Is Google becoming less Geek friendly ?

Google has totally killed GTalk

That is sad on so many fronts.

Gtalk used to be a small app that would sit quietly in the notification part of the computer and when someone chats with you, it would pop up. If you used Yahoo messenger or MSN messenger - you know what I mean.

However, now to get the same functionality - you have to run through a few hoops. Firstly there is no standalone app available anymore. The alternate to GTalk is Hangout. Firstly the name itself has no Googly connotation to it. And to install it first you need to download the Chrome browser and then get the Hangout plugin. If you try it any other way - this is what you get.

Which makes me think - is Google becoming less Geek friendly ? By sacrificing the fun of being able to mix and match, people like me will be turned off. Sure it makes sense to have a nice unified experience by dumbing it down for the masses - but the torch bearers are the Geeks and Nerds who influence the masses. Once these guys start moving away to other platforms, the current platform starts to die bit by bit. The recent movies by Google reminds me of an earlier post Microsoft shooting itself in its foot ?

Its the same feeling I got when I used Inbox - now I am back to using the earlier Gmail interface.

All around in the Google ecosystem I see the same. More and more focus is going into making Chrome the one point of access. At one time Google used to have a lot of apps on Linux - which seemed quite cool as the entire Google platform (including Android) is Linux based. But they have been quitely shelving support on Linux ( Google Officially Drop Picasa For Linux ). Search results are now returned for your geo instead of actually useful links from around the world.

I am sure some of you may be thinking that I am cribbing about things which affect only a few people. But I think that these few people are the influencers for their friends and family when it comes to tech stuff. As people like us start using other platforms ( e..g Search on Duck Duck Go instead of Google ), we start recommending these to our influence circle.

The question that keeps revolving in my mind is - Is Google becoming less Geek friendly ?

The Pebble Watch

This is my review of the Pebble Watch which I have been using for the last few days now. Of course the watch has been out for ages now, so there is nothing new - just another view point. Notice that I did not label it as a Smart Watch for that is something which has a long way to go before a watch is really smart.

The Display

The watch has an eInk display. What that means is that the display is always on - unlike the other Android watches. The eInk does not use any battery while it is on, only while changing anything on it ( e.g. changing the minutes). So, it should last longer than the other watches in the market. e.g. For Android watches, you need to charge it every day. Even the Apple Watch will need charging everyday. So far, I have seen that the battery goes down by about 10% every day. It seems to indicate a 10 day life, but the official figures are around 7 days.

Since the display is a fully electronic one, it means that the watch face can be customized in many ways. There are 3 inbuilt faces, but you can get a lot of others from the pebble store. Some of these that I am using are :

The other fantastic thing about this display is that it is readable in broad sunlight.

Another difference from the other watch displays is that it is always on. This is a big thing. Usually android watches displays switch off to save on battery, so what you have is a blank display. True, they have motion detectors for turning on the display, but that makes it feel less and less like a watch.

The only drawback of the display is that it is monochrome ( where art thou colour eink?) and the pixel density is less, so lines look jagged.


The watch requires a phone to work with. It works with either Android phones or iPhones using bluetooth (BT). Everything is fed to the phone through your phone. To add more functionality (in terms of apps or watch faces) is done through an app on the phone.

The amount of apps is limited to just 8 - which I find very very small for a device trying to be smart.

Another problem is that with BT on, your phone will discharge faster.

However, there are quite a lot of advantages of having this on all the time. Some of these that I really like are :

  • When you move out of BT range, the watch will vibrate. This is extremely useful when you forget your phone ! 
  • When going for a run, it still needs your phone for gps, but instead of looking at your phone (which I usually carry in my pocket), the display shows the details of how far you have gone, the time of the run, etc. 
  • Notifications come on the watch, so you don't need to take out the phone or even look at it till you get something you have to respond to. Sometimes, e.g. with whatsapp, the notifications become too much - so I usually turn off notifications entirely, or just mute the whatsapp group from the phone. 
  • Notifications can also be changed to have only phone calls show up. I think this will be a godsend when I am on the bike (not yet checked it out) as it will show up the name of the person when I am riding. Or, when at home and I am in a different room than where the phone is. 
  • It updates the temperature using the phone's data connectivity. I now no longer need a dedicated weather app on the phone. 


