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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Camera comparison: Sony Ericsson C905 versus Sony Ericsson K800i

Oh joy! I finally managed to lay my hands on a Sony Ericsson C905. I had been drooling over this phone ever since it was first announced. Its specifications matched exactly what I've been looking for. Eight-megapixel camera. WiFi and 3G. Familiar Sony Ericsson interface.

Of course, nothing's perfect. Like video recording that doesn't take advantage of the available pixels. Or a heavier, bulkier design. Or the price tag (S$900 and dropping).

On the other hand, after seeing the C905's picture quality, its drool factor just jumped tenfold. Here's the picture I took with my Sony Ericsson K800i:
Camera phone comparison: Sony Ericsson K800i

And here's the same scene taken with the Sony Ericsson C905:
Camera phone comparison: Sony Ericsson C905

Oh my goodness! Eight megapixels do make a ton of difference! I can actually see the spotted pattern on the grey chair! *gasp* I've never seen such clarity before. Hmm, this is something that I should test with the Xperia X1, if I get the chance to.

Overall, the C905 seems to give very good quality images, which ranks it right up there with the Xperia X1 and ahead of Samsung's Innov8 and Pixon. As for Nokia's N79, N85 and N96, it's no fight at all (well, maybe the N85, but by a long shot).


Related entries:

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Saturday, December 13, 2008

Camera comparison: Samsung Omnia, Innov8 and Pixon versus Sony Ericsson K800i

While at the Samsung Store today, I had a chance to try out the camera capabilities of the company's flagship camera phones. While the Omnia had been touted as a iPhone alternative, the Innov8 and Pixon were promoted through their eight-megapixel cameras.

So it was time to put the hype to the test. As usual, I measured against my benchmark Sony Ericsson K800i.

(Note: no matter what the images show, the phones being tested are not necessarily the ones mentioned in the pictures.)

First up, Sony Ericsson K800i vs Samsung Omnia.

Sony Ericsson K800i:
Camera phone comparison: Sony Ericsson K800i

Samsung Omnia:
Camera phone comparison: Samsung Omnia

Hmm, either I had unsteady hands, or the Omnia's camera quality is as depicted. One thing that puzzled me when using the store's phone was that it was stuck at 320x240 pixels. It wasn't until repeated pressing of the buttons (it didn't help that the security lock was in the way of the touchscreen) that I managed to get its full 2560x1920 resolution.

So, the Omnia didn't impress me. Would eight megapixels make a difference?

Sony Ericsson K800i:
Camera phone comparison: Sony Ericsson K800i

Samsung Innov8:
Camera phone comparison: Samsung Innov8

The Innov8 seemed to provide a level of exposure that was more true to what I saw with my own eyes.

Sony Ericsson K800i:
Camera phone comparison: Sony Ericsson K800i

Samsung Pixon:
Camera phone comparison: Samsung Pixon

Unfortunately, another customer was in my way when I was taking the picture with my camera, so the angle was way off. But the Pixon did seem to give richer colours.

So, based on my non-scientific tests, I'd rate the tested phones in this order: Pixon, Innov8, K800i, Omnia. Compared with the other phones that I've tested recently, I'd say that the Pixon and Innov8 give the Sony Ericsson Xpera X1 a run for the latter's money, in terms of true colours and sharpness.

One thing I didn't like about the Samsung phones was their initial learning curve. In particular, I couldn't figure out how to return to the main menu except by accident. I suppose Samsung sells phones that require a read-through of their manuals before use.

Related entries:

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Friday, December 05, 2008

Camera comparison: Sony Ericsson Xperia X1 versus K800i

If there's one thing I look for in a mobile phone, aside from the ability to make phone calls and send/receive SMS messages, is a good camera. I don't own a regular camera since I'm not in the habit of taking photos. But when I do take that occasional photo, I want to make sure the picture turns out well.

So far, my trusty Sony Ericsson K800i has not failed me in the photo-taking department. In my search for a new phone, I've hardly been able to find one that is better or at least on par with the K800i.

Until I tried out the Sony Ericsson Xperia X1.

My first experience was, admittedly, a disappointing one. I had chanced upon a Sony Ericsson road show booth, so I played with their demo set of the X1. The laggy interface coupled with lack of response from my touching the screen made me think that this phone was a dud.

Then I tried the one that a colleague had. Whoa! It was soooo much better! Yes, there was still a noticeable lag when switching between programs, but it was acceptable for a Windows Mobile-based smartphone. Tapping and typing were breezy and responsive. I even liked that, in spite of the small icons and menu items, it knew which item I had selected with my big finger.

Which only left the "acid test": how well were the photos taken with its 3-megapixel camera? First up, here's what I'd taken with my K800i:
Camera phone comparison: Sony Ericsson K800i

And here's the X1's photo:
Camera phone comparison: Sony Ericsson Xperia X1

Check out the sharpness of the X1's picture! I can almost see the individual strands of hair on my colleague. And notice how the X1 captured the close-to-true orange-y light at the top of the picture.

By comparison, the K800i's photo looks over-exposed. And its blurriness suggests a longer exposure period. Now I know what I've been missing out!

