Xiaomi announces its Mi Notebook Air

Rich McCormick, Circuit Breaker (The Verge): The Chinese company announced the Mi Notebook Air today, a thin and light Windows laptop that comes in gold or silver, and looks set to compete with Apple's MacBook. Fine attention to detail — the very first image on the official page looks exactly like the MacBook too; so do the arrow keys. I wonder why they didn’t pull it out of an envelope?

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Amazon Prime comes to India

Madhav Chanchani, The Economic Times: Amazon Prime in India will offer free one day and two delivery to customers and early access to its exclusive offers. Prime Video, which will include Amazon original TV series and movies besides other Indian and global content, is expected to be launched as a part of this service later. Currently, Amazon Prime is available for a free 60 day trial after which the annual subscription will be available at a “special introductory price” of Rs 499. The listing pricing of Prime membership is expected at Rs 999, which is much lower as compared to its other market like $99 (Rs 6,633) for US and £96 (Rs 8,691) for UK. (Funny how well this ties in with my previous post on time-cutting driving sales.) I would’ve guessed Amazon’s introduction of Prime would prove no good since faster delivery doesn’t seem like an enticing promise for the Indian market. However, on second thought, Amazon wouldn’t introduce Prime in India were it not for data that proves some demand for fast-deliveries exists. The ‘special introductory price’ of Rs 499 ($7.43) is less than a tenth of what Amazon charges its American customers; Rs 999 ($14.9) is still very cheap, comparatively. But the American Prime offers customers unlimited photo storage, music streaming, and free Kindle book-rentals, none of which is a part of the Indian Prime. Prime video is the most interesting aspect for me, although I have a feeling their catalog of Western media isn’t going to match its American counterpart. A word on Amazon’s marketting in India: I think their ad campaign ‘We Indians…’ is pretty smart — blending in with your local customers builds trust and maybe even loyalty. (It’d be fun asking someone on the street which country they think Amazon is based in.)

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Vox: ‘How free games are designed to make money’

Jason Kottke’s article ‘The behavioural psychology behind freemium mobile games‘ has a collection of sources that talk about the the way freemium games utilise behavioural psychology to earn a quick — sometimes manipulative — buck. Among the collection is a video by Vox that further explores this idea and explains some ways games exploit the phenomenon that people are predisposed to spend representations of money more readily than ‘actual’ money. The more real it seems, the tougher it gets to part with; the video narrates people’s readiness to spend money via cards overpowers their readiness to do so when paying with cash. The video also illustrates that increasing the distance from you and your ‘actual money’ is the game developers’ decision to substitute your money for gems. But the part I find absolutely fascinating — which is, granted, probably exploitive — is how unevenly the currencies map. Pricing 100 gems for $1 is an option but if I spend 3200 gems while playing the game I can estimate the amount I’m spending. Instead, game developers price 120 gems for $1. Now when I spend 3200 gems, it’s tougher to instinctively guess how much of my money I’spent. (To further the cause, why not price 137 gems at $1 ? Now you’re really struggling to deduce how much those armour-backed troops just cost you.) I want to add a word to this discussion, something Vox’s video faintly alludes to — I think the time taken in getting you those gems plays a non-insignificant role in your impulsiveness to spend your money. And I think this applies to other domains of buying and selling goods as well. So while swiping a card, entering your pin (the whole charade), somewhat masks the $800 you parted with in buying yourself an iPhone, I think a service like Apple Pay would mask your expense further still; due to the fact that the 20 seconds you would spend paying by card has been reduced to 5. Lesser the time spent on a transaction, less cognisant you are of being made to part with your money. Part manipulative, part genius.

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Recode: ‘Facebook Messenger now has one billion active users’

Kurt Wagner, Recode: Facebook Messenger now has one billion active users each month, making it as big as Facebook’s other messaging app, WhatsApp, and the third Facebook product — along with the flagship Facebook app — to reach a billion active users. […] If you’ll remember, Messenger growth really started to take off once Facebook spun the product out of the flagship app, forcing users who wanted to send and receive messages on mobile to download Messenger as well. When Facebook segregated Messenger from core-Facebook, I — and a few others I knew — were inconvenienced by the broken integrity; knowing that the decision was intended to let Messenger grow as a (somewhat) independent platform was little consolation. But I realised the gravity of Messenger’s segregation one day when I was sitting in my office and I wanted to contact a friend through a quick message on Facebook and get back to my work. When I opened Facebook’s website, I was conscious of probably seeming like ‘that guy who sits on Facebook at work’ to anyone who happens to pass by. I went ahead with my message anyway. Also: I dont have the Facebook app installed on my phone but Messenger is present.

