Why Should You Switch From Qwerty To Colemak Keyboard Layout

If you’ve been using a computer for some time, you’d be familiar with the term ‘qwerty’ –  That’s the first six letters on the most popular format of the keyboard layout in use.

The qwerty keyboard layout was introduced more than a century ago and while almost all other forms of technology have improved drastically since then, the same can’t be said for the keyboard arrangement we use.

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The Curious Case Of The iPad Mini

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last few days, you’d probably know that Apple plans to release a new 7″ (or 7.8″) iPad sometime this month. Well, actually, Apple hasn’t confirmed anything except sent out an invite to the tech press which seems to all but confirm the existence of the said device. There has been speculation about the device’s size, price and the ability to conjure up the Patronus Charm and blow the competition away.

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Apple TV 2012

Note: I don’t own an Apple TV and the views are my own after going through Apple’s keynote and reading through the various reviews and specs on Apple’s site.

Apple announced the latest version of their “hobby” product, the Apple TV, at an event on March 7. They also announced the new iPad that I wrote about earlier. The most notable feature (only feature?) is that the new Apple TV, henceforth just called the Apple TV, does 1080p video. It had to, you see, the iPad and the iPhone are both capable of streaming 1080p video over Airplay and since Apple TV is the only device that they can stream to, the 720p limitation just didn’t make sense anymore.

So, in my opinion 1080p was a given. What a lot of people also thought was that Apple would release an actual physical HD television set. You know, the kind you hang on your living room walls.

Disappointing, I know!

I’ve already written my thoughts on why or why not Apple should release a television set but to reiterate, I think Apple did the right thing here. I don’t think Apple can solve the problem with current television sets with the resources currently available to them. I’m not saying Apple will never make a television set. All I’m saying is that with the amount of clout and resources they have, right now, they cannot make the kind of device they’d want to make.

What are the problems ?

First and foremost, television sets right now are just dumb pipes that display content brought to us by a dumb network. Apple stopped making those kind of devices long back.

None of us know the kind of device Apple would like to make, but we can make some guesses. And the new Apple TV provides plenty of clues.

New user interface design

The new (and the old, with a software update) Apple TV get a spanking new interface. The new interface looks a lot like the iOS interface we all love (or hate, depending on which way you swing). The primarily text-based interface of the old Apple TV has now been replaced by an interface that is primarily graphics and icons based. Does that mean they’re aiming for another touch screen device in the future, or do they just feel that this kind of interface just works better with a remote? Maybe, maybe not! For the moment, all I can say is that Apple loves consistency.

The new Apps

To be truthful, the Apps are not new but Apple just made them integrate a lot better with the iTunes ecosystem. What this means is that you can now subscribe (for instace) to Netflix from right within the Netflix app and would never have to go to the Netflix website again. This is my favorite feature in the Apple TV, even though I still can’t use Netflix in India, I think this is what Apple wants to do, eventually, when they get around to making a real television set.

Apple doesn’t want the user to subscribe to a cable company for their content. Apple would much rather have everyone subscribe to content in individual apps and bill them through iTunes, just like in the Netflix app. It is the future and they will eventually get there.

1080p

This was the most obvious feature and the one most people are going to use (and love) the most. ‘Nuff said!

The new Apple TV does everything that the old one did, it’s just better at those tasks. That, is a good and a bad thing. It’s a good thing because Apple is still interesting in innovating around the Apple TV and a bad thing, because I think it’ll still remain a hobby.

The next Apple TV

I know it’s a little too soon to talk about the next iteration but I couldn’t have ended this post without talking about the features that I’d have liked Apple to include.

Third Party Apps

This is a feature that almost everyone wants and I have a feeling that Apple will get to it, eventually. They just don’t think it’s necessary at the moment. iOS devices can mirror their screens to the Apple TV and that works but built-in apps designed specifically for the Apple TV would be so much better and will really bring out the capabilities of the platform.

DVR

This is a long shot, but I really think Apple should make a DVR device/interface that just works. The current ones, sadly, don’t and we just want something better.

In the end, I definitely think that the 2012 Apple TV is a step in the right direction but I don’t think this is the product that makes Apple finally admit that it’s not a hobby anymore. I think Apple is moving to a future where they can release a real television set and have everyone use that, but that future is some distance away, if at all.

‘The New iPad’

Apple announced the release of a new iPad yesterday. According to Apple, this new iPad is going to be the best ever.

It has the best screen of any mobile device ever. It has battery life that is equal or better to the previous iPad and it runs the 2,00,000 excellent applications already written for the iPad flawlessly.

This is the iPad that could have been called the iPad 3, iPad HD or maybe even iPad ‘insanely great’ !