Nokia's new line of Nseries phones don't stand a chance against the X1. In my book, the X1 has moved up several notches, not just in terms of its camera quality, but also in its features and user interface.

Alas, it's priced way out of my range (unless a telco gives me a couple of discount vouchers). Perhaps I could score an evaluation version? Hello, Sony Ericsson?

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Shoppers choose by phones, not carriers - who's surprised?

A recent report by AdAge presents something that should be of no surprise to the common man. It cites a study by Google that shows that the majority of phone owners are swayed in their purchase decision by the handset, not the carrier (registration may be required to read article).

This is one of those forehead-slapping moments that shouldn't require a paid study to uncover. Here's the basic decision process for the average phone owner: "I need to stay in touch with friends and family while on the move. The thing that helps me stay in touch is the phone. It stores my contacts, my messages, my photographs, all of the stuff that's near and dear to me. The telco is simply a profit-making intermediary that facilitates my communications."

Yes, the mobile phone has evolved into something that has become an extension of our body entirely because it contains items that we have an emotional connection with. Jan Chipchase, an anthropologist with Nokia, commented that people around the world will always check their pockets for three things: money, keys, and -- if they have one -- mobile phone.

The Apple iPhone proved that the intense lust for this sleek phone could override consumers' opinions about AT&T. To obtain the "must have" iPhone, they were willing to lock themselves into one carrier for at least two years. The same phenomenon happened in Singapore and almost everywhere else in the world: "I want the iPhone, so I guess I'll have to subscribe to that exclusive telco."

The telco, on the other hand, has become well known as this bloodsucking Big Bad that is out to spin a quick buck from the unsuspecting consumer. Even with competition, it is generally able to charge exorbitant fees for connection charges, talk time, SMS, and now data. It is said that even the simple SMS is one of the most expensive data communication plan in the world. And of course, telcos that had exclusive deals with the iPhone were quick to jump into the money-grabbing bandwagon.

Is anyone surprised then that no one feels tremendous love for the telco?

But things aren't really that simple. The study found that 24% of shoppers based their decisions on the handset alone, while 28% said that both the handset and carrier influenced their decisions. Together, you get 52% of shoppers somewhat influenced by the handset.

Or... 76% of shoppers somewhat influenced by telcos.

To put it graphically:
Venn diagram showing how handsets and carriers influenced shoppers' purchase behaviour

So things don't seem that clear-cut after all. It looks like telcos still wield tremendous power over how we make our mobile communication decisions. But again, this shouldn't be of any surprise. Like I said earlier, shoppers are generally wary of telcos because of their perceived immense profit-making machinery. Is it no wonder then that they would put considerable thought into their choice of telco too?

The bottomline is this: shoppers are influenced by their mobile handset than the telco that they are saddled with. However, they are more likely to make their final purchase decision based on what sort of package they can get from telcos, i.e. ideal phone + (somewhat) affordable plan.

Now go out and get your iPhone. But don't come crying when you're stuck with your AT&T or SingTel or whoever for the next two years (assuming you haven't hacked your iPhone... yet).

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Camera comparison: Nokia's new N96, N85 and N79 versus Sony Ericsson K800i

This evening, I had a chance to play with the new Nokia N96, N85 and N79 phones up close and personal. I didn't get a chance to do as much as I wanted to at yesterday's media event for the Nseries phone launch, so this was a welcome treat. And since I use the camera feature quite often on my phone, I decided to put the camera-cum-photo feature to the test.

And it was a simple test: what sort of photograph would I get from each of the phones? Given that the new Nseries phones are top-notch, my hypothesis was that they would have the best visual output (excluding image size, since they're five-megapixel cameras, while my Sony Ericsson K800i's camera has three megapixels).

All photos were taken with the default camera settings under the same indoor conditions. I've re-sized them here to fit this blog entry.

First up, Sony Ericsson K800i.
Camera phone comparison: Sony Ericsson K800i

Next: Nokia N85
Camera phone comparison: Nokia N85

Hmm, not too shabby.

Up next: Nokia N79
Camera phone comparison: Nokia N79

Err, a bit washed out?

The Nokia N96 should be better.
Camera phone comparison: Nokia N96 take 1

Wha...??? The photo looked as washed out as the N79! Okay, maybe it was this particular phone, so I tried another one.

Camera phone comparison: Nokia N96 take 2

Slightly better than the previous photo. And its flash was bright enough to capture more of the dark background.

But of the three Nseries phones, I think the N96 produced the best photo, though the photo looked over-exposed to my untrained eye. And, of course, this happened when the camera wasn't acting up. (Or maybe there were smudges on the lens? Ah, the benefit of a lens cover!)

The Nseries-taken photos also came out slightly blurry. I attribute this to a poorly-designed camera button. I don't know if it was because these were prototypes, but their buttons were difficult to press. I had to use the tip of my finger to force the button down to take a picture -- and then hold the camera in place for almost a second to save the picture!

I suspect that my hands would've shaken slightly during that time, resulting in the blurred pictures. While the K800i has about the same time lag, the picture looks clearer, which could be due to easier-to-use button and image processing.

