The legacy of Steve Jobs

By on August 25, 2011

He departs after tuning Apple to perfection.


“I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple’s CEO, I would be the first to let you know. Unfortunately, that day has come”

Unfortunate it is, as Steve Jobs officially hands over the reigns of the company he started, got kicked out of and then returned to make it the most iconic tech company of this decade.

I’ve been a Mac user for almost ten years now which, granted, is not as long some of my peers in the industry. But it was before the time Apple became cool and mainstream. I also never really bought into the iPod craze, a device that is considered as the catalyst that helped shape Apple into the company it is today. But the iPhone certainly turned me into a believer. And though I wasn’t too impressed with the iPad when it was announced, I must say that it has become an extra-ordinary device today.

All of these products have helped Apple become what it is today and there will be no one else other than Steve Jobs who will be remembered for creating this magical transformation to the post-PC era. Something else that will be hard to replicate is the team that Steve has nurtured over the years. He knew that his illness won’t allow him to continue at Apple for as long as he would have liked and thus, he managed to put together a team that will continue taking Apple to new heights for the foreseeable future.

What will be missed is his powerful performances at keynotes that turns critics into fans. The passion he carries for Apple is visible in every single step he takes. And no one will be able to replace that.

Is the open platform nature of Apps on Android really better than iOS?

By on August 24, 2011

Security concerns may put off many from trying a new app.

I was at a family Iftar a couple of days back when some “tech savvy” guy I’ve never seen before was preaching about how good Android phones are compared to iPhone; Blackberry was only mentioned in passing as it was mocked for its one trick BB service. Anyways, this guy was saying that the open nature of Android platform meant that people can customize the hell out of their own smartphone, rather than stick to the standards as is the case with the iPhone.

Now I agree with this sentiment, in that many apps on the Android Marketplace allow for some heavy customization of your smartphone, especially once you rootkit your device. But that personalization comes with a heavy price: lack of security.

I’m sure many of us use our smartphones to access sensitive data, such as bank accounts and certain websites with whom we share our email passwords and whatnot. Now imagine if there was a malware that silently snuck into your smartphone, and unbeknownst to you, sent out your personal info to some hacker sitting half way across the world. That’s exactly what one malware does, which you probably downloaded as an innocent looking update for Angry Birds! Still, I completely get Google’s policy to not monitor each and every app once it’s up on their Marketplace to allow indie developers more exposure.

“In the interest of openness, Google does not monitor apps once they are added to the Android Marketplace,” said Alan Davidson, director of public policy at Google (during a hearing in May on location tracking on Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android devices). “We’ve chosen not to be the gatekeeper,” he said. “We don’t generally go back and try to make sure that every app does what it says it’s going to do. [Google is] really trying to maximize the ability of small app developers to get online.”

Once Google does receive complaints about certain apps, they are quick to respond and take off the app from the Marketplace. At the end of the day, however, this is still a very reactionary approach compared to Apple’s strict, but proactive, approach of sifting through app submissions to make sure nothing malicious gets on their App Store. For sure there’s no platform that’s safe from hackers. However, given their stringent policies, I’m comfortable knowing that Apple will at least try to be the first line of defense to keep my iPhone protected from exploits.

Coming back to the issue of customization, there are a few apps that do allow certain features to be changed on your iPhone, mostly cosmetic in nature though. For true “functionality upgrades and customization” one can always jailbreak their iPhone. Of course, one also has to live with all the vulnerabilities and headaches of a jailbroken device as well.

As far as the issue of more exposure for indie developers is concerned, if your App is good enough and updated in a timely fashion, it should be seen in the App Store’s ‘Top Chart’ of some sort for some time, which is all the exposure you’ll need for your app to become an overnight hit.

Meanwhile I bid all my Android phone owning friends good luck; but more importantly to be vigilant about the type of app they are downloading.

Goodbye Pre and TouchPad

By on August 22, 2011

Never really knew ya.


I first played with the WebOS based Palm Pre at GDC in the US, early 2010, and liked it enough to look for it at any other conferences or trade shows I attended. Sadly, Palm was pretty much down and out of the UAE market by the time Pre was launched and I knew that it would only take a miracle to bring it back. Thus I was quite excited when HP acquired Palm thinking that sooner or later, we will get to see a WebOS device in the Middle East. Oh well.

