The Problem With "Free Internet"

Who doesn’t like free internet? We all do. To be honest, we all love anything that’s free. Over the years we’ve somewhat realised that we all must pay a price for this label called free. Sometimes it means having a limited set of features and viewing ads as a part of the free experience (also known as the freemium model), and sometimes it means giving up personal information to access a freebie (like your phone number or business credentials).

If you seriously think about it, all the free stuff you get everywhere isn’t really free. But we’re happy as long as it doesn’t directly reach for our wallets.

We also love free internet. Be it at the airport or at the local coffee shop, we’ve started visiting places that offer free WiFi as a part of the package. You may be overpaying for a cup of joe but you certainly don’t mind since you’re getting a great deal overall. The internet you and I have come to love over all these years is about to change, and in a big way.

Airtel, India’s premier mobile and broadband services provider, is likely to pull you into its new platform called Airtel Zero. The company is marketing it as a “win-win” platform for both customers and marketers. But that’s just what they want you to believe. You, as a customer, will lose, marketers, startups and companies will also lose money in the process. It’s only going to be a win for Airtel.

Here’s how: Airtel will offer customers a chance to browse a specific number of apps and services completely free on its network. Yes, that’s free internet for you. That means you can download an app, use it as much as you’d like, and pay nothing as data charges for the app. The deal works even if you’re on a zero balance with a prepaid connection.

Now you may ask, how do I lose as a customer if I don’t pay anything? You lose because this promise of free internet for specific apps is only the start. The concept pokes fun at the net neutrality fundamentals. If you’re happy to use a bunch of apps and services for free, you should prepare yourself to pay extra for another set of apps and services later on in the future. It works much like what you currently pay for your DTH connection. Consider Flipkart as a free-to-air channel, and then Amazon as a paid premium channel. Now you see what I’m getting at?

Apparently Flipkart is one of the first partners Airtel has signed up for its Airtel Zero platform. The online retail giant’s apps will be free to access once Airtel Zero goes live. Those who support the move may call it a toll-free line to the internet, much like toll-free phone numbers, but you’re fine with that, don’t be surprised to pay ISD rates for websites and online streaming services in the future.

The whole concept of net neutrality needs customers’ support as of now. I’ll keep it as a separate post, but you should really go through this in case you feel alarmed reading the above. My only goal is to shake up a bunch of my non-techie friends and relatives in the process. Feel free to drop in your questions and comments using the form below.

Image credits: Flickr (Creative Commons)

4 Major Announcements From Facebook’s F8 Conference For App Developers

At its F8 Developer Conference, Facebook made a number of significant announcements that will clearly define the future of connected apps in the future. The world’s largest social network is now not just a single app or a service. Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced how the company is now a series of apps and services instead of a single purpose company.

Here are five of the biggest announcements Facebook made at its F8 Developer Conference for mobile app developers:

1. Facebook Messenger will now be a platform

As expected, Facebook is going to allow third party developers to build apps that will integrate with the company’s popular mobile messaging tool. These apps are expected to bring additional features to the company’s simple messaging app. Facebook announced support for 40 apps at launch, and the company will be releasing an SDK today that will allow any developer to build on its Messenger platform. Developers can build new user experiences for users on Messenger. It’s a smart move considering Facebook will be able to pitch more developers simply because of high engagement numbers for its Messenger app.

2. Analytics for apps

Facebook also announced a new tool called Analytics for Apps. The tool will allow app marketers and developers to keep a track of all the relevant metrics to create marketing campaigns based on all the social data that the tool will collect. Analytics for Apps will be available starting today. The tool will offer a web based UI that will allow developers to see how their Facebook powered apps are performing. Some of the biggest metrics that developers will be able to access will include user engagement and conversion rates.

3. A new ad exchange on top of LiveRail

LiveRail, the company’s ad server for video ads, will now have an ad exchange built on top of it. Facebook announced that it is going to expand the ad management features to mobile devices, allowing ad publishers to use the company’s platform to sell video and display ads on mobile apps. LiveRail will be able to auction off any available ad space to the highest possible bidder to ensure all the ad spots are filled in. The ad platform will use anonymised user data to help publishers serve better ads, targeted at the right audience.