I am still trying to figure this out. Some apps that are cool are : 
  • A whatsapp app to see the last few conversations
  • Pedometer apps
  • Go Pro remote !
So far, I am really liking this watch. I do wish it had a lot more features ( see my earlier post on my expectations from Apple's smart watch - though it would apply to all smart watches) . It has become my defacto watch over the last few days, and my earlier timex lies neglected :-/ 

We are Martians

Today morning India's maiden mission to Mars was a success.

And I went berserk. A moment of feeling so proud of what our nation has achieved. A moment of vastness encapsulated in a moment of time. I can only imagine how awesome the Scientists at ISRO must have been feeling!

I got up at 6:30am in the hotel room. I did not even need an alarm to wake me up - just got up as if I subconsciously knew that it was Time. I am travelling now and unfortunately Hyatt does not have DD channel. However, ISRO is just one step ahead of everyone at this time and they had a livestream on their site ! Immediately switched to that and turned on the TV news channels ( which were using that same stream).

The whole event lasted for almost 2 hours. 2 hours glued to the laptop, tv, facebook and twitter. And at the end - the best clapping sounds I have ever heard.

MOM is in orbit !

There are some very interesting facts about this momentous event.

  • India is the 3rd nation in the world to have a successful mission to Mars
  • It is the first nation to have done it on the 1st attempt. 
  • It is the first Asian nation to have reached Mars. 
  • It is the least costly mission to the red planet. NASA's just reached MAVEN is about 10 times more costly. 
  • It takes 12 1/2 minutes for the message to reach Earth from the orbiter. In comparison it takes about 8 mins for the light from the sun to reach earth. 
  • Most of the maneuvers for getting in orbit were done automatically during the time that the orbiter was behind Mars - so no message from Earth would be reaching it when it was in the most critical part of the journey.  
Just take a step back and think about it. A probe launched in Nov of last year is now orbiting Mars. 

Man. That's a huge deal. 

Science has again trumped Superstitions. 

Post the confirmation that the process was executed flawlessly, there was some more awesomeness. The guys at ISRO are really into the social networks now. So, immediately after , we got our first tweet from the official MOM account : 
And then some more awesomeness followed.

Thats the ISRO Mars Orbiter talking to NASA's Curiosity rover :)

As the amazing feeling is still sinking in, I would also like you to go over to my friend's blog and read his views also ( ISRO's Mars Orbiter Mission is a success )

Once again - Dear ISRO. /Respect

Expectations from Apple's Smartwatch

The crescendo is picking up about the imminent launch of a watch from Apple - dubbed the iWatch. The noise is so much that Google has preemptively launched their wearables - specifically the watch. That gives them the bragging rights to launching the wearable OS first ( though you could technically point towards the pebble watch and other such precursors).

However, I don't like the way they are going about it. It seems like it is a mirroring of the functionality of the phone on the watch. So, you get all the notifications etc on the watch. That I think is the wrong approach.

What I would have liked is an extension of functionality.

Let me explain what I mean by that.

I would expect the phone and the watch to work in isolation without a need of the other.  Its like how the phone works independently of the laptop. So, if you are checking email on the phone, it does not require that your laptop be nearby.

Similarly, if you are wearing just the watch, I would expect that it work flawlessly without being dependent on the availability of the phone. Which means that the watch is more than just a timekeeping and a notification device.

Lets go over a few examples of what I think Apple will come out with. I am going to think from the perspective of different types of watch users.

The basic business user will have something similar to the current generation of Android watches. You will have beautiful watch faces - get ready to go wow - cause Apple really cares about how things look. So, I am pretty sure they would have already talked to the major watch makers and asked them for using the watch faces from certain iconic watches. Expect Swizz and German watch faces in addition to a few digital faces. This will get the notifications from the phone - e.g. new mail message ( dont expect to read it on the watch - I don't think Apple will think it a good user experience to read two words at a time), calendar events and alarms.

The next level of user is the sports enthusiast. I expect that Apple will partner with Nike for getting the Nike+ as part of the watch. So, now you can just go for a jog with the watch and it will use the Nike+ tech to track your runs, and once you are back within phone or laptop range, it will sync all the data with it so you can review it on a bigger screen. I also expect that the phone will have more sensors added to it like heart rate monitor, pulse monitor ( which means that we can potentially see a better strap which acts as a sensor - and also cause angst among the users as they wont be able to change it ). Already as per the rumor mill, apple has basketball athetes ( and probably others) testing the watch. I hardly expect such professionals to carry a phone along with the watch - so that why I think that the watch can work independently.