Instead, Apple decided to name their new iPad, ‘iPad’ !

That’s it ! Just iPad.

I’ve read a number of articles and opinions in the last 24 hours as to why Apple has chosen to defy convention and not give the new iPad a version number. No one but Apple knows why. But, we can speculate, can’t we ?

First of all, anyone who thinks the name iPad is a bad choice. You’re wrong!

What’s in a name?

In my opinion, the dropping of the version number means that the iPad has finally come into it’s own. No, it does not mean that CEO Tim Cook has no control over the company and that Apple will not be able to maintain the momentum that is has without Steve Jobs. If anything, it means that Apple is still executing on all cylinders. It means that Apple is confident enough in itself and will continue to defy convention and create products that people will queue miles and miles to buy. Again and Again.

The iPad is now a major contributor to Apple’s bottom-line and the success of the iPad in the future will define the success of Apple. For that to happen, Apple needs to make the iPad a brand, a single entity. Like the iMac, the MacBook and not the MacBook ‘HD’ or iMac ‘Bazoonga’. The iPad like the other major products in Apple’s lineup is just the iPad. When the next iPad comes out next year, it will still be the best tablet computer on the planet and will still be called the iPad. Wether you’re buying an iPad this year or the next or the year after that, you can’t go wrong with the ‘iPad’.

Apple wants to make sure that kids don’t have to tell their parents to get an iPad 10 or an iPad 2o and not the iPad 11.5 since that one sucks ! The message is that this great product is just the iPad and it is the same iPad no matter when and where you buy it from.

No one needs to know if the iPad that you’re going to buy today is the latest one or not. It always is. And no matter which one you get, you’ll get the best tablet available.

In the end it really doesn’t matter what the new iPad is called. It still has the gorgeous retina display, amazing apps and outstanding graphics performance. It is still the best tablet computer in the market, by a long shot!

Apple in China

When I started writing this piece, I just couldn’t come up with the one angle that I wanted to cover. Pretty much everything that could be written on the topic, has been written. The tech blogs as well as the the mainstream media have published their views and thoughts. Even Apple CEO Tim Cook has also commented on the whole PR fiasco and what Apple has been doing to set things right.

I live in India, a country not that much different from China and, while, China may have made huge progress in it’s manufacturing prowess, a majority of the citizens of both China and India live in pretty much the same conditions. I also understand the fact that the majority of my countrymen don’t live the privileged life that I live. They don’t have access to the Internet, do not watch television to pass time and some of them may not even get to eat three meals a day while I spend money for a gym membership to ward off the fat I accumulate sitting and eating all day. These are poor people. Really poor.

A job with one of the largest manufacturers of gadgets and electronics gives these people a real job with a real paycheck and their families a chance to survive.

I agree that the conditions for workers inside those factories aren’t the best in the world and do not compare at all to “western standards”. But, China (and India) is (are) now where the western countries were during the industrial revolution about a century back. Anyone remembers how conditions for workers were in those days ? If I were to take a guess, the workers at Foxconn definitely have it much better than those who worked in factories during the industrial revolution.

Now, let’s be clear, I’m not saying that working conditions at factories should not be improved. What I’m saying is that these working conditions have been about the same since the beginning of the industrial revolution. If anything, they’ve improved because of the increased use of machines and robots.

Which is why we still see hundreds and thousands of people lining up at Foxconn’s doors for job interviews, even after they’ve read about and are aware of the kind of work they’ll be required to perform and the hours they’ll be asked to work.

They come for jobs because these jobs will let them feed their families back home, and raise their standing in the society. Instead of dying from hunger, or stealing for a living, they’ll be able to live a life of dignity. The “Western countries” don’t really understand this.

The simple truth of the matter is that our much loved gadgets, at this point in time, cannot be made anywhere other than China and this is probably good for the millions of people living in poverty in that country.

Image courtesy: Lighthouse Baptist Chapel

Apple and CES

Consumer Electronics ShowApple is not exhibiting officially at the CES, but instead has chosen to send about 250 engineers to attend what is, arguably, the world’s biggest consumer electronics show.

I think this post by Darrell Etherington absolutely nails it. Apple doesn’t need a presence at CES. Infact, going by the news that I’ve been reading about the fading popularity of CES, it is they who really would like Apple to attend the even and add some glamour.

The reason Apple doesn’t need to be at CES is because, while, Apple is now a consumer electronics company, they don’t really create the buzz around their products through shows like CES. They have people like you and I, the Apple faithful, to do that.

Of course, you can argue that Apple is still present everywhere at the CES. iPhones, iPads, iPods and Macs are everywhere, either being used by the attendees or as part of the hundreds of docks and accessories that everyone is displaying. There is also the case of the competition trying to copy Apple’s designs and technology. I’d even go as far as to argue that this year is probably Apple’s biggest year at CES, both in terms of exposure and interest.

