Google’s fully-featured self-driving car may take 30 years

Lee Gomes, IEEE: Project director Chris Urmson now says a fully-featured Google self-driving car might be 30 years away. […] He went on to say, “this technology is almost certainly going to come out incrementally. We imagine we are going to find places where the weather is good, where the roads are easy to drive — the technology might come there first. And then once we have confidence with that, we will move to more challenging locations.” I linked to an Apple Watch article yesterday which talked about the social stigma involved in using a new, revolutionary technology in its nascent stages. Similarly, this story had me thinking about how much cynicism and dogma self-driving cars will meet in their nascent stages. Even if self-driving cars definitively reduce average crashes on the road to ‘almost nothing’, the one time a self-driving car does meet with a severe accident, there’s bound to be a backlash — ‘Maybe this wouldn’t have happened if there were a human manning the wheel.’ Additionally, writing about self-driving cars makes my brain draw parallels with the aviation industry where almost every operation is automated. The difference though, is a common person has no choice but to trust automation when aboard a flight. If you don’t like it, you can’t say ‘screw it, I can fly this thing better than any computer can 1…I’m taking the wheel’. With cars, you can — and people will. It’s easier to introduce automation in mass transportation than in personal transportation. How the self-driving car industry tackles this problem is of immense interest to me. Or, the more likely scenario, ‘I just don’t trust computers enough to put my life in the hands of an algorithm’ ↩︎

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China is responsible for about 10% of climate change

Chris Pash, Business Insider: China is responsible for about 10% of global warming since the pre-industrial era, according to estimates published in the journal Nature. […] Last month was the warmest seasonally adjusted month in more than a century of global record keeping, according to analysis by NASA. I wouldn’t be surprised if India made the top five list of countries responsible for global warming. I stay in Delhi (India’s capital) and it’s the most polluted city in the world! The horizon, here, has a brownish-grey tinge to it. UPDATE: The WHO study that measured pollution (and pronounced Delhi as the ‘leader’) judges them by a value that indicates ‘the amount of the smog-causing microscopic particles in the air’. The scale goes from 26 to 208. For comparison, New York City scored 14. Delhi scored 153.

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How giant websites design for you (and a billion others, too)

Any material I can get my hands on that teaches me about design is helpful and interesting to me. I’ve come to realise the importance of this discipline while designing NSShadowcat. Today, I found a TED talk by Margaret Gould Stewart titled ‘How giant websites design for you (and a billion others, too)‘. It’s a 13-minute video where Margaret, a designer with experience at YouTube and Facebook, details the thought behind catering to the dispositions of billions of people. An interesting point she makes towards the end is about designing for ‘the next five billion people’ and how different their needs are, compared to today’s netizens.

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Tom Warren uses the Apple Watch as his wallet for a month

Tom Warren, The Verge: I’ve been using my Apple Watch for the majority of my card payments over the past few months, and it has been a lesson in the future, frustration, society, and technology. The first time I used my Apple Watch to catch a bus I felt like a dick. That’s largely because I could hear someone mutter “dick” after I awkwardly swiped my wrist at the reader, and also because people were confused and amazed by seeing someone use a watch to pay. You feel like that guy with a red Ferrari revving it at the lights, when all you’re trying to do is quickly get on a bus and secretly touch your watch on the reader while everyone is looking at you. It’s a feeling I had to get over to continue my experiment. I’m a social recluse so I think I can identify with Tom a little too well. The other day I was at a cafe and I couldn’t connect to the cafe’s WiFi. I had to show my iPhone (6S) to one of the folks at the cafe (an iPhone 6 owner). Habitually, I switched to Settings by force-swiping(the left-to-right 3D Touch gesture). To me, this was routine, but to a person who isn’t well versed with technology – and an iPhone 6 owner at that – this was striking. I was instantly uneasy. I’d love to be able to pay at places with an Apple Watch (or my iPhone for that matter, but Apple Pay will take a long time in coming to India) but the initial social stigma associated in doing so – ‘Oh, you’re one of those people…‘ – will make me second guess my actions. The reason I linked to this story is because it’s fascinating to me, as a third person, to observe the challenges a new technology – and the makers of that technology – face when introducing something truly revolutionary. One needs to overcome dogma; only then can the revolutionary become the ordinary.

