone and some Android device- even the Nokia N8 was privileged to have my primary SIM card in it for for a week after I had reviewed it. My wife thinks this is so because of my fear of commitment but I’ve been married for eight years now. I think it has partly to do with the fact that human nature can never really be completely satisfied but mostly because no one in the mobile phone industry has really gotten it completely right.

Each of the devices that I switch between, has something to offer that the other doesn’t. For example, BlackBerry has the best connectivity and battery life out of all. I can always expect to get my email or IM delivered to me in time on a Blackberry. Both the iPhone and Android devices have let me down when it comes to consistency of message deliveries. The battery life on the BlackBerry is also something all my other Smartphones are envious off. Most Android devices don’t last until the end of the day whereas the iPhone 4 gives up next morning. The BlackBerry Torch can keep at it until the end of the second day in case I ever forget to charge it.

But the BlackBerry doesn’t offer the interface and Apps that my iPhone 4 does. In fact, the entire iTunes eco system is an experience by itself. The music, the videos, the games and the apps are so engrossing that I never find myself bored with an iPhone. I also love the construction quality and the retina display on the iPhone 4- no other device comes close. All of that is tightly wrapped up in a butter smooth experience that iOS offers- until you get notifications. That’s when things turn ugly on the iPhone 4.

My Android device does this better than anything else. The notifications and the applications running in the background give me a true sense of multi-tasking on the Android. Add to that the combination of widgets and shortcuts for your home screen and you have an extremely customizable device. Plus lets not forget the geek in me that Android brings out by rooting it and running tweaked-up ROMs from xdadevelopers.

Unlike the rings in Middle-earth, there will never be one device to rule them all in real-earth.


Why Facebook is the new Google

By on November 24, 2010

Oh! How the tides have turned!

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Facebook is the new Google. Google is the new Microsoft. Microsoft is the new Apple; and Twitter is the new Facebook.

I realize that this might sound like an arbitrary rant but here’s why I think the tides have turned in the world of the tech industry.

First off, let’s start with why Facebook is the new Google. Facebook has all the traits of an early Google. It’s an innovative company with some young, smart brains to back it up. They’ve had a huge valuation and are finally seeing some green thanks to DIY advertising campaigns within the site. According to website rakings site Alexa.com, Facebook is now the second largest website in the world and with their growth rate, they should soon overtake Google for the number one spot. They’re also building some great new products like their messaging service and might just go down the search engine route if rumors are anything to go by. So, to sum that up — massive traffic, banking on DIY advertising campaigns, collecting large amounts of user data and a thirst for world domination. Sounds like Google to me.

Second, Google is the new Microsoft. Whether you like it or not there’s always one company that we love to hate. For years, that company has been Microsoft because they’ve been seen as this all-powerful giant who isn’t necessarily highly innovative or cool but still manages to rake in millions. Google is slowly turning into that beast. Google probably knows more about me than my own mother and I now use more Google products in a day than anything else. Google search, Gmail, Goolge Docs, etc. The company has also hit the maturity stage and will now face loads of competition from the likes of Facebook. They’ve failed with the Google Wave and quite frankly they’ve lost the Midas touch.

Third, Microsoft is the new Apple. This might probably be the hardest one for most of you to swallow. Microsoft hasn’t really done anything to impress me since Windows 95. For years now, to me, this has been a company with overpriced products that offer little benefit over previous versions that have been forced upon me. However, I think Microsoft has finally realized that it no longer is the all-powerful tech giant it once was. This is a company that has figured out that it has to innovate or die and I think they’re finally thinking out of the box. I love what they’ve done with Internet Explorer 9 and I like what I’ve seen on Windows Phone 7. If this is a sign of things to come, we might see Microsoft leading the way in innovation.

Finally, Twitter is the new Facebook. If you really think about it, the most important thing in the world for most businesses is the ability to acquire new customers. Banks pay millions to get new customers, Telecoms companies probably even more. Here’s a company that’s getting millions of new customers every day. Yes, they’re not making any money yet but neither did Facebook in the beginning. Much like Facebook, Twitter now knows what I do every day, all my friends are on it and as much as I want to, I can’t stop checking it at least five times a day.


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