WebOS is a good example of why better products don’t always succeed. At it’s release, WebOS was arguably a better platform than iOS and Android. But iOS had the sexy appeal of the iPhone and Android had the support of multiple manufacturers. Both also had multi-billion dollar companies behind their backs.

Things didn’t improve much for Palm after the lacklustre debut and it started looking for a buyer in April 2010. Before HP officially announced that it had bought Palm, there were tons of rumours flying around with names like Dell and HTC thrown in as potential buyers. I wonder if things would have been any different for Palm if HTC had acquired it instead of HP.

I also wonder if things might have turned out a bit differently if someone else was heading the WebOS project instead of Jon Rubenstein, a former Apple exec who was literally recruited by Palm while relaxing on a beach in Mexico, enjoying his retirement. Prior to that, Rubenstein had spent almost 20 years working closely with Steve Jobs, and was a key figure behind the development of both the iMac and iPod. Yes, the man certainly has experience and seems nice, but his famous interview with Kara Swisher at CES 2009 revealed that he has never used an iPhone:

“We don’t pay that much attention to Apple….I know it sounds really strange,” says Rubinstein.
“Really?” Kara replies. “You don’t worry about the iPhone?”
“No, I really don’t,” Rubinstein answers.
“I don’t believe you,” says Kara, telegraphing a sentiment I imagine is widely held among the audience.
Rubinstein: “I don’t have an iPhone. I’ve never even used one.”

I don’t know about Jon, but I would think that keeping a close eye on competition, especially one that defines a new market segment, needs to be looked at inside out and then to figure what made it so successful and how one would improve upon that.

Looking at the bigger picture, the failure of Palm doesn’t look too surprising. Like Nokia, it was once a leader but all organizations, including Apple, have fallen from grace. It’s what you do next is what defines you and sadly for Palm, neither Rubinstein, nor HP could do much. The WebOS platform started as a cult and will sadly end as one.

Does Google need to turn evil to fight Apple?

By on August 17, 2011

Forget Mordor- this is where the battle is.

The big news this week is Google’s acquisition of Motorola Mobility. I’m sure that by now you have already read tons of opinions on that $12.5b offer by every analyst and their grandma. There’s probably not much I could say that hasn’t already been written and rewritten. So I’ll turn to my blog from last week where I was wondering if Apple is turning evil. And my question for this week is- does Google need to turn evil to fight Apple?

Steve Jobs already considers Google’s “Don’t be Evil” mantra as bullshit so maybe Google is already partly there. But just like Apple, Google needs to protect it’s products and it’s partners that make products based on Google’s code. The way they go about doing that, honestly, shouldn’t be surprising at all. Entertaining for sure, but not surprising.

I look at them picking Motorola over HTC or Samsung in the same way a parent picks a favorite child. Yes, Motorola comes with a lot more patents than HTC at a lot less cost than Samsung but every family has their share of over and under achievers. What ties the family together is not playing favorites. Because then you make the other siblings upset even if all of them unanimously welcome your decision, be it over a post-it note stuck on the refridgerator or Google docs.

Google isn’t an angel. You can never become a company worth over 50 billion dollars by not being at least somewhat evil. Remember the tag line from that Facebook based movie of last year? “You don’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies.” Google has long started the process of transformation that turned young Anakin into Darth Vader. The sad part about this drama is that there is no Luke Skywalker or the order of Jedi Knights. It’s evil vs evil in a corporate landscape that resembles Mordor.

Why it’s irritating to play games on iPhone 4

By on August 15, 2011

I want to love it, but end up hating it.

I was recently tasked with reviewing an app, so I thought I’ll just go onto the App Store and check out the Top 25 section to see what’s hot. Pretty much everything on Top 25 paid apps is some version, or rip off of Angry Birds. Being a hater of platform and physics based games, I was very happy to see something different like Zombie Gunship on the list.

I usually relegate gaming on my iPhone 4 to something as simple as Bejeweled 2. Most of the time my iPhone 4 is used for checking emails, apart from making calls and texting, as well as Facebook and Google+. Certain enthusiastic discussions are had on WhatsApp, and the occasional Skype call to family living abroad, but that’s about it.  Outside of pure work and keeping up to date on social networking, I don’t use my iPhone 4 for anything as frivolous as casual gaming.

Imagine it with both thumbs on the screen.

