Microsoft is redefining Innovation and why it matters

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Introduction

For once, Microsoft skeptics was spellbound at the latest Windows 10 devices event. They delivered their most important and needed update with the devices that support the all new Windows 10 operating system. The entire event was a blend of cutting edge innovation and snake oil salesmanship. May be too much of the former as the event reached its mid-point.

Overall, I loved what Microsoft has delivered and is finally surpassed in terms of the innovation they brought to the table with superior hardware design & deep machine learning integrated to all their devices.

There were FOUR major announcements and here are my take on each one of them.

HoloLens

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When I mentioned cutting edge, this is what I was talking about. From an experiment to an actual tangible kit. Just like how Microsoft paved the way for multi-touch interface, HoloLens is going to take VR to a whole new space. I can foresee how it is going to change the way be not only game and work but also the way we interact with each other. If one day Microsoft decides to make this tech open, its going to take Oculus, HTC Vive to the next level. For just $3000, you can get hold of the untethered development kit early 2016.

Microsoft Band 2

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Microsoft Band was initially positioned as a Fitbit competitor but now with Band 2 they have stepped up the game. Now it comes with an array of sensors like barometer, track elevation and a deep machine learning platform that makes sense and gives insights that no one fitness band gives. With third party apps on the way the new Band 2 just cost $249 and will be available this October.

Lumia Phones

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The all new Lumia lineup is spec heavy and is on par with the competition on paper. It Windows 10 OS with Continuum bring full desktop experience to a bigger screen and the phone won’t break a sweat. Because the 950 XL comes with the all new liquid cooling tech which dissipates heat efficiently, this is a new in smartphone technology. With unto 2TB expandable storage and OIS, its set to be a power player this 2015.

But what it scores in hardware, it lacks in the design department. It felt as if they were reusing some left over Nokia designs. I wish they’d used some Surface-like design and I bet they will in 2016.

The all new Lumia will be released in November and will cost $649.

Surface Pro 4

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If its not broken, why fix it? Microsoft’s next iteration with the Surface pro 4 takes what’s already working to the next level. They’ve stuck to the same hardware design and made it thinner and lighter. They’ve increase display size without increasing the footprint, increased the storage to 1TB, battery life to 12 hours, increased processing speeds and RAM. They’ve also thrown in a new shiny keyboard which thinner, lighter and well spaced keys. On top of that they upgraded the Surface Pen and mocked the Apple Pencil while at it.

For $899, the Surface Pro 4 should be available in October.

Surface Book

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This was the biggest surprise from Microsoft to date. This was there moment and they sized it. With the all new hinge, graphics card and battery life, I was blown away. And then they said you can detach the display and was blown all over again. It supports the Surface Pen, touch input and has an amazing keyboard.

The weird part was they kept comparing it to a Macbook Air but spec wise it was all Macbook Pro’s standard. This is Microsoft biggest bet yet.

Conclusion

Similar to Google building the Nexus Phones, Microsoft too wants to help their OEM’s be pointed in the right direction. The only turn off was Panos Panay and Brian Roper who sounded very sales-y, marketing mumbo-jumo and lacked the earnestness.

May be that is exactly what Microsoft needs to stand out from the rest.

Is Spotify Running truly a Game Changer?

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“Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.” – Victor Hugo
Music drives many of the things around us. It can change the entire environment, lift up spirits and remind us of moments in our life that lies deep within. At least thats how I see it. I am a huge fan of connected living and love fitness bands like Fitbit & Nike Fuelband that it helps me monitor my steps, sleep, water intake and so on. And with fitness comes Music and music is integral to fitness. And when Spotify decides to connect Music with Fitness, we get their first iteration – Spotify Running.
I do know it is not a fitness tracker. Spotify manages to offer you music that is based on the strides you take while running.
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Here are few marketing statement that I could find on the site;
  • Spotify Running finds your tempo and plays music to match.
  • Running in time with the music makes you feel more energetic, more motivated.
  • We’re music fans who love to run. So we put together the world’s best running music.
  • Check out Running Originals – amazing new music that adapts to your run. (Discover)
  • You can soundtrack your entire life with Spotify. Whatever you’re doing or feeling, we’ve got the music to make it better.

