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Thursday, 24 September 2015

# 16 - Becoming an uncle - A lighter take (Part 1 of 2)

When does a boy become a man?
And when does a man, become an uncle ji?

There comes a point in life when a guy realises that he isn't as young as he thought himself to be...this realisation may be self inflicted, (yaar, pehle toh itna daaru araam se pee leta tha, aur hangover bhi nahin, par ab....loosely and badly translated: dude, I used to be able to last through drinking sessions like this, with no hangovers, but now...).

But in all likelihood, its someone else that points out that you are past the glorious binge drinking, high fiving, all night partying, college girl eyeing age.

I was probably 26 or 27, in my head still a teenager. It was a working day, but I had left office relatively early; standing near my housing society, I was lost in my own world, pondering the options I had before me, buying a 500ml bottle of Coke or a 1 litre one. I had recently found out that one of my roommates had been consuming most of my drinks and diluting them with water (if by any chance the said roommate is reading this....yes I knew, I always knew, but you wouldn't want to know what I mixed in those drinks after that).

The choice became much easier to make once I saw that I had the princely sum of thirty seven rupees in my wallet, and I headed towards the little shop at the corner of the street that sold everything from Paan to Porn, little knowing that on my way, I would be coming face to face with the ugly truth that would change my life forever.

A tennis ball came rolling towards me from the overpopulated playground full of aspiring Sachin Tendulkars and Ronaldos, (ironically, no Federers) and I wondered whether I should kick or throw the ball back to the hopeful but impatient lanky sardar boy looking at me.

And then the said sardar boy, uttered those dreadful words...

"O Uncle, ball dijiye na"  - "Hey uncle, gimme the ball."

I froze, unsure if he was addressing me, I was used to being called Bhaiya, Bhai, Beta and other salutations starting with the letter B, but Uncle? I looked around, hoping I wasn't the intended recipient of the U word, but it was me alright.

I awkwardly picked up the ball and threw it to him, he was probably still a school going kid, or maybe had just joined college, why would he call me 'Uncle'?

By then the thought of getting the coke had fizzled out, I went to the chemist shop and enquired about the cream that would help wipe out the seven signs of aging from my face. I expected the guy at the counter to show seven signs of surprise at my absurd request.

He didn't.

Not even when I said that the cream was for my grandma. All he did was calmly point out to me that the magic potion was available for 650 bucks, and no, I couldn't pay him later on.

Approximately twenty minutes later, I was back home, the miracle inducing gooey ointment smeared all over my face.

I had to stay young, I wasn't done being a youngster. No college kid was ever going to call me an Uncle again.

Well, at least not for the next ten years or so....

To be continued.....

Saturday, 12 September 2015

# 15 - The rise and fall of the iPhone.....WAIT! WHAT?

"There's no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance. It's a $500 subsidized item. They may make a lot of money. But if you actually take a look at the 1.3 billion phones that get sold, I'd prefer to have our software in 60% or 70% or 80% of them, than I would to have 2% or 3%, which is what Apple might get."
Steve Ballmer, Microsoft CEO (30th April, 2007)

"We've learned and struggled for a few years here figuring out how to make a decent phone. PC guys are not going to figure this out. They're not going to just walk in."
Ed Colligan, Palm CEO (16th November, 2006) 

In hindsight, they probably regret ever uttering those words. Ignore the 'probably' part.

Palm Inc. is now a defunct entity, and the less said about Microsoft's software share in phones, the better.

But these aren't the only two business heads who had written off the iPhone when it was launched. Most people in the industry had, but they forgot about another set of people, the consumers. The consumers lapped it up, and how! Year after year, version after version. Heck, I remember reading about a kid from China selling off his kidney to buy the latest iPhone.

It's been 8 years since the first iPhone was launched, and its juggernaut doesn't show any sign of slowing down, let alone stopping. And it's left a bloody trail.

It's destroyed Motorola, Blackberry, Nokia, Palm and a lot of others in these eight years, it's made Apple the most valuable company in the world, at one point of time held more cash than the USA and it's even made cheesy ad campaigns like 'if you don't have a iPhone, you don't have a iPhone' work.

It's even gotten away with not enabling file transfers via bluetooth (yes, in 2007, it was a big deal).

Somewhere along the way, iPhone has ceased to be a consumer product and has become, well, a cult. I mean, imagine, selling off a kidney!  This may seem like an isolated case, but the kind of excitement and media coverage an iPhone launch receives is unmatched for a tech product, or any consumer product whatsoever.

