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Will my next gaming console be Apple TV?

By on April 25, 2012

The possibilities are unprecedented.

While Sony and Nintendo are quite concerned about Apple taking a big chunk of the portable gaming market, I think they should be more worried on the non-portable side of gaming. Currently, the PS3 and Xbox 360 are enjoying a large base of hard core gamers but think about this for a second – what’s stopping Apple from entering and eating this market?

Let’s start with the hardware. The new iPad with its quad core GPU is already capable of powering a display that is even higher in resolution than a full HD display. So it is safe to say that that the next version of Apple’s SoC, the A6, will be a fairly capable piece of silicon that should be able to deliver at least the same quality of games that the 7 year old Xbox 360 and 6 year old PS3 currently do. Apple is already using a cut-down version of the A5 CPU on Apple TV so upgrading to a full A6 SoC on the next version of ATV won’t be much of an issue.

The next thing Apple needs is a gaming controller which they obviously don’t have at the moment. However, one of the articles from Anandtech suggested that Apple is indeed working on a gaming controller for iOS. While many people might start thinking in the direction of an iPad or iPhone, remember Apple TV is also based on iOS. Apple can easily utilize Bluetooth for pairing up the controller to Apple TV- maybe even use the latest low powered 4.0 standard already present on the iPhone 4S.

Last and certainly not the least, you need a gaming ecosystem. Guess what? You already have that in the form of App Store- much like Microsoft has Xbox Live and Sony has SEN. Games like Infinity Blade and Epoch are pushing non-casual gaming on the iOS further and further and with studios like EA and Ubisoft, Apple already has support from the gaming industry. In fact, there are rumors of Blizzard entering the iOS market; and then a supposed visit by Tim Cook to Valve adds fuel to the fire, even though Gabe Newell denied it.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who can see all the pieces of the puzzle coming together. At $99, the Apple TV is even more affordable than a $160 Nintendo Wii and becomes an impulse purchase. Games on the App Store are also much cheaper than their console counterparts- yes, I know they are cut-down or alternate versions but last-year devices can play games like Max Payne so imagine what next year’s silicon will bring?

So don’t be surprised if Apple repositions the Apple TV as not just a multi-media player but also a full blown system capable of playing games that are as good as the current-gen consoles games.


Five things BlackBerry 10 needs to get right

By on April 22, 2012

The upcoming OS from RIM cannot afford to be behind the curve.

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The BlackBerry World 2012 event is barely ten days away and I am expecting RIM’s CEO, Mr. Thorsten Heins to showcase their new BlackBerry 10 OS for the first time during his keynote address. This is a big deal for RIM and pretty much the defining moment for their transition period. If they impress, they have a chance of making a comeback but if they disappoint, it might as well be game-over for them. Here is a list of five things that RIM needs to make sure they nail with the upcoming BB10 OS.

Gorgeous UI that is different

RIM needs to make sure that BB10 does not necessarily look like iOS or Android. Microsoft got it right with Windows and tiles- it’s different, beautiful and getting there in terms of functionality. With the acquisition of TAT a year or so back, I think RIM has had enough time to create a stunning UI because these guys are really good. Check out their concept video from some time back. That is the first thing that the end user will notice and this experience needs to be flawless.

Smooth and Snappy

One of the thing that irritates the hell out of me is the lag in Android- even when you’re using the fastest quad-core CPU. During transitions, switching apps or even working within apps, you can randomly see pauses in Android which is annoying. That does not exist in iOS or Windows Phone- at least not to the degree of being noticeable and irritating. RIM needs to make sure that BB10 is butter smooth.

Social Integration

Social media is where it’s at nowadays and looking at PlayBook OS2, you can tell that it will very much be integrated into the core of BB10. In fact, even the current generation of BlackBerry Smartphones have a decent Social integration but BB10 will need to the biggest Super App that RIM has created. Hopefully with Gist and Tungle.me as their recent acquisitions, I’m hoping this should not be something hard for them to implement.

Great Camera

BlackBerry has not really been known as a device that is marvelled for the camera quality and this needs to change with new BB devices. With competition from the likes of HTC, Apple and Nokia, RIM seriously needs to step up their game and have a phenomenal camera that not only takes incredible pictures but takes them real fast.