Initial Impressions

Spotify Running_Screen1_georgeiswrite

Spotify Running resides within the app itself. It is just an additional menu that set this apart from the rest of the options. The UI is simple and intuitive. It comes with 6 basic options; Burn, Epic, Seasons, Lock the Flow, Blissed out and The Chase.
On top of that, they have Running Playlist that plays popular tunes by Artist around the globe.
Do note: I am not here to review the music but the tech and my experience behind it.
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Fitbit or Nike calculates your steps by dedicated fitness bands. No matter how hard you swing your arms, it will only calculate your steps by the actual steps you take by your feet. This innovation is driven by Motion X, the company that provides the sensor-based solutions backed by data science to get accurate measurable data. Because I was so used to the way fitness bands work, I expected the same for Spotify to calculate my strides, I was dead wrong.
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Spotify actually calculates the tempo based on the movement registered by your iPhone, thats it. I was a tad bit disappointed at that because, I was expecting something more from a product like Spotify. I am not saying they should calculate Steps but instead calculate the Tempo based on actual heel strike which is the most basic when it comes to running like how apps like Strava and RunKeeper calculates using Motion X. Spotify Running definitely gets the ball rolling in terms of creating something that has never done before and I respect that but may be I am a sucker for minor details like these.
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I created this Tempo just waving my hand

I created this Tempo just waving my hand

Conclusion

Spotify has definitely something on in the right direction and is a clear differentiator when it comes to the crowded music streaming market with the entry of Apple Music. With the addition to the 6 basic options, they did introduce a Running Playlist which helps introduce Artists you’ve never heard before. Its basically a repurposing of their Shuffle feature, I suppose (clever).
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Even though I was a bit disappointed, its definitely a great place to start. I definitely know refinements are on the way and more innovations like these are expected from Spotify in the near future.

In defense of Evernote, the last great Unicorn

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I have been an using Evernote for the longest time. It has not only helped me digitize and archive my life, it has also helped me simplify many of things which would’ve ended up on a napkin years ago. It helped me revisit ideas and materials years later and helped me rethink of better solutions that I can bring about today.
Evernote which started off as a note taking desktop application moved into the mobile app business. With there huge success they started rolling out many other applications and services that centered around archiving basically anything digital that you come across. They once used to have a plethora of products that used their massive archiving backend but now they streamlined it to FIVE main products;
  • Skitch, which helped you to annotate images
  • Web Clipper, it brought in Pocket like web archiving functionality.
  • Scannable, you could virtually scan any document it would capture your document and archive it with no manual cropping needed.
  • Penultimate was an acquisition that led to archiving hand drawn or written notes into Evernote. These are just to name a few. They have gone through multiple iterations to nail the right user interface and boy! they have the best app designs in the market today.
They have also partnered with multiple hardware vendors like Adonit, Moleskin & ScanSnap and worked on building hardware solutions that enable us to incorporate Evernote into our lives in a seamless way. 
So the $1 billion question is;
Is note taking dead? The answer is No.
Is Evernote the current King of the hill, Yes
Can it remain to be the King of the hill? No
Will there be a new king, No

Here’s why…

With the success of Evernote, every tech giant and start-up wants a piece of the pie. Google started building Keep, Microsoft started building OneNote, Pocket focused on archiving and many many more. Some of the aspects Evernote pioneered while some Evernote played catchup like the latest feature to date, WorkChat. This feature was introduced after the huge success of Slack, Whatapp and Facebook Messenger. Even I tried to take a crack at it with Sermonotes.
What I am saying is, there won’t be just one King instead there will be many Kings.

Why am I writing this?

This article is in response to an article i came across in the Business Insider called “Evernote, the first dead unicorn” written by Josh Dickson. In that article he discusses about how unicorn startups are no longer rare and are bound to be doomed, on how Phil Libin, Founder of Evernote is no longer passionate about leading the business and how Evernote tried everything and became the King of none.
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I read the article and saw how one dimensional his take was. He was hell bent on focusing on only one thing and that was Evernote was doomed and he would go to length to arrange half information to point in that direction. Here are a few such except was;

Evernote knows it. Late last year, the company attempted to roll out a messaging product, Work Chat. I reached out to a number of friends to ask if they had heard about it or used it at their company, with the answer being a resounding, “No and why is Evernote making a chat application?”

 

The product certainly seems to be a flop in the market. Many Evernote users want to remove it entirely from their note-taking software.

Me: OneNote has gone below the 100 mark multiple times while evernotes rankings looks like blips.
Looking at the Y-axis you can see its like comparing apple to watermelons
Showing reviews of evernpte versus snapchat…way to go!, basically reaffirming my watermelon statement above.
Is it really wrong to enter a new product late? Facebook entered the Messenger late, Google entered the note taking game late and Apple entered the TV console game late. How does one entering a new line of business amount to bad business? If I am using the logic of why enter the messenger business, then Apple wouldn’t have moved to the mobile computing business either.
He continues;
Evernote is in the midst of a sizable, prolonged decline in relevance in numerous areas.
On the product side, customers are slowly  beginning not to care about the product, while downloads slip and competitors offer better products, many of them, like OneNote, free.
Me: Classic example of a generalised blanket statement. I do not know where is it stated that customers began to ignore the product.
He goes on;
Glassdoors reviews of Evernote paint a picture of a company suffering internally from the things customers are seeing externally.
 
