Thursday, 22 December 2011

We are the World

As we move into the festive period, take a moment to think of those less fortunate than ourselves.  Christmas isn't all about Santa Claus so let's not forget that.

I've attached a link to the YouTube video from USA for Africa back in the 1980's when they sang "We are the World."

Remember, we're all a part of this world, so let's all do our part to make it a better place.

In the meantime, be safe and enjoy the festivities.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Making the Switch to the iPhone 4S

It happened.  The iPhone 4S was launched finally in the UAE yesterday and I've made the switch (off my Android device that is, I'll still continue to use a BlackBerry as a second device).

Initial thoughts: I love it.

I was using an iPhone earlier but I'd found Apple was behind the curve when Android 2.3 was released.  All of a sudden, my phone seemed sluggish, I didn't like the notification system, the camera seemed out of date and the phone just didn't have the charm that an Apple product should have given the way the competition had been innovating.

The iPhone 4S in truth is Apple responding back and catching up with the competition.  They haven't moved miles ahead but at least brought themselves back on par.  However the difference with an Apple product is that when it is on par with the competition and you add in the Apps that Apple has as well as the overall interface of an Apple product, it moves itself ahead of the competition.

A few simple examples:

  • Keyboard - As much as I enjoyed the Android devices I used, I never found any of the keyboards to be quite as intuitive as an Apple keyboard.  Even using SwiftKey, Go Keyboard or Swype were at best a compromise.  The ease of use and comfort that you find with an Apple keyboard on a touchscreen device has meant fewer typing errors for me.
  • Multimedia Capabilities - I use iTunes on my computer and I've got virtually all my music on iTunes as well.  I struggled to find a proper solution to play music off my Android devices.  Nothing quite worked as seamlessly with iTunes and the end result used to be that I used to use my iPad in the car instead of connecting any of my smartphones to the car's stereo system.  I'm happy that I can finally connect my iPhone to the car stereo again (or stream the content wirelessly to my Apple TV).
  • Apps - As many Apps as you have on Android, I've always been frustrated by the fact that you can't buy Apps in the UAE from Google Market and that any App developer still has Apple's iOS as their priority when developing new Apps.  I was using several iOS Apps on my iPad but it's great to see how Apps like Zite and Flipboard have made the transition to the iPhone and I can use them on my iPhone as well.  I'm also looking forward to using Apps like Instagram again as nothing really came close on Android to replicating the Instragram experience.
  • Email Interface - Seems like a strange one to mention considering I also carry around a BlackBerry but I've always preferred the e-mail client on the Apple devices over any of those I tried on Android or BlackBerry devices.
Some of you reading this may feel the reason I'm more comfortable on an iPhone is that I'm an Apple fanboy.  That could be true, but also you've got to keep in mind I'm probably hooked onto the Apple ecosystem.  I didn't mean to get so deeply entrenched but things just sort of worked out that way.  The smartphone battles moved well beyond have shiny bells and whistleson a piece of hardware a long time ago so when a company like Apple or RIM come out with news devices, it's not surprising to see hordes of people migrate on their newer devices.  The ecosystem battle is a much tougher one to win because to convert someone such as me totally out of Apple's ecosystem for example, is always going to be a lot more difficult than coming out with a shiny new handset on a rival operating system.

How long can Apple keep this up for?  Who knows but till then, I think I'm firmly hooked...

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Copyright laws, piracy and no iTunes in the Middle East

There was a headline that grabbed my attention in The National this morning entitled "New copyright laws to curb film and music pirates."  While piracy has been a major issue in this part of the world, it's also due to the fact that most content owners haven't given avenues to download or buy digital content legally.

Profits down the drain.
It was thus refreshing to turn a few pages into the newspaper and see another headline "Middle East iTunes 'could protect industry'."  The writer, Marie-Louise Olson hit the nail on the head about the region by saying "consumers have to buy CDs in shops or - as almost 95 per cent of the world's population do - download tracks illegally."

The issue in this region is not more stringent legislation.  It's about giving a solution first.  Without a solution, there's really no point for legislation.  We can't be expected to buy CD's, DVD's or paper books only in the future.  There will be a lot of content that will be bought digitally and even though it may seem like a lot of work, content owners have to a responsibility to give us a solution or else, they shouldn't be complaining about piracy.  Consumers want digital content.  Either you  provide it or they will find it from wherever they get it.

Don't watch Senna on Emirates Inflight

Imagine being excited about something, being let down and then getting excited about it again.

