Archives For mobile

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There are many times in the last year that I’ve looked at a problem and told myself – if anyone can do it, it is us (Google).  It certainly feels good working for a company that you can say that about.  I don’t write too often about my employer – my blog is mostly about my personal thoughts on technology, with occasional other topics.  But, today, I’m making an exception.

Working for Google leaves me being amazed at the scale, pace and breadth of innovation that happens here.  I was proud of my previous employer, no doubt – especially when I started there, I felt I was surrounded by some of the smartest minds in applied R&D as there can be (and that is still true).  But, what I see coming out of Google is absolutely mind boggling for the size we are as a company.

Collectively, the announcements around Google Wallet, Google+, Hangouts, the Knowledge Graph and a bunch of other things are demonstrating innovation at an unparalleled pace.  And while a good amount of this is coming from Google, it is also setting up for an innovating ecosystem to thrive.

While some of these improvements are small, taken independently, the collective advancements are inspiring.  Clearly, hardware and software have different life cycles and it would be unfair to compare the pace of advancements in the two areas – but, with the likes of Samsung and HTC producing stunning devices and Android providing a thriving platform for innovation, I see that the future of mobile is evolving more rapidly than ever before!

Of course, like anything else, it is not a company without its own problems and growing pains.  I’m going to refrain from discussing those here.  Instead, for today, I’m just going to leave it at calling out the amazing stuff that we have all just seen talked about at I/O!

ImageI blogged on Quora about how I don’t expect to be dazzled by the Facebook phone!  I won’t get it to it all here again, but, the essence of it is that Facebook just hasn’t demonstrated that it gets mobile.  But, one thing the upcoming Facebook Phone is doing is endorsing Android as the platform of choice.  “iOS first” is fast becoming a mantra of the past.  The shift is not only in the developer community, but also among the users that are starting to discover the benefits of cool customizations!

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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 know, it is a new age.  We are supposed to have moved on from voice communication.  It’s all about social now.  What exactly is “social” anyway?  Who knows, but it is not about traditional calling!  We are supposed to be broadcasting our thoughts in short (or long) snippets with embedded short links!  Who calls any more?! Must be those old school people and the older population!

Well, I still pick up the phone and call sometimes.  When I need to reach someone now.  When I want to ask a quick question.  When I want to casually chat with friends.  When I want to hear someone’s voice.  When I want to have an effective exchange.  Etc.  Sure, the time I spend on voice calls is small compared to the time I spend on “social” (although I don’t exactly know what it is, I know I spend a lot of time being “social”).  But, does that mean voice is irrelevant, as an application?

In this era of voice becoming almost obsolete, it is still hard for me to say voice is irrelevant.  More and more devices that are categorized as “phones” function abysmally for voice – they are built for other functions these days.  Makes me wonder if these devices were even tested for voice quality and what the pass criteria was!  But, at the end of the day, I want to toss a device that gives me crappy voice experience and pick up a real phone.  I have low tolerance in general, but I can tolerate a few more milliseconds of latency on “social” better than I can tolerate crappy voice.  I suspect I’m not alone.  We may not call much any more – but when we do, we better be able to hear the other person crystal clear!  Voice isn’t THE killer app any more, but it certainly is one of the key experiences still worth designing for!