So overall, I wouldn't bother with the N79. The changeable covers are a novelty that would wear off quickly on me. The N85 looks like a decent package overall. As for the N96, I'll say that it's a matter of luck. While it's a feature-packed phone, as seen from the photos, the quality obtained from the features would seem to depend on whether I land a good one or walk off with a lame duck.

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Nokia introduces one phone in three disguises - N96, N85, N79

Modelling the N79 and its faceplates
Thanks to Nokia and Text 100, I had a chance to attend the media event for the launch of Nokia's brand-spankin' new N96, N85 and N79 phones... ok, "multimedia devices". Though I was probably the only blogger in a sea of journalists and editors, I wasn't complaining.

It was held at House, and I'd actually walked up Dempsey Road to it from the bus stop. As a result, and because I departed late, I missed most of the spiel from Grant McBeath, GM of Nokia Singapore. I don't think I missed much of the proceedings though, except for the product videos. Oh, and a video that supposedly showed DJs Glen and Ros using the N96 in public. I would've preferred meeting Ros in person, but I guess that's another dream that'll have to wait.

Setting up for CNBC filming
We were then given to try out the three phones around a small booth. The big screens showed how the phones were integrated with Nokia's Internet services, e.g. N-gage gaming, Ovi photo and video sharing, Nokia Music Store, etc.

I played a Star Wars game on the N85 and I think the only outstanding thing of that experience was the OLED screen. It was well-lit, brighter than most other high-end phones that I've used. The colours were vivid, and the lines and details were clear. On the other hand, a screen that good was wasted on the small display.

Oh, and the N85 is the first Nokia phone to supposedly have a dedicated USB charger. Err, I suppose that's useful somehow. I currently charge my Sony Ericsson K800i through USB too, though the phone-end is connected through the same power connection. So I wonder why there's a "dedicated USB charger" on the N85.

The other phone I tried was the N79. Its distinguishing feature was its changeable rear cover, which would then change the phone desktop's theme. If I snapped on the green cover, the theme would turn green. If I replaced it with a red cover, the theme would change to red.

This change-a-roo is done through little sensors on the cover and phone's innards, though it's no rocket science. On the other hand, after my experience with Sony Ericsson's Z600, I must say that I'm not the type who will change my phone's covers.

I didn't get to try the N96 much, aside from listening to its speaker quality. Which, by the way, is a universally irritating feature for any phone. In a public place, I really don't want to hear whatever trance-techno music the punk next to me is listening to. That's what earphones were invented for -- to save others from putting up with your "music".

Ok, but that's just my ranting. In addition to the seemingly good quality speakers, the N96 seemed more "solid" than its predecessor, the N95. So it seems like Nokia has also improved its manufacturing quality.

DJ Glen Ong gave away some prizes later. I don't know what the winners won, since I'm not one of them. But I got a press kit, and the swag (free gift) is a Nokia USB charger (model CA-100). This is of no use to me since I don't have a compatible Nokia phone.

Nokia N96, N85, N79

Personally, I think of these three phones as the same model but with three disguises. That's because the majority of their specifications are the same. Same form-factor, same camera lens, same multimedia features, same connectivity.

What differentiates the three phones are:

N96: 16GB removable memory card, 8 free songs from Nokia Music Store, TV-out
N85: 10 pre-loaded trial games, OLED display
N79: 3 snap-on covers

Those are pretty much what I could glean from the specification sheets. And they don't seem like much. But I suppose they are trade-offs. Including an OLED display in all three phones would probably introduce manufacturing and cost issues. So would TV-out.

And, err, I guess some people absolutely need to be able to change the look of their phones.

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Sunday, August 24, 2008

SingTel tears into iPhone customers, but not as badly as 3 HK

When SingTel announced its iPhone-specific iFlexi plans, I proclaimed to a few friends that it was ripping off its customers. Coming from cynical, capitalistic Singapore, that wasn't too hard to not believe. I admittedly had not done my calculations at that time, and based that proclamation merely on SingTel's lack of an unlimited data plan (because the iPhone is more of an Internet device than a mere handphone).

A day after its launch, I decided to take a step back from the hype and hoopla and answer that tiny little question:

How big of a hole is SingTel tearing from its iPhone customers?

It turns out that while the hole by SingTel is bigger than the one by AT&T, it's not as big as the one by 3 HK. (And -- surprise! -- Rogers isn't too shabby either.)

However, this assumes that you transfer no more than 3GB of data a month (see details below). Considering all of the Internet-intensive iApps that are available, it is likely that the iPhone will be transferring data quite often. And even if these data packets are small in size, as the saying goes, little drops of water form a mighty ocean.

I browsed the websites of four operators, namely SingTel (Singapore), AT&T (USA), Rogers (Canada) and 3HK (Hong Kong), for their iPhone price plans. These operators have exclusive sale of the iPhone, therefore they are effectively monopolising the iPhone market within their home countries and do not need to engage in a domestic price war.