Apps, Apps and more Apps

As much as I like Windows Phone from Microsoft it’s a bit sad to see apps like BoxFiles as a replacement to dropbox and Pinspiration as a replacement for an official Pintrest client. RIM needs to excite developers to build first-hand applications on BB10. Apps like Skype, Pintrest, Kindle and Instagram need official clients on BB10 devices at launch along with games like Words with Friends and Drawesome. This is what attracts an end-user to your platform and no matter how slick your OS is, if it doesn’t have the apps, it will not fly. Microsoft’s Windows Phone is a prime example of this.

These are the five things that I think RIM really needs to work at with BB10. Of course having a killer device to showcase all of this helps. Considering how the portrait-oriented full touch devices are the standard form factors nowadays, I don’t think we’ll see a Bold kind of device as a launch device for the BB10 platform. That might happen a little later but my guess is that you’ll probably see a full touch Torch 9860 kind of device or maybe the older Torch 9800/9810 as a slider and a full keyboard. Something like the concept device we posted.


Should RIM be exiting the consumer market?

By on April 16, 2012

Shrinking market share in the west makes us think.

There has been a lot of talk on whether RIM should exit the consumer market and focus purely on the enterprise- a segment that they are really good at. While it’s true that RIM’s market share in consumer devices has globally been shrinking, it is still the best messaging device out there.

It’s no secret that I’ve been an advocate of BlackBerry Smartphones for a while and yes, I feel the pain of users who are envious of the slick UI and Apps that the iPhone and Android devices sport. So like most users in the UAE, I carry two phones with me and one of them is always the BlackBerry. The other phone keeps switching between an iPhone and whatever device that I am currently reviewing but the BlackBerry is a constant.

The reason I do that is because, as I mentioned in the intro, nothing comes close to being as good of a messaging device as a BlackBerry. The keyboard on RIM’s devices are insanely good and come in very handy, especially in a non-English speaking world where you mix and match words from multiple languages. Even my two year old iPhone doesn’t always get it right with auto-correction and no matter what one says, a full hardware keyboard continues to offers the best typing experience.

There is no denying that RIM is awesome on the enterprise-side, especially with their compression and security which not only helps careers utilize less bandwidth but also makes your device less expensive to use (through data charges) and makes the battery last longer due to lesser usage. That kind of technology would be incredible on an iPhone- especially if you add BBM to that mix, but do keep in mind that the reason that Apple does so well is because their control the entire software and hardware aspect of their products. RIM needs to continue doing the same.

So I don’t think RIM should exit the consumer device space. Their numbers might be shrinking in the rest of the world but they are doing really well in the Middle East where BBM has replaced text messaging for most. For a slick UI and apps, we need to wait for RIM to release the BlackBerry 10 OS and hope that they really hit one out of the park. And make a device that looks like the concept picture posted on top. I still have faith.


I doubt Nokia has the biggest Smartphone market share…

By on April 9, 2012

But Gartner report for Middle East suggests otherwise.

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Recently, Gulf News posted a report citing Gartner on the Smartphone market in the Middle East where Nokia was shown leading the race with Samsung coming in at a distant second followed by RIM, iPhone and the rest of the Android devices. Here is the infographic showing the overall picture.

Any one who has been in the industry for a while can take one look at that graph and be able to tell you that something doesn’t look quite right. According to that graph, every other Smartphone user in the region uses a Nokia. Now honestly tell me, when was the last time you saw someone with a Nokia Smartphone? Next thing you see is that although Nokia’s share has merely fallen from 58% to 53%, Symbian OS usage fell a whopping 46%- from 85% to 39%.

Based on the above two numbers, I believe Gartner is also counting feature phones in this survey and not just Smartphones as the title suggests. If you read the Gulf News article, you will notice that the Nokia Asha is mentioned in there which, technically, is a feature phone. If Gartner is looking at the Smartphone + Feature phone market, then those stats above make a lot of sense as almost everyone buying a budget phone choses a Nokia or a Samsung.

I would love to see stats based purely on the Smartphone segment in the Middle East. If I was to guess, RIM would be leading that report followed by iPhone on the handset side and possibly Android on the OS side. Nokia would be all the way down and Symbian usage would be negligible. Now don’t think that I have no love for Nokia- as a matter of fact, their Lumia 800 device is superb and although Windows Phone is not quite there yet, I can easily see it becoming a force to recon with by 2013/2014.


Are we heading towards an information overload?

By on April 7, 2012

Tweet, like, comment, rinse, repeat.

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When I posted up the article about Google Glasses, a part of my mind went “This is so horribly wrong”.