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More mockups of an iPhone ‘Pro’

Juli Clover, MacRumors: The iPhone 7 Pro features a dual-lens camera and a Smart Connector, while the iPhone 7 Plus and the iPhone 7 feature single-lens cameras and no Smart Connector. I’m really struggling to see why Apple would add yet another model to the iPhone line. What would justify the added complexity across multiple axes: Support, maintenance, ease of selection for the customer etc. Maybe it’s because Apple is (presumably) nearing peak iPhone-ownership? Everyone who can buy a smartphone already has one and people don’t upgrade their phones as frequently. (Apple could gain market share by gaining Android users, and more people are entering the smartphone-purchasing bracket but I’m considering a static market for argument’s sake.) Adding a ‘Pro’ iPhone to the lineup that’s priced somewhere around $349-399 and offers higher margins would be growth for Apple in a market that’s (again, presumably) more or less stagnant. Would people pay the added price for the highest tier? I don’t know. But I’m willing to bet Apple commands the biggest chunk of ‘I don’t care what it costs, I just want the best‘ customers.  

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Adobe’s Make It on Mobile Debut Event

Adobe uploaded a video on YouTube titled Make It on Mobile Debut Event. Artists get together and engage in creative tasks using — obviously — Adobe’s apps. Everyone uses an iPad, some paired with the Pencil; editing on the iPhone is mentioned too. It’s good to know people can create with this amount of flexibility on an iPad but Adobe selling ‘creativity on mobile’ is akin to Apple saying ‘…it’s the best iPhone yet’ — it’s hard to overlook the self-advertising, whether you agree or not. Instead, I took a step back to look at Apple’s push into various disciplines and get a grasp of their seriousness in pitching the iPad as a work-machine. Apple’s partnered with IBM and Cisco on their enterprise fronts, Microsoft even got stage-time at the iPad Pro debut last year to showcase Office, as did Adobe. Swift Playgrounds is a big push towards education and a start for programming on the iPad. What’s common across these fields? They’re all categorically ‘work stuff’. I gave my parents an iPad Air 2 a little while ago. My mom presumes everything that can be done on a laptop can be done on an iPad. I don’t have to convince her to use an iPad as her primary machine. (I sometimes have to convince her out of it, in cases such as printing files since our printer isn’t wireless.) The convincing is usually reserved for people who have been long-time desktop/laptop users. (Further anecdote: I always hear my relatives say ‘my [post-toddler-age] kid is just so natural with a touchscreen’, never ‘oh he works the ol’ mouse like a charm’.) I have no trouble believing that the iPad powered by iOS and direct manipulation is — or will drive a huge majority of — the future of computing, despite being increasingly unable to use my iPad Air. The next time you run into someone who is deeply sceptical of the iPad ‘not being any good for work stuff’, take a moment and consider how long they’ve stared into a desktop OS.

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Mashable: ‘This blind Apple engineer is transforming the tech world at only 22’

You might’ve read this story by Katie Dupree on Mashable. The part that caught my attention: Sarah Herrlinger, senior manager for global accessibility policy and initiatives at Apple, says a notable part of the company’s steps toward accessibility is its dedication to making inclusivity features standard, not specialized. The cynical take here is that this is rehearsed PR-speak designed to sound great and put forth a good impression. I don’t think that’s the case but even if it is, I don’t see other companies presenting their PR-speak with a shared passion. I think Apple truly understands and cares for the needs of the people they’re crafting for: ‘…making inclusivity features standard, not specialized’.  

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[Update] The app has been submitted for review

After multiple 12+ hour work-days spent in front of Xcode, the app I wrote is finally awaiting review. I’ve been checking the iTunes Connect app repeatedly, due to anxiety. The irony in iTunes Connect crashing some times when trying to view the app’s status is enjoyable.

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[UPDATE] We’re publishing on the App Store in a week

About a year ago I sat in my room reading The Calvin and Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book. In it are comic strips hand-picked by Bill Watterson and supplementing commentary, one of which gave shape to a raw idea I previously had: Going to school on a rainy day should be a crime. Rainy days should be spent at home with a cup of tea and a good book. It’s been raining fiercely in Delhi these few days. It isn’t one of those out-of-season showers that makes you anxious about global warming, climate change and the general downward spiral the Earth finds itself in. It’s the good kind, the one you complement with the bed-book-beverage trio. Yet the past week I find myself rushing out of the my apartment early morning and loitering back at the end of a particularly long day. The company I’ve joined as an iOS developer is running their deadline and — by extension — so am I. We need to publish our app on the App Store in a week or so. Hence, the lack of regular posts and hence this update. The writing will be back to normal soon and I’m sure getting published will be worth the extra effort. Thank you for sticking by.

