Blog

My New Year’s resolution: really try Google+

By on January 6, 2012

I’m a Google+ virgin but I will give it a good go in 2012.

I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions, but I’ve made my share of them over the years. You know, the usual ones like get fit, stop smoking, do unto others, etc. Well, I never really smoked so I couldn’t stop but most of the other common ones I’ve committed to at some point or another.

For 2012, I’ve really not stated any resolutions other than I’m going to do my darndest to get better as a writer – after all that’s how I make my living and what I enjoy doing – and really have a good go at Google+.

Although Google+ started way behind Facebook and Twitter, it is catching up rather fast. According to some estimates, there will be 400 million people on Google+ by the end of 2012.

Even if Google makes it to 400 million by the end of this year, that’s still dwarfed by Facebook, which right now already claims more than 800 million users. But that’s beside the point because I don’t need 800 million or even 400 million to communicate with on a social network; I just need a few hundred or a few thousand at the most, of the right people to join me.

In terms of social media, I’m more of a Twitter person than anything. With a bit over 3,000 followers I’ve been blessed beyond what I deserve and I enjoy Twitter on a daily basis.

For me, Facebook came in second place after Twitter, and still does to some extent. I’m still more comfortable with Twitter, but Facebook has found a special niche in my social networking activities, and it compliments Twitter nicely. For me, I keep my profile on Facebook more private than I do Twitter and I think that’s why it works.

When it comes to Google+, I’ve had an account from very early on but even after a few attempts at trying to figure out what it could do for me, I’m still very much a Google+ virgin.

In the last few days, I have, partly for work-reasons, had to get active on Google+ again and although it still confuses me with Circles, Hangouts, and whatnot, it is also starting to intrigue me.

I think what appeals to me is that Google+ feels like more of a complete social networking environment than both Facebook and Twitter. Now I can see myself doing much of what I do with the other social networks in Google+, and possibly something more too.

But I clearly have a lot left to learn as I +1, share, hang out, and more. I’m not quite sure what Google could have done to make Google+ more immediate and user friendly but right now lots of things about Google+ baffles me.

I remember when I started using Twitter I took to it right away. And I didn’t have many issues with Facebook either. Now I think the comparisons are somewhat unfair as when I started using Twitter it was a very basic tool and not at all as extensive as Google+ is today.

So come on, link up with me on Google+ and let’s have some fun. And Happy New Year!


Apple QuickTime turns 20 – Happy birthday

By on January 4, 2012

As QuickTime turns 20 it loses some of its magic.

Apple’s QuickTime technology has just turned 20 years old. Apparently it was on December 2 in 1991 that Apple released the first version of QuickTime. On Wikipedia QuickTime is described as an “extensible proprietary multimedia framework developed by Apple Inc., capable of handling various formats of digital video, picture, sound, panoramic images, and interactivity.” Basically it’s a collection of technologies, now a part of Mac OS X, that handles video and other types of multimedia content.

I bet you that you’ve used QuickTime at some point or another, even if you’re a Windows user. If you happen to be a Mac user, you probably use parts of QuickTime on an everyday basis, without even realizing.

Imagine 160×120 pixels, 10 fps

I was actually running QuickTime from very early on, as I was lucky enough to have a preview CD shipped to me by Apple. The CD contained hundreds of movies, lots of utilities, sample code, and much more. Even a video of say 160×120 pixels and 10 fps was amazing then, and many of my friends were mightily impressed of what my Mac could accomplish.

I still have a very definite favorite QuickTime movie from those early days. The speaker voice says that the power of the Macintosh Quadra the computer is advertising “will take your breath away.” It continues: “but what makes this technology so revolutionary is what it runs on: Your imagination.” And the video you were watching zooms out to reveal that you were in fact watching a small QuickTime movie on the display of a Quadra.

Although I actually had a Quadra at the time I remember the video more because of QuickTime than because of the Mac. On that Quadra, which had a 64040 processor running at 25 MHz, I think QuickTime could squeeze out a 320×240 video at about 30 fps.