Apple changed the smartphone landscape in one sweep 5 years ago when they released the iPhone and another competitor can absolutely come and announce something so dramatically different and powerful that it’ll make those iPhones and iPads seem ancient. That is something Apple has to watch out for and that is the reason for the presence of those 250 engineers.

It isn’t Apple-like to follow the industry, but keeping tabs on where the industry is headed helps Apple refine and hone it’s vision of the future.

As for me – I’m absolutely waiting for what 2012 has in store for us Apple aficionados. iPhone 5, iPad 3, Apple TV and who knows what else !

 

 

The Elusive Apple Television

The Apple television is an old rumor, one that refuses to die, which, if the past is any indication, leads me to believe that there is some truth in it. The problem is that Apple already has a product called the Apple TV and that is not what this rumor is about. This latest rumor is about a real physical television set. The kind that most of us call the idiot box.

The current Apple TV is a small set top box that lets one buy and stream content from iTunes. A few years back, before Apple released this product, a set top box with a built-in DVR is what the rumor mills predicted. They got a set top box but without a DVR.

The Apple TV is a sleek unit that lets you in to Apple’s walled garden with the finesse that only Apple can match. It also lets you play content from any of your other iDevices using Airplay. It’s not perfect, but it works. And that is where the problem lies. It is one of the few Apple devices that is designed to work with products from other manufacturers. Infact, it depends on a television that Apple doesn’t produce… yet. You know the kind of television sets that companies such as Samsung produce.

Let’s talk about the latest Apple TV rumors now. The rumor mill is now predicting a new Apple  product that will be an actual television set. Not a set top box, but an actual physical television set. That’d, I presume, remove use for the current Apple TV. Now, I see why Apple would want such a product, a) They hate depending on other manufacturers and b) If Samsung, LG and the like can make a TV and profit from it, they can damn well do it too.

Both a) and b) are valid reasons for Apple to jump into the television market but herein lies the problem.

The television market is not a very profitable market. It takes a huge amount of investment to manufacturer television sets, which is not a problem for Apple, but the margins are wafer thin. The game of wafer thin margins is not one which Apple likes to play.

The other problem is differentiation. If you’ve tried buying a television in the last few years, like I have, you’d realize the amount of choice the consumers have. So much choice, in fact, that it’s virtually impossible to distinguish one set from the other. Now, you may say, that this is a problem that is right up Apple’s sleeves, and I’d have to agree with you but I’d also have a counter point to that saying that while Apple may be able to distinguish them from the other manufacturers, how are they going to sell their TV to a consumer that might not want to upgrade it for the next 10 years. Will it even be worth it for Apple to setup a huge supply chain, make room in Apple stores and employ armies of support staff for installation and troubleshooting of TVs to sell a device that a customer buys once in 7-10 years?

Why wouldn’t Apple continue to invest in the current Apple TV ecosystem, make it the best set top box in it’s category, add DVR like features and open up the platform to third party apps ?

The Carrier IQ Saga So Far

It all started with a young security researcher finding out that his android phone was sending out sensitive data out to a third party. It turned out that a small utility installed on his phone was intercepting EVERYTHING on the phone and sending it out to a company called Carrier IQ.

The researcher broke this news on his blog and all hell broke loose !

All the major cell phone manufacturers and carriers scrambled to announce via press releases how Carrier IQ’s software is really harmless and is only installed for ‘diagnostic’ purposes. The company Carrier IQ also issued a press release how this whole thing was a non-issue and blamed everything back on the manufacturers and carriers.

I’m still surprised how this even managed to stay under the radar for this long. I live a big part of my life online to really worry about privacy, but this is HUGE. My phone which forms a big part of my life is sending data about me to a third party company without my permission.

Even if the data being sent is insignificant, I still think this is a pretty big deal. The US govt has launched an investigation against the company while major carriers such as sprint have announced that they’re ‘disabling’ Carrier IQ on their phones. Yes, disabling, Not removing.

Anyone remember the Location Gate saga? And the mainstream press’s reaction when that news broke?  I don’t understand why this is not being played up as much as it should be.

I understand that Apple is an easy target and well, any news and negative news, even more so, about Apple sells but why treat them on a different pedestal subject to a different level of scrutiny.

If you’re really worried about privacy, don’t carry a cellphone. Even if you carry a regular feature phone, the carrier ALWAYS knows your location and where you’ve been. The carriers need this information to serve you. Of course, they don’t need to read your texts to your loved ones or details about each and every call that you’ve made but that is for the investigating agencies to find out.