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Apple’s encryption engineers may not comply if ordered to unlock the iPhone

John Markoff, Katie Benner and Brian X. Chen, New York Times: Apple employees are already discussing what they will do if ordered to help law enforcement authorities. Some say they may balk at the work, while others may even quit their high-paying jobs rather than undermine the security of the software they have already created, according to more than a half-dozen current and former Apple employees. […] It also speaks directly to arguments Apple has made in legal documents that the government’s demand curbs free speech by asking the company to order people to do things that they consider offensive. Apple’s engineers’ stance on this matter is completely understandable and as Nick and John have pointed out, these engineers won’t have trouble finding jobs elsewhere, if it comes to that. Apple’s fight against the FBI holds on multiple grounds — they’re standing up for the right thing, protecting their values, (a marketing angle, if you choose cynicism; although this story further devalues a cynical perspective) etc. But some part of it is also to protect the work these engineers have put into making the iPhone as secure as it is today — and I’m sure Apple’s engineers acknowledge it. Think of how high a regard these engineers would hold Apple in, if Apple wins the case.

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iPhone 6S beats the Galaxy S7 by a margin

PhoneBuff uploaded a video (via. Dave Mark, The Loop) in its speed test series; this time the S7 faces off against the 6S. Dave’s thoughts: I have to say, I was really surprised by the results here. I thought it would be much closer. I wasn’t as surprised since I saw the iPhone 6 pitched against the Galaxy S5 and HTC’s One M8 in PhoneBuff’s speed test two years ago. (The difference in RAM between the iPhone and its competitors back then was way more than it is now; so a victory for the iPhone was shocking.) I didn’t think there would be this much of a difference though. And I can say it with certainty that it’s the S7’s software that’s at fault since GeekBench scores1 (single core) suggest that the Snapdragon 820 (S7’s processor) isn’t as far from the A9 as the speed test suggests. 1. Snapdragon 820: 2332. A9: 2507↩

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Apple strikes cloud services deal with Google

Kevin McLaughlin and Joseph Tsidulko, CRN (via John Gruber): Alphabet’s Google has quietly scored a major coup in its campaign to become an enterprise cloud computing powerhouse, landing Apple as a customer for the Google Cloud Platform […] Since inking the Google deal late last year, Apple has also significantly reduced its reliance on Amazon Web Services, whose infrastructure it uses to run parts of iCloud and other services […] Apple has not abandoned AWS entirely and remains a customer, the sources said. I am very, very interested in knowing more about the details of this deal. Further: According to the sources, Google executives have told partners that Apple is spending between $400 million and $600 million on Google Cloud Platform, although this couldn’t be independently confirmed. Also unclear is whether this range refers to an annual spending rate or a set amount of capacity. Morgan Stanley, in a report released last month, estimated that Apple spends around $1 billion annually on AWS, but speculated that Apple may look to reduce that figure by moving more computing to its own data centers. Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple is spending $3.9 billion to build new data centers in Arizona, Ireland and Denmark, the first of which is set to open later this year. Let’s assume all this data is accurate. $400 million (the lower limit) times 12 is $ 4.8 billion. So, of course, that number isn’t monthly (or even tri-annual) billings. I suspect cost-savings are one of the reasons why this deal is struck. To assume so also means that the cost of Apple shifting their data on Google’s servers is accompanied by the overhead of actually moving it there. Inevitably, Apple will resort to storing their data on their own servers sometime in the future — that would be the most ideal standpoint from Apple’s perspective. So why move data to Google in the interim? There are a lot of questions here that will, owing to Apple’s secrecy, go unanswered. As for the ‘Why Google? They’re the biggest rivals’ angle, I can say this with certainty: The old Apple tended to turn a blind-eye towards competitors, even if that meant Apple losing out in the short term. Under Tim’s leadership, Apple picks what’s best for the company, even if that necessitates leveraging a competitor, acknowledging said competitor’s competency in the process. Evidence for this thought comes from the fact that Apple releases all of its videos on YouTube and the launch of Apple Music on Android1. There’s enough of a benefit for Apple here that justifies moving their data to Google’s data centres; and that fact doesn’t ease my curiosity. 1.Yes, Apple did release iTunes for Windows back in the day but that had an accompanying benefit of syncing with the iPod. Apple Music on Android only makes them money. Releasing videos on YouTube garners publicity.↩

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‘Hey Siri’, ‘Me likes you’

Apple’s latest commercial has the Cookie Monster using an iPhone 6S. Even though I’m not as familiar with the Cookie Monster as, say, John Gruber, I really like this ad. Here’s the reasons why: It’s funny (among other things, the Cookie Monster is attempting ventriloquy). Secondly, I felt like the ads narrated by Lake Bell were getting stale (the original ‘The only thing that’s changed is everything’ ad was genius). This ad is a refreshing change and I’m sure it’ll be well received by its target audience. Lastly, if you, like me, didn’t get the reference at the very end, have a look at this Sesame Street video.