4. New SDKs for Parse

Facebook announced new SDKs for its mobile app development platform called Parse. The new SDKs are specifically targeted at developers looking to build next-generation apps utilising data from internet connected devices. Third party developers will be able to use data from IoT (Internet of Things) based devices, and use them in their apps. The potential is pretty huge since the number of IoT devices and platforms in the market is continuously shooting up every month.

Why Should Anyone Buy An Apple Watch?

This is probably the biggest question on anyone’s mind right now — why should you buy an Apple Watch? Personally, I was looking to find an answer during Apple’s launch keynote earlier this week. Apple did demonstrate a few apps, and some other features of the Apple Watch, but then again the problem with Apple is extremely high, and most unrealistic, expectations.

Where is the “wow” factor about the Apple Watch?

If Apple hadn’t revealed the Apple Watch earlier, and if it was first-time announcement this week, I think I’d still be looking for ways to save up some money to buy one. Apple did kill some of the excitement one generally has for a new Apple product but announcing it a little earlier than usual.

But then Apple products are almost never an impulse buy for anyone. Prospective customers watch videos, read lengthy reviews, and talk to existing customers before buying just about anything now. With an Apple product it becomes all the more important simply due to their higher than normal pricing.

Apple Watch is more of an expensive iPhone accessory than a standalone product. You can certainly live without one. Can it make you spend your hard earned money to find a place on your wrist? Not initially, no. The second iteration of Apple Watch would be an interesting piece of hardware. The Apple Watch 2 would have a solid foundation when it comes to apps, and an improvement over the first Watch using all the feedback the initial customers generate.

Unlike an iPhone, the Apple Watch will not be subsidised. That makes it nearly half the price of an unlocked iPhone in the US. For other countries like India, where carriers do not subsidise devices, we’re already used to paying full prices for our iPhones.

The typical price for an Apple Watch in India is going to be somewhere around Rs.30,000-35,000 for the entry level variants. Let’s not even go towards the $10,000 Apple Watch Edition with all the bling, and same functionality. People had only recently gotten used to spending more than Rs.40,000 for a high-end smartphone, and low-cost Android smartphone makers have shattered that price point as well.

The first Apple Watch is certainly going to be a luxury, especially in India. The high price, matched with a high customs import duty, is going to make it difficult to sell here. The only saving grace for the Apple Watch in India is once the apps start driving usage. I’m not saying it won’t sell, there are a lot of people with money. I’m just saying it’s going to take some time for Indians to get used to the smartwatch phenomenon.

When Apple Starts Making Handicapped Macs

Remember how Steve Jobs revealed the first generation MacBook Air to the world? It was packed inside an envelope. He took it out of the envelope, and everyone went nuts. It was a defining moment for laptop users and manufacturers. Users would love a slim yet powerful machine like that, and manufacturers wanted to copy it as soon as possible. Apple had a winner with the MacBook Air.

The MacBook Air didn’t have an optical drive, or a conventional hard drive. That was the trade off for making the laptop more thinner. Instead it used a solid state drive, and asked users to switch to flash drives for the good. Initially a bunch of people were surprised, while some even laughed at the idea. But eventually, optical drives died, and Apple had seen it coming.

This week’s Apple event saw yet another milestone in building laptops for the future. Laptops for the smartphone and tablet generation. The new MacBook (no Air or Pro), is stunning to say the least. It’s thin, perfect in size, and according to Apple it is the future of laptops. It comes with just one port (USB C) that handles everything from charging the device to sharing files or adding accessories, and there’s no fan inside, therefore no moving parts. Apple used up all the space left to add more battery juice power to the machine.

The new MacBook isn’t exactly a power horse with that Intel Core M chip, but it’ll work just fine for people who don’t need a powerful machine in their day to day lives. This is probably the biggest reason why the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro still exist in Apple’s line up. The new MacBook is a slick machine you’d carry on the train, on a plane, or to a conference where you can show it off, and still get most of your work done. The new MacBook is Apple’s ChromeBook that runs OS X.

Apple Watch In India — Will they buy?

Apple finally launched its first ever smartwatch last night. The Apple Watch looks beautiful, does a few things well, and costs quite a lot as compared to other smartwatches in the market. There’s no doubt Apple will end up selling millions of these smartwatches during the launch weekend, the only question on my mind is — will Apple Watch sell in India?

