To Digit India: What are the editors doing?

The background:

I read a lot of technology-related news on a daily basis, from multiple international sources. I follow the big news religiously and wait for launches. I lust to buy the best of the products, and I can’t get tired of learning more and more about technology.

I was introduced to the world of technology because of my father, who has a degree in computer science. Since I was a kid, I have had a computer at my home and have spent time fiddling with it ever since.

My first exposure to the world of technology, beyond the PC, was this magazine called Digit that is published from Mumbai. It is one of the best magazines available in the market, and had been my favorite for a long time.

All that changed a year or 2 ago after I could see the quality of the articles deteriorating. It hurt, and since then I decided not to renew my subscription when it ends in 2014.

When I read this news article in the October issue of Digit, I was beyond angry. To me, that’s not how a technology publication approves the posts its authors write. It’s the responsibility of the editor/editorial team to go through every article that is to be published to make sure it is factually correct. This article, wasn’t.

The Article in question:

Now, Digit doesn’t have an e-book of the magazine. I wrote to them about the article titled ‘The iPhone 5S: What we don’t like’. The following are the places you can read the article about which I wrote:

1) Their website: It has an post which is a bit different from the one published (different sub-headings, among other changes).

2) The scanned copy: I don’t have a very awesome scanner, so bear with me.

3) The photograph: It’s a very clear photograph, so yeah.

 

My response, the e-mail:

To: editor@thinkdigit.com, agent001@thinkdigit.com

Hello there, Mr. Editor.
I’ve been reading Digit for the last 10-11 years, and I have every issue of Digit ever published stashed at my home, in some or the other storage compartment. I owe my initial exposure to technology and the constant advancements in the same field to Digit.
But lately, since the last 2 years, I have been thoroughly disappointed with the quality of the articles that are published and how biased and/or agreeing-with-the-popular-opinion the stories are, rather than being brutally factual. So much so that, earlier this year I decided not to renew my subscription which ends sometime in 2014. That’s saying something since I’ve been a fan ever since I started reading, and I’ve been a collector who has every copy/CD/DVD you’ve ever published.
What makes me write this to you is a story published on page 91 of the October 2013 issue titled ‘The iPhone 5s: What we don’t like’, by Sameer Mitha.Yup, I get where your thoughts take you, ‘He’s just a pissed off fan boy.’ But I request you to read the following as sincerely and without making any judgements already as you can.
The things I really think are factually incorrect:
1) The camera: The first line says, ‘We are now in the era of Ultrapixels’. What era would that be, considering Ultrapixels is just a marketing gimmick by HTC and no industry-standard? And which world do we live in that the ‘megapixel’ wars still matter? Isn’t such a dumb criterion for measurement of performance of a camera exactly what Digit should be educating the readers against?
The point of mobile photography isn’t how huge (in size and resolution, both) the photograph is, but how well the hardware and the software interplay to make the image better. The advancements in the hardware of the 5s’ camera, the A7, and iOS 7 make it a better camera than most others mentioned in that section. Without any sorts of a hands-on (it hasn’t been mentioned that you’ll had one, it explicitly says, from announcements) how fair is it to say that the 5s’ camera doesn’t stand up to the HTC One, Sony Xperia Z1, or the Nokia Lumia 1020?
I’ve been reading so many travel and sports photographers saying they’re incredibly impressed with the 5s’ camera, enough to ditch their DSLRs (examples here, here, and here), and Digit is misleading the reader by saying it doesn’t compare, only on terms of raw specs? Isn’t that wrong? I was a reader who was misled by raw specs. It’s only recently that I have understood how little the specs matter and how much more it is about the services and how they integrate with the OS. I would’ve wished Digit told me the truth about this, but it didn’t and still doesn’t.
2) No NFC: This is a joke, right? NFC is so mainstream in the US (I’m not even going to talk about how popular it is in India) that not having NFC in the 5s makes it a stupid phone? Google Wallet is less popular than Square. AirDrop (why hasn’t this been mentioned anywhere) is as fast, if not faster, than NFC and easier to use. All the accessories that use NFC would’ve rather used BT-LE only if Google had added support for it earlier. And there’s no claim saying that wireless charging is only possible if you have NFC, not otherwise.
‘Why can’t Apple just go mainstream and adopt NFC?’ Why does Apple have to adopt a proven failure of a standard? Just because after Apple adopts it, it will become mainstream?
3) Not weatherproof: Let me get this straight, a Samsung phone which rigs benchmarks, is made of slippery sucky plastic, sells for 40k INR, and isn’t weatherproof (don’t point me to the Active, it isn’t the flagship) and looks awful, cuts it to your top 3 Android phones to buy?
Just as you can spend some more cash and get the S4 Active, you can get the necessary treatment done to your iPhone 5s. For the needs of the few, why should Apple add such an not so necessary ‘feature’ to its phones? I agree it’d be great to have it, but it won’t be (or at least shouldn’t be) a deal-breaker to anyone who is going to buy the phone. And what about Apple’s great service which replaces your iPhone, when you screw it up? Would you even be entertained in a Sony, Nokia, Samsung store without a copy of the bill? I know I haven’t been, in all the three.
I get where the Apple-bashing comes from. It scores the brownie points among most of those who read your magazine and won’t be buying an iOS because Android can do so very much, and is so open, and so versatile, and can share files over Bluetooth, and what not. I get that it’s great for people to read the flaws of what they can’t afford, too, just to make them feel better. And I also get that those who will be buying an iOS device will buy it regardless of what you say about it. But, either ways, it doesn’t seem right to me that you give up on your integrity of presenting nothing but the truth to the reader.
Populist media encroaching on informative and honest media is sad. I did trust you and your reviews with almost all of my technology-related buying decisions. And now, when I revisit some articles that I’ve read over the last few months, I can see how Digit has changed (and that’s not in a good way).
Going mainstream is good. Having more readers is better. But, letting go of your values as a publication to gain traction, isn’t. And realizing that such a miserably written and deluding article got through the Editor’s office, makes me wonder if the quality of content is still a priority at Digit.
Of course, all of this doesn’t mean it’s all bad. I still love the comparison tests, the Bazaar, the Droolmaal among other things. And your cover long-read stories are a delight.
Here’s hoping that this email of mine can be helpful in correcting these things in the future issues. If things change and get better, count my subscription in for a few more years. If not, wish you the very best, with whatever your plans are.
A one time fan, and now disappointed reader.
Enjoy!
Take care.
-Setu Shah
(http://setu.me/)