In those early days of QuickTime, games and interactive multimedia applications started appearing on CD-ROM. There was From Alice to ocean and, of course, Myst. My favorite was a quirky game about a spaceship, which I can’t even remember the name of anymore.

QuickTime was pure magic

Back then QuickTime was pure magic. Times have changed and today QuickTime is not that special anymore. QuickTime as a stand-alone technology has all but disappeared and it’s not something that users are excited about anymore, it’s just there in the Mac running when it needs to.

And that is just as it should be.

I was glad that I was around when it was first introduced because it made us view the world in a new way. But other technologies will come along that provide current and future users with the same awe.

Whatever is the coolest thing tomorrow will be a natural part of what we do the next day. That’s the way of high tech.

For now, be assured that Apple is still working hard at QuickTime, even though it’s now “just” a part of the Mac OS X operating system.


Five ways the Desktop still rules

By on December 28, 2011

And why the challengers don’t stand a chance

With the emergence of better specced laptops, tablets, and increasingly powerful smartphones, people have started to question if we really need it after all. But is the desktop really that dead and gone? Industry specialists, gamers and graphic design pros still swear by them. For the rest of you commoners, here are five reasons why.

Upgradability

As we all have experienced time to time, no sooner than you go out and buy that something for yourself you’ve  been saving towards for a gazillion years, than you find out the new latest will be out next month. Now if you’ve gone off and bought say, a thousand dollar MacBook Pro, Im sorry, theres no hope for you. Desktop junkies in that way, have it good. No sooner than the latest graphics card, RAM, or even the next Intel architecture is released, most of them will simply upgrade that component and jump up to the next level.

Customization

When building your rig, you get to pick and choose; mix and match from the entire range available in the market. If it’s not available in the region, you can easily have it imported. So it really is all up to you how powerful you want your rig to be, depending upon your usage and needs. Laptops on the other hand, are mostly’ take it or leave it’ affairs in our region. They come in some set factory specs, and you have to adapt your usage according to the specifications rather than the other way round.

Personalization

The personalization options desktops offer are unique. This Is not a ‘laser-etched name on the back’ affair. Within the community there is a huge overclocking community which attempts to maximize the capabilities of processors and the like. Then there are the modders, who morph their rigs into the most epic shapes, like this Tron enthusiast has done. To top it off you can combine it with the keyboard, mouse and speaker configuration you like best, and this is where specialists like Razer and Steelseries come in.

Power/ Specs

The sheer power for desktop enthusiasts to harness is way beyond that even on laptops. The puny tablets and smartphones power blocks don’t even register on the scale. The most powerful processors, like the Intel Extreme Edition series and top graphics cards like ASUS Mars II are often only available for desktops because of space and cooling constraints. Pair these with an Intel X79 chipset and a sound card of your choice and you will be flying along. Even the screens don’t stand a chance. You can pair your rig with any mammoth type and size of screen that takes your fancy. Plus the terabytes and terabytes of stuff you can store for eternity…

Gaming

Sure you love Angry Birds on your iPhone, and that’s all very well. But if you’re a hardcore gamer you need a console or a desktop. The faithful old desktop gives you space for the specifications you need to have, as well as a host of options of specialist peripherals to give you that edge. The most popular games like Battlefield or Call of Duty even get their own game branded gear, and you can add aftermarket water cooling and overclock to give your rig a performance boost.

Photo credits bods-mods.com


iPhone, BlackBerry & Android: My usage patterns

By on December 28, 2011

What I do most on each of these devices.

Tags:

I juggle between an iPhone, a BlackBerry and an Android device on a weekly basis. And I’ve noticed that with each of these devices, my usage pattern, or what I mostly do with the device is different. So I thought I’d share my thoughts with you on where each of these devices excels for me.

The iPhone

Lets start with the iPhone. I’ve noticed that every time I switch to an iPhone, I start downloading an buying a lot more apps than on any other device. The user-interface on the iPhone is butter smooth and gorgeous and I feel that developers generally make good use of that. For example, Flipboard as well as The Path are two of my favourite applications on any platform as far as UX is concerned.