Think about it – you’re walking down the street minding your own business when out of the corner of your eye you get a notification that you’ve got new email. You dismiss it and seconds later you get a text message from your friend asking you if you’ve seen their email. By this point your left hand starts vibrating to remind you about the doctor’s appointment you have in fifteen minutes. Oh look – another notification that there’s a special offer if you check-in to the coffee shop across the street. Except you’re so busy trying to dictate a witty check-in comment that you don’t notice that the pedestrian crossing light has actually turned red. Can you picture what happens next?

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t3TAOYXT840&w=550]

We are bombarded by notifications and technology every day. My Blackberry buzzes when I get a new email. TweetDeck pops up on my laptop when someone mentions me. My iPad lights up when someone sends me a message on MSN Messenger. My iPod dings when someone likes something on my Facebook. Every day we battle against a tidal wave of notification sounds and messages that aim to make our lives easier but in fact just get in the way. Gadgets like Google Glasses may seem cool and trendy, but you know there are going to be ridiculous casualties from hair-brained people paying more attention to their HUD than to real life. It’s bad enough that people walk about poring over the phones that they collide right into you (or fall into a fountain), so can you imagine the chaos if everyone is equipped with a pair of these glasses?

What we do need are less notifications. Less apps that scream out “GIVE ME ATTENTION NOW!”. Devices that only notify us when we need them to, not every fourteen seconds. Of course, you could just do the simple thing and turn off all notifications which is what I’ve done, but then do you start to get notification cravings? I turned off the blinking new email notification LED on my Blackberry, and I kid you not my mind started imagining the red dot lighting up so every time I looked at my phone I’d think there was an email or something else to check. That clearly can’t be healthy thinking.

So before you start saving up for a pair of Google Glasses, think about the reprecussions of having yet another gadget in your life that’s vying for your attention. And as the video below demonstrates, it’s not always pretty.

[vimeo=http://vimeo.com/35873217]


The new iPad is a game changer

By on April 1, 2012

On the new iPad, you can’t see individual pixels.

As grand as it may sound, Apple’s new iPad is a game changer and it is all about pixels. Sure, a better camera is nice as is quad core graphics. But undoubtedly the star of the new iPad is the retina display. I suspect it will also be the one thing in the new iPad that will take the iPad-line into the future.

I’m actually writing this on the new iPad connected to a 23-inch Apple Cinema Display and an Apple Bluetooth keyboard. There is a SD card adapter as well as USB adapter laying on the desk, completing the setup. It is truly amazing what I can accomplish with this gear.

It offers probably 90% or more of the functionality of a Mac, and that remaining 10% I don’t need all the time. In addition it offers some clear benefits over a Mac, like all day battery life and portability that not even the smallest MacBook can match.

Sure, I can’t expand the storage, but with access to a 50 GB online DropBox I’m not sure it matters much. And by SSH-ing into a virtual server I have access to the full flexibility and power of a Linux server right from the comfort and convenience of my iPad. Finally, when I need something that doesn’t run on the iPad, like access a website that requires Flash, I can remotely connect to my office Mac and do what I need to do.

But back to the issue of pixels. I’m not sure I can adequately explain just how gorgeous the 2,048 by 1,536 pixel display is. It’s a miracle that so many pixels have been packed into an area as small as just 9.7 inches.

Since the pixels are so small, text looks crisp, photos look amazing, and apps – at least if they’re developed for the retina display – look supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

I truly can’t make out individual pixels and that’s a first for me I think. Even on the 23-inch Cinema Display it all looks very smooth and crisp at the same time.

So what about competitors?

I don’t see any coming anytime soon. Even if there would be an Android tablet, for example, launched soon, there will not be many apps for a very long time. Just look at the meager selection of Honeycomb apps in Google Play now. This is one area where Apple’s advantage is even bigger than it is when it comes to the hardware and software of the device itself.

So even if you have no intention of ever buying an iPad, you just simply have to experience one.

At first glance it may seem like Apple didn’t do much to update the new iPad compared to the previous generation.

However, that would be missing what’s staring you right in the face – or not as it may be – that the new iPad is the first device that will make us forget about pixels.

And that makes it a game changer, one that even Steve Jobs would have been proud of.

Photo courtesy of Emran Kassim.


The new iPad (2012) cheaper in the UAE than the US.

By on March 29, 2012

We can thank Apple for that.

Times sure have changed. Last year around this time when the iPad 2 was released, retailers were having a blast selling the tablet for about twice as much as it costs in the US. And I’m not just talking about those small booths at shopping malls that like to rip tourists off- some of the bigger power retailers were also as shameless about making a quick buck as these small time stores. This morning, I got an email from souq.com that is selling the base 16GB unit for AED 2,049 while the unit I purchased from US- 32GB with 4G is selling for AED 2,949. My credit card statement shows that I paid AED 3,032 for that same unit in the US.

