Indian government still discussing Apple’s waiver

A week ago, Shailesh Andrade for Reuters: India last year exempted foreign retailers selling “state of the art” or “cutting edge technology” from the sourcing rule, which states that 30 percent of the value of goods sold in a shop should be made in India. A panel set up by Sitharaman’s ministry had favored waiving the sourcing requirement for the U.S.-based phone-maker. But a government official, with direct knowledge of the FIPB decision, said Apple’s request was turned down as it failed to provide any material “on record” to back it. “We took a line that we wouldn’t mind waiving off the local sourcing norm for Apple’s high-end products,” said Sitharaman. “(The) finance ministry has taken a different line. We will talk to them.” I’d written previously on the news of Apple’s waiver being denied: I highly doubt the prime minister would intervene on this matter — or even that this decision was taken without his awareness. My theory is this: During Tim Cook’s visit, the Indian government realised Cook’s — and Apple’s — determination in India probably gives the Indian government the upper hand. It’s in the government’s interests to have Apple source 30% of its parts locally and their upper hand lets them reinstate these requirements. Either the committee responsible for the original waiver — the Foreign Investment Promotion Board — wasn’t taken in confidence when the waiver was revoked or they were. Both ways, this is turning messy. I stand by my initial theory: If Prime Minister Narendra Modi decides to pass the waiver, it’ll be solely after a well-thought weightage of pros and cons (considering Apple’s reaction to the revoked waiver), not because this news caught the PM by surprise.

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Apple’s Amazon Echo competitor could feature facial recognition

Shara Tibken, CNET (via. MacRumors): The consumer electronics giant has explored putting a camera in its device, which could come in the form of a smart speaker like Amazon’s Echo, according to people familiar with Apple’s plans. The device would be “self aware” and detect who is in the room using facial recognition technology. That would let the device automatically pull up a person’s preferences, such as the music and lighting they like, the sources said. I have a bone to pick with this idea. I think it’s highly unlikely for Apple to ship its omni-present device for the room with a camera. First, there’s the lighting issue. What if I want to talk to it (Siri? VocalIQ?) at night? Second, the inclusion of a camera also means I should be looking at the device for said personalisation features to work — doesn’t sound ideal at all. Third, Apple can tell me it doesn’t constantly collect data from this hypothetical always-on camera all they want but I don’t think I would be comfortable with an internet-equipped camera constantly pointed towards my general direction. The only way the problem of ‘you must look at it’ is solved is by putting the camera in an Apple TV’s remote. That raises the chances of the camera always pointed at you. But if I’m required to hold a device to make the thing work, why should I not just use my iPhone instead? Apple already validates users based on their voice with ‘Hey, Siri’ on the iPhone — ideally, ‘Hey, Siri’ is supposed to respond only to the voice it’s trained for. Sure it’s incredibly hit-or-miss but at least you see the direction Apple’s laying their foundation in. I think voice-validation is undoubtedly the way to go. (Remember the MacBook Pros with TouchID rumour a few days ago? I talked about the positioning of the TouchID sensor and figured the trackpad is the most likely place — albeit with a few quirks. What if the face-recognition abilities are for the MacBook Pro instead? MacBooks already have a camera in the right place and the Pros have better cameras than the Retina MacBook.)

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Tim Culpan: ‘Apple’s McDonald’s Solution’

Tim Culpan, BloombergGadfly, about the problem Apple currently faces in India: Indian law requires such single-brand stores to procure at least 30 percent of a product’s components locally. Companies with cutting-edge technology can get a waiver, but India’s Foreign Investment Promotion Board has decided that Apple doesn’t meet that benchmark, Bloomberg’s Siddhartha Singh and Saritha Rai reported Tuesday. The reasoning is straightforward. The government wants to boost the economy and limit the amount of money flowing out of the country via local shopfronts. Then, one of the solutions Tim proposes: Apple, on the other hand, could argue that the cost of its products isn’t just in the hardware, but the software too. Its operating system and apps, as well as books, movies and music stores, all add value to the product. By opening up development centers and accelerator programs in India, as it has done, Apple can claim that it’s already procuring locally. This blew me away. Of course this is an option — one that I think Apple is in a unique position to leverage since they makes their own hardware and software. This doesn’t mean I think it is going to happen. I don’t have numbers to back me, but I don’t think the Indian government receives it’s desired margins through Apple’s software being produced in India as much as it does from (30% of) Apple’s hardware being sourced locally.