Based on the listed plans and bundled usage, I worked out the maximum cost that a customer would pay for the following:

  • two-year contract* (SingTel, AT&T and 3 HK)
  • 3GB of data** (SingTel)
  • 2,200 minutes of talk time (3 HK)
  • 2,500 SMS (Rogers***)
* Rogers states that its iPhone plans are available with three-year contracts, though whether that means its customers must sign up for three years is not apparent.
** AT&T offers unlimited data with its plans. 3 HK offers unlimited data with one of its plans.
*** after including the C$15 value pack.
(bracketed notes indicate which operators bundle that maximum use)

Rogers also allows customers to mix-and-match from non-iPhone-specific plans, but there are too many permutations for me to calculate by myself. (I pity the customer who does!)

Here's how the four operators stack up when looking at the least that a customer would have to pay based on the above four items:

OperatorSingTelAT&TRogers3 HK
PlaniFlexi PlusNation $69.99 + $5 SMS plan$60 + $15 value pack$498 unlimited data$268
Total with iPhone 8GB (SG$)$4,743.94$4,213.51$4,081.94$2,229.12$6,389.87
Total with iPhone 16GB (SG$)$4,902.94$4,355.51$4,216.94$2,253.96$6,533.87

And here's how they compare based on the most to be forked out:

OperatorSingTelAT&TRogers3 HK
PlaniFlexi ValueiThree Plus*Nation Unlimited$115$115 + $15 value pack$328
Total with iPhone 8GB (SG$)$6,147.39$9,728.13$5,487.96$5,091.82N/A
$6,442.07
Total with iPhone 16GB (SG$)$6,307.39$9,728.13$5,629.96 N/A$5,247.07$6,586.07

* I included SingTel's non-iFlexi plans although they're not especially for the iPhone, because SingTel still provides them.

Take a look at my compiled findings.

Another way to look at these plans is to see how big of a difference they compare, using AT&T's expected costs as the benchmark.

Least expensive iPhone plan comparison:
SingTel iPhone least expensive plans comparison

Most expensive iPhone plan comparison:
SingTel iPhone most expensive plans comparison

So I've been proven somewhat wrong. SingTel's iFlexi plans are not necessarily grossly more expensive than, say, AT&T's. When comparing against the other Asian economy powerhouse, i.e. Hong Kong, SingTel's iFlexi plans are actually quite competitive. On the other hand, if you use the Internet a lot, expect to burn a very, very large hole in your pocket.

Aside: Rogers appears to be the least expensive overall, which is surprising considering all of the flak it had received for being heavily overpriced. Perhaps I was looking at its revised plans.

Other notes:
  1. I did not include comparisons of free/trial services, e.g. Caller ID, because these vary operator-by-operator.
  2. 3 HK will rebate a portion of the iPhone's price after 24 months, but I didn't understand how it works, so I didn't factor that into my calculations.
  3. 3 HK requires customers to bundle at least one value-added service, so I picked its $18 SMS pack.
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Saturday, August 16, 2008

SingTel to sell iPhone soon... but the iPhone is buggy

iPhone 3G
In the past week, two pieces of news couldn't have come at a more unfortunate time nor with such a tremendous impact.

Firstly, SingTel announced that it will start selling the Apple iPhone on August 22. This piece of news came when the telecommunication giant announced its quarterly earnings on Tuesday, 12 August. It was definitely well received by the hordes of iPhone owner-wannabes who can't wait to get their hands on the long-awaited, much-coveted device.

Unfortunately, the news barely had time to settle in before a piece of bad news started circulating widely. This was related to customer complaints about the iPhone's 3G glitches. So far, there's only been a tonne of finger-pointing between Apple, Infineon (who make the 3G chips), and AT&T (who operate the 3G phone network in the U.S.). Of course, the one at the losing end is the phone owner.

Which doesn't bode well for SingTel's much-heralded iPhone launch in one week. There's been news that a software fix will only be available in September. Which means that SingTel will be selling buggy iPhones for a month. That can't be good news for any party.

I'm sure SingTel would like a smooth launch. Hopefully, its 3G network is up to snuff and can take care of the supposed increased 3G power required by the iPhone before the software fix is made available.

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Saturday, July 26, 2008

Intel launched Centrino 2, but what can I do with it?

Intel Centrino 2 logo
This entry comes one week too late, but it's still relevant in the long term. I had been invited last Wednesday to a launch party for Intel's new notebook CPU, the Centrino 2. There was actually a bigger event in the day, but I couldn't attend due to other commitments. At that daytime event, bloggers were treated to a live demonstration of the CPU's features and its WiMax capability (in addition to sailing on a posh yacht).

The evening event consisted more of a hands-on demonstration by notebook manufacturers. Various notebooks were set up for us to play on. I took the chance to also mess around with Windows Vista, Windows Movie Maker and watch an Intel video on YouTube.

There were also some sales managers to hawk their wares. Aside from talking a bit about the notebook designs, they rattled off about the internal specifications and so on. It helped that they knew they were talking to a technically savvy audience, since their spiel would have been lost on mere mortals.

Which brings me to the point of this entry. Though I'd like to believe that I am "technically savvy", I've found that I've become less interested in such mundane specifications. Teraflops? Nanometre circuitry? 200 pins? I tune out when I hear such things.

(BTW I pulled out those tidbits out of the air. If you're interested in the Centrino 2's specifications, look elsewhere.)