The 3rd user I think that the watch will cater to are for health reasons. As stated above, I expect the watch to have different biometric sensors - and hence it will be a boon to patients. Also with the WWDC'14 seeing the launch of APIs specifically for health, I expect that the APIs also tie in with the watch in some way. So the watch becomes a measuring instrument and passes on the data to the phone, which in turn will enable doctors to monitor the patients.

I pretty much predict that these things are going to come from Apple. For me it makes sense that Apple will look at the watch not just as time or notification device, but push the boundaries of a sensing device. 

Key Takeaways from Google IO 2014

Similar to my Key Takeaways from Apple's WWDC14, here I go into the takeaways from the Google IO this year.

Oh, also have a look at my earlier post from 2011where I had suggested changes to Android and - hey look - they have actually done many of those things !  :D

1. India is a focus area.
I should say developing markets - but with mobile OEMs like Micromax, Karbon and Lava shown in the keynote, the focus definitely seems to be more India centric. I hope they are also eyeing the networks in India which needs to be made faster to really leverage the google capabilities. Considering the other market - China - which is a walled place for Google - I think Google is hedging tis bet on India to take it to the next level in terms of usage.

2. Android One. 
This seems to be a way to standardize the android fragmentation issue. With a minimum set of features that Google deems necessary it can get the low cost OEMs on board. For the OEMs they will make the hardware as per Google's specs, and for Google, it will reduce the fragmentation. ( see pt 5 in )

3. Wearables.
The other big announcement was wearables. For now this means smart watches. We already have had Samsung's Galaxy Gear out in the market for sometime - and this takes that concept further by having SDKs available for developers to use in their own apps. Essentially now you will have a watch which will sync notifications and other apps on your watch.
Google is coming out with a LG and a Samsung watch now ( around 15k INR) and a Moto watch a bit later ( which I suspect will be cheaper). But with a best case battery life of just 1 day I don't recommend it except for the nerdy showoff factor.

4. Return of the Dumb Terminals. 
Well, it was covered under different headings like TV and Automotive, but I feel that they are the same thing. You have a display terminal which really does not do much. It has a basic OS running. All apps will reside in your phone. When you connect your phone with the terminal, it will run the apps for that terminal on it. So, if the terminal is a TV, it will run the apps for the TV. If the terminal is a car terminal - it will run the stuff needed for cars. Etc.
I think it is an elegant system for making the terminals simpler and keeping all the complexity on the phone. This way, the TV/Car manufacturer needs to just conform to a minimal specs to get the OS running, and the rest is taken care by the phone.
This theme is also being taken to the chrome OS. Now it will be possible to have apps from your phone to run on the laptop via the ChromeOS. So the ChromeOS terminal will run as a dumb terminal to the phone apps. This is quite a nifty feature - i always wanted a way to be able to respond to whatsapp messages via the laptop. It also goes a step beyond what apple is doing with iOS 8 where they integrated the sms so that you can answer from your mac. However, I havent seen anything like the feature of calling from your mac as yet.

5. Awareness
I have seen this umpteen times where we talk about machines which enable another machine to do something by its proximity. A regular example I see is that having the phone close to your computer will get it to unlock the computer. Till now, I have seen only concept videos - this is the first time I have seen a working demo. Its great, but also i wonder if it is something which may lead to abuse. All you now need is a person's watch to unlock his phone/computer. Have to wait and see what safeguards are there.
Another part of this awareness is that notifications now get on your other devices. So, if you have a phone and are wearing the watch ( see pt 3) , you get the notificaitons on your devices. This is not as seamless as the continuity as apple demoed, but similar.

5. UX improvements
As Apple tries to catch up to Google in terms of features and developer friendliness, Google is trying to catch up with Apple in terms of usability. The current trend is to make everything look consistent by having a guideline for the community of developers and designers. To make things feel more dynamic, google has come up with a framework of displaying windows which, in addition to the x and y dimensions, also adds a depth ( or z axis ). This means that a program can use an element it has, add a z axis value and it will seem to popup on the top. They call this framework "Material". I wish they had used a sexier name -- I find it as offensive as the term 'resources' are used for people in companies. But I guess its just me.

Now you would be wondering why I haven't talked about Android 5.0. Thats because Android 5.0 is not one thing. It is all the things I just talked about above.

It is quite possible that I may have missed some other things from the stupor inducing keynote - if so, please leave it in the comments below and I will incorporate them here.