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A case for de-emphasizing apps

At I/O, Google announced Instant Apps. The idea is that you search for an item of interest on the internet, if that item is served by an app, clicking the appropriate search result loads a subset of that app and serves said item with an efficiency similar to loading a webpage. Say you’re looking for a book on Amazon through a Google search but you don’t have the Amazon app installed. If it’s properly designed, your search result would load the Amazon app with only those components that are relevant to that book. Since it’s an app, it gets all the benefits of an app, while retaining most — if not all — of the speed of a webpage. In the latest episode of The Talk Show, Rene Ritchie equates the idea of Instant Apps with Apple’s App Thinning. Part of App Thinning is on-demand resources: If you’re playing Level 1 of a game, only resources relevant to Level 1 are saved on your device. Level 2 is downloaded when it’s needed. It’s easy to see how these two ideas are relatable; each draws from the strength of its platform: Instant Apps depend on Google Search and App Thinning depends — loosely — on Apple’s vertical integration. But I think Google’s idea behind Instant Apps is conceptually profound and I’m not quite sure how aware Google is of this fact. The concept being: Apps — as they stand today — at the apex of future technology. An app serves one purpose: interactions. Serving the user information and/or letting them take actions on that information. I order an Uber, I read my iBook, I attempt cleverness on Twitter, I click pictures and post them on Instagram, I play an odd game, add to and delete from my checklist, see the status on the food I ordered — they’re all interactions. Today, you use apps for all these interactions. But would they still be used as such if there were a cleaner, succinct way to do so, one that abstracts away the app and focuses solely on the interactions? I don’t think so. Apps are used because they are better than the alternatives. The browser has slowly been de-emphasised over the years and I think that’s where Apps are headed too. And as I see it, we’re closer than ever to realise this future. The Apple Watch tries to sell you this idea: delegate your menial/routine tasks to the watch. Notifications, complications, and glances conceptually serve your most important data instantly1. ‘Watch apps’ does include the word ‘app’ but they intrinsically de-emphasise regular apps by being projections of a traditional iPhone app. Think of them as interactive Glances, if you will. Watch apps — at least the ones that are designed right — already turn your iPhone apps into minute interactions. Uber lets you order your cab at the press of a button. Setting your location, selecting your ride of choice, payment, etc. all reduced to the press of a button. This requires a lot of intelligent choices to be made on your part. Further, let’s conceive of a Siri with 3rd-party support. This opens up a world of possibilities. ‘Order an Uber’, ‘Post X to Twitter’, ‘Share my recent picture on Instagram’, ‘Add The Fellowship of the Ring to my Omnifocus shopping list’, ‘How long till my Sbarro pizza arrives?’. They’re all attainable solutions to the interactions described above — all without opening a single app or possibly even touching your phone; all — assuming idealistic Siri interpretation — de-emphasising the respective app. Of course there will be situations where the app is indispensable: signing into accounts, unreliable communication between the app and it’s automated counterpart, or — the most powerful deterrent — a user’s habituation to using apps. I picked my set of interactions specifically since some of them — reading iBooks and playing a game — don’t need and will never have an automated/intelligent counterpart similar to the other interactions. Reading books and playing games are inherently so well-designed and strike a chord with us at such deep levels that people actually buy separate devices, and — with books — piles and piles of printed paper2. (If, at this point, you’re drawing parallels with Steve Jobs’s car vs. truck analogy you’re headed down the right road.) Now, dear reader, with whatever thoughts I’ve engendered in your mind and visualising a fast-as-an-iPhone Apple Watch, accompanied by an all-powerful API-driven Siri that remotely ties in with your iPhone apps, do you think the Watch is a bad idea? How about questioning the importance of intelligence and personal assistants? I hope the answers are clear enough or — at the very least — the spark is ignited. The best inventions of mankind — whether delivered in a bang or iterated over years — were born in service of human convenience; to foster laziness and impatience. The next wave of technology won’t be any different. If you’ve read about people’s thoughts on the Apple Watch, they tend to really like these aspects of the Watch. ↩︎ Buying consoles, books, e-readers, notebooks/notepads seems custom but think about it — people are still buying separate objects for these tasks in today’s world where everything is integrated in your smartphone. I’ve written previously why printed books are still a thing but my quest into determining why people still reach for pen and paper when they want to remember something is still unsatisfactory. ↩︎