Me: What! Since Josh went to great length to look at Glassdoor he should might as well start looking at OneNote creators Microsoft’s ratings.

Josh decides to give advice

The lesson for management teams at other unicorns is clear from Evernote: Forget worrying about whether you’re going to be around in 100 years, and refocus on making products that people want that will make money.

Me: Yep! using that advise and hoping no one would innovate Microsoft and Blackberry still would be been a dominant force in mobile computing today. Its all about catching up and staying ahead of the game.

Conclusion

Phil Libin lost his passion and many founders do but that doesn’t mean it’s the end of something. Evernote build great products and is always first to show their presence, like how they were the first to launch their app for Apple Watch. That’s how cutting they are.
To me the whole article by Josh Dickson was very distasteful and felt as though he was with paid to write against Evernote or he wanted to use his write as content marketing for Syrah. I truly hope he he stops connecting the dots with a line while in fact it’s been a part of the curve all along. He needs to see the light very soon because he did try to milk the web stat cow with a Part 2 which no sign of repentence.
“No point trying to convince people who are hellbent on being misunderstood” – Dr. A. R. Bernard

ThingThing iOS Keyboard App Review

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A few weeks ago as I was doing my usual social media tour and I noticed a new company that started following my account @georgeiswrite.

It was a UK based company @Thingthingapp.

I was a bit curious as to how they were planning to do it. I worked on Sermonotes which had a similar concept but was build for the Christian population to have easy access to the Bible while taking sermon notes.

The concept of productivity on mobile devices has been around for quite some time. But ThingThing is focused on taking productivity through a new route and that is via your iOS keyboard. Apple started supporting third-party keyboard with iOS 8 and ThingThing saw this as an opportunity where no big keyboard makers like Swiftkey or Fleksy keyboard has gone. They basically became a link to the rest of the services we all frequently use on our device.

On-boarding

The on-boarding process was fairly simple and straight forward which was followed by a video on how to activate the keyboard. (Deep inside I wished it was a trailer for ThingThing instead). That showed they’ve gone lengths into ensuring the user gets to experience the app fully with no stones left unturned. Once activated, there was a handful services readily available. I was impressed by the ease of getting these services connected.

Using the app was a breeze and it doesn’t have a steep learning curve. The UI was smooth and responsive and didn’t crash on me like other apps have. They mean business.

There was only one let down

There was no keyboard.

Shocking but true. I reached out with the ThingThing team and they assured me that it was in the works but no timeline was given.

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One thing that caught my eye was how they communicated their unique approach to work and life. They spoke about their principles behind why they do what they do and how they do it.

Principles behind ThingThing_georgeiswrite

Respect.

The other portion was their stance on privacy and why you will never be a product and explained it further on their blog. Because its all about trust.

Conclusion

I love ThingThing and their passion in what they do as a company. Their product is polished but not complete but having said that, ThingThing app is definitely on standby mode and will go on Turbo mode when they release that keyboard.

I was not paid to write this…#justsaying

Did Apple deliver on September 9, 2015

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Apple has finally set the rumor mill to rest.

There was so much speculation on the next iPhone that you could print all the blog posts and compile a thick book. But as the rumor for the next iphone was going on, slowly rumors about the next version of Apple TV started showing up. The writers wrote that Apple has a new streaming service lined up with some original content. It was soon followed by more speculations during the first week of September that the next iteration of iPad, the iPad Pro was going to be announced and that is the reason why the chose such a huge venue. Then came the leaked images of the Force Touch display, saying the device would be thicker than the previous version to accommodate this new tech.
Cult of Mac wanted to beat the crowd so they did on rumor on iPhone 7! Too soon?
You know what, now it’s all laid to rest. So this is what happened.

Did Timmy deliver?

The day came, saw and conquered every media outlet possible. Tim Cook was at his best. He was comfortable and knew where he was leading the crowd to. He took all the viewers through a great storyline and stitched it all up and ended the event with One republic singing “Counting Stars” which was a fitting end.
But let’s take a step back, let’s break it down and look at each product announcement objectively.

iPad Pro

Initial impression was it was a big iPad. But slowly it started to fade away when they showed the lengths at which Apple took to showcase iPad Pro beyond a consumption device to a creator device. Phil Schiller shared a lot of numbers and stats as to why this is a redefined desktop class device rather than your regular iPad. They showcased the ease of editing movies to music creation and even rendering on Autocad!
Man! I’e used Autocad when I was in school and even my PC couldn’t keep up with it.
So who was it made for?
I seriously am still confused on who is their target audience. Its a tablet and not a PC. Microsoft’s Surface has been there and done that. Only time will tell what is it finally going to be used for. So far, Apple has gained the support of IBM and Cisco as their Enterprise customers and that is a good thing.