They Think I Hate Android.

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a long time, and have been postponing it. But today, one of my friends bought a Samsung phone worth 20,000, going against my advice of buying a better phone from Micromax (similar looking), that was available for around 15,000. And that, was my tipping point. I couldn’t wait any longer to write this post.

Before I start, some things you should know about me. I’m a tech enthusiast, not a journalist. Those who know me, would know that I don’t side with anyone, or any company. Yes, I love Apple but I appreciate only those products that deserve appreciation (I never, for once, felt that the iPhone 4S was a worthy phone to buy, and I did recommend those who came to me, not to buy it). And so, I request you to read this post without keeping any sort of inhibitions in your minds about what side I’m on. Just because I’m not.

Again, before I start, some things you should know about Android. Android is an open-source (in layman terms, free) mobile and tablet operating system (hereon: OS). An operating system is like the skeleton of a human body. Just as the skeleton provides the basic guidelines and structure to the rest of the body, the OS provides the base for software to interact with and make use of the hardware. So, every phone, tablet or computer needs an OS. Most computers surrounding us in India, run different variants of Microsoft’s Windows Operating System. Some may run Windows XP, some others Windows 7, and some others even Windows 8, with 8 being the latest one that has come out. With time, there are new features, faster operations, and the ability to run newer hardware, added to the OS which gets us newer OSes.

Android is developed and maintained by Google (not by Samsung, as most people have been assuming). Samsung, Sony, HTC and others, use this Android, supplied by Google, customize it, and add it to their phones, as the OS. It’s like Lenovo or Dell or HP adding a few of their custom software (battery software, customer care software, etc.)  over your laptop. Similarly, manufacturers of mobiles, have different flavors of skins they add on the stock (pure, as supplied by Google) Android. Sony’s skin is called Timescape, Samsung’s is called TouchWiz, HTC’s Sense, and so forth.

Google itself does make phones and tablets too. They are a part of its Nexus program where manufacturers like Samsung, LG and Asus make devices for Google, and supply it with stock (the purest form) of Android.

I will be comparing Android with iOS (the OS that powers Apple iDevices like the iPhone, iPad, etc.) wherever necessary because it’s the only another mature and mass-adopted OS in the consumer market today.

Now that I’ve gotten the task of explaining the tech terms out of the way, I can go ahead with the real post.