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Bloomberg: ‘India Said to Require Local Sourcing by Apple to Open Stores’

Siddhartha Singh, Bloomberg (via. MacStories): India’s finance minister has ratified a decision that Apple Inc. must meet local sourcing rules to open its own stores, according to people familiar with the matter, dealing what may be a fatal blow to the iPhone maker’s effort to open retail outlets in the country. Minister Arun Jaitley decided to support the decision by India’s Foreign Investment Promotion Board that Apple will have to procure 30 percent of components locally if it wants to sell through its own retail stores […] The finance minister’s decision could still be overturned, but that may require intervention from Prime Minister Narendra Modi. India can provide waivers to the manufacturing rules for cutting-edge technology companies. But the [Foreign Investment Promotion Board] decided it can’t certify Apple for that exception, people familiar with the matter said. This reeks of politics to me. First the Indian government pronounces Apple a company whose ‘products are cutting edge technology and state-of-the-art’ and exempts them from the 30% local-sourcing and then revokes that claim? Especially after Apple set up facilities at Bengaluru and Hyderabad? The article says Indian prime minister Narendra Modi can waive this requirement by intervening in finance minister Arun Jaitley’s decision. I don’t know much about Indian politics but googling ‘arun jaitley modi’ returns the first result: ‘Hardworking and loyal to Modi: The importance of being Arun Jaitley’. Also, both belong to the same political party — the Bharatiya Janta Party. I highly doubt the prime minister would intervene on this matter — or even that this decision was taken without his awareness. My theory is this: During Tim Cook’s visit, the Indian government realised Cook’s — and Apple’s — determination in India probably gives the Indian government the upper hand. It’s in the government’s interests to have Apple source 30% of its parts locally and their upper hand lets them reinstate these requirements.

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Apple prepping MacBook Pros with TouchID for Q4

Chance Miller, 9to5Mac: […]Apple plans to introduce a dramatically overhauled MacBook Pro later this year. Kuo says the device will have a new “thinner and lighter” design with design cues taken from the 12-inch MacBook, as well as Touch ID support and a new OLED display touch bar above the keyboard. Where will the Touch ID sensor be placed? I think the trackpad itself being TouchID is probably the most ergonomic option. Seems like it is technically feasible too since reachability on the iPhones can detect taps. This is the only way you could avoid having an eyesore round ring somewhere on the Pro’s body. If you argue for the power button to house TouchID, I’d say I wake up my MacBook from sleep by pressing the space bar regularly. Other people may be habituated to some other key. TouchID needs to be placed such that it unlocks your device on the first natural interaction. The counter argument is that currently TouchID can read your fingerprint only if the finger is stationary. A trackpad encourages finger-motion. Also, a lot of people might wake up their Mac by swiping their finger on the trackpad. (Maybe non-moving force-touch trackpads were a foundational layer for a TouchID trackpad?) Further: Kuo’s report explains that the MacBook Pro updates are the “brightest spot for Apple’s 2016 rollouts” and will come to both the 13-inch and 15-inch models sometime during the fourth quarter of this year. iPhone announcements are generally always the ‘bright spots’. Maybe this affirms the rumoured iPhone 7 having a subtle redesign? Either way, if there are no MacBook Pro announcements at WWDC, the validity of this rumour increases dramatically. And: The OLED display touch bar will replace the physical function keys along the top of the keyboard[…] Replacing the MacBook Pro’s top row with a touch-sensitive strip ostensibly gives Apple more room inernally — something they could use a lot of if they need to fit at least the power of the current Pros in a thinner body. Skylake’s efficiency improvements are also at play here. I am that oddball who loves the 12-inch MacBook. I look at it — and if time permits I give the keyboard a go — with envy, every time I’m at the local Apple store. This rumoured MacBook Pro — or maybe the one after — is the one I’ll be upgrading to from my ageing 2014 Retina MacBook Pro.

