[Book Review] Dogfight: How Apple and Google Went to War and Started a Revolution

The long drawn Apple vs Google argument is totally fleshed out in this book. Though i had read the Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson & I’m feeling lucky by Douglas Edwards, this read had more comparative facts to offer. It starts with Apple to point out that through iTunes, Apple controls almost 25% of all music purchased. They also have a sizable share in the $18 billion video market. Fact is that Apple spent nearly $150 mn in building the first iPhone. The initial parts of the book talk about how the employees were burnt out working 60-80 hour weeks continuously for two years & kept resigning only to join back in a day. It was such a high secret project even within Apple’s headquarters that there were secret walls built overnight to keep the entire thing a secret from its own employees. The first phone that Jobs unveiled was actually a prototype & the team had no clue how they were going to keep up with shipment orders in 2 months!

Google had a different approach in contrast. I think this was the best way they could keep services free. This is because Google would release a product when it was 80% finished. Like any Google service or product it would be free with a constant feedback loop from the users. That’s how they gained insight in to the later 20% of the product to build in the finishing touches. It’s also critical to know that since the products were free, user expectations were not high & therefore you wouldn’t see an outrage on the scale of Apple Maps or Antenna issues the way Apple had to face.

Its remarkable to see the way employees from both companies kept playing musical chairs with companies in the Silicon Valley at that time. Andy Rubin, the guy who worked on Android was an ex-Microsoft employee. Even before Google bought Motorola, Apple had a partnership with Motorola for iPods back in 2004. Some prominent Apple employees who quit to start their own companies eventually made big to only sell-off their company to Google. A good example of this is Nest. Fights between the corporations such as Yahoo! & Google for Adwords have been covered well, in addition to the big Apple vs Samsung trial and the Microsoft anti-trust campaign against Google. A good part of the book also covers the role Eric Schmidt had to play since he was at Google & the board of Apple at the same time (he was not a part of most iPhone meetings).

The last part of the book has a futuristic take on who is going to win the platform war. An interesting point to note is that Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook & Netflix are sitting on a cash pile of $300 bn which is enough to buy all the media houses & broadcast networks. With changing media consumption patters and device preferences, this battle is just getting heated up for now. As for me, i will say this a great and insightful read. Ditch the articles you’ve been reading & deep dive in to this book. For all you know, it will give you more facts & perspective to fuel your arguments!

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The New Digital Age : Book Review

The New Digital Age. The title promises precisely what the book delivers. I mean, what else would one expect when two big names unite to share their views and perspective on what digital holds for the world in the future? Eric Schmidt has been at the helm of the ever innovative Google and Jared Cohen who is a Rhodes Scholar and the director of Google Ideas. Cohen also makes it to the Time’s 100 most influential people in the world list this year. Being an avid non-fiction reader, there are many times i’m let down by some books when they really don’t get me as much information i’m hoping to seek. But this book had me glued. I mean, we google stuff so often and hear a lot about the changes that keep coming up in Android / Google Products. However, this book is more of an exploration of the information explosion that has happened over the past few years. Data is clearly the glue that will be binding a lot more than plain business or social media.
The book starts off with an introduction to our future selves. This part talk about education being the base for innovation and opportunity. We are already seeing this take to full force with children using tablets in schools which are aided by an army of apps that are simplifying classes for the masses. It goes on to talk about a better quality of life enabled with the high level of customisation that can be done using smartphones these days and how this will be pathbreaking in health care support. This is followed by the future of identity, citizenship and reporting which covers authenticity of profiles, the level of social uprising triggered via social media, government surveillance etc. We have already seen how several people and corporations handle their online image (reputation). I particularly found the idea of insuring one’s online identity against theft, hacking, fraud etc. I believe the time for this has almost come to try out and agree that online identity will be the new currency. They also go on to highlight the consequences of VOIP and P2P networks that can exchange data more privately (VPN). The AADHAAR program back home has also been cited to indicate the magnanimity of the UID initiative by our ruling government. I believe we know of quite a few scams in the recent times for this as well.
In the future of states, they have covered a variety of countries in the levels of censorship that are being dictated. Starting from China’s blocking of Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter to Turkey’s blocking of Youtube for 2 years over a debacle for taking down videos that were derogatory to the nation’s founder. Political & cultural censorship is taken up by South Korea, Malaysia and Germany which i think is a far more effective model.
We have all heard of the Arab Spring. The duo talk about how in riots, the internet lent a way for females to express themselves without being hurt. Also when the government blacked out the internet to avoid the spreading, the setting up of @Jan25voices handle helped in letting the world know about what was happening, albeit without any policy influence. They talk about a model where successful leaders will be able to address the concerns of both virtual and physical constituencies. I reckon this is happening as we speak in the Indian context where there are twitter armies for Modi (BJP) and Rahul Gandhi (Congress) battling it out in the trends and mentions everyday. 
Terrorism is another key issue that is detailed in this book. Activists, local networks, simple start up kits for them to propagate the hate would be enough. This will be a big issue for technology firms in terms of screening content due to the sheer volume of uploads per second across the web. Since most sites work on users reporting abuse / flagging content as abusive, the process will take time for them to actually block stuff. In the future of conflict, combat and intervention they address how a single post / photo/ tweet can be the beginning of something bigger on the lines of a revolution. A scary part talks about the “human flesh search engines” in China which basically means that there are scores of people whose objective is to search and track down the individual posting specific content that could be offensive. They go on to mention combat using robots and the dilemma of machines making an error during a highly targeted mission.
Lastly in the future of reconstruction they talk about how telecom in Somalia is so cheap that people actually drop international calls to call relatives back! In terms of community service, the HAITI campaign is mentioned where “text to donate” helped Red Cross to raise USD $5 million for relief campaigns. An interesting part talks of how crowd-sourcing will enable the culture of accountability. This is the most optimistic part where they go on to hope that creativity and bandwidth will be key drivers of innovation. All in all, i feel that even if you’re not working in digital this book is a great read to know what the frontier of technology looks like.
*image source credit: standard.co.uk