Another thing I find myself doing a lot of the iPhone is multimedia. I watch more videos, listen to more songs and download more podcasts. Part of that is because of the iTunes ecosystem which offers you all this content with so much ease. I’ve also been playing with Siri lately, but this is probably because I’m still on a honeymoon with her since my 4S is barely a couple of weeks old.

The BlackBerry

Coming to the BlackBerry, I notice that I type a lot more on a BlackBerry than any other device. Be it a chat with a friend on BBM, an email to a client or tweeting about something, the BlackBerry is my device of choice when it comes to input. Obviously, the hard keyboard plays a big role in this which is one thing that no other manufacturer has come close to.

Other than typing a lot, I am also more active on social networks on a BlackBerry. The integration of everything such as Facebook, Twitter or Google chat is so well done with a truly universal mailbox that you’re constantly reminded of pending notification. Speaking of which, the blinking red light on the BlackBerry feels like life support- you always want it on.

And Android

Last and certainly not the least, I’ve noticed that with Android, there is no single thing that I do most- it’s like a jack of all and king of none. What does stand out almost every time I start using an Android device is the increase in my number of visits to xda-developers.com where I am constantly looking for a new ROM that could make my device a bit more fluid like the iPhone or last a bit longer like my BlackBerry.

For this reason alone, I spend a lot of time tweaking the hell out of my Android device, only to give up and try it again the following week or month. It reminds me a lot of my Windows 95 days when overclocking my system to get the highest score in 3D Mark was all that mattered. To put it in other words, it makes me feel like a kid again, which, isn’t necessarily a bad thing when you’re 40.


Reality check! Smartphones still in minority

By on December 27, 2011

No, really, smartphones still small percentage of mobile sales.

Most of you reading this own a smartphone or two, or three. Having a smartphone, regardless of brand, has become almost like a human right in large parts of the world and no doubt, smartphone sales are booming. IDC expects 472 smartphones to be sold worldwide this year, with Android and iOS being the two dominating platforms.

But even with booming smartphone sales, let’s not forget that smartphones are still a small part of all mobile phones in the world. You could be forgiven to think otherwise reading the headlines in magazines and tech websites.

Almost 6 billion mobile phone subscribers

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) expects [PDF] 5.9 billion mobile phone subscribers worldwide in 2011. I know it’s a bit of apples and oranges, but this means only about 8% of all mobile handsets in the world are smartphones.

No doubt, this share will just keep increasing. IDC expects smartphone sales to almost double to 982 million by end of 2015. That’s a lot of smartphones.

But some of the functionality of smartphones, like GPS, web browsing and email has trickled down to another type of mobile phone, usually called feature phone.  In fact, over 70% of mobile handsets that shipped this year were feature phones. This number is expected to at least remain stable if not increase.

So as much as us tech writers want to talk about smartphones, when you read some headlines about record smartphone sales, think again and remember that however smart they are, they are just a small portion of the market.

What is it that makes a smartphone so, well, smart? I would imagine that most of us are lured by the big and bright screens, the fast processors, large storage capacity, fast mobile data connections, and more. To me what makes the smartphone smart is the apps.

But more than anything, for most customers, we’re probably lured by the idea of having the latest and greatest. That’s the way it so often is with tech, wouldn’t you say?

Switching to feature phone?

I can admit that I’ve thought about dumping my smartphone at times, instead going for the week-long battery life that a feature phone can offer, and often better voice quality as well. But as much as those things appeal to me, whenever I’ve tried to live with a feature phone, there’s something I’ve missed from the smartphone and I ended up switching back.

Right now, I am still in love with my iPhone 4S. It fulfills a range of roles, and has in some ways taken over what I do with a computer as well as tablet.

But a feature phone will beat it on several key points. And for all its wonderful features, the iPhone 4S, as well as all other smartphones, are still a small percentage of all mobile phones sold in the world.

That’s a reality worth keeping in mind.

Photo credit re-ality.


Open your eyes – Retina Display will be everywhere soon

By on December 19, 2011

Retina Display rumored to come to new Macs and iPad in 2012.