Apple Watch is currently a luxury. Much like the first mobile phones when they launched. Everyone with a landline at their home saw the first mobile phone as a high-end luxury they wouldn’t mind having. But it’s not something they couldn’t live without. And then it happened. Mobile phones got more affordable, everyone started using them, and now we can’t live without them.

Can the same happen with smartwatches? It’s not highly unlikely given the fact that we’re so hooked to our smartphones already. Down the road, we could switch to an Apple Watch or another smartwatch to avoid getting those looks for taking out your smartphone at the dinner table every time it beeps.

In India, Apple Watch’s pricing would be a lot different. So far the import duties on mobile phones have been at an acceptable 6%, and they’ve now been bumped up to around 12%. That’s the reason Apple had to increase prices of its iPhones recently. The import duty for watches is around 30%. That’s massive.

To convince anyone in India to invest in an Apple Watch at those prices is going to be hard. Unless someone has a clear set of use cases, and a lot of money in the bank (which is pretty much every Apple customer in the world), I don’t see why a lot of people would be excited about getting it in India. Moreover you’ll need an iPhone to use the Apple Watch, so it’s more like a bundled purchase in case you’re in the Android or Windows Phone territory right now.

However don’t leave India out of the equation just yet. We’re one of the biggest markets for smartphones right now, with adoption charts going off the roof. Mobile internet connectivity is still in the dumps though, and there’s hope that mobile operators would really do something about it but let’s not go there right now. The cheapest Apple Watch in India would cost somewhere around Rs.30,000-35,000. That’s quite a lot if you ask me.

Why Windows OEMs Get Away With Anything?

Anyone who is used to buying a brand new Windows machine knows what the whole package contains. You get Windows pre-loaded on a brand new machine, along with the usual tiny software packages your OEM thinks would work well for you. But they don’t.

Most users are now primed into uninstalling the anti-virus programs, utilities, and other multimedia programs that an OEM might bundle with their laptop or desktop. Some users do it because they prefer a specific product, while some are led into uninstalling due to the software being irritating.

So how do Windows OEMs just get away with anything they put on your machine? Well, most people just don’t care. If you’re on the non tech side of things, chances are you won’t even know what you’ve actually bought. All you care is that it works, you have things to click on, and you can access the internet.

The problems arise when you start noticing a drop in performance. Or worst case, someone used your credit card to pay for an adult site somewhere in Europe. That gets all sorts of alarms turned on. How the heck did that even happen?

I’ve always suggested folks to buy new machines without any OS preinstalled. This works pretty well if you’re upgrading from an existing machine since you already own an OS license, but even if you don’t, you could still buy a new copy and install it yourself. It’s not rocket science anymore. Obviously there will be a difference in overall pricing, but it’s worth the time and money.

If you’re still bent on buying a machine with the OS pre-installed, make sure you do a clean install of the OS when you use the machine for the first time. You’ll be glad you did this because it’ll end up saving you a lot more time, energy, and money in the long run.

As for OEMs who inject adware into their machines, I really have no words to express how terrible that is.

Microsoft Announces Support for Java In Cross-platform App Development

Microsoft has now openly started supporting Java for developing cross-platform mobile apps. The company’s subsidiary, Microsoft Open Technologies, is now promoting Java as a choice of programming language to develop cross-platform mobile apps. The move would benefit millions of Java programmers across the world.

Microsoft Open Technologies revealed a new tool called JUniversal that will be available for free. The tool will enable mobile app developers to build native cross-platform apps in Java itself. JUniversal allows developers to write their code in Java, and port their code to enable native apps across platforms. The technology can also be used for non-mobile development scenarios.

Mobile app developers will be able to build mobile apps in their favourite Java IDE. Developers can simply invoke JUniversal to translate source code from Java to C# for Windows Phone. Developers will also be able to convert their code to C++/Objective C++ to develop apps that work on Apple’s iOS mobile operating system.

The tool isn’t really all that polished for now. Developers can go ahead and try out the tool for now. Microsoft Open Technologies claims that the idea behind JUniversal came from ex-Nokia employees. The company said, “They built this tool to provide an elegant way to translate source code and make it useful across multiple platforms.”

