Archives For January 2014

iRock-full

Ashton Applewhite, in her blog, This Chair Rocks, defines ‘Ageism’ and writes about how a discrimination against age is creeping into Corporate America and why that is all wrong.  Separately, Lynn Parramore wrote a post on “50 is the new 65“, talking about the discrimination that Americans increasingly face in later stages of life.

I’m going to refrain from debating whether or not they are actually right – and whether there actually is a discrimination that is plaguing our society right now.  However, I do believe that the older you get, the harder you have to work to convince a decision maker that you are the right choice.

Unconscious bias is innate in humans to begin with.  It starts from very early stages in every aspect of life.

  • An old battered toy vs a shiny new one – which one does a child pick?
  • Who do you assume can lift a heavy box – the man or the woman in the room?

The answers are obvious.  Based on things we learn, we unconsciously associate characteristics and desirability to different things. Unconscious bias is articulated in this exceptionally well narrated Washington Post story, Pearls Before Breakfast, about Joshua Bell’s performance on a subway, disguised as a street performer.  A world renowned musician whose concerts sold at $100 a seat, Joshua was performing at the metro station at L’ENFANT PLAZA in Washington D.C., indistinguishable to the passersby from a street musician.  Sure enough, he made $32.17 during the time he played at the metro!

When it comes to the workforce, what is it that we value and how does our unconscious bias associate these values with age?  Citing a few things:

  • Energy (advantage young)
  • Experience (advantage mature)
  • Motivation (slight advantage young)
  • Ability to learn new things (advantage young)
  • Compensation (advantage young)

There are, of course, many other important things, such as commitment, team skills, domain knowledge, etc., but, when all else is the same, it boils down to some critical factors that lean one way or the other.

This isn’t unlike other types of unconscious bias – such as, for e.g., the (perceived) bias against women in technology.  Women have to work extra hard to get recognized.  To be viewed as a leader, to be viewed as a strong technologist – we have to give a lot more.  Alternatively, we can work our way up starting from being a “note taker” – in other words, being of assistance to the real leaders and technologists – but, we will constantly find ourselves starting at the “note taker” level, as we work with different people.

But I digress.  The reality is, when we are dealing with a natural unconscious bias in the society – cultural or global – the larger population is not on the side of the disadvantaged, by default.  We have to be conscious and we have to work harder to earn our place.

All that said, capitalism actually makes this worse.  The idea that the profits can be unevenly distributed in fact, creates a further divide.  And yet, with this divide, is its incredible dual – the power of diversity – the fundamental value that allows us to really define who we are.

It’s not necessarily fun being on the disadvantaged side of any bias – but, it does make us a better person.  And when we conquer it, we have made an amazing impact for ourselves and we have done our part in slowly chipping away at the bias!

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I love my Nexus 5, but I’m keeping my Moto X as my primary phone for now.  And I’m simply amazed at Samsung’s marketing genius… 

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Over the holidays, I had a chance to spend a fair bit of time with my new Nexus 5 and some Samsung S3s and S4s that belong to friends.  And of course, I still use my Moto X as my primary device (for some definition of primary device that involves having a cellular network enabled on it).  I had a chance to use various applications on all three of these devices and to debug some things I helped build as well.

After this round of experiments, I have a few salient observations:

  • The Nexus 5 is simply blazing.  It is the smoothest Android device I’ve ever laid hands on, no doubt – in fact, if you ignored a couple of minor things, it might even be the best device I’ve ever used, period (yes, yes, including that ‘i’ device!).
  • The Moto X is reasonably fast – not quite the same as the Nexus 5 – but, its contextual features still rock! Unlock near a trusted Bluetooth (while driving, for e.g.) and the active display notifications are still amazingly useful!
  • Samsung knows exactly what sells phones.

Perhaps that’s not a fair summary? Maybe. But, let’s take a closer look at what this all means.

Let’s first set some things straight.  What I did in no way constitutes an actual A/B test and should not be construed as such.  There are many such tests out there done by professional bloggers and testers – so, if you want the real nitty gritty of it, go read some of those.  What I did do, however, was a reasonable comparison of end user (plus some developer level) observations on these devices in as similar conditions as feasible (without going through Faraday cages and such!). These devices had fairly a similar number of apps downloaded on them, similar number running, similar settings enabled, on the same WiFi conditions and such.  The Nexus 5 and Moto X were on KitKat, while the Samsung devices were on JB.  Now, on to some key factors.

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Shown under mediocre network conditions, the Nexus 5 is > 3X better.. Even in great network conditions, it is consistently 1.5-2X better!

  • Responsiveness: The Nexus 5 blazes. The touch interface is a pleasure!  The Moto X is reasonable (unless you have a Nexus 5 next to you, you will likely not realize that it is not as fast as it should be!).  The Samsung – well, depends. A random S4 is reasonably good (read, comparable to the Moto X), while another random S4 is noticeably slow. When you go to the S3 – let’s not even go there, since the responsiveness (or lack thereof) will make you want to upgrade your phone immediately!
  • Speed: Even though related to responsiveness, specifically talking about WiFi speeds, the Nexus 5 blows everything out of the water.  We are talking about 2-3X higher download speeds and about 1.5-2X higher upload speeds, under exact same network conditions (measured to the same server while connected to the same access point, tested over multiple time periods).  Now, my Moto X starts looking like a last gen device :(! How much of this is Qualcomm vs Broadcom performance issues?  I can’t be certain, since the Nexus 5 and the S4 have Broadcom WiFi in them and have vastly different speeds.
  • Display: Give it to Samsung here – as any other Samsung high end phones, the S4 display is spectacular.  The Nexus 5 is fairly comparable – some say the Moto X has a better display, but I’d have to disagree with that.
  • Camera: The Nexus 5 pictures are good – really good HDR+ imagery, no doubt.  But, throw them all in low light conditions and you wish you had an iPhone!
  • Developer Issues: As a developer, the Samsung devices seem to be a nightmare. From not handling PNGs to having crashes at the kernel level, it is exhausting to deal with these devices. The Nexus 5 and the Moto X shine here – but I have to say that from an app developer’s perspective, testing on these devices is never going to be enough, as things may always break down on a Samsung device somewhere and that’s just the kind of thing that will need attention…

So, what did I dislike most about each of these devices?

  • Nexus 5: Nothing significant, but I thought the face unlock was lame. It takes as long as typing a PIN (and longer when it fails and you have to type the PIN anyway).  But, more than anything, I wish it had the little contextual enhancements that the Moto X has!
  • Moto X: The camera – every time I take a picture, I wish it were better! The speed can be better (now that I’ve used the Nexus 5, I can see the difference) – otherwise, it performs acceptably.
  • Samsung S4: Almost everything. The unintuitive UI (have you experienced the ‘Remove’ option on the Samsung UI when you try to remove an app?), the terrible memory management, the innumerable inconsistent code paths that seem to cause crashes where other devices do fine, the Samsung bloatware that cannot be removed… you get it.

Clearly, I’m not buying a Samsung device.  But then, the Samsung Galaxy S4 is the most popular Android phone on the market. One thing that became quite clear to me is this – Samsung knows what it takes to sell a device.  Vibrant displays, top of the line processor speeds, cameras with big numbers of Megapixels and overall feature-packed software puts them at the top of the charts.  A truly amazing performance? Well, who cares really! The marketing prowess is surely something to be admired.

For me personally, the Moto X still does it.  I’ll continue to use the Nexus 5 quite a bit over WiFi – but to switch out of Verizon and actually make it my primary device, it’s gonna take a bit more!