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‘A meticulous critique of the new Instagram logo/UI’

Of all the commentary on the Instagram redesign I’ve read so far, Bryan Mamaril’s ‘A meticulous critique of the new Instagram logo/UI’ is the most satisfying. One of the snippets that stood out to me the most: One good thing happening here: the dot in the logo is thicker than the stroke on verticals/horizontals, making it look like the same weight. This takes me back to the days I used to sit at my favourite coffee shop, designing NSShadowcat. I had no experience with visual design prior to designing the site. In tweaking NSShadowcat’s CSS, I faced an issue that caused me to discover the beautiful nuances of design. Initially, for the color of my headings, everything was 100% black. This caused a huge visual inconsistency to my eyes since the headings stood out too much compared to the written material, due to a heavier weighted font. For the same reason, the ‘transition’ from heading to content seemed abrupt and jarring. (The first few designs lacked the vertical line that you now see to the left of quotes. I hoped to be daring and bold by simply indenting the text a little. I realised this transition problem then too — reading written text–quoted text–written text seemed like it threw you off.) This may sound like a small problem but it was a particular eye-sore when I needed a heading in my quotes. The heading being the same gradient as the body of the quoted text (ie. a lighter black compared to written text) stood out too much due to a heavier weight. Decreasing the weight wasn’t an option (honestly, I couldn’t even figure out how to do it). That’s when it struck me: I decreased the quote-text heading’s gradient further bellow the quote-text itself. I made the necessary changes and I loved what I saw. It was a tiny detail and it made the result more cohesive. (I’ve put together a page that has some sample text as a demo for how everything comes together.) I don’t know how this sounds to an experienced designer since I have no formal experience in the creation of visual design but I was very happy seeing the extent of positive difference a little inconsistency in colours can make towards the result. I treated myself to another cup of coffee that evening.

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Apple reveals the future of its retail stores at San Fransisco

Nick Statt, The Verge: “It all starts with the storefront — taking transparency to a whole new level — where the building blends the inside and the outside, breaking down barriers and making it more egalitarian and accessible.” The outdoors plaza, which Apple says it’s gifting to the city of San Francisco, is a new fixture the company says will be coming to other flagship stores around the world. Apple plans to hold a regular weekend series featuring local artists who will perform and then give talks about their craft. […]”This is more than just a store,” Ahrendts says. “We want people to say, ‘Hey, meet me at Apple.’” Apple’s next step with its retail stores seems like a big boost in increasing awareness if their vision of ‘Hey, meet me at Apple.’ turns out. I looked at a picture of the new store’s exterior and thought: “The Apple Store, now in Space Black.”

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Tim ‘rockstar’ Cook visits India

Nice coverage by Quartz, India in collecting relevant tidbits from Tim Cook’s activities in India. He’s watched cricket, visited Bollywood celebrities and temples, and college students. No technology company’s CEO — none that I know of at least — is received with such glamorous fanfare in India. Sundar Pichai — Google’s CEO — enjoyed an enthusiastic welcome but his reception was more of a homecoming than a glorious meet-and-greet. Associating with Bollywood and cricket is a solid effort on Cook’s part — an easy way to be noticed in the eyes of the Indian common-person. A visit with the Indian Prime Minister is next. Lisa Jackson — Apple’s Apple’s VP of environment, policy and social initiatives is accompanying Tim in his visit to India too — spending her time in rural Rajasthan. (Apparently I am not alone in my assessment that other tech. CEOs haven’t received such fanfare as is suggested in a meme shared by the Reddit India’ twitter account.)