Taking the example of the base 16GB unit I mentioned above for AED 2,049, that same 16GB iPad 2 was selling for as high as AED 5,300 last year. I can only imagine the rage that Steve Jobs would have exhibited when he would have found that out these resellers were making a bigger profit than Apple on each iPad that was sold. Apple needed to fix this problem as I’m sure many official distributors in regions such as ours must have raised their concerns and frustration. I remember iStyle had announced last year that it  will not be providing service to grey-imported units of the iPad 2.

So what was causing the iPad 2 to fetch such a premium over it’s base price? Yes, it is a wonderful device but that was not the reason for it. It’s all about economics- supply and demand. While Apple must have estimated demand for the iPad for every official market that it was released into, it probably did not take into consideration the demand that would be created due to grey imports. The iPad is, after all, a very sought after item and in many parts of the world, people don’t want to wait to get one.

So Apple made sure it produced enough units of the new iPad to not only cater to all the official markets the new iPad was released into, but also enough so that the grey-importers don’t make a killing on it. As per Apple, they sold three million units of the new iPad in the first three days and while Apple didn’t release the sales figures for the iPad 2′s first few days of sales, it is estimated that it took Apple three weeks to reach that figure.

Thus, it’s no surprise that the new iPad is not fetching the premiums it’s predecessor commanded because Apple has nipped the problem that created the scenario for such premiums. Great news for consumers but not so much for retailers that forecast the hike of their profits around the launch of Apple products.


Mission impossible: Saving the hard drive

By on March 24, 2012

I set out to save a hard drive and things didn’t go so well.

We like to think that our gadgets are invulnerable, that nothing will ever happen to them. What else would explain the fact that so few of us take full backups of everything on a regular basis?

I’ve had an external hard drive for a number of years now and it was working fine until recently. It’s a Buffalo DriveStation with four 500 GB drives in it, configured in two partitions, giving me two 1 TB volumes to save information to.

For the longest time I just threw files into the drive and everything was fine. It was connected to a PC in our home office and shared over the home network. It wasn’t the fastest drive, and it made quite a bit of noise, but it was working, and it swallowed a lot of data, which is always a good thing.

But then, a few months ago, the problems started.

The drive started to basically die at what seemed random times when it was writing or reading data. It could be in the middle of copying files, and it just shut down, or, it could be in the middle of emptying the trash, and it would die.

The strange thing was that it never seemed to happen when I was sitting in front of the computer, always when I had left it to work on something. But I ran different kinds of tool utilities and none of them found anything wrong. I connected the drive to a Mac instead, and it made no difference.

Copying the data off of the drive was a pain in the you know what, because I couldn’t just start to copy and leave it. Always when I came back, the drive had died and I had to start it again. The only way I got it done was to copy little by little, sitting in front of the computer, monitoring what was happening. But that meant it took a long time. In fact, the 1 GB plus worth of data took me over a month of copying it bit by bit.

Once the data was safe, I swapped the hard drives and see if it was them causing problems, but the problem happened even with four brand new drives in the cabinet. So it’s the actual DriveStation, and since it’s out of warranty, it’s now a worthless piece of metal and plastic.

The good news out of this short story is that I actually didn’t lose any data. Instead, I had a great opportunity to get rid of a lot of digital stuff that was just gathering dust. And I also realized how much I really love the online services I use for storing some of my files like DropBox and Amazon S3.

If you take anything with you from my story, it should be that sooner or later all technology breaks. Yes, that includes Apple stuff as well. So make sure you back up your data to keep your valuable memories alive.

And your backup strategy should include an offline element as well as an online one. That will make sure, as much as possible, that you stay safe.


A Touch Missing: A Glance at the Limitations of Touchscreens

By on March 17, 2012

To text or not to text, that is the question

It doesn’t take a PhD to decipher that no industry has boomed like the cellphone industry in the last decade. Squinting further reveals that the cellphone industry has its own revolutions materializing with the introduction of touch and motion sensitive cellphones. For me, one feature has refused to budge from the legacy it has managed to build: texting.

The iTouch phenomenon may have lured the world into falling in instant love with the addictive and contagious blockbuster called Angry Birds, finding that perfect woman in Siri, and revolutionizing paper wastage in Paper Toss, but when it comes to texting, people still find their hearts and hands longing for feel-able keypads.