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Mathew Garrett’s experience with Android ‘switches’

Mathew Garrett (via. Dave Mark, The Loop): I’m in London for Kubecon right now, and the hotel I’m staying at has decided that light switches are unfashionable and replaced them with a series of Android tablets. […] And then I noticed something. My room number is 714. The IP address I was communicating with was 172.16.207.14. They wouldn’t, would they? […] It’s basically as bad as it could be – once I’d figured out the gateway, I could access the control systems on every floor and query other rooms to figure out whether the lights were on or not, which strongly implies that I could control them as well. It’s chilling to think of the possibility that this kind of access might fall in the wrong hands.

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Instagram to introduce algorithmic feeds

Instagram: You may be surprised to learn that people miss on average 70 percent of their feeds. As Instagram has grown, it’s become harder to keep up with all the photos and videos people share. This means you often don’t see the posts you might care about the most. To improve your experience, your feed will soon be ordered to show the moments we believe you will care about the most. Algorithmic feeds are bound to pave the way ahead for any feed-based social platform. My cursory assessment leads me to believe that its always the pro-users who want their feed to remain as-is (usually a chronological order). As a social-network continues to grow, its the regular-users, not the pro-users, who make up the majority of its user base. Regular users don’t want to be swamped in information right in their faces. As an example, the Twitter app for Mac, by default, shows direct Tweets (not replies to tweets) in its feed. Twitter.com is even more distilled. Tweetbot, on the other hand, is a compilation of everything, presented in chronological order. At the time, I barely used Twitter and Tweetbot’s feed was daunting. (I still don’t know much Twitter’s .@ format.) Considering the nature of Instagram, I am very interested in seeing how the company tackles this problem.

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Charlie Rose interviews Jony Ive

I’ve been searching for material to get a gauge on Jony Ive. Jony is one of the most important and influential people alive today; knowing more about him is advantageous in understanding Apple. I was delighted, then, to run into Jony’s interview with Charlie Rose (via Shawn King, The Loop) held last year. The video itself is a little longer than an hour and its a crummy job. Good luck trying to avoid the banners at the right and bottom sides. It’s a must-watch though. There’s a lot to be learned here. A few observations: If you’ve ever seen Jony seated front-row in one of Apple’s Keynotes, you come off with an impression that he must be an intimidating individual. This video shows you how soft-spoken the man truly is. While watching Jony talk, I kept thinking about how closely his unrehearsed narrative resembles the rehearsed narrative in one of Apple’s ads. This is remarkable — he truly believes what he says in those ads. It’s good to know he isn’t always simply playing along with the script. It’s amazing how much one can talk, focused throughout on one topic, and not give away anything that isn’t planned. The glow on his face when his friendship with Steve Jobs is mentioned exudes childish excitement — its heartwarming. Notice how many of Charlie’s questions, Jony answers not as simple ‘yes’, ‘no’ or definitive statements. Instead, he relies on the abstract to try and convey his point. This is in stark contrast with people like Tim Cook or Craig Federighi, who are bold and succinct in their answers. Maybe I’m reading into this too much but I firmly believe this difference is attributable to the difference in backgrounds of the former and the latter — Jony deals primarily in how a product feels whereas Tim and Craig are tasked with measuring the ups and downs of a product. (Of course this is a gross oversimplification in favour of conveying the point.) Lastly, when Jony inevitably does leave Apple, I don’t think Apple would lose its taste in design. Over the years, the company, its people and its culture have Apple’s design-first approach imbued in them. Jony is just one of the many faces that represent that philosophy, albeit the most important one.

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Google decides to follow Apple’s Tab Bar Controller

