Archives For Personalization

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For centuries, we human beings are used to having separate worlds in our lives.  Our parents, our friends, our managers, our peers, our teachers, our children – the list goes on.  We often maintain different personalities with the different worlds and rarely are we comfortable with details about who we are in one world leaking into one of the other worlds.  As a diehard Seinfeld fan, this brings to mind George’s fear of colliding of worlds (Independent George, Relationship George) as Jerry happily hooks up Elaine and Susan!

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When I read articles such as the NYTimes one on “They Loved Your G.P.A. Then They Saw Your Tweets“, I always come away with mixed feelings about what role the social networking landscape should play on one’s life – in this case, education, perhaps something else in another case.  This is certainly not the first article written about the reality of colliding worlds and it won’t be the last.  As we become more trackable via sensors, the problem of collisions is going to be huge.  As a society, are we really prepared for it?

Before we answer that question, let’s recall the role that man’s inventions have played on evolving our societal norms over the years.  From the evolution of commerce to banking to recent techniques of sending money via email, one of communication from pigeon carriers to snail mail to all kinds of electronic modes available now, etc., our society has evolved and adapted to inventions (technological and other) that have woven into people’s lives as an integral part.

Along the same lines, there is a massive force on social behavior at the moment, brought upon by all the myriad of information that is available about us online.  I wrote on Quora about the different ways in which one can lose privacy today – for all those reasons and more, evidence of our behavior is smeared in bits of information all over the place.  It is futile to fight it or try to revert or delete it all.  And yet, I believe this is the among the most difficult changes inflicted on society by human inventions.

Despite all the changes that have come about, the notion of a relationship role is one that has undergone little to no change from times immemorial.  And I mean relationship in the broadest of senses – what a student is to a teacher, what a child is to a parent, what friends are to each other, etc.  And despite the huge changes that have happened in the ways we communicate, how we handle these different personas have more or less remained the same.

And today, this is all in jeopardy.  Not only that, but it is rapidly changing – before we are ready for it.  Previously, to impress a potential employer, we could put our best foot forward and know that that is going to be what counts for the most part.  The equivalent of information leaks in that world would have been things like knowing a common intersection of people from one of your different worlds that may divulge undesirable information about you.  This was not a common occurrence in the big scheme of things.

Today, it is a reality everywhere. There is no place to hide.  And this makes all the difference.  Unfortunately, just as in any other case, technology will end up influencing human social behavior more so than accepted societal norms defining the future of technology in this space. We have to be more cognizant about this in our actions.  Be it an educational institution that figures out just how much your tweets count towards your admissions or a student that figures out how to develop a social profile that augments their admissions – we will eventually reach equilibrium. Until then, it’s a rocky road ahead and we have to ride along!

I like my Android device the way it is.  I did try out Facebook Home to get a feel for it, but I won’t be going back to it anytime soon!  You can read my full review on Quora here.  In brief, it introduces a delay in all the important things I’d use my phone for.  If you need to make an emergency call, forget it – you can like and comment on Facebook news feeds while your phone is locked, but getting to the dialer for an emergency call will take a few steps! A number of the normal Facebook frustrations on the mobile are now available on all our apps!

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All in all, I uninstalled after giving it a good shot and trying out various operations.  I’m all for a contextual future – but, my contextual envelope happens to be beyond Facebook!

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The S4 from Samsung is the talk of the town.  It was a highly anticipated launch event and as with any such event, there was a good amount of criticism to go with it.  May be Samsung needs to be better at PR; may be the storytelling needs to improve.  Whatever be it, one thing you cannot accuse the company of at the moment is innovation on the product itself.  The focus on user experience is clear and the device has been receiving good reviews already with the early assessments.