When the iPhone 4 launched in 2010 one thing Apple made a lot of noise about was the so-called Retina Display. As is the case with the iPhone 4S, its predecessor has a 3.5” display with 640×960 pixels. Apple states the resolution as 326 ppi (points per inch), saying it exceeds the ability of the human eye to detect individual pixels from around 10 inches away. The resolution necessary for this is usually states as being around 300 ppi.

Now it seems we’ll see the Retina Display concept spreading to other devices, including coming iPad models as well as MacBook Pro portable computers.

iPad 3

The most obvious choice to get the Retina Display upgrade would be the coming iPad, presumably called iPad 3. It’s supposedly arriving in just a few months, which would be just in time for the annual cycle Apple established for its tablet by introducing iPad 2 a year after the first model.

But will iPad 3 really get enough pixels to reach 326 ppi, like the iPhone? Well, if we believe rumors, iPad 3 will be 2,048×1,536 pixels, which would mean 264 ppi.

So why “just” 2,048×1,536? It’s twice the horizontal and vertical resolution of the current iPads, meaning there will be less work for developers to get their apps to work on the new display. Since everything just doubles, current apps should work just fine, while apps written to take advantage of the increased number of pixels can look even better.

And let’s be honest, that many pixels on a 9.7″ display – assuming Apple won’t change the physical display size – will still be a lot of pixels. If Apple wanted to add the “HD” label to iPad 3, it still could, as it would exceed the usual benchmark for HD, 1,280×720.

If this is one change we can expect iPad 3 – no surprise here – to featured a faster processor, possibly quad-core, and a much faster graphics system as well. To drive these many pixels, Apple would have to beef up the GPU quite considerably.

MacBook Pro

There are also rumors that Apple’s MacBook Pro will get a higher resolution in 2012. Some sources say 2,880×1,800 pixels, which if we’re talking about a 15” display would mean 226 ppi, still far from the iPhone’s Retina Display.

Currently you can get up to 1,680×1,050 pixels on the 15″ MacBook Pro, which equates to just 132 ppi. I think you just imagine the same display at almost three times the pixel density.

For that to really work Mac OS X will have to start supporting resolution independence. Right now, interface elements like menus and buttons are a set number of pixels big. If that continues with a much-higher ppi, things will just look smaller.

With resolution independence, a user interface element can look about the same real-life size but be built from more pixels, thereby giving it a smoother and crisper look. Basically, with resolution independence, the interface doesn’t depend on a particular pixel resolution to display elements in various sizes, it can scale up and down and still look good.

This is certainly the direction that Apple is moving in but a good guess why they haven’t already is that the +300 ppi displays haven’t arrived yet. Already in 2005 John Siracusa wrote that the “race is on” for “the affordable 300dpi display or the resolution-independent version of Mac OS X.”

For Macs that may be what Cupertino is waiting for, displays with Retina Display pixel density. My guess is that we’ll see Retina Display in iPad before we see it on Macs though, probably as soon as in a few months.


Siri, write this article for me!

By on December 15, 2011

Siri is not that smart, at least not quite yet.

That’s what I tried to tell her her anyway, to write this article for me, because it is a she isn’t it-that new voice control system that comes with Apple’s iPhone 4S? The name Siri doesn’t really give away the gender and the default voice is female, so let’s sick to that.

The day will come, although it’s still quite far away, when I can tell Siri to write a 500 word article on a particular topic and she will do just that. And I suspect I will get to experience that before I die, or at least I hope so.

Since iPhone 4S officially is just about to go on sale in UAE by both du and Etisalat, I guess many of you will be trying out Siri soon. Unfortunately, I suspect that the result will be varied.

Not my first attempt

I’ve dabbled with voice control and voice recognition before. In the early 90s I owned a Macintosh Quadra 660AV, which had something called PlainTalk. This was basically a simple system for speech control. You spoke into a special microphone and said things like “open window” and other similarly simple things.

Considering how long ago this was, it was really cool and it was always impressive to demonstrate to others. I could really say “get a Mac” to anyone who went “cool” when they saw how it worked. But as cool as it may have been, in the end, it was practically useless.