What I was really interested in knowing was: what can I do with all of that whizbang hardware? Which explained why I fiddled with Movie Maker rather than listen to a long list of numbers and data. I had more important questions, like: how fast could Movie Maker export a two-minute movie clip with various transitions, titles and effects?

Because that's what it's like in the real (consumer) world. We want to know how this technology changes how we do things. Technology is supposed to make us more productive, and there's little evidence to refute that. The question now is: how much more productive does new technology make us?

Here's a personal example: my iMac sputters when it plays back HD video, like those trailers that Apple provides. While the audio plays, only certain frames appear every now and then. That's because the hardware can't process all of the video data that it needs to. And that spoils my HD experience.

The Centrino 2, on the other hand, (supposedly) plays back HD smoothly and clearly. Do I care that it requires 150 billion transistors (repeat disclaimer about specification) to do that? Nope. I just want to watch my film, dammit!

Here's another example, albeit an old one: which music player would you buy:
  • one that has 5GB of space, or
  • another which can hold 1,000 songs in your pocket?
I've read rumours that Apple is most certainly going to use Intel's Centrino 2 CPU in its upcoming line of notebooks. When it does, I hope that it answers the questions that consumers want to know. Not about gigahertz and parallel processing structures, but about what you can do with this additional power, like watching 1080p HD movies or completing a Photoshop script more quickly.

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Why I love my Apple

Apple logo
Ok, so I've missed the Nuffnang's "I love my Apple!" contest by almost a week. It sure doesn't pay to procrastinate. On the other hand, ever since I received the email about the contest, I had been thinking long and hard about my favourite Apple product.

And it came down to this: I don't have a favourite Apple product. I cannot, for the life of me, single out an Apple product that has made me -- pardon the imagery -- cream in my pants.

My Apple journey started a long time ago, with an Apple II (I think). It belonged to a relative and was the high point of my visit there. We'd play games on it. Sure, they were simple, green-on-black, keyboard-controlled games. But this was the dawn of the computer age and I found it fascinating.

I only really jumped onto the Apple bandwagon when I entered university. It was a PowerBook G3. Not just that, it was the lowest end PowerBook, which meant it had a passive matrix LCD screen! I had to look straight on to the screen to see anything. If I viewed from the side, I got a colourful shade of grey. But I bought it because it fulfilled three requirements: it was a Mac, it was a notebook, and it fit the budget.

I also bought an external floppy disk drive, which I used only a handful of times.

The computer got obsolete soon, with DVDs just arriving (it could only play CDs). And it showed its age with OS X. So when the Titanium PowerBook G4 came out, I bought one -- again, the lowest end due to monetary constraints. But it had a DVD drive. And it was sexeh.

And then CD burners came out! I was noticing a trend here. While I accepted that electronics were obsolete as soon as I bought them, this was just plain ridiculous. In the end, I saved up enough to buy an external DVD writer to compensate the loss. (It's been more than five years, and that drive still serves fairly faithfully.)

Then I decided to get an iMac. I figured I wouldn't need the portable convenience of a laptop any more. Of course, I was wrong, but the iMac G5 was cheaper too. So I bought one. But you know the story. Next thing I knew, Macs now came with Intel CPUs, including the iMac.

As you can see, my Apple life has been beset by disappointment after disappointment. That's why I didn't buy an iPhone from the black market here, nor the white one when I was in the U.S. It would be too expensive to go through the cycle again.

Yet, in spite of all of that, I still prefer the Mac to Windows. And it's not about a single product. Not even OS X, though I think it plays a big part.

It's the experience of using the Mac. Maybe it's the way the user interface is more pleasant and not as intrusive as Windows. (That explains why the first thing I do when I get a Windows computer is to change its theme to something more Mac-like.) Maybe it's how the graphical elements are laid out so that they make sense to technophobes. (I've read Apple's Human Interface design, and it's very well thought out.) Maybe it's how its features are limited so that I don't unnecessarily step beyond my bounds -- and believe me, that's a feature, not a bug!

So it's the combined experience of different products that make me love my Apple. Individually, the products would have made me switch to Windows. But the whole is much, much greater than the sum of its parts.

That doesn't mean I'll queue up for an iPhone 3G...

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

iPhone 3G to arrive in Singapore, iTunes Store coming as well?

iPhone 3G
So it's come true. Apple has released its much-awaited, second generation iPhone, the iPhone 3G. And it'll be launching it in 22 countries on July 11.

Except that Singapore won't be one of those 22. Ah well, I guess Singapore's six-million population isn't a big enough market for a worldwide simultaneous launch.

But fret not! SingTel has promised to release it "later this year". In a news release about the iPhone 3G issued soon after Steve Jobs' keynote had ended,
Singapore Telecommunications Limited (SingTel) and Apple today announced that they will be bringing the much anticipated iPhoneTM 3G to Singapore later this year.
And if you absolutely need to make your intentions known, SingTel even has an iPhone reservation page! After filling in the form, you'll need to confirm your registration at your nearest SingTel hello! store. I wonder if this still means that we could see snaking queues outside every hello!, epiCenter and iShop stores when the iPhone 3G lands...