With the iPad Pro, they introduced a sidekick called the Apple Pencil. I initially thought it was a joke and Phil kept his cool, then we knew it was real. Apple Pencil has a nice touch to the entire iPad Pro storyline.

I recently invested in a Samsung Galaxy Tab A 8.0 inch just to replaced by diary because I love to write. I love styluses because they take note taking to a whole new level.

Every tech blogger started reminding us on how Steve Jobs hated styluses at the iPhone launch. But when you look at the context, he was referring to using a stylus for all touchscreen input. This was so common back then with the Windows touchscreen phones.

I think Apple was wise in introducing a stylus but does it justify the price and how does it affects the future of Adonit, Paper and Evernote is yet to be seen.

Apple TV

Finally, after so many year Apple decides to take on TV again. It morphed itself from a setup box to a fatter set top box with Amazon Fire like features. It didn’t feel ground breaking at all. Apple basically borrowed ideas from everywhere and created a hybrid device with a refreshed interface. Nothing new here.

iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus

As usual they stuck to the iPhone routine. Every “S” model would follow the predecessor in terms of hardware design and then would upgrade everything internally. This time with the “6S” they improved the cameras, processor, display and so on. The biggest announcement was the introduced of “3DTouch” aka “ForceTouch”.

They showcased mobile screen interaction to a whole new level. By applying a little bit pressure you could have a sneak peek into what was underneath and press a tad harder it will launch you directly into what you were peeking at. It reminded me a lot of Samsung’s Air view feature which was deemed a gimmick.

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I don’t know why whenever Apple does the same no one calls it a gimmick?

The question in every consumer head is, “Why should I buy this phone?”. Apart from 3D Touch, they have some neat features on the camera front. It was the 12 megapixel, 4K shooting, Live Photo holding phone was the one that made people go quite. It was beautiful.

There were surprises and it didn’t come form Apple.

Let’s just say Microsoft was invited. Apple has had a long standing love-hate relationship with Microsoft and this event seems to me that this was a sign that they have moved on and have buried the hatchet.

Even though Microsoft delivered a great product and a cringeworthy performance on stage, its good see them play nice.

Conclusion

Overall, it was a great warm fuzzy event but it lacked the “WOW” factor that I’ve experienced before. It was an update or “catch up” to times and didn’t feel revolutionary.

May be my expectations are high or may be Apple is saving it for something bigger for a better time.

Thoughts on Ashley Madison hack and why its just the tip of the iceberg

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Privacy in his digital age is an illusion

What we share online is as open as it gets. No level of checked “I Agree” is strong enough to hold the fort. What you share on any platform is owned by the folks who run them.
I’m not telling you what to and what not to share but at least know that it would be good to keep a track of what you are willing to give away.

What do i mean by sharing?

Sharing is not only the deliberate action you take to put things on social media but the voluntary access you give to online services to access your data. Dropbox, Google Photos, SkyDrive and iCloud Photo backup are all those services in this case. Once you agreed to the T&Cs, you are pretty much a hamster on the Ferris wheel of supplying data.
So is it bad to do that? Absolutely not!
Don’t get me wrong, I love these services and I am glad that these information gets backed up automatically. I no longer dread when I see my external hard disk crash with all my wedding photos in it.
Tech giants really want users and they’ll do anything to get you onboard. They offer you, Unlimited space, bandwidth, sharing, editing, streaming…name it you have it. They even have world class security with 256 bit encryption. But the sad truth is all these services are bound to get hacked. If it hasn’t, it’s only a matter of time. Either companies caught up with the latest or hackers catch up. Ashley Madison is no exception to that rule.
The world is so fessed up about it because Ashley Madison stood for something outrageous.

Redrawing new boundaries

Ashley Madison is a business like anything else and only a few make their name by creating new boundaries. Look at PirateBay, LimeWire, Napster to name a few who redefined the movie and music industry by paving way for Apple Music, Spotify, Rdio and so on.
Were they rogues? Of course they were! but did they make us rethink and reconsider a new approach? None of that is the big picture we all ought to see. With the recent hack more proactive approach is taken in implementing new laws, guidelines and requirements to establish better services. But it also establishes new awareness and boundaries for us.
All this is a win for the public…but at a price.