Since then I’ve used speech recognition a few times, trying to dictate to the computer and have had varied success. Most of the time, after going through the prescribed training of the software, it’s worked okay. With that I mean it understood most of what I’ve spoke, but there were enough issues to manually correct that it turned out to be a bit unproductive. To be fair, I’ve not had the patience to stick to one solution for very long.

Some people argue that it’s only with time that speech recognition becomes really good. That may be so, but with a mouse, keyboard and touch, I don’t have to train the computer and the software – it just works. And isn’t that how it should be?

Siri is clever

In my experience, so far nothing has come even close to being as clever and accurate as Siri.

Bless her heart, she doesn’t alway get my growling accent and when I’m in too much of a hurry she just packs up and leaves. But for the most part she works hard and tries to interpret my wishes. For Siri it’s truly a case of “your wish is my command.”

And back to the topic of Siri writing this article. I guess she could have, but it is actually me typing it on my Mac. First, Siri has to get much, much better at understanding continuous human speech. Once that’s working, I could dictate to her. Then comes the next part where she would have to come up with the text herself.

That’s a nut that no one has cracked yet and we’ll have to see much more developments from speech recognition and artificial intelligence before we arrive at something that smart.

Picture credit Witness Design.


RIM’s unsold PlayBook tablets: visualizing the disaster

By on December 12, 2011

How many PlayBooks are still gathering dust in warehouses around the world?

I’m sure you’ve heard that Research In Motion announced it had to take a $485 million write-down because of its miserable PlayBook sales. In other words, there are too many unsold PlayBooks around so RIM had to write them off, more or less, because it’s unlikely they will sell.

But how many PlayBooks are still gathering dust in warehouses around the world?

Let’s first look at how many have actually been sold. RIM has reported sales of 500,000 units in the first quarter after the April launch, 250,000 in the quarter after that, and 150,000 in the third fiscal quarter, which ended November 26.

That’s less than 1 million PlayBooks so far.

Poor RIM

I actually have a PlayBook and I’ve always thought it was a very nice tablet in many ways. Even though I’m no huge fan of 7-inch tablets, the PlayBook was a pleasant experience, with fast processor, great multitasking, and a nice form factor.

My main complaint from the start was the lack of apps and unfortunately I don’t feel that has improved much. Sure, most of the apps I needed were there or I could find substitutes, but it was nowhere near as good as on iOS or even Android.

So, in terms of hardware the PlayBook is very nice but the software has killed any interest, which is sad, because it’s one thing that could have been avoided.

But let’s have a little fun with RIM, okay?

How many unsold PlayBooks does RIM still have?

Opinions differ but there seems to be consensus that 1 million or more is a fair estimate. Some even say it’s as high as 1.4 million but let’s stick with 1 million.

The PlayBook is 9.7mm thick, so how far do we get if we stack 1 million PlayBooks on top of one another? Basically, let’s visualize RIM’s unsold inventory of tablets.

Some quick math and we get 9,700m, stacking one PlayBook on top of the other.

With Burj Khalifa being just short of 830m tall, we need almost 12 of the majestic towers stacked up to match RIM’s unsold PlayBooks.

This is of course just a bit of tongue-in-cheek fun but it does show the scale of the disaster RIM is facing. Being able to run Android apps on PlayBook or de-coupling it from the BlackBerry smartphone is unlikely to make any dent in the sales.

At this point, all RIM can hope for is a firesale in TouchPad style, to get rid of as many tablets as possible. For that, I feel really sad as the PlayBook deserves better.

But then so did the TouchPad.

Picture credit: Wikipedia.


What makes you upgrade your phone?

By on December 12, 2011

How about games?

Upgrading hardware for PC enthusiasts is a very simple affair. It’s understood by society at large that it has to be done. The reasons could be something as simple and stupid as bragging rights, to something more realistic as playing the latest game which wouldn’t run fast enough on existing hardware, to the more inexplicable like “just having the need to have the latest and greatest.”