The question is, WHY?

Here's one more quote as you ponder the answer to the question:

"Today, Apple is going to reinvent the phone."
Steve Jobs (9th January, 2007)

It's true, at the time of its launch, the iPhone was quite unique, it may seem pretty casual today, but even the 'Slide to unlock' feature received oohs and wows. That's how much of a pioneer it was. The touchscreen, while not a first, was far more competent and gorgeous than any other phone's screen.

And with every iteration something amazing just kept on coming and coming, the retina display, the app store, third party apps, the face time, Siri, the list goes on.

It had its share of controversies of course, Antennagate, Bendgate and all, but people didn't care. When you had the iPhone, you had the iPhone.

Steve Jobs blew his critics away and the shareholders happy. The criticisms didn't matter.

Apparently, it still doesn't, more people around the world are buying iPhones. While its arch rival Samsung has seen its sales fall, the iPhone has gotten stronger.

Or has it?

At one point of time, I was a proud iPhone 4S owner, and I loved it. It never lagged, never crashed, and while its keyboard couldn't match up to the BlackBerry's, it was a small price to pay for the awesomeness that came bundled. I hadn't been so amazed by anything since the Internet.

iPhone 4S was allegedly the last phone the development of which was personally overseen by  Steve Jobs (god bless his soul).

The thing about Steve Jobs was, he was a great businessman, but he was also a perfectionist. The irritating kind, he wanted the Mac's motherboard changed simply because it looked inelegant. Something that an average consumer would hardly see during the product's lifetime, and even if the user did see the motherboard, he probably wouldn't fret too much about its elegance or the lack of it. But it's nice to know that someone cared.

Steve Jobs was also great at lifting stuff which was already out there, and perfecting it, making it mainstream in the process. He didn't care if it took time, he worked on it until it was flawless.

Unfortunately, that's no longer the case with iPhones anymore. Barring the touchID technology, since his death, in most aspects Apple has been playing catch up. It's imitating features from Android, Windows and even BlackBerry 10. It's no longer setting the trend.

I think that Steve Jobs didn't really care much about what customers (potential or existing) wanted, he looked at things and wondered how he would like them to be, that may or may not be the right approach to things, but it sure as hell made iPhones unique.

But lately, iPhones have gotten bigger to appease Android users, started coming in gold and pink shades to win over asian users, and even fallen into the megapixel trap. Of course, you could say that all of these are essential to improve the phone experience, to keep up with the times, to provide more options bla bla bla, and you would probably be right, but where's the killer feature goddamnit, where's that ONE thing that no one else has?

The iPhone 6S may be a huge hit because of the better camera, and the next iteration may probably start with the default 32 gb storage space, ("OMG! 32gb!!! Must have it!!) but what after that?

I wish I could say that its not Apple's fault, its just that other platforms have gotten better, and there's hardly any more room left for innovation. But that would be wrong.

Ever since iOS 7 was released, the operating system and the built in apps have never actually been bug free, in fact Tim Cook even apologized for the faulty Apple maps that was undoubtedly a rushed work designed to meet deadlines.

The iOS may look better than ever, but it's not as smooth as it was. Every iteration just copies features already existing in other platforms and devices, and Apple is running out of things to copy.

Of course, the ever increasing pile of cash and the millions & millions of fanboys would ensure that Apple would maintain its leadership in terms of profit for quite sometime, but you never know in the field of technology how things end up. BlackBerry was the leading smartphone company in 2007, and in eight years it's all but dead. Nokia, the biggest phone company at the time, has sold off its cellphone division altogether.

Don't get me wrong, iPhones are still awesome, the operating system and the app store are probably still the best, but the costs don't justify that minor lead. That intangible feel good factor that I, for one, once associated with the iPhone experience, is simply no longer there.

But if the folks at Apple do find their mojo back, I would be the first one to write a post celebrating iPhones, and how it has always been the greatest.

I have a penchant for ending blog posts with quotes, here are two more.

"The products suck! There's no sex in them anymore!"
Steve Jobs (July, 1997, on Apple, right before his return)

"Apple has some tremendous assets, but I believe without some attention, the company could, could, could - I'm searching for the right word - could, could die."
Steve Jobs (August, 1997, on his return as interim CEO of Apple)