I am also quite disappointed that Larry Page did not make an appearance this time. He was the show stealer from last year.

Thoughts on Wearables Battery

Of late there has been a lot of talk about wearables. Small devices which are powerful enough to communicate to others. Its part of the bigger "Internet of Everything". Nike came out with their run measuring devices and Pebble came out with their smartwatch, followed by Samsung with their Galaxy Gear.

The focus off late seems to have shifted to watches with the hype building up for an imminent launch of a watch from Apple and other companies making a preemptive strike by launching their watches first.

Google has gone all out by developing SDKs for wearables and have 2 watches out for preorder (from LG and Samsung) and another to follow soon ( from Motorola). Impressive tech which syncs seamlessly with your phone ( if you have android 4.3+ running on it).

However, no one is mentioning the Elephant in the Room - the battery life.

Pebble has just 7 days of batter life. That is quite bad for a watch. Usual watches last a year or more on a single cell, and if you have a solar watch or the kinetic watches - they last even longer.
The Google watches last at max a day. A Day! Just that much ? I am fed up of charging my phone every day - though it is still bearable as I can easily put that on the table while charging. However, with a watch - do you think you will be able to keep it on your wrist while charging ?

Another common problem with a 1 day approach is that most people have 2 or more watches. Depending on the mood ( or clothes ) people like to use the watch as an accessory. But with this kind of battery life either you will need to keep using the watch everyday and give up your other watches, or have the foresight to charge it before you plan to wear it.

I think a communicating watch - with other benefits like GPS tracking/health monitoring is an amazing technological advancement, but without a good battery life this thing is just for geeky people to showoff that they are using it.

What do you think - would you like to have a watch which you have to keep charging every day ?

Key takeaways from WWDC14 :

This was a big update. Much more than I had thought. A lot of startups will be killed by this, but it will give rise to a lot many other startups.

1. There is a new programming language named swift ! Wow . I am sure no one ever saw that coming !
2. Cross device handoff between macs and iOS devices. - Continuity
- We have this kind of thing when using gtalk or some other apps, but usually they just update on both the devices. What Apple has been talking about is that the laptop / iphone will sense when they are in proximity and the update will happen there. Add to it, it seems to be an OS level functionality so maybe in the future other apps will be able to make use of it.
3. Metal - they just stripped away a whole layer of GL to Hardware interaction and provide direct access to hardware capabilities, making the iOS devices "As powerful as a console devices" . We think Apple is getting ready to move into the console space. Add an apple TV to the mix and you have this working as a console streaming to the TV in the living room.
4. Health and Home kits - by baking in these APIs into the OS, App developers will be able to use a standarized API interface to apple machines. I think this will be tied into the iPhone launch in sept where it will have more biometric capabilities.
5. Touch ID integration for other APPs. So far the touch Id was used as authentication only for apple specific apps. Now, you will be able to use it for many other apps who start integrating with it. So, yes - lesser number of passwords. Think of it as a 'sign in with facebook' link that you are used to seeing - only you will use finger print sensors to do it.
6. OS X Yosemite - a new update to the OS - which is FREE! That effectively leaves Windows as the only paid OS for consumers in the world. ( Linux - free, Chrome OS - free, Android - Free , iOS - Free, OSX - Free , Windows - Paid).
7. Extensibility plugins in iOS will take apps to a whole new level. You can use an exposed extension of one app in another APP. I am a bit worried about the security aspects here - but apple did mention that they have been thinking of that and are sure it will work well.
8. Notifications got a major overhaul - so the grouse I have with iOS notifications not being as good as Android notifications may go away. They allow you to do much more now than Android does ( e.g. marking emails ) but I am sure Google is not sitting idle and will have an update sooner or later. Unfortunately, most Android phones will not get to see the updates as most manufacturers do not update the OS to the latest one. However, they also tie in notificaitons on the desktop which I have yet to see on any other OS the way apple handles it. All that I get on other OSs is a baloon popup :(
9. Apple finally seems to have figured out iCloud Drive - and this is going to make many services like Dropbox redundant. Though to really use it I think you need a very good bandwidth WiFi connection.

Some people are - as usual - disappointed about no hardware talk - but I think that is to be expected. This was a  World Wide _Developer_ conference. It is all about software. Wait till September for the hardware updates - and since Tim Cook mentioned that this is the 25th WWDC from Apple, I have high expectation of hardware enhancements which will utilize all these software updates that they have brought in.