Facebook’s Home Window?

So the much hyped “Facebook Home” event took place yesterday. This was a finality of sorts to the rumored Facebook Phone that had created quite a buzz off late. While, there was nothing on the hardware front, Facebook has come up with a software that should be able to further refine the user experience.

It was quite intriguing to have made the assumption that there would be a new phone. That’s cause Facebook is software centric and it wouldn’t make much business sense to compete on hardware with a much evolved and highly competitive market scenario. Hence, they made the correct logical choice of sticking to software. What exactly does this mean for us?

Since the update is to be rolled out on a select few Android OS phones, the experience is going to be reserved for a limited number of handsets. On the OS front, Facebook has everything to gain. The home screen will be more people centric, building around what is most relevant to the user. In the midst of the brouhaha, smaller apps are bound to get pushed in to a corner. While this could prove to be good for people who need a limited number of options, the more app crazy user such as me would find it cumbersome to keep going in to layers to use apps.

To an extent, this is pretty similar to the tile interface that windows phone have. This is a big debate, as to whether Facebook just stole Microsofts idea. Afterall they do have a huge base of nearly 700 million users that serve as a potential playground to roll this out to.

I wonder if this would actually be path breaking or is this another cog in the Facebook machine to justify that there are shreds of innovation that are in progress. After all, its backed by investors who would want to see some tangible development. While its still unclear as to how advertising would sit within the entire interface, there would surely be means to drive revenue. Going by the way the Windows OS was bluntly ignored, it would be interesting to see how Facebook Home pans out in terms of adoption levels.

Why I ditched the iPhone?

Slide to Unlock. Slide to Reply. Now, that’s what i don’t like. All i can do is Slide? Better still, what if don’t like sliding to the right. What if people who are ‘Left of the Center’ like to slide to the left?
iOS known for its highly stable nature is no doubt the platform for people who want an intuitive interface along with Apps that won’t keep crashing frequently. Given that, Apps generally look beautiful on iOS. Considering the seething pains it takes for a developer to come up with an app that is visually appealing and meeting the requirements to get their app listed on iOS, I’d give it to them for the seamless look and consistency. 
However, unlocking a screen to see the same set of Apps. The same type of silky smooth flow across screens. The mundane and bleak (though beautiful) screen just got to me. What if i don’t want to see the same apps? What if I want to do more from the notification center than just choosing certain alerts? 
I believe the slugfest between iOS and Android is more of a debate within the Self. iOS represents a closed interface, that tells you what’s best for you by stripping it down to the most basic interface cleared out of all shenanigans for the best user experience. While Android keeps it open, lets you root the OS, make your phone behave the way you want it to be and being unpredictable at the same time, customizable to the last degree.
Then, how must one decide? While Apple keeping it a closed system ensured that you have a more secure and seamless experience, it kind of made you believe that they know best what you need. You may want a lot more out of your phone, but they would ensure to make life tedious with syncing of phone/apps with iTunes. Not advocating for Android, however its as simple as plug and play. Want a theme? Apply it. Like a song? Download it. Desire simple settings? Drag your screen. The degree of customisation is relentless. So an iPhone will in a way tell you what’s best cause you really don’t know what is best. While Android says, do all you want cause may be you actually know what’s best for you. I believe the thin line is the great divide of how much we really know ourselves as compared to how well we perceive ourselves to be.