What about mobile phones, though? I know in this part of the world many people buy it just for the bragging rights. I’m sure that’s the case in most developed and developing countries as well. What I’ve realized over the years is that the bragging rights competition is just left to kids. I mean, iPhone is quite easily the most desirable mobile phone on the planet, and because of subsidized telecom plans, pretty much everyone can have one. So what’s left to brag about? iPhone 4S? But, it looks just like last year’s model, so who knows/cares?!

Another thing I have noticed as the smartphone convergence was happening in the my circle of family and friends in the last few years: it’s all about personal taste. Nobody cares anymore if you have the latest dual-core smartphone with 8MP camera and a huge touchscreen. Everybody just wants a user experience they’re comfortable with. I know many people hate iTunes and Zune because of the limitations that puts on organizing your existing media content. On the other hand many love the organization structure presented by these programs. The one thing everybody absolutely needs, though, are the apps.

Games, utilities, social networking, weather and news; no matter what the interest is, everyone needs apps. Free or paid, it doesn’t matter to most as the cost of entry is as low as $0.99 (AED 3.67) so the need for piracy is pretty much eliminated. Unless you consider regional restrictions, but that’s a topic for another time.

The only time people stick to old phones is when the new generation doesn’t offer anything substantial. Like…the iPhone 4S? Or even the jump from Froyo to Gingerbread smartphones? I mean, I get it why people still stick with their years old Nokia or Blackberry phones, because the OS didn’t provide enough of a leap to justify the upgrade. So I guess that means 2012 will be one hell of year, what with iOS 5, Android Ice Cream Sandwich, BB 10 and Windows 7.5 handsets out around the same time. Then I guess pretty much everyone will be upgrading their existing handsets. No one will be bragging about hardware, but more about what their OS of choice can offer.

As for me, my reason for upgrading used to be just a change of pace. Trying different phones and OSs to see which one I like the most; if nothing else, just to stay ahead of the curve. But now my needs are more straightforward. Going back to my PC gamer roots, the only reason I would want to upgrade my iPhone 4 to the 4S is so that I can play Infinity Blade II with the same ease as I can on my iPad 2. Man, those dual-cores real render the gorgeous Unreal Engine frames fast!


What kind of mobile devices are people using to access tbreak.com?

By on December 4, 2011

No points for guessing what the number device will be.

One of the interesting things that running a website like tbreak.com lets you see is how people are accessing our content. It should come as no surprise that the amount of users accessing tbreak.com from their mobile devices has risen tremendously- we get 75% more visitors accessing the site from their mobile device now than we did just three months back. What I thought I’d do in this blog is show what kind of mobile devices are being used.

Not surprisingly, the iPhone proved to be the most popular mobile device accessing tbreak.com with an incredible 36.20%. Another win for Apple is that the iPad came in second with 34.03%. If you add the iPod Touch with 3.53% share, the total percentage of mobile users accessing tbreak.com from an iOS device is an astonishing 73.76%. That means that almost three out of every four people that access tbreak.com from a mobile device use some kind of Apple gadget.

Coming in at a healthy 20.27% is the Android platform which makes up for all the Android Smartphones and tablets present on the market. So between iOS and Android, you have a 94% market share of mobile devices accessing tbreak.com, making pretty all other platforms irrelevant for us to look into. For those that are curious, Symbian came in at 2.43%, BlackBerry at 1.52% and Windows Mobile at 1.33%.

So what exactly were these mobile users accessing? Not surprisingly, the most used page was our movies mobile website that lists movies currently showing along with their showtimes at cinemas across the UAE. The second highest group of pages was again for movies but not necessarily through the mobile site. That was just a tad bit ahead of out tech and gaming websites followed by forums.

So there you have it- a snapshot of what mobile devices our visitors are accessing to visit tbreak.com and exactly what is it that they are looking for from their mobiles.


Most Read
Most Commented
Competitions
Win two Toshiba AT200 tablets

This festive season Toshiba has 2 tablets to giveaway.

Win an MSI FM2-A85XA-G65 Motherboard

Thanks to MSI we have an great AMD FM2 motherboard to giveaway.

Win a Nokia Asha 311

Thanks to Nokia we have a great entry-level smartphone to giveaway.