That's what exactly what happened for me with the documentary recapping the life of Formula 1 great, Ayrton Senna.  The documentary, simply titled "Senna" was released a few months ago and I'd seen various previews for the film on TV or online.  As a sports enthusiast and someone who grew up watching the infamous Prost vs. Senna battles in the late 1980's and early 1990's, this was a film I simply had to watch.

So I was extremely excited when I was flying with Emirates last month and saw the film was available to watch on the inflight entertainment system.  Before the flight could take off, I 'd plugged in my headsets and started the watching the documentary.

The excitement though didn't last.  As I finished the film, I was left somewhat disappointed.  The footage, the narratives, the battles versus Prost, the car and the F1 bosses were captured brilliantly.  However, I felt like I literally missed something in translation.  The problem with the movie as it was shown on Emirates Inflight was that the narratives from those interviewed or sound bytes that the documentary captured from the time were in various different languages.  Some of it was in English but there were bits that were in French, Japanese and Portuguese.  Courtesy of my GSCE French class, I could understand most of what was said in French but I was at a loss for what was said in Japanese and Portuguese.  Considering that Senna was Brazilian, a lot of the sound bytes of Senna himself, his family or those in Brazil, was difficult to comprehend.  While you have a sense of what is being said, you somehow feel you've understand about 40-50% of the dialogue.

I found it strange as to why a film maker would produce a movie that most people won't understand completely.  Then a few weeks later while talking to another industry executive about the movie, I realized the problem was not with the film maker but with Emirates Inflight entertainment.  It seems Emirates has shown a version of the movie without subtitles and if you watch the film on DVD, you've got subtitles to everything that was being said in French, Japanese and Portuguese.  This same executive ended up lending me the DVD and I really loved the movie as a result of that.  In fact, I was always a pro-Prost fan growing up but after watching the DVD, I realized I should've been supporting Senna all along.  There was so much politics involved in F1 racing and I was perhaps too naive to understand it at the time.

If you haven't seen Senna yet and you're flying Emirates, avoid watching it.  Download it or buy it on DVD if you have to.  It's a great documentary, I highly recommend it but don't get yourself disappointed for no reason by watching it on Emirates.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Did the Kindle Fire Light my Fire?

Back in early October, when Amazon announced they were throwing their hat into the tablet race, I rushed to and booked my Kindle Fire, with the anticipation that this was going to be one tablet that could actually stand up to Apple in the tablet business.  In fact, in my mind, ever since Jeff Bezos announced the launch of the Kindle Fire, I've had a song stuck in my head that I thought would define the tablet.  The song is from The Doors and is called "Light My Fire."

Did I expect Amazon to overtake Apple?  No.  I did though think that Amazon had what it took to worry Apple because they had they had the following things going for them:
  • A rich media library (books, music, movies from most leading publishers)
  • An App Store (we all need our dose of Angry Birds)
  • A proven operating system (the Kindle Fire runs on Android, though Amazon have heavily customized the skin)
  • A track record with hardware (Amazon did of course champion the e-reader category with their Kindle readers)
  • A Cloud of their own (apart from Amazon's Cloud storage solution)
  • Infrastructure (Amazon has got their own hosting service and they manage the hosting requirements for many major websites)
Most of these points were what most tablet manufacturers that have tried to compete with Apple lacked and I was of the opinion that if someone were to rock the boat, it would be Amazon for just these reasons.

The Verdict?

I've been lost honestly since I got my Kindle Fire in the mail a few weeks ago.  Did I love it or did I hate it?  I wanted to really like it because I've had a Kindle e-reader for several months now and it's made reading so much more enjoyable for me.  There was though, something missing for me.  I couldn't quite put my finger on it and even though the Kindle Fire will sell well, I wasn't quite sure how to describe my feelings about it.  

A lot of that changed though when I saw an article that appeared in All Things D over the weekend and a headline that read "Kindle Fire, the netbook of the tablet market?"  It was as if the author has found the words I was looking for as this seems to me to be exactly where the Kindle Fire should be positioned.

What I like about the Kindle Fire
  • The 7" form factor is nice if you want to read a book
  • The integration with your Amazon account and the fact that you've got access to most of your Amazon content that can be synchronized is a major plus, especially if you're halfway through reading a book on another device, you can start where you left off on the Kindle Fire
  • The touch screen technology is well implemented.  There were no major lags that I found and even the on-screen keyboard does the job.  Not all touch screen keyboards are friendly on the fingers but Amazon seems to have found the right one here.
  • The E-mail client seems pretty functional as well.  Though this is probably not what you associate the Kindle Fire with, the fact is a tablet vendor, Amazon had to cover most of their bases and they've done a decent job with this.
  • Web Browser - Amazon seems to have gotten a lot of grief for their browser but it worked fine for me.
  • Magazines - The one criticism of original Kindle was that it was terrible if you wanted to browse anything in colour or read a magazine on.  The Kindle Fire is way better than the original Kindle e-reader for downloading your latest edition of Men's Health, Cosmopolitan or whatever else you plan to read.