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How a Rolex snob learned to love the Apple Watch

Steve Lundin, Commpro: Reluctantly, I slipped up my left sleeve to look down at the ready, brightly glowing dial of the Apple. Its digital face actually looked like an automatic watch, with an evenly flowing second hand. Imposter. “I hate you,” I said to myself, trying to push aside the little tiny bit of creeping admiration for this interloper. One more watch wearer talking positively about the Apple Watch. A tangential thought after reading this article: Reviewers judge the Watch as a technology product and place it against axes drawn by other technology products before it. It’s an understandable route — one that sometimes leads to an unfair judgement. The Watch is judged against statistical lines drawn by the iPhone and the iPad. And when it doesn’t live up to the ‘Apple’s next ‘iPhone’’ tag, it’s looked down upon. The Watch isn’t — and never will be — the ‘next iPhone’; neither, perhaps, will the (presumed) Car. From what I’ve read, the brilliance of Watch has stood out clearer to people who’ve previously been involved in the watch industry than technology folk at large; maybe because they’re asking the question ‘How good a watch is Apple Watch?’ instead of ‘How good a piece of tech. is this?’. Numbers back a general understanding that the Watch is eating away at the traditional watch business. But what’s probably more telling is the anecdotal fact that no one actually hates their Apple Watch1. Instead, sentiments range from ‘it’s not for me’ to ‘I really really love it’. In talking about it, I’ve seen people associating feelings with their Watch — the piece I linked to embodies this property too — in a way I never see people do with their phones or computers (I’m controlling myself from saying ‘people anthropomorphise their Watch’; that’s stretching it too far). This could very well be because the Watch is a relatively new addition to people’s lives but the ‘it’s a part of my life now’ undercurrent is almost palpable. (I’ve been wearing a Timex Weekender since January, to understand the Watch better when I can buy one for myself, the experience is proving fruitful.) Well, maybe there was that one Gizmodo piece but I discount it on grounds of being bogus. ↩︎

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iOS 10’s Kernel isn’t encrypted

Tom Simonite, MIT Technology Review (via. The Loop): The heart of an operating system is a component known as the kernel, which controls how programs can use a device’s hardware and enforces security. Apple has previously encrypted the kernel in iOS releases, hiding its exact workings and forcing researchers to find ways around or through it. But the kernel was left unobfuscated in the preview version of iOS 10 released to developers last week for the most recent Apple devices. That doesn’t mean the security of iOS 10 is compromised. But looking for flaws in this version of the operating system will be much easier, says Jonathan Levin, author of an in-depth book on the internal workings of iOS. […] Jonathan Zdziarski, another iOS security expert, favors that hypothesis, because accidentally forgetting to encrypt the kernel would be such an elementary mistake. “This would have been an incredibly glaring oversight, like forgetting to put doors on an elevator,” he says. Gruber’s piece came out while I was reading this article. I’m presuming iOS 10’s kernel being unencrypted as an intentional decision. The question in my mind was: “Why not announce it at WWDC?”. If Apple does want the right eyes looking through the kernel for possible fixes or a general betterment, I suppose it worked with the assumption that only people with relevant knowledge would have a look at the innards and pursue it to productive conclusions. Announcing it may have caused a stir in the media, probably questioning Apple’s ‘dwindling competence’ in the process. I have a feeling the iOS 10 Public Beta’s kernel may be encrypted.

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A list of objects iOS 10’s Photos app computes over

Kay Yin, in a post on Medium titled ‘Behind Apple’s Advanced Computer Vision for Photos app’: This is not documented anywhere and is subject to change. Nonetheless, I took the liberty to jot some of these down. Next time when testing, you would have a better idea which keywords to try. It’s a really long list and probably still exhaustive. (The entire post is lengthier than NSShadowcat’s home page; I checked the sizes of the scrollbars to the right for kicks.) A stat of relevance: Federighi mentioned the Photos app could do 11 billion computations per photo.

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Reuters: ‘India opens the door for Apple retail with new FDI rules’

Himanik Sharma, Reuters: The new rules exempt foreign retailers for three years from a requirement to source 30 percent of the goods sold in company-owned stores locally.[…] The retail rule changes are also likely to help Swedish furniture-retailer IKEA[…] The new directive paves the way for Apple to resubmit its application and rapidly start retail stores in India. It can also seek an additional exemption for five years if it convinces the government its products meet the “cutting edge” criteria. A snippet from what I’d written when this policy was still a rumour: Also, on the off-chance that it happens: If you read a story tomorrow that reads ‘Indian Government waives local-sourcing norms for Apple’, you know which way the scales tipped. You should read that piece for what I think of this three-year relaxation business. The ‘five years possible if it can be proven that products are “state of the art”’ perogative amuses me. I think that clause — the ‘state of art’ bit — is solely in place so the decision is in the hands of the Indian government and not set in stone. This news doesn’t definitively imply that Apple’s opening stores in India, just that they have a better reason to do so. Personally, I think Apple will take the deal in all its ‘only three years…okay?’ goodness. The Indian government wouldn’t have a rule in effect if it didn’t know — somehow — that Apple would agree; it’s been almost two weeks since this change was rumoured, probably time to size up Apple’s response. (Meanwhile somewhere, in some remote corner of Delhi, a 20s-something guy smirks to himself, reading the story as, ‘Apple, we would really like you to be on-board; in fact, here’s a policy we made you.’)

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