I have three very simple reasons for not gaming on the iPhone 4. First of all, gaming means severe battery drain. Now a full charge of my iPhone 4 gets me through a full day of less than an hour’s worth of phone calls, constant WiFi connection and the occasional 3G connection when I’m commuting to and from work. By the time I’m home, I still have around 40% of battery left. If I play a simple game like Bejeweled 2 for 15 or 20 minutes, it doesn’t affect the battery much, but playing anything graphically intensive (like Infinity Blade for instance) means the battery is gone before I even head out for home.

Of course, I can always connect a charge cable and sort out the battery that way, but I don’t want my mobile to be tethered down to a cable most of the time. It’s a mobile for a reason. Perhaps Apple could have added a larger capacity battery? But that would have surely meant a bulkier phone. No thanks, I’m happy with the iPhone 4, slim like it is.

My second concern is that every time I game for more than 25 minutes on the iPhone 4, or am talking to someone for that long, the phone really heats up, uncomfortably so. It’s a loathsome feeling when I want to use the iPhone 4 but can’t because it’s literally too hot to handle.

You can't appreciate the beauty coz your fingers are all over the screen!

This is probably more specific to me than a global issue, but having played games on a DS, 3DS and PSP, I just cannot handle playing games on 3.5” screen when my own thumbs are covering 1/4th of the bloody screen. I don’t mind touch based controls, but the screen size is just too small. I would rather play games on the iPad 2. So when I was playing Zombie Gunship, even though I was having a lot of fun, my thumbs soon started protesting in pain, and fun times eventually devolved into painful times. Of course, just like the battery, if the screen size was to increase, the iPhone 4 would lose most of its charm, for me at least.

tl; dr: Battery drain, heating up and not enough space on screen lead me to avoid playing games on the iPhone 4 altogether. I’ll try out the occasional gem, but will never actually play it long term.

Is Apple turning evil?

By on August 10, 2011

Blocking HTC devices from selling in the US and the Galaxy Tab in EU certainly suggests that.

Yesterday, Apple was granted a preliminary injunction by the German court to block sale of the Galaxy Tab 10.1 in the EU. Just a few weeks back Apple won a partial victory over HTC in a Patent Suit that could potentially end in several HTC devices being blocked for sale in the United States. Also, for a very brief period yesterday, Apple overtook Exxon as the most valuable public company in the world. Has all this money and power gone to their head and making them turn evil?

Some might think so but maybe there is a reason why Apple is so bitter. It all started back in September 2007 when Google announced the Open Handset Alliance and the Android Operating System. At that time, Google’s (then) CEO Eric Schmidt was also one of Apple’s board of directors. He started recusing himself from board meetings that had anything to do with the iPhone, but the damage was done.

When Eric Schmidt resigned from Apple’s board, Steve Jobs issued a statement saying “as Google enters more of Apple’s core businesses, with Android and now Chrome OS, Eric’s effectiveness as an Apple Board member will be significantly diminished, since he will have to recuse himself from even larger portions of our meetings due to potential conflicts of interest.”

Not so subtle or diplomatic, was Steve Jobs alleged response during an Apple employees meeting: “We did not enter the search business. They entered the phone business. Make no mistake they want to kill the iPhone. We won’t let them.” Stating his thoughts on Google’s famous ‘Don’t be evil’ line, Steve said that “It’s bullshit.”

Image Credit: Daniel Adel, New York Times

I probably wouldn’t be too far of if I think that Steve Jobs blames Eric Schmidt on taking notes on iPhone development during Apple’s board meetings and then secretly going back to Google and implementing them for Android. It is probably this deeply-rooted hatred against Google that is causing Apple to fight against HTC and possibly other Android handset manufacturers. And Samsung certainly likes to push it when it comes to product designs- some of them are blatant rip-offs of products by Apple.

So is Apple justified in going as far as blocking sale of devices by other manufacturers that are using Google’s Android OS? Personally, I don’t think so. But as the Corelones showed us, there is no stopping someone with vengeance on their mind and money in their pocket. Get ready for a massive showdown that will be more entertaining than any flick of this year.

Bringing my dead iPhone 2G back to life

By on August 8, 2011

One of the most grueling operations of my life.

For as long as I can remember, if I see an old gadget that’s not working, I always want to make it work again. If nothing else, just to see how that old technology looked like. Not really sure why, but blowing into my “non-working” Atari 2600 cartridges since I was a wee lad may have something to do with this old habit of mine.