Jacob Kastrenakes, The Verge: Android apps are going to start looking a bit more like iOS apps in the near future. Google updated its Android design guidelines yesterday telling developers that, in some cases, they should place a bar across the bottom of their app that can be used to navigate between different sections. If that sounds familiar, it’s because that’s exactly how most iOS apps handle navigation. Google is putting its own spin on what it calls the “bottom navigation bar.” Unlike on iOS, Google wants the bar to disappear when a person is scrolling, freeing up more of the screen. Buttons will also enlarge ever so slightly to indicate that they’ve been selected; in a case where there are several buttons on the bar, the highlighted button might also push other icons slightly out of the way to better indicate its state. Confusing matters: This isn’t the end of the hamburger menu, however. Google says the bottom navigation bar should only be used when an app offers three to five core areas. If there are two areas, developers should use tabs; if there are six or more areas, developers should stick with the hamburger menu. Google’s guidelines suggest you use up to three interaction mechanisms : tabs, their own spin on the iOS Tab Controller and the old Hamburger menu. I don’t know how this pans out but it sure sounds like a mess. As for Google’s ‘bottom navigation bar’, go have a look at the screenshot linked by The Verge (alternatively: a copy in Google’s guidelines). A few problems I see with this design: selecting one (of the upto 5) icons changes its tint colour. Why then must one also display the (previously invisible) underlying text and enlarge the icon too? Seems like too much overhead; not to mention that one large icon irking away at you when in your peripheral vision. I suppose the only explanation here is that this behaviour somehow ties in with Google’s Material design. Additionally, if the Navigation Bar has three items, Google asks you to display the icon and its label; if its four or five, stick to icons only. At least on paper, this just doesn’t seem coherent. In all honesty, it’ll be a long time coming before I actually use Android’s Navigation Bar so my cursory thoughts should be treated as just that — thoughts. However, when it comes to iOS, this design is simply flawed. Google Photos for iOS I noticed this design language brought over to Google Photos on iOS this morning while backing up my photos. Now, if you aren’t familiar with how Google treats design on its Android apps, let me reference John Gruber: But Google’s “Material Design” isn’t merely the design language for Android, it’s the design language for all the company’s software. One result of this is that Google’s iOS apps feel less and less like iOS apps with each major release. To me, they look and feel like Android apps running on iOS. Android users might disagree with that assessment, as much of what makes a good Android app Android-y is not how the software looks but the way it interacts with the system. But these Google apps certainly don’t look or feel quite like iOS apps. Essentially, Google employs Material design (as much as it can) in its iOS apps to maintain consistency across all Google apps. (Apple’s Music app on Android adheres to Google’s guidelines.) It irks me and its unsettling (not to mention the fact that I need to consciously not use the swipe-right-to-go-back gesture on the rare occasion I do use Google’s apps) but at least its understandable why Google overrides iOS convention in favour of Material Design. With Google Photos, Google’s design simply breaks. In Photos, Google has three options in the navigation bar: ‘Assistant’, ‘Photos’ and ‘Albums’.What causes Google’s design to break is that you can actually swipe between these three views. (Side note: Google Hangouts on iOS, doesn’t allow you to do this between its views.) When you’ve selected ‘Assistant’, you are, at times, presented with Cards that spread almost edge to edge. Cards can be dismissed by swiping left or right. But swiping left also takes you to the ‘Photos’ view. You now have to go back to ‘Assistant’ and remember to swipe right if you want to dismiss the card. It sounds minuscule but once you run into this behaviour, frustration ensues. Not to mention the swipe-right-to-go-back gesture that is completely broken due to this inter-view swiping. Choosing not to implement an OS-wide gesture works; replacing it, doesn’t. Minutiae Looking at the icons in Google’s Photos app was, somehow, disconcerting — as if they mismatched in some minute way (specifically, the ‘Albums’ icon seemed out of place). So I overlaid some lines, using Markup in Preview, on them to figure out what was going on. And as a reference, I did the same with Apple’s Music app. You can have a look here: Google Photos, Apple Music.

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John Oliver on encryption and Apple vs FBI

Last Week Tonight’s latest episode has John Oliver talking about Encryption. It’s the video you need at your disposal to make a regular person understand the Apple vs. FBI case — touching on the most important parts and skipping the nerdy details. If, however, you are up to speed with the case or you just want to watch some fun being poked at Apple, start the video at 15:38.

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Samsung’s letter to shareholders

Samsung: We expect core products of our company, such as smartphone, TV, and memory, will face oversupply issues and intensified price competition. Our competitors will follow close behind our leading position in the global IT industry with aggressive investments and innovations. Moreover, innovative business models such as O2O(Online to Offline) and sharing economy are undermining the importance of hardware, which is our strength, and shifting the core competitiveness to software platform. Reminds me of Charles Arthur’s article titled “The Q4 2015 smartphone scorecard […]”. In it, he talks about how companies like Samsung are losing customers to rivals that can offer similar experiences for less dough. A quote: Samsung has in effect already cut the price of the S7 by offering a free VR system to anyone who pre-orders. That bit aligns itself perfectly with Samsung’s statement above.

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Samsung touts S7 water resistance by bathing it in champagne

Chris Welch, The Verge: In the spot, Wayne douses his S7 Edge with a bottle of champagne. “I could pour this champagne on my phone and it still work,” he proudly says as two friends look on in seeming disbelief. Naturally, one of Wayne’s pals tries to do the same with what looks like an iPhone, and the device instantly meets its demise. But have no fear; with an estimated net worth of $150 million, Lil Wayne has a second S7 Edge in his pocket, and the champagne pouring party continues on. Let alone that fact that the ad itself is sketchy, Samsung just doesn’t understand brand valuation (or devaluation).

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