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Apple opens development center in Hyderabad, India

Apple, in a press release: This investment will accelerate Maps development and create up to 4,000 jobs. “Apple is focused on making the best products and services in the world and we are thrilled to open this new office in Hyderabad which will focus on Maps development,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO. “The talent here in the local area is incredible and we are looking forward to expanding our relationships and introducing more universities and partners to our platforms as we scale our operations.” Apple Maps was practically nonexistent in India until just a while back. Now there’s noticeable improvements made in mapped locations, displaying ratings and better integration with Siri. (Still nothing close to Google Maps though.) Navigation from one point to another isn’t supported yet (which is probably the make-or-break for any mapping service) but I suspect it shouldn’t be a long time coming. This, along with yesterday’s announcements, are great efforts on Apple’s part. I’m not entirely convinced that this facility is solely to support development for Apple Maps though. Also, Apple’s partnered with TripAdvisor for ratings for point of interests. Currently, data for Apple Maps is provided by TomTom and others. Does setting up this facility mean Apple is creating their own solution from the ground up? The press release says ‘up to 4000 jobs’, after all. I’m incredibly hopeful of the prospects here. I’m even faintly expectant of some India-related announcements this WWDC — I’m not holding my breath for it though; that’s next year’s WWDC, when enough time would’ve elapsed for these ventures to pay their dividends. An interesting statistic from the press release: Across India, Apple supports over 640,000 iOS app developer jobs and other positions related to the iOS ecosystem.  

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Apple to open a Design and Development Accelerator in India

Business Wire: The company will establish a Design and Development Accelerator in Bengaluru, the home of India’s startup scene. Tens of thousands of developers in India make apps for iOS, the world’s most powerful mobile operating system and the foundation for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch. This initiative will provide additional, specialized support for them. Apple’s team will work to inspire and instruct developers on best practices, help them hone their skills and transform the design, quality and performance of their apps on the iOS platform. “India is home to one of the most vibrant and entrepreneurial iOS development communities in the world,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO. “With the opening of this new facility in Bengaluru, we’re giving developers access to tools which will help them create innovative apps for customers around the world.” Exactly in line with a report few days ago. India is a hotbed for software developers. Apple seemingly understands this and is probably laying ground work to use this fact to their advantage in expanding its efforts in India. (If my presumption of Apple understanding India’s potential in software development is correct, my hope for Apple truly understanding the Indian customer is substantially increased; understanding the Indian customer’s needs comes easier than laying out plans to exploit India’s advantages.)

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Twitter to stop counting photos and links in 140-character limit

Sarah Frier, Bloomberg: The social media company will soon stop counting photos and links as part of its 140-character limit for messages, according to a person familiar with the matter. The change could happen in the next two weeks, said the person who asked not to be named because the decision isn’t yet public. Links currently take up 23 characters, even after Twitter automatically shortens them. The company declined to comment. My tweets are probably prolific (“I’m a prolific tweetsman” sounds chirpier) but I’m still relatively new to the platform. My understanding of the medium isn’t where I’d like it to be; which could explain the prolificacy. For example, I wasn’t aware of links automatically being shortened in a tweet until recently. Also, pictures counting for characters of a tweet seems counter-intuitive. This new system seems like a simpler modus operandi: Everything you type manually counts as a character.