(The bigger question for me is: when will M1 get the iPhone 3G too???)

But wait, there's more! iPhone 3G allows one to purchase applications via the App Store, which is most likely to be a wireless service. And probably built on top of the iTunes Store platform. Put two and two together and does this herald the much-ballyhooed-but-oft-delayed arrival of the iTunes Store in the Lion City as well? An eagle-eyed Netizen spotted this telling clue: an accidentally updated iTunes Singapore web page indicating prices for songs, videos and games. $1.79 per song? Hmm, I guess Apple's going to profit from the weak U.S. dollar.

Things are a-changin'....

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Friday, May 23, 2008

Recap of Vinton Cerf's presentation at Suntec City

Vinton Cerf
I went to the presentation by Vinton Cerf today. It was quite a geeky moment to hear from such an influential person. It wasn't at the same scale as when I heard Bill Gates nearly 10 years ago, due to the size of the crowd (big auditorium then vs. small room now). But then, the small size made for a more intimate presentation. And Mr Cerf can be amusing too.

Since I'd done a "live tweeting" during his presentation, I'll just copy my tweets here, instead of rewriting the entry from scratch.

BTW my first tweet, which says "about 5 hours ago", was sent at around 7pm.
  • Waiting for the Vinton Cerf talk. He's apparently stuck in traffic. about 5 hours ago
  • Mr Cerf is here. The programme begins. about 4 hours ago
  • Intros by The Digital Movement and Google. about 4 hours ago
  • James Seng is introducing Vinton Cerf now. about 4 hours ago
  • "Internet in 2035". But he admits he's no prophet. about 4 hours ago
  • About 10 devices per person by 2035. It's already 3-4 now. about 4 hours ago
  • 10 billion hosts! I can't even imagine 10 million. about 4 hours ago
  • Pervasive, dynamically configuring wireless infrastructure. about 4 hours ago
  • Need for standardisation of applications, services, protocols... about 4 hours ago
  • He's extolling the virtues of cloud computing and virtual environments interacting with real devices. about 4 hours ago
  • No more URLs. Permanent names will be used to identify processes and services that run for years. about 4 hours ago
  • Predict trends based on historical Google searches. Example: knowing when an epidemic starts. about 4 hours ago
  • Internet = mass media + social groupings + barrier removal for information sharing about 4 hours ago
  • Internet += avatar interacting in the real world + tremendously reduced costs about 4 hours ago
  • Bandwidth will continue to increase. File transfers will be the norm, not streaming, and at high speeds. about 4 hours ago
  • An advertisement is a thing that interrupts our enjoyment of media. Information is its opposite. about 4 hours ago
  • 10 billion mobile devices by 2035, working as remote control and information delivery. about 4 hours ago
  • Multi-touch and gestures, and haptics to replace typing and mousing. about 4 hours ago
  • Information will be real-time, geographically indexed, and always available. about 3 hours ago
  • Internet devices of 2035 will include clothes, wine corks... and they're all programmable with standard languages. about 3 hours ago
  • Q&A session now. about 3 hours ago
  • Mergers aren't a problem. Inhibition of creativity and access are the bigger headaches. about 3 hours ago
  • Vinton would want to expand TCP/IP from 32 bits and strengthen authentication / trust. about 3 hours ago
  • We need protocols for broadcast interaction, not point-to-point. about 3 hours ago
  • Large quantities of computing power may not result in intelligence. Eg. Helen Keller understood language through experience. about 3 hours ago
  • Interaction with human sensory systems are already a reality today. Future devices could enhance the human body dramatically. about 3 hours ago
  • And it's over. Applause. about 3 hours ago
  • Vinton Cerf's talk: thought-provoking and entertaining, but cautious, not as visionary as expected. about 2 hours ago

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Monday, May 19, 2008

What will happen when SingTel brings iPhone to Singapore?

Apple iPhone
Well, I guess I'm a little late with the "big news", which is that SingTel has confirmed officially that it will be bringing the iPhone into Singapore. Estimated time of delivery: later half of the year. That's in line with the rumoured September launch date. If the other rumours are true, then it could also mean that we'll see the 3G version.

Meanwhile, in today's papers, there was a write-up about what could happen next. The basic premise is that people who want an iPhone already have an iPhone, thanks to the black market here. Personally, I can't imagine paying $800 for a 2.5G phone, but hey, I'm also the guy who coughed up more than $500 for my first phone with a crappy camera, so who am I to compare?

Anyway, the point is, when SingTel brings the iPhone to Singapore, it'll probably only be able to get a small share of new customers. The bigger market could come from those who want to upgrade from their hacked versions. That assumes that these people still have money to upgrade and SingTel is willing to take in these somewhat illegally modified iPhones.

So where would SingTel get its sales from? The article highlighted another group: aspirants from neighbouring countries where the iPhone is not available. It so happens that these folks are also probably the same ones who send their children to study in Singapore with money pouring out of their ears and mouths. Yeah, lots of rich kids here who are eager to snap up the iPhones for themselves and, of course, sell them back home for a quick buck, thus making them even richer.