In the recent years, the trend of touch-screen phones started with the crazy and innovative introduction of the iPhone, back in 2007, at the hands of Steve Jobs. That, was where it all started. Google started building and testing Android in 2005. Although, Android didn’t come to consumers until September, 2008. After that, it has seen any real sale till late-2009 when Android 1.6, Donut, came out. And it was only after the release of Froyo (Android 2.2) in mid-2010 that the major spurt in consumer adoption started.

Since then, there has been no looking back for Android and it’s commendable.

But, like there’s good about it, there’s enough bad to keep me from spending my money on one. At least as yet.

1) Lack of consistency

As Android started gaining popularity, manufacturers started picking up Android, and they started putting Android in phones of all shapes and sizes and screen resolutions [screen resolution is the maximum pixels a given screen can display clearly (the more the better)]. Why? Because Google never really placed a requirement on what kind of hardware would be ‘optimal’ to run Android (except that there should be 4 buttons). As a result, we have different CPUs, RAMs, screen sizes, and practically everything else you can imagine as a mobile spec, available in the market.

And that leaves the developers (people who make the applications you run) nuts. What should they develop for? Just as there can’t be the same medicine for every illness, the same app can’t work for every screen size and resolution. And thus, more often than you’d like (especially if you picked up a sub-10k Android phone), most apps won’t download, run, or run correctly as the developer intended, for you phone.

Comparing that to other OSes, Microsoft clearly stated the basic CPU, RAM and screen resolution needs for the WP8; BlackBerry has specified its resolutions; Apple has changed the resolution of iOS devices only twice since 2007, quadrupling it the first time (with the iPhone 4), and elongating it the other (in 2012, for the iPhone 5), neither of which affected any of the already developed apps and still runs them perfectly.

Don’t you think this pisses the developers who make apps for you? Having to customize each app they make, for a million (I know I’m exaggerating) different screen sizes? Doesn’t that change the experience of the app they can provide? I think it does, big time.

2) Apps are all about the quality

It’s proven, by surveys and users, that the quality and simplicity of use, of iOS apps is just so much better than their Android counterparts, made by the same developer. Why? Consistency. In 95% of the apps for the iOS, the upper right corner has a ‘Back’ icon, that takes you back to the previous screen. With Android, that’s absent. The back button does a million different things, in different apps.

3) Lack of upgrades

Android has to be customized for your phone so that it can run on the specifications of your phone. And while the newer versions of Android keep coming, manufacturers are more busy in customizing the newer versions to suit their swanky, new phones, than to care about a customer who has already made a purchase. Thus, before they customize the upgrade for you and forward it to you, Google releases the next version of Android, and the next.

As I write this today, Android 4.2 (Jelly Bean) has been out for 4 months. And yet, more than 56% of Android users are using Android 2.3 and below [current stats from Google (they may have changed by slight margins by the time you read it)]. Leave alone that, I know of people who’ve just spent a heavy sum anywhere between 15,000-25,000 on their phones, only to be served with an out-dated Android 2.3 OS. To me, it’s like buying an expired food item. Shouldn’t that customer feel cheated?

That’s not the case with Nexus phones and tablets, though. They have the standard configuration that Google has specified for itself, and thus they are upgraded on the day the OS releases, just as iOS devices. (As far as I know, the Android 4.2 usage you see, is all because of these Nexus devices. I don’t know of any phone or tablet being given a 4.2 upgrade yet.)

4) Security

Android, the way it is today, is much less secure than iOS. There have been consistent talks about malware, spyware and virus attacks, apps leaking information, memory leaks, etc. It is just not secure. The fact that you need to be protected from viruses, with an anti-virus software, on an OS is disturbing enough for me. More so, when I can’t trust a phone with my data and contact details, unless I’m guaranteed that it’s safe. I really, really can’t. (There are too many links that I’d be directing you to if I were to point out some of these, and so I won’t point to any.)

With every version, Google does address security issues, but as aforementioned, when you get the update matters, not when Google addresses it.

5) It’s really not about being able to share stuff over Bluetooth

Everytime, everytime someone tells me Android is a better OS than iOS because the prior lets you share stuff over Bluetooth, it boils my blood.

Every company has a policy, and Apple’s (like Microsoft’s) is to curb piracy. As all of you will agree, the only reason we’ve been known to use Bluetooth, out here in India, is to share music files. And Apple simply doesn’t want you to do that. You want a song? Buy it on the Apple store.

Thinking about it beyond what we want, it makes sense. I write as a hobby, and I will most probably have a book published some day in the future. When it comes out, it’d kill me that pirated copies of my book are being circulated around. It’d kill my livelihood, it’d kill my desire to write further because I don’t get the monetary appreciation I deserve, for my work. How would a worker feel if he isn’t paid for the work he has done, or how would a student feel if he gets less marks than what he really deserves? That’s how people feel when you pirate their work. Enough said.