What I didn't Like about the Kindle Fire
  • Apps - even though Amazon boasts a moderately sized app-store, you can't buy or download (even free apps) on the Kindle Fire if you're based outside of the United States and don't have a US-registered credit card.  Amazon allows you to buy books from the Kindle bookstore but apps is a different story.  I wrote to Amazon saying I had a US address registered and was out of the country for the moment but they responded back that until I did have a credit card with a US-address, buying or downloading Apps wasn't a possibility.  The alternative Amazon gave was to use Android Market but this re-directed back to Amazon's App Store when I tried to access it.
  • Amazon Prime - Amazon's Prime service is supposed to be a money saver and when you buy the Kindle Fire, you get one month free access to Prime.  This means that you have access to a media library of TV shows and movies that you can start watching off your tablet without any charge.  While this is in theory great, in reality it's a problem if you live outside the United States.  I found myself unable to access to stream anything inspite of testing this on various WIFI networks.  
  • 7" Form Factor - While this was great for reading, it seems a bit small to me when watching a movie or TV show.  I much prefer the larger screen on the iPad.  Without the ability to wirelessly broadcast to a larger screen (like you can using AirPlay on the iPad 2), you may find it difficult to watch a movie on this device with a partner.
  • Backlit Screen -  Since my Kindle Fire has been largely restricted to reading books, I must say, I prefer the e-ink technology that's in the conventional Kindle e-readers over a backlit LCD display.  It is much easier on the eyes using e-ink and since I have the Kindle App on my iPad, I can probably read on that where needed instead of carrying around the Kindle Fire especially.

Concluding Thoughts...

As much as I wanted to like the Kindle Fire, I find myself torn away from it.  Had I lived in the United States or had Amazon worked out a solution for me to access content more readily outside the United States, I may have had a different opinion.  The fact is, the Kindle Fire doesn't aim to replace an iPad.  It doesn't need to because the fact of the matter is that not everyone needs an iPad.  Since the Kindle Fire is priced at half the price of most iPad's, it's meant to serve a segment of the population that's only really looking for a multimedia device.  I use my iPad for so many things but that's only I've got that sort of requirement.  I look around and I see friends or family members who don't have that sort of demand from a tablet and probably for them, when the adequate services are available in the region, the Kindle Fire may be the perfect solution.
Having said that, every time I do think of the Kindle Fire or use it, I still can't  get the voice of Jim Morrison out of my head and I still start humming to the tune of Light My Fire.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Happy Birthday Dear Blog

It's happened.  My blog turned one this week and I didn't even realize it.

Before starting this blog last December, I had a few thoughts flowing through my mind which were reasons I felt I shouldn't start a blog.  They were:
  • I may not have anything interesting to say (which some could argue is still the case).
  • I didn't have a specific topic I felt I could write about all the time.  Many blogs focus on specific domains such as technology, sports, fashion, politics, etc. but I didn't really feel I could justify an entire blog to just one topic.
  • I didn't think I would have the time to maintain a blog.  This has still been my biggest challenge and there are some months where I've been posting regularly and some months where I seem to have disappeared.  Apart from work commitments, it becomes a matter of how I choose to use my free time and many times I've willingly decided to spend time with the family instead of the blog. 

What has the blog meant to me?  

Well, it is has been a good way of venting when I've been frustrated or sharing my views on topics I'm passionate about because as great as Facebook and Twitter are, there are times when you want to say much more.  Starting this blog also gave me the confidence to start a second blog (which is mainly tech-related on

Since I'm also celebrating my first year of the blog, I've decided to make a subtle change to the name of my blog.  In February, I had re-christended my blog, "Blogging with Training Wheels" as I felt I still had a lot to learn and understand about maintaining a blog.  I don't think by any means I'm perfect or fully understand yet what goes into making a blog really successful, but I think it's time I set free without the training wheels.  Therefore, I've decided to rename the blog as "Blogging sans Training Wheels."

The best way to learn is from your mistakes.  Without the training wheels, I'll surely fall over a few times but that should make the blog better in the long term.   If you've got any inputs on what I can do better, please do share them and I'd be glad to hear them.

In the meantime, I'll keep doing what I've been doing and hopefully, you find a post or two interesting enough along the way.