I remember my mobile phones since the first one I have ever had, because, well, I never had many. In the early 2000s when the tiny Nokia phones were booming around the world and pretty much everyone I knew in my high school had one, I finally got a break in the form of the Nokia 3310 in 2002. Then came the Nokia 5210 in 2003 which I carried throughout my first 3 years at university. The Motorola RAZR came soon after, because in 2005, that was the phone to have. Next was the Nokia E61i in 2006 which was my first smartphone. And then finally I jumped the bandwagon and got myself an iPhone in 2008.

Of all the phones I owned, not one had given me as much trouble as the iPhone, nor did I like anyone of them as much as the iPhone. Thing is, back when the first iPhone was launched, everyone remembers the AT&T exclusivity deal. Which meant that to use it with my Etisalat sim I had to have a jailbroken iPhone. No big deal really, as long as I had a phone which had a touchscreen, could browse the internet, and had cool looking icons; I was all over it (like the rest of the world). It truly was the Jesus-phone.

I had my fair share of fun with Cydia, and suffered with the random crashes and bugs that came with it. Finally, one day I thought I had enough of this life of “piracy” and that I’ll go legit. So I upgraded my iPhone (called the 2G after the launch of iPhone 3 and 3G) from the jailbroken firmware 3.1.2 to the official and newest 3.1.3. It was only after I got the “No SIM card installed” screen that I realized what a big mistake I made.

That was back in mid-2010. I was sort of getting tired of Apple by that time and all the crap I had to go through to get their product to work. I’m a paying customer damnit! I want everything to work! Except that I had paid some other guy who had bought the iPhone from some other grey importer. So like I said, I was having iPhone fatigue and this “Android” stuff was up and coming, so I then got a Google Nexus One in 2010 once my iPhone 2G locked up on me.

Trust me, I tried various jailbreak methods, but none of them worked. Partly because the Power button on the top doesn’t work all the time (entering DFU mode was mostly blind luck), and partly because there was still no effective 3.1.3 jailbreak at the time.

While the Nexus One was a gorgeous phone, I didn’t like the cumbersome feel of Gingerbread and how terrible the app store was at the time. A few months later I got my iPhone 4 and still love it. Over the weekend though, I was clearing out some stuff and saw the old iPhone 2G just lying there, all miserable and broken.

So I thought what the hell, I’ll give it one more try. What I thought was going to be an easy jailbreak and unlock of 5 minutes turned out to be a 5 hour exercise in frustration as I tried multiple jailbreaks (blackra1n, redsn0w, Spirit, etc.) and none of them seemed to work. After a fluke I somehow managed to downgrade to firmware 3.1.2 (by performing a restore) and then got it jailbroken through blackra1n. I must confess that until that moment I had never been happier to see GeoHot’s face.

Sup, bro!

And so my old iPhone 2G is up and running again. The first thing I noticed was how extremely ugly the screen looks! After the retina-display of the iPhone 4 I just cannot go back to low-res screens anymore. Then I also remembered the miniscule, but still irritating, screen bubbles that were a result of manufacturing defect; but I lived with it back then anyways. The phone itself feels slow as molasses when using Safari. Even the occasional microsecond when it takes time to load messages feels too slow compared to the iPhone 4.

iPhone 2G vs 4. My eyes bleed!

So now the iPhone 2G is up and running, and I don’t know what to do with it. I don’t want to sell it, coz I won’t get much for it, but I don’t want to use it either because it’s just not good enough. So it’s lying on my table again, out of a coma, but life hasn’t gotten any better for it.

Will a tablet be your next laptop?

By on August 3, 2011

If you are a causal user, then it might very well be.

For a power user like me, the tablet is a complimentary device to my laptop and not a replacement- at least not yet. However, for the average user, it just might be sufficient enough.

I discovered this when the hard drive on wife’s MacBook Air died. In the interest of full disclosure, I had actually opened up this Air two years back to replace it’s 4200RPM hard drive with an after-market Samsung SSD. But that’s not the point of this article. With her laptop dead, I gave her my iPad to try out for a few days to act as a replacement to her laptop.

She primarily used her laptop for three things- email, web browsing and consuming media. My guess is that a lot casual users do just that with their laptops. Lets look at how the tablets handle each of these three activities.

Email is a non-brainer- your average Smartphone handles it well so it only makes sense for a tablet to handle it better which is what all tablets do. My wife has an Apple .me account so setting this up on the iPad was as easy as entering her email address and password and all her contacts and calendars synced right away. If you use GMail, then an Android based tablet might work better for you.