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Apple stores reportedly coming to India by 2017

Ramarko Sengupta, Factordaily: Apple Inc., maker of iPhones and Mac computers, will set up three of its own retail stores — the iconic Apple Store — in Delhi, Bangalore and Mumbai within the the next 18 months[…] Apple will also unveil a start-up accelerator in India, the first such initiative by the company, to incubate ideas mostly around applications built for iOS, the Apple operating system. The announcement will be made later this week, when Apple chief executive officer Tim Cook visits India. Each Apple Store will be spread across 10,000 square feet and will be located at high street locations of the three metros. And: Apple CEO, [will] meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi when he visits India during the second leg of his Asia tour. […] In the premium smartphone segment (Rs 30,000 upwards) in India, Apple held the second spot in terms of market share after Samsung in 2015, according to Cybermedia Research. India is one of the fastest growing smartphone markets in the world and Apple is likely to gain from the 51% growth expected in 2016, Cybermedia said. Cook’s visit and the likely Apple Store announcement comes after the Modi government relaxed rules on local sourcing as a condition for foreign direct investment in single-brand retail in November. Single-brand retailers are those who sell products under their own label. Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore: India’s national capital, financial capital and tech. capital (Indians sometimes refer to Bangalore as India’s Silicon Valley) respectively — they’re obvious first steps. I’ve been wondering where these stores would open since a while. Every iconic Apple Store I can think of — the ones Apple shows off in their promo videos that is — are all individual structures. They aren’t, say, set up in a mall, or exist among a series of shops — which is the way Apple’s partnered stores are currently established in India. If Apple plans to build similar iconic stores, here, in India, they would need some form of an individual structure. I realise that Apple may have similar part-of-a-string stores abroad too but they aren’t the ones that get marketed. A distinguished, solitary, individual structure holds an inherent marketing appeal. My guess is Apple is going after this solitary, distinguished store. It gives them the aforementioned marketting advantage and it’s an advancement of the current infrastructure. Why invest if you don’t want to advance? Judging by the report’s claims of area needed, I think it’s almost certain these stores would be solitary and distinguished. As far as I remember, I haven’t seen any such places in India where a singular luxury brand sets up shop for customer visits (although Mumbai is probably an exception, memory fails me here). The luxury brands I’ve seen are either part of a mall or a similar collective of shops. I don’t think that would be Apple’s ideal plan if ‘iconic’ is what they have in mind. Regardless, if they generate enough fanfare — Apple has the money, the influence and, anecdotally, the prospects — these stores can be huge hits for Apple: in peaked interest, if not iPhone sales. Additionally, what happens to the companies Apple’s currently partnered with? Do we get a Genius bar? Do prices of Apple products reduce now? There are a lot of questions that should, I hope, be answered by next year. I’m also curious about this “start-up accelerator”. The report suggests it’s to make iOS a primary candidate for app ideas in India. Maybe it’s a part of a bigger services push in the country? Or a program to raise awareness?

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Windows 10 is doubling its ads in the Start menu

Tom Warren, The Verge: Microsoft is planning to double the amount of promoted apps in the Start menu with the upcoming Anniversary Update to Windows 10. […] Some promoted apps are pre-installed, but Microsoft notes that they can be fully uninstalled and any promoted items removed from the Start menu. The idea of viewing adverts on a medium you’ve payed to use seems jarring. Apple’s guilty of a similar practice too — serving iPhone 6S ads to customers with older iPhones. It’s a testament to how the App Store — and other modern software outlets — have shaped our view of these business models. I remember my experience with “pre-installed software” when I last bought a Windows laptop. It puzzled me as to what — and how many times — I needed to click to completely remove all traces of an annoying and unwanted Antivirus 365 Total Family Protection: Ultimate. (Tangentially: Apple has been mocking Windows for its pre-installed software for nearly a decade.)

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One more Apple Music-Taylor Swift ad

Apple Music has yet another sub-par Taylor Swift ad: Dance Like No One’s Watching. Dave Mark from The Loop says the concept is repetitive. The iPhone 6S’s ‘This is the iPhone 6S, not much has changed…’ ads voiced by Lake Bell1 is a repetitive concept. These Taylor Swift-Apple Music ads are…lazy, for the lack of a better word. Also, how did Taylor tossing away her iPhone in her euphoria make the cut? I’m convinced these ads aren’t coming from Apple’s usual marketting team. If you’ve seen them all by now, you’re probably reading it in her voice. I am. ↩︎

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