6) It doesn’t ‘Just work’

In my experience with phones (and from first-hand accounts), an Android phone user always takes more time to get used to and get acquainted to a new phone than an iOS user.

‘It just works’ is a phrase that Steve Jobs said during the first iPhone keynote speeches. Since then, it has been used widely by various people for their products, to show how simple they are to use. But, with Android, I find a new user, more confused about where to and how to start, than with iOS.

7) Usage

There appears to be a common consensus that a phone that has a touchscreen and lets you play Fruit Ninja or Temple Run or Angry Birds (whichever you prefer), chat with everyone on WhatsApp for free, listen to music, and watch videos on a big screen is a smartphone.

To burst the bubble, it’s not. A phone that connects to the internet and lets you be connected to the world, is. But, how many of the Android users actually utilize their phones for the reasons it’s a smartphone? A really tiny fraction. And that’s exactly what saddens me.

On the contrary, iOS users do more with their iPhones than what Android phones do. What does smartphone and Android sales depict in numbers? Considering that Android today has almost 65% of the market share and iOS 30%, what do Android users use their phones for, if 67% of mobile web traffic comes from iOS users, and 33% from Android users? What happens to all those ‘smart’phones that are sold?

8) Quality of the device

This pointer has more to do with the quality of phones made by Samsung than any other manufacturer. (Sony has made some really amazing phones and they have felt nothing less than pearls; similar for HTC.)

I saw this video a while ago, from an Android website, that clearly stated the 42k Samsung Galaxy SIII back as ‘It’s just cheap plastic anyway.‘ That guy hated the iPhone 5. And in a drop-test comparison, he referred to the SIII as cheap plastic. It is pretty amusing to me that someone would spend 42k on a phone, that’s cheap plastic. I am left speechless. Whatever happened to expecting a quality finish?

Similar is the case with lower-end phones from other indie and Chinese manufacturers. The lack of perfection observed with devices from Apple, Microsoft and BlackBerry just seems to be absent when it comes to Android, for some reason.

———————–

Don’t get me wrong. I think Android is a great project. It’s a great OS. And it has amazing features. But, I just don’t think it’s for the end-user. It feels more hack-y to me. In my opinion, it’s a nerd’s OS. It doesn’t simplify the life of the user. I hate what companies (even Sony, which I admire immensely otherwise) does to Android. They spoil stock Android. I also hate that better phones from Sony, HTC and others, get overlooked for not-so-good alternatives from Samsung, just because it’s Samsung.

Honestly, I don’t have an answer for anyone who asks me why a 50k iPhone is better than any random 10k Android phone. Because the fact that someone is asking me such a question talks about the lack of awareness. It’s the difference in 2 different platforms, 2 OSes, 2 companies, and 2 users. And that’s what I hope to have explained over the course of this blogpost.

The scenario in the smartphone market today is not about what a phone does, or what it doesn’t. Lets face it, every phone does everything. It’s about how it does it, and I think that’s all that should matter.

Until the next post…

Update (08.02.2013 : 13:37): While going through my RSS feed today, I just came across this article in the Washington Post about the lack of security in Android, and its widespread-ness. In case you thought I didn’t have enough proof for it, here’s one.

Also, a dear friend and reader, just made the above analogy of the OS and hardware better. He says, assume the hardware as the skeleton, the OS as the muscles and tissues that hold it together, and the skin (the default supplied by Google, or that added by manufacturers) as the well, the skin!

What it means to not have known Steve Jobs personally…

Steve Jobs. 1955-2011.
Steve Jobs. 1955-2011.

Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.

As I begin writing this, I’m 2 hours away from the time when 366 days ago (it’s a leap year, folks) Steve Jobs passed away. I read a friend’s text, on the morning of 6th October, by means of which I knew that Steve Jobs was no more. He, was no more. The God, had parted ways with civilization.

The biggest regret, then, and even now, that I have is the fact that I couldn’t ever meet Steve Jobs personally. I couldn’t interact with him, I couldn’t know him for who he was, and not what the media and stories told me he was.

I never really have owned anything Apple except a first generation iPod Touch. I bought it before most of the world even knew what it was (much before it became the most popular portable media player). I never had an iPhone, neither a Mac desktop or laptop. But, owning the first device, I got so gripped by its allure.