Let the iPhone frenzy begin anew!

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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Nokia Music Store - comes with disappointment

Nokia launched its Music Store in Singapore today. I got the news through a press release in my emailbox, so I thought I'd check it out. It's always fun to check out new digital initiatives in Singapore, particularly in this case, especially since the juggernaut, Apple's iTunes Store, has yet to even appear on the radar.

Alas, my enthusiasm evaporated when I saw this roadblock:
Nokia Music Store unsupported browser

Oh my stars and garters! Nokia banned me from entering because I don't use a "supported" browser! Nightmares of the 1990s flooded my mind, you know, that period during the browser wars when websites would only work with one browser or another.

Fortunately, I had access to a Windows computer, so I fired up Firefox and loaded the Music Store... oh, silly me, it works only with Internet Explorer. Fine, I'll do what it takes. As Britney Spears sang, I'm a slave for you...

But then, curiosity kills the cat, right? As a consumer, one of the first things I noticed, besides the user interface and featured songs, was the price. Nokia charged $2 per song download. That sounded about reasonable, since Apple charges US$0.99. But $2 is actually a wee bit pricey in Singapore, where an average CD costs less than $20 -- and it contains more than 10 songs! And there's artwork and DRM-free music too.

Ah, digital rights management (DRM), that was another sticking point. The Music Store relies on Microsoft's DRM service through its Windows Media Audio (WMA) format. Since my primary computer is a Mac, WMA would be useless to me. I won't get into an argument here about whether WMA is crap compared to AAC. To a non-audiophile like me, both have sound qualities that are similarly good. So, suffice to say that with its reliance on WMA, I would be even more hard-pressed to justify buying music from Nokia.

So I guess that's it: no Nokia Music Store for me. In baseball parlance, that's three strikes, i.e.

  1. It can only be accessed through Internet Explorer on Windows computers.
  2. Each song costs $2.
  3. It uses WMA for its music format.
Nokia, seriously, I try really hard to give you some love, but you just keep beating me back on my brow. I wanted a cool phone, but your N95 was so bug-filled that I'd rather stay as far away from it as possible. I was greatly excited when you provided free Wifi on public buses, but suffered from too many dropped signals when those buses were moving, which vehicles are supposed to do.

Now, when I contemplate browsing your music catalogue -- and maybe even making a purchase or two if I find those hidden gems, you whack me upside-down with this silly error. Thank goodness, you're still in "beta" version... though I wonder why you'd announce with great fanfare like it's the real thing. Oh, you're treating your users as guinea pigs? Hmm, sounds familiar in the mobile phone industry.

Oh, and with the Music Store launch, I wonder if Nokia will bring its "Comes with Music" program to Singapore. You know, that harebrained idea of giving your customers free lifetime music with every new phone purchase that is likely to bankrupt your company.

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

Is the iPhone coming to Singapore?

Apple iPhone
According to the local news, local telco giant SingTel will be bringing Apple's iPhone into Singapore in September! However, this hasn't been confirmed by SingTel as yet.

Still, I'm sure that there were generally three responses to this news:
  1. Gasps and moans from those who bought iPhones from the U.S. and hacked them to use locally,
  2. Screams of joy and desire by those who couldn't afford to buy the iPhones from the black market, and
  3. Calm indifference from the rest of the masses who can't understand the craven desires of these two groups of people.
My reaction to this piece of news was two-fold: Assuming that the news is true and SingTel will be bringing in the iPhone,
  1. Will it be a 3G version? Because there's no such thing as EDGE here.
  2. Is SingTel actually willing to give up part of its subscriber revenue to Apple (since that's Apple's policy)? How many sacred cows did it have to slaughter???
Personally, even if it does arrive in Singapore, I don't see myself buying it unless it has 3G capabilities and at least a 3-megapixel camera. I've seen the picture quality of the current iPhone and, while the photos look nice on the phone's screen, it just can't compare with what I get from my trusty Sony Ericsson K800i. And, of course, the price has to be right.

Anyway, September is only six months away. We'll just have to wait and see, unless some friends are willing to ignore the NDA gag order...

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

It's official: HD DVD is dead. Long live Blu-Ray!

After months of build up and days of rumours, Toshiba today officially announced that it's giving up on HD DVD. And not a moment too soon. By end of March, it will not have any more HD DVD players, recorders or other gadgets. That's only a month (and a few days) away!

Of course, Apple has always been in the Blu-Ray camp. Intriguingly, though, it has not released any Blu-Ray device yet. Perhaps it was waiting for the "war" to end before revealing its hand?

Or maybe Apple TV Take 2 and MacBook Air gives a clue about its strategy. Both devices eschew an optical drive in favour for downloads or streaming. Apple TV receives its content from a host computer wirelessly, including HD content, or logs onto the Internet to grab YouTube videos. MacBook Air is too thin to fit an optical drive in, and relies on another computer's drive (again, connected wirelessly) to load software from discs.

Then there's the iTunes Store, which has shown that people are willing to pay for media-less content at a fair price. Finally, even backing up a hard disk no longer requires removable storage. Case in point: Time Machine. The contents of your computer are automatically backed up to another hard disk. Especially with prices of hard disks continuing to drop, there's really no need to rely on DVD or even Blu-Ray for storage.

