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The iPad Pro: It Has Serious Potential

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I was hesitant, for good reasons, on pulling the trigger on getting an iPad Pro. I managed to locate a Space Grey 128GB version yesterday at a Best Buy location near my home (it was the only one in the City of Atlanta and suburbs across all different stores that I could get my hands on physically – one day after launch).

My primary reason for hesitation was what if I won’t put it to use – and it would be a wastage of the money. Case in point I had bought the 1st and 3rd Generation iPads – and both were used only for watching movies on flights but no real work. I had also bought a Logitech Keyboard case for the 3rd Generation iPad (the model before they switched to Lighting connectors) hoping I would do real work on it. I did use the iPad but I could have also done without it. Here were the reasons:

  1. Too heavy to hold in the hands and read especially in contrast to the iPad Mini or the Nexus 7 tablets.
  2. Did not have enough capabilities to do real work besides email mostly

My hesitation before buying the iPad Pro was also related to the Pro being big, may be bulky – and I knew reading wise it could be a challenge. None the less – I wanted a “device” that had a large screen, and could function for work and entertainment – mostly after 9 to 5. I use for my work a 15″ Retina Mac Book Pro connected to a 27″ Apple Thunderbolt Display – and everyday I would undock it and carry it around for meetings or after work.

I had mixed feelings if the iPad Pro would fill the void described above so when I bought it yesterday I mentally prepared myself that this could very well be a waste of money just like the earlier iPads were more or less.

Having spent less than 24 hours with the iPad Pro, I am pleasantly surprised that I am actually loving it, here are the reasons:

  1. I read on the iPad Pro last night – in my bed – while I could not hold it in my hands I propped it up against my legs folded up. It was pretty good to read on it and browse and do email last night – simply because it has a large screen.
  2. The display is simply awesome. And I caught up on videos that I had transferred over to the Pro
  3. Email, writing thsi blog post, Microsoft Office experience was much better than previous iPads – not good as a laptop but for the objective I have in mind it does the trick.
  4. Reading Comics on iComics App or even on the Kindle App (I had bought Calvin & Hobbes) was fantastic on the large screen.
  5. I don’t sketch but I like to doodle or scribble when taking notes or thinking – and it was much better to do it than any digital experience before this. I scribbled and played around with the Jot Script Pro stylus in Penultimate and with the “Pencil” in Paper by 53.

I am going to wait on getting a Smart Keyboard. The Logitech Create is supposed to be better than the Apple one but I read that it is not easy to remove the iPad Pro from the Logitech Create – and being able to go without Keyboard or with it easily is going to be the key to success for my experience with the iPad Pro.
I am using an Apple small Bluetooth Keyboard, and the “Compass” by Twelve South to prop up the iPad Pro.  

 
So far I think it is going to be an useful device not just a new gadget fad… 

Written by Ashu Joshi

November 14, 2015 at 12:08 pm

Posted in Consumer Electronics

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The Power of Three

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There was a time when building a technology product and its functionality was largely contained into itself – ing was an island was perfectly fine. This was true of both enterprise and consumer products. A Set Top Box (STB) had no need for interactive functionality least of all a “companion application”, or a Thermostat in the house was manually operated. The rise of smartphones, increasing connectedness have changed that. The paradigm has changed. When products are designed and developed – it is no longer just about the hardware & software of the product you are building – it is equally important to design interactivity with a smartphone or tablet application and tying the functionality of the product with cloud services. And as I outlined in one of my previous posts – my re-engagement with programming & development would be at the “intersection” of the three elements:
1. Technology Product
2. Smartphone | Tablet Application
3. Cloud Services

Image

This is what I mean by the title – to deliver the best product experien
ce – the product strategy and planning has to be done keeping the three elements in mind – to bring together the  Power of Three. The challenge I had was wh
ere to get started because each of these areas offers attractive options. I had to filter them – and the primary one was that I wanted to make sure that it did not impede or conflict with my day job. So when I started about three months ago I had to stick to products, technologies that are available to mostly anybody and available openly without requiring any NDA. And here are the choices I made:
1. To use a proxy for the ‘technology product’ – instead of choosing a STB or a Gateway (and I have tons of product management experience in both) – I chose an embedded Linux-based device or server – a Plug Computer. It supports an ARM version of Debian or Ubuntu. And for creating applications on the Plug – I chose to go with OSGi running on open so
urce JVM.
2. The choice for Smartphone or Tablet applications was fairly easy – I chose IOS. And I specifically wanted to focus on programming with the large real estate screen of the iPad. Down the line I may expand this to support two more options – Android Smartphones and GoogleTV…
For Cloud Services – I have two choices Google App Engine or Amazon Web Services – but that the choice is still open…
Let me quickly talk about the application I have in mind though or rather what functionality I want to implement. I am going to write basic code on the Plug Computer that would support a network interface to collect data, diagnostics from the Plug by the IOS App. The code not the Plug would be (or is begin developed) using OSGi/JVM. I intend to incorporate addition to diagnostics, use the Plug to connect to some basic sensors such as Accelerometers or Zigbee Switches and using the network API to communicate the data/events gathered to both the IOS app and the Cloud. As I write this I have made good progress on the initial stuff so far and my subsequent posts would talk about them. But I do have a long way to go, and I am looking forward to it….
[Note: Attached a couple of sketches to illustrate my concepts using the great new Paper App for iPad.]
App