JUniversal also helps keep comments, and the code formatting intact. That enables the translated code to be easily read by other programmers. Therefore there’s no language impedance mismatch, according to the JUniversal website.

However for the non-shared code, mobile app developers will still need to write code in native platform languages. JUniversal also doesn’t currently offer any support when it comes to user interface. The UI will still need to be written in native code.

5 Points To Consider While Buying ERP Software Packages

Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software has become an essential delivery model for several business applications. But when it comes to picking up the right ERP software to buy, there are several key factors most companies tend to ignore. Each market has their own specific demand for ERP software. Here’s how to simplify the process to buy an ERP software package.

Continue reading 5 Points To Consider While Buying ERP Software Packages

Microsoft Will Acquire Big Data Software Firm Revolution Analytics

Microsoft’s agreement to buy a big data tools company might have gone unnoticed amidst its big news about the company’s upcoming major desktop operating system release. In a blog post on Friday, Microsoft announced that it has agreed to buy Revolution Analytics, a company that offers tools that help customers make sense of big data. The move is expected to offer a major boost to Microsoft’s own big data and cloud efforts.

The company chose not to reveal any details about the transaction yet. In the blog post mentioning the deal, Microsoft agreed that it decided to buy Revolution Analytics since there’s an ever increasing demand after massive growth in data that its potential customers are dealing with, along with the need for the right kind of software which can handle it. Revolution Analytics makes a statistics programming language known as “R” which helps in data analysis.

When it comes to big data and cloud based services, Microsoft has a major competition from the likes of Google and Amazon. The company’s new CEO Satya Nadella has offered more focus towards the promising cloud sector than his former CEO Steve Ballmer. In fact, the new Microsoft under Nadella looks all the more promising than ever before.

Meanwhile, in a blog post, Revolution Analytics said that the deal will allow the company to integrate advanced analytics tools right inside Microsoft’s software products as well as its cloud based offerings. Revolution Analytics boasts of customers like American Century Investments, Northern Trusts, and others on its website.

The company’s programming language R is currently widely used by data scientists and statisticians since it can easily handle a large amount of data. According to the latest numbers, R is the 18th most popular programming language as of now. There are some studies that put the programming language as the 13th most popular, that’s quite a massive jump from last year’s 44th position.

Microsoft itself is a big user of the programming language R. The company has used R to develop match-making features on the Xbox online gaming service. Data scientists at Microsoft use it to apply machine learning to data that is collected from Bing, Azure, Office, and other divisions within the company. Microsoft also offers support for R within its Azure ML framework.

To Uber, or not?

I remember the first time I came to know about radio cabs, I felt an instant connection. The ability to call for a cab, anytime and anywhere, and with a promise of well behaved English speaking cab drivers, it made everything feel so good. I think Chandigarh was one of the first few cities to experience radio cabs.

Even though they were more expensive here, it felt like a convenience no one else could offer. Fast forward several years into the smartphone-filled scenario, taxi apps like Uber, Ola, Taxi for Sure, and others took things to the next level. Being able to call for a cab right from the app itself, to tracking the current location, and even getting a decent discount on the whole trip — it was just too good.

But then we’re not really living a perfect world. Are we? This happened, and all hell broke loose. The incident shed light on how taxi app companies had discovered a major loophole, and were operating without following proper legal procedures. Delhi, and now even Chandigarh, have started banning these app based taxi services.

The Delhi Police officials claimed they didn’t know about the app before the incident. To make matter worse, Uber doesn’t even run a call centre necessary to ensure proper customer support. The cops had to install the app, demand a cab, and then asked the cab driver to take them to the company’s offices. That’s sad.

Uber isn’t new to controversies in the country. Earlier the company was accused to bypassing the mandatory two-factor authentication according to regulations laid down by the Reserve Bank of India. Uber did manage to get a lot of attention that time, and even some support from users who claimed that it was a dick move on other radio cabs’ part to accuse Uber.

The latest incident, and the subsequent ban has put Uber, and other taxi app based companies in the limelight. These companies have put in a significant investment across the country, and they will do their best to comply by the regulations. But when they do, after some time, will people still trust them? Will you trust them for a late-night ride while all alone?