Coming to browsing, yes, we all know that the iPad doesn’t do Flash but my wife has yet to complain about anything “not working.” If Flash is important to you then the BlackBerry PlayBook or any of the Honeycomb tablets will let you play Flash without much of an issue. The large screen of a tablet and it’s touch capabilities make it very intuitive and ideal for something like browsing.

Lastly, consuming media is also a big strength of tablets. Watching your loved ones pictures on a big screen or the YouTube video surely makes for an excellent experience. Not only are tablets being used for audio and video but books and magazines as well. With your SD card equipped digital camera, copying pictures to your tablet is possible through most tablets.

So for a casual user, the tablet might very well be their next laptop. I have introduced my wife to some Apps and the simplicity of finding and installing them as well as the brilliance of some like Flipboard have made her liking the iPad very much. I have a feeling that I won’t be getting my iPad back.

Apps and online etiquette to help you through Ramadan

By on August 1, 2011

Ramadan Kareem, everyone!


The holy month of Ramadan is upon us. If you’re Muslim, this means it’s a month of fasting and humility. For those of you who are not Muslim, here are some suggestions from your friendly tech geeks at Tbreak on how to lead a humble online life during the month of Ramadan.

Things you should not do online during Ramadan:
1. Do not post your bikini pictures as your Facebook profile picture this month (Please be appropriate and save them for Eid instead)
2. Do not swear on Twitter
3. Keep your Facebook Status updates and Tweets PG13.
4. Avoid playing video games with a lot of swear words, especially if you’re playing the game in a public place.
5. If you’ve purchased a copy of Stuff Magazine to read the latest tech articles, please refrain from staring at all the hot, half-naked girls till Eid.

On a different note, here’s a list of apps that you might find useful this month:

Call To Pray
Call to Pray is a free application that provides prayer timings based on your country and will also show you the direction of the Qilba, based on your current location. You also have access to both the Hijri and Gregorian calendars. Plus, you can share prayer times over BBM, SMS, email or Facebook.

Yahoo! Maktoob Ramadan
iPad and iPhone/Free
Yahoo! Maktoob have come up with a app for the iPhone and iPad that lets you check out prayer timings and gives you loads of Ramadan food recipes to try out. The app automatically detects your location and customizes content depending on where you’re located. Plus, there’s plenty of Ramadan-centric content from Yahoo! Maktoob for you to look through. Plenty of similar apps are available on the App Store but this one’s free to download.

Quran App
The Holy Quran is available for the Blackberry as a free download. If you’re using an iPad there are plenty of similar applications available such as  Quran Explorer.

Time Out Dubai
iPad and iPhone/Free
If you’re not fasting this month and want to find out what’s open in terms of restaurants and venues, download Time Out Dubai’s application to keep track of your favourite hangouts and when they’re open. There’s also a great list of Iftars to try out and some Dos and Don’ts during the month of Ramadan.

Apple Gets It.

By on July 27, 2011

It’s all about their vision


I was at an AMD event last week and one of the questions that the presenter threw at the crowd was what they would like in their next laptop. Some of the common answers included “thin and light”, “visually pleasing”, “fast performance”, “great battery life” and “something that just works.” Interestingly, this wasn’t a crowd full of geeks that demand the best but a lot more balanced crowd of everyday people. Now take a look at the MacBook Air that Apple released last week and you’ll see that it handles pretty much everything these user want out of their laptop.

Apple is great at “getting it” as far as consumers expectations are concerned. They can analyze trends really well and generally have products out in the market while others are still researching the market. Acer is talking about developing a MacBook Air competitor while ASUS showed one at Computex as well. Samsung very recently released the U Series as a MacBook Air competitor as did Sony with their Z series makeover.

You’re probably thinking that that’s great but let me remind you that it has been over three years since Steve Jobs famously pulled out the MacBook Air out of the Manila envelope and wowed the world. Apple knew the direction the industry was heading in before most of these guys even realized that such markets existed. That is the reason why Apple’s Mac shipments grew 23.5 percent last quarter- almost seven times higher than the PC industry’s growth rate of 3.4 percent.

And it’s not just the Mac. Look at the iPhone and the iPad- both are devices that have reshaped the way Smartphones and Tablets are being used and have created giant markets that have pretty much carved the direction Apple is headed in- the post PC era.

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