Written by Ashu Joshi

April 2, 2012 at 11:15 am

The New? Frontier: Home Automation & Energy Management

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After the glorious launch of Nest, Belkin has entered the fray with WeMo in the home automation & energy management space. Or rather it should be ‘entering’ – you cannot buy those units….Design looks gorgeous. My guess is that they are using a WiFi Microcontroller to communicate with these devices – given that they are not talking about any gizmo connected or required to control them using their “to be launched” iPhone/iPad app.

BTW – the new Belkin Logo looks minimal and beautiful!

 

 

 

 

Written by Ashu Joshi

March 1, 2012 at 11:30 am

User Interfaces & Interactions

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User Interfaces & Interactions, including touch & gesture based interfaces will always be subject to individual bias, experience, style, and preferences. Individuals using new interfaces either because of it being on a new device (e.g. moving from Blackberry to iPhone) or a changed interface on the existing class of device (e.g. Blackberry Bold – Keyboard to Blackberry Storm – Touch) will learn to adapt – most people do so assuming that they are not turned off to give up the device entirely (either due to other functions such as Phone Call Quality or having compelling features forcing them to adapt to the new interface). 

Adaptation happens, I can safely say based on my own experience and those of my network – family, friends, and colleagues. For example several friends of mine initially remarked that they had trouble using the iPhone’s soft keyboard compared to physical keys of a Blackberry. Over a period these folks have gained a liking to the soft keyboard and adapted to it. This adaptation could be natural – they learn to adapt, and get better at it with each use (like learning anything – Golf for example). Or the adaptation could be ‘forced’ – that is you use the interface and ‘compromise’ with it because of other features on the device. One may learn to deal with the Apple iPhone soft keyboard because of the number of applications available on it. I for one still struggle using Soft Keyboards and I am sure there are others like me. I think interfaces, even touch, will be highly subjective to individuals. 

Apple’s single button for navigating the user interface on the IOS devices at times is constrained. Are consumers able to adapt and use it effectively – absolutely yes! But that does not imply that it is easiest way or the most intuitive way. And Apple may even move away from that one Button given the current release of IOS – 4.3 supports Multi-Touch gestures (I tried them and they work absolutely great – even better than using the Home Button).
Minimalism in design does not translate to simplicity. In other words, just because the device has minimal or one or no buttons, does not imply it is easy to use. Ease of use, or simplicity is a function of features, and the context of it being used. Assuming you are in a bus, with one hand held above to anchor yourself, and you want to access an app. In the multi-touch version of IOS – you have to use 4 or 5 fingers to ‘swipe up’ on the screen and then select the app to launch. Try doing that with one hand…  If this example is not practical enough imagine trying to call somebody by looking them up using one hand on a touch screen. That exercise can be made ‘simple’ by a search button – not a web search – but being able to search for anything – any contact, any app by touching the search button. I like that about my Nexus S and use it frequently. Search is not just about web search – but finding information on the device itself. And as we live more of our life in the Smartphone or Tablet – being able to search easily is critical.
Independent of buttons, simplifying use and removing redundancy is beautiful –  I find the extra press of “OK” after entering the 4-digit security code annoying on my Nexus S compared to an IOS device ….
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Notes:
Post Inspired By, and kind of response to Ross Rubin of NPD wrote an excellent blog post on the subject of buttons and touch-enabled devices.
Must Read: “Living With Complexity” by Donald Norman

Written by Ashu Joshi

March 16, 2011 at 8:20 pm

Experience Trumps Features

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Steve Jobs was quoted saying the following at the launch of iPad2 earlier this week:

Apple’s pushing it as a giant leap forward. That’s it for the video. Again, this is the intersection between technology and liberal arts. It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology is not enough. Hardware and software need to work together. Nowhere more true than in the post-PC market. Competitors describe tablets like PCs, with specs and the like, but the iPad shows that it’s all about the intertwined software and hardware. They need to be easier to use and more intuitive than PCs. Jobs thinks that they’re going to be competitive.