The thing that strikes me the most is the sensor composition in this device – clearly, Samsung is setting itself up for the future.  Let’s start with the camera.  13MP camera in a phone – that has to be a marketing tick box!  The engineers know that the additional mega pixels are not buying anything on such a small device, with the real capabilities and limitations of the lens.  But, that’s not the coolest part about the camera.  It is the dual capture mode that is fascinating! Imagine the possibilities of inserting the front image or video into the captured scene!  Trying to buy a dress?  Take a picture of the dress and superimpose it on your photo captured at that moment with the front camera.  Be in the party you are capturing.  Capture the moment and don’t lose yourself.  The possibilities are really amazing!  The first round of this may not be perfect, but it is certainly heading in the right direction.  Not to mention the ability to capture sounds with images.  It is unclear how popular the sound capture would be – but, you have to applaud the company for its innovative thinking and focus on the user.

And then come the other sensors.  The Galaxy S family of devices have always been at the cutting edge of sensors, but this one adds the temperature, humidity and IR gesture sensing capabilities.  With the IR gesture sensing, a whole new world of gestures come into existence.  Touch gestures can go so far – but, IR gestures address so many limitations of always-on gesture sensing that exist solely with touch.  Touch gestures always have this limitation where differentiating between an intentional gesture and an unintentional natural use of the device is hard.  Or rather, it is at odds with natural gestures – the more natural a gesture needs to be, the harder it is to separate it from the unintentional use.  Hence, often, an external trigger is needed to know that it is actually a gesture.  However, the IR gestures can really help addressing this limitation and bringing the world of always-on gestures a step closer.

Temperature and humidity sensing are in early stages of use – however, interesting possibilities exist when fused with other types of data in terms of where the device is held (differentiating between a device that is in a pocket vs in a bag hung on a shoulder), what the environment is like and so on.

One step at a time, we see that Samsung is getting closer to a truly personalized experience.  It is interesting that they have chosen to go from “S Life” to “Life Companion” as the slogan for the device – it certainly seems like they are getting closer to delivering that experience!

Cupertino really needs to be worried – what will the next iPhone have that will stump this?

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I reset my iPad to factory settings, wiping all of my content from it and set it up for my mom this past weekend.  This has been coming for some time now, but I finally came to terms with it – I had no use for the iPad any more!  The truth is that I haven’t used it in a while – months now, really.  When I first bought the iPad, I was thrilled.  I used it a lot – the key role it played for me was that of an electronic note taker.  I transitioned from having notebooks and pieces of paper I couldn’t find or decipher to having electronic copies of all the notes of any significance.  Other apps and uses of the iPad were secondary.  The portability and ease of notetaking alone were worth it for me.

And then I found predictive keyboards on Android, such as Swiftkey.  As the algorithms trained on more of my data, I got to a point that I could type very well and fast on my Android phone.  That is when the I really stopped ‘needing’ the iPad.  As of now, I can type better on my phone than I can on my iPad.  Typing on the iPad even annoys me.  Apple’s keyboards are not as predictive yet and the auto-corrections are also somewhat lame.  And given the restrictions that exist on iOS ecosystem, there aren’t third party predictive keyboards that can be used.  It is a reminder of how not all of the innovation can come from a single company – not even Apple!

Granted, the bigger screen is useful for watching videos and makes for a better working environment.  However, between my Macbook Air and my smartphone, I have it covered.  When I am really working for an extended period of time, I’d much rather have my laptop anyway.  And, with what the Macbook Air weighs, anywhere I can take my iPad, I can take my Air too – so, it is really about all the other hours of the day when I need ultra light portable devices.  For those hours, I find the iPads too big – I want something that fits in my pocket and allows me to be handsfree when I need to be!

The iPad seemingly served a need when I found typing on the phone to be a pain.  But not now.  The more time I spend with my phone, the more I customize it.  My apps know me better.  Pulse on my phone is actually more relevant to me than Pulse on my iPad.  I know I can use the crazy concept of “identity” and actually log in to Pulse (gasp!) to have more or less the same experience across all my devices – but, I hate that!  When my devices can figure out who I am based on all the things I do anyway, I’m in.  Until then, I will customize the device I use the most.  For the videos I watch and all the content I consume, the tradeoff of the form factor is worth it.

Convenience wins, until there is something I do a lot that is painful to do.  As of now, I do a lot on my Android phone and I love it!  I will wait for the day when the world around us become peripherals to create bigger displays dynamically as I need them.  As much as I feel sad parting with my iPad, the time has come – it’s yours, mom!