It would take regular text-aholics more than all of the goodies iPhones offer, to give up the rounded keys and the satisfying click at every button pressed on a physical keypad. Physical keypads have a language of their own, which stands in stark contrast to the silent, unresponsive and temporary keys that appear on touch-screens. Although the “vibrate on key press” option does its best to compensate for the deprivation, the effort is only adorable at best. It takes me back to the introduction of Tamagotchi pets half a decade back, which only ended up as feeble attempts at making people develop feelings for virtual pets which anyone would struggle to remember now.

Apart from sheer pleasure at discovering how superhumanly fast you can type, its common for people to discover God made their fingers too thick on each side to be able to touch a single letter key at a time. It takes considerable time mastering the techniques to get “in touch” with the letters

even on the qwerty keyboard format you have spent a childhood trying and succeeding in deciphering. Android did come up with creative ideas to try to counter this dilemma. It introduced Swype texting which entails the continuous connecting of letters on the virtual keypad to make up a word. The idea is rich only till you promise to have glossy fingertips every one of the hundred times of the day you need to text back the best friend who knows your sleep patterns better than you, so that your finger wont make premature stops on the G and Y as you struggle to type “fun”.

But then there comes the extent of usability of touch phones for the visually impaired college student. Being a sizeable chunk of the target market means we have a voice that must be heard. This faction of the society must text back while focusing on anything BUT the screens of their cellphones. Their fingers know their way around the physical keypads like the backs of their hands. Their typing speed is admirable as they multi-task; pretending to give a crap to the calculus being taught and texting back pronto. The plastic keypad is braille to the blind. The tragedy of the touch phone is most visible and incurable when the visually impaired (by my definition) use it. They’d be lost on the texture-less surface of the touch screen. Their fingers would wander aimlessly, bearing hope of stumbling across familiar wedges, scratches and raised dots.

Not that I don’t like that glossy bright touch screen as a whole, on the contrary. But apparently some manufacturers seem to know our sorrows too. HTC and Samsung both have mainstream offerings with both a touch screen and a slide-out keypad. Blackberry retains the ubiquitous keypad on almost all its products.

However, it is only too early to make such swiping rulings against the texting conundrum touch phones offer. Who knows what an App tomorrow might bring?


What should Apple do with its $100 billion?

By on March 17, 2012

Some suggestions for what Apple will do with its piles of cash.

At the end of 2011, according to Apple’s latest financial statement, it had $97.6 billion in cash. By now that is most assuredly more than $100 billion.

Of course, it’s not like Apple is actually sitting on a pile of actual cash worth that much. Instead, the money is in cash, “cash equivalents and marketable securities.” In any case, it’s funds that Apple could use for purchasing other companies, buy back stock, and similar things.

So what do you think Apple should do with all it’s money, besides giving some of it to you?

Judging by the frequent headlines, Apple could buy Greece, at least if it got a good discount. That comparison, which is often made, is, of course, totally false, and what would Apple do with a country anyway?

Apple would be better suited to spend more money on building iCloud. It’s a service, which seems to be just an embryo of what it could, or perhaps will be. Perhaps Apple is already doing this, but I think iCloud could become the de facto cloud service for end users, if Apple plays its cards right.

Personally, I think one of the best things Apple can do is to keep doing what it has been doing: invest in development of hardware components as well as the supply thereof.

Apple has for many years been buying up stock of components, like memory and processors, to assure that it has access to what it needs for its products. Flash memory is the best example of this, but the practice probably goes way beyond that. This practice assures Apple has access to the components, at a certain price and at a certain volume. It also assures that competitors will not.

This is one reason why it will be difficult for anyone else to match Apple on the price and specs of the new iPad:  the new high resolution display will be in very short supply for anyone else but Apple.

Very likely is that Apple will continue to buy other companies. Don’t expect Apple to buy any company you’ve ever heard of though. Apple tends to buy small, independent companies, with important technologies and people, rather than spending money on other brands. For example, in 2011, it acquired the small startup C3 Technologies in Sweden. C3 made photo realistic 3D mapping software, which is now, presumably, somehow used in Apple’s iOS.

Besides, it could of course be that Apple is just sitting on so much cash to be able to weather any financial storm that may be coming. Having cash on hand makes you more flexible as a company, at least to a point.

In any case, if you own some Apple stock, don’t expect dividends any time soon. Apple is on a roll, and with CEO Tim Cook’s tight grip on the leash, it will spend the cash wisely, which does not involve paying anything out to shareholders.


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