This really goes to the heart of how different Apple is from Google. Let me give you some evidence, Google on its GoogleTV effort announced an interesting set of features in the September/October 2010 timeframe – you can read about them here. Of specific interest is the one about “Fling”:
Fling a video to your television
Find a great website on your phone and want to show it to everyone? Now you can. “Fling” what you’re watching, listening to, or doing on your phone by sending it to your TV with the press of a button.
It received feedback and coverage, and NPD’s Ross Rubin tweeted about it as well:
Looks like Google TV’s ‘Fling’ feature will be its counterpart to Apple TV’s AirPlay.
The reality is far from it – and not because the feature does NOT exist but because the experience is tedious. A great consumer experience removes the challenge, removes the complication… In order to “Fling” a page or a video to the TV from an Android phone – you have to “Share”. Yes “Share” – there is no simple press of a button. On the Browser bring up the “Menu” (1), select “Share” (2), and then select “Google TV Application” (and that’s 3). The idea that it can ‘flung’ is not intuitive, you don’t know anything about it.
Contrast that with Apple’s Airplay, a nice icon shows up in a Media Player (with IOS 4.3 supposedly AirPlay will become available to third party apps as well) – tap the Icon, and select the TV/Device to ‘airplay’ to. The context is within the application and it is not being called share.
Now, purely technically, can Google implementation improve – absolutely yes. The key difference is that they release features with plenty room for consumer experience optimization.
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Notes:
1. Snapstick with meager resources gets it (check out how they “snap” the video to the large TV) BUT to be fair – you need to use their app, and their box connected to the TV
2. Business Insider’s Dan Frommer in a blog post today shows that GoogleTV-based Logitech Revue is ranked #563 compared to AppleTV at #10 on Amazon’s Best Selling Electronics.

 

Written by Ashu Joshi

March 7, 2011 at 6:36 pm

Consumers Influence Enterprise-Business

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Many of us would have heard and are (anecdotally) aware of how Enterprises are accommodating employees with their “consumer” behavior. Several reports indicate how the Apple iPad and iPhone have changed, slowly and steadily, IT departments. This is the first step towards how Enterprise Products will be influenced by Consumer Products. Alan Cohen (@ascohen) is a VP at Cisco, and he posted his 5 Technology Predictions for 2011, I found the following most interesting:

 

Prediction 4: Consumer Experience for Business – For decades, technology migrated from the office to the home: video recorders, computers, printers, Internet access, email and many other commonplace fruits of applied science started in the working world and eventually followed us through the front door on the return commute.  Today, mobile and web-based applications, and simple, easy-to-use technologies like Cisco’s own Flip video camcorder are changing our expectations of how IT works.  Shoppers walk into stores with more powerful devices and apps than the retail associates trying to help them.  Expect business users to demand migration of consumer experiences to the workplace.

 

Coming from Cisco’s VP of Enterprise products – this is worth noting for a minute. And to connect the dots, a blog post from another VP of Security Technology Products at Cisco, Tom Gillis, talks about how consumer products are influencing the design of security products. He makes the observation:

 

That’s true. Consumer hits like the iPhone and iPad have sparked a user interface revolution and placed more emphasis than ever on usability. Now, the trend—which I see as downright “Jobsonian”—is working its way through the entire technology industry. It’s a dramatic shift in prioritizing how we present information over how we process information.

 

And he goes on to say how Cisco is taking this shift into account:

 

For the next generation of security products, usability will come to the forefront. Next-gen security devices need to understand the context of a situation—the “who, what, where, when and how” of security. This begs for a usability-driven design. Next-gen security solutions need to present business-relevant information to the user (or administrator) in an intuitive fashion. I think this trend extends well beyond security. More and more tech products are being driven by usability.

 

Bottom-line, the Consumer revolution is influencing and almost mandating how products are designed for the Enterprise.