Honestly, if you had asked me 7 years before today, I wanted to be the next Bill Gates. I wanted to run a big company which drove computer sales. I didn’t know Steve Jobs (or even Wozniak for that matter) except in the rare stories that I read about them in technology magazines. Hell, I didn’t care who he was and what he was doing or had already done!

But then, all of a sudden, everything changed.

Much as I don’t remember (which I wish I did) how and when the desire to know more about Jobs crept into me. I don’t know from where or when or how I came to know all of it that I do today, or did a year or two ago. I have absolutely no memory of the phase when I turned from a ‘I want to be the next Bill Gates,’ to ‘Steve Jobs, he’s God. He’s the legend. He’s who I see myself as, a few years down the line.’

Steve Jobs was a shrewd, cruel critic. He’d insult you in public, and never apologize. He was rude. He took crazy risks. But, he was equally appreciative. He was innovative. He was a visionary. He was who most people tried to be, but never became.

As he said in a CNN interview, “My job is not be easy on people. My job is to make them better.” And boy, he did it well!

It’s difficult to meet such simple and true people in real life. Everywhere you go, you meet those who want to please you and lure you into their mean traps. Steve Jobs did the same. But, he told you that he was pushing you into a new world, in those very words before pushing you. That, made him who we know him today as… An innovator.

He is the reason we have a Graphical User Interface (GUI, in laymen’s terms, a pictorial interface of your computer), a mouse-dependant operating system, a beautiful and simple graphical OS in first the Mac, and now the OS X, iPod, iPhone, iPad, MacBook… And the list goes on!

He’s also the reason we have Toy Story!

And that’s the reason I wanted to meet him. He was an innovator, a risk-taker, a visionary, like few others. He had the foresight of what it would be that would make his company, Apple Inc., stand out from the rest. He was someone who stood up from the ground when he was thrown out of the company he created, only to be hired back when it had hit rock bottom, and to turn it around into the most profitable company ever. This guy, Steve Jobs as he was called, is a bloody legend. As simple as that. He is an inspiration, he is a hero, he is a human being who did what very few others had vision to do.

He made us aware of the world that exists beyond our imaginations. He made the name ‘Apple’ a household name for quality products. He made us realize that every product Apple makes, will be to make your work easy. He taught is the power of simplicity.

He was the God of innovation. He will always be.

Rest in peace, Steve Jobs. You will be missed, remembered, for the legacy you’ve given us.

These are a few links I’ve come across in the last couple of days, related to Steve Jobs that I thought were worth sharing. Go through them, if you will.

  1. The answers on Quora, to the question: What are some great stories about Steve Jobs?
  2. A collection of stories published by Forbes: Untold Stories About Steve Jobs: Friends and Colleagues Share Their Memories
  3. Apple’s tribute to Steve Jobs, on his first death anniversary: Remembering Steve
  4. Steve Jobs speech from 1983 foretells rise of mobile computing, iPad

The above 4 links are a proof to what I wrote about him in the blogpost above.

No, I’m not an Apple fan-boy. But, I appreciate good technology when it’s made. And if appreciating Apple for what it does good, makes me a fan-boy, then you can call me one, sure.

This regret, of not having been able to meet Steve Jobs personally, will stay forever. But, there’s also a joy, to have read all these innumerable and personal stories of people who had interactions with Steve Jobs. He’s an inspiration to me like none other, for the very fact that he always followed his heart, in whatever he did and strove to do.

Yes, I can go on and on singing laurels about Steve Jobs. That signifies how much I admire and respect him.

Until my next post…

The all mighty, Apple iPhone 5.

iPhone 5
The all new, Apple iPhone 5.

One of the most awaited handsets in product history, and the handset which is expected to break all consumer smartphone sales records, the iPhone 5.

The first thing you say, when you see it is how beautiful the device is. And, it undoubtedly is. The neat edges, the crisp retina display screen, it’s an engineering marvel.

But, isn’t it just a longer iPhone 4S? Yes, in most ways. Most, not all.

The increased 1136×640 screen resolution, the new A6 chip, the HD 1.2MP front FaceTime camera, the sapphire crystal lens, new Lightning dock connector, are all in all the changes of the iPhone 5 from the iPhone 4S.

This isn’t the best smartphone in the market. Neither is it an innovation from Apple, or a revolutionary phone. This is the evolution of an already mature product that Apple Inc. manufactures, the iPhone.

As an analyst praised it, ‘The iPhone 5 is a Rolex among a sea of Timexes.’ Enough said, ain’t it?