 

Written by Ashu Joshi

February 11, 2011 at 4:05 pm

Boxee Business Model & Box Subsidy

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The article on Electronista had me thinking on Boxee’s business model. Triangulating the recent announcements on Boxee being integrated by Viewsonic &  Iomega and the aforementioned article – is Boxee looking to make money by selling boxes (or licensing revenue per box?)  Boxee needs a large deployed base something that Roku has achieved (over 1 million devices, 1 billion streams and counting) in order to have a profitable business especially if they are targeting subscription fees as reported in blog posts from early 2010.
Whether Boxee implements a subscription fee or not, scale is critical**. And hence a affordable box**. Subsidizing the box is tricky especially if Boxee is not manufacturing the box itself – it will introduce two levels of overhead – one by the ODM who is manufacturing the box (e.g. in China or Taiwan) – and second by device maker such as D-Link. Simply speaking both entities need to make money. Now Boxee could hire & staff to have a team work with an ODM directly … so those costs need to be factored in to the business model.
Needless to say the amount to be subsidized is critical which is directly proportional to the cost of goods, cost of the box. The current Boxee box by D-Link retails at $199 compared to the retails cost of Apple TV at $99. Comparing Boxee box to Apple TV is probably not right, in the case of Apple TV – they are balancing cost with feature set – for example Flash 10.x is not supported by AppleTV (which does put requirements both technical and cost on the hardware to be used). Plus Apple is vertically integrated – it is their chip (A4), and they are getting it manufactured at the most optimized costing (evidence of optimized costing and supply is evident in their recent quarterly earnings conference call where they disclosed that they are using cash to secure inventory, an excellent analysis done by Asymco can be found here).
It makes more sense to compare Boxee box with products from Roku and WD. Roku has currently three products, all probably based on chips from Trident (technically from  NXP, whose STB assets were acquired by Trident) – Roku HD (MSRP $59.99), Roku 😄 (MSRP $79.99), and Roku 😄 | S (MSRP $99.99). Western Digital (WD) has three products as well – WD TV Live, WD TV Live Plus, and WD TV Live Hub. The last one from WD, the TV Hub, includes a 1TB Hard Drive [this is also competitive to the Iomega with Boxee]. There is no difference in the MSRP for TV Live and TV Live Plus at $129.99 (actually as of this writing, the TV Live Plus is at a promo pricing of $119.99 on the WD website). The TV Live Hub has a MSRP of $199.
The boxes from Roku and WD both are capable of 1080p playback, in fact, in my personal experience the WD Live TV plus does a fantastic job of 1080p and 720p playback of many formats. Boxee switched from Nvidia to Intel and the reason cited was 1080p playback. And agreed there are several nuances to the flavors, bit-rates of HD – making the selection of main processor harder. I think Boxee failed to implement the MVP concept for the Boxee Box***  or the Jobsian product philosophy of what not to do. Roku introduced an absolutely no-frills box when they started out with only support for Netflix. I suspect though, it was support for Adobe Flash that made them switch to Intel and now switching to another platform would be difficult as indirectly admitted by Boxee’s CEO Avner Ronen on this blog post:
“Having both Boxee-based devices running the same system-on-chip is also making life simpler for us, since we can develop virtually identical firmware for both.”

Boxee, it appears is trying to be everything to everybody but in implementation it is falling in the segment of “Early Adopter, High Tech Enthusiast and requires a PhD”.  Take a look at their forums the diversity of requests being made is mind blowing. I believe Boxee team is occupied with features and functions more than benefits.  They have taken on a task in equivalence to what the GoogleTV is trying to accomplish without the resources.
There is no doubt that Boxee needs to reduce cost of Boxee-enabled boxes being deployed by its partners – and in order to do that, they need to drive cost by focusing on the most important features. May be do a re-start of their product? The very first thing to do is to with right feature set the right System on Chip (SOC). It is not just the SOC pricing, but the implications (and hence the cost) on the rest of the box design.
Secondly the subsidy flow has to be thought through, I believe it may be an opportunity for Boxee to flip subsidy model on its head. Traditional subsidies are complex, or at least complex to operationally manage. Take the example of cable companies such as Comcast or Time Warner – they source their Set Top Boxes (STBs) from the likes of Pace, Motorola, Samsung, Cisco. However the consumer pay nothing for these boxes. The STBs are subsidized in lieu of monthly consumer revenue. And there is a system in place to handle it on the company accounting books.
Boxee has a wonderful technology, and beginnings of a great platform. It is, however, a very crowded market. May be Boxee needs to enable their technology to be a platform for non-Video services in the Digital Connected Home?
** GigaOm’s Om has an excellent post on what makes an Consumer Internet company successful – and all three factors are important for Boxee.
***I argue that the Software only version and the Box implementation are two fundamentally different products. The Boxee Software Only model is similar to Microsoft Windows, and the Boxee Box to a significant degree following an Apple product model.

Written by Ashu Joshi

February 3, 2011 at 12:18 pm