All of which just goes to show: is the optical drive still necessary? And if not, then was the Blu-Ray vs HD DVD war even worth fighting over?

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Sunday, February 03, 2008

Who else should buy Yahoo!?

Yahoo!
Microsoft's planned purchased of Yahoo! for US$44.6 billion has the entire tech world shaken up. Sure, it's been rumoured for a long time, but I don't think anyone ever really expected the ball to drop. But drop it did, and we may have to live with the repercussions.

Assuming that the deal doesn't go through (hey, who knows how influential the Flickr/Del.icio.us membership base really is?), who else should buy Yahoo!?
  1. News Corp
    • Pros: Combining Yahoo!'s huge membership base with MySpace's could turn the portal into a goldmine for mining people's habits, similar to how Google knows "everything" about its subscribers. Yahoo!'s strong media focus would also mesh well with News Corp's traditional businesses.
    • Cons: Microsoft's huge bidding price has artificially inflated Yahoo!'s valuation. Murdoch might not be willing to shell out that kind of money, especially after buying the Wall Street Journal.
  2. Time Warner
    • Pros: TW needs to make an impact online. So far, all of its efforts have been to support old media. Its purchase of AOL didn't go according to plan and it needs to get back into the saddle - quickly! Also, like News Corp, Yahoo!'s media strengths would play well with TW's many businesses.
    • Cons: Its management team comes from old media and has no idea of how to make use of new media. Buying Yahoo! could turn into another AOL-style debacle.
  3. Google
    • Pros: Combining the world's largest and second largest search engines would set Google far apart from the runner up. Also, Yahoo! is the most used website outside of the U.S., giving Google incredible international reach. Yahoo!'s Web 2.0 services, like Flickr and Del.icio.us, could also be integrated easily into Google, bringing the latter even closer to organising the world's information.
    • Cons: Google is too big. The U.S. and European Union wouldn't allow it without significant - and crippling - concessions.
  4. Apple
    • Pros: Yahoo! is already working with Apple on optimising its services for the iPhone. Both Yahoo! and Apple share the same Silicon Valley culture of independent innovation that change the world for the better. Apple also needs a significant online presence besides its iTunes Store. .Mac hasn't progressed much since its launch. Folding Yahoo!'s services into .Mac (or the other way around) would make Macintosh computers and iPhones even more valuable than they are.
    • Cons: Steve Jobs wouldn't allow it. He's too focused on devices and getting people to buy music and videos online. Buying Yahoo! would dilute his focus, which may prove to be bad news for Apple overall.
So while I hope the Microsoft-Yahoo! deal doesn't go through, I don't know if there are any other "white knights" available. However, I still think that Yahoo! has sufficient strengths to continue operating as an independent company. It has market share, it has clout, it has sustainable services. It just needs to find the right strategy and the right people to carry out that strategy.

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

"MacHeads" - documentary on the cult of Mac


MacHeads - the movie (trailer)

It seems like more and more documentary movies are made, especially after Michael Moore's "Farenheit 911". The latest one that I've come across is this intriguing movie called "MacHeads". Apparently, it takes a look at the so-called "Cult of Mac", i.e. Macintosh users who have become so obsessed with the computer that they practically worship it.

The trailer shows snippets of interviews with a range of people, from the famous ones, like Guy Kawasaki (and a few other people whom I recognise but can't name), to folks who switched to the Mac and never looked back.

I think that this could be an informative movie, provided that it's presented objectively, of course. Mac die-hards are a well-known breed who make for good documentary fodder. All in all, you'd probably be left with one of two feelings: sheer awe at the power of the Apple/Macintosh brand, or pity for these Mac "cultists".

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Sunday, January 20, 2008

Time Capsule: how soon before it becomes a BitTorrent client/server?

Time Capsule
One of Steve Jobs' most intriguing announcement at his Macworld 2008 keynote was "Time Capsule". Apart from its name, which only Apple's marketing folks could've come up with, it also opens the doors to new possibilities. It's meant to be a companion device to Mac OS X's backup program, Time Machine.

But a quick rundown of its features suggests that it could be more than what it's designed for:
  • Small: 20 x 20 x 4cm,
  • Light: 2kg
  • Lots of disk space: 500GB or 1TB (that's 1,000 GB)
  • Built-in Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g/n)
  • Firewall
  • NAT support
  • Works with both Mac and Windows
From what I've heard, there's a mini-Mac OS X in the machine to make it operable. If so, then this is no dumb machine. It's practically a full-fledged computer that does one thing really well: file storage.

Which means that it could function as a huge -- and stylish -- BitTorrent client/server (servent). (Ok, maybe "huge" is subjective. I'm sure that there are people who have 1TB of disk space and still complain that it's insufficient!) Essentially, BitTorrent software could be installed on it, then controlled remotely though the host computer to manage its file transfers.

There are already similar devices in the market, but I don't know if they've caught on with the pirates downloaders. However, their advantages are two-fold: you don't need to leave a computer running (which means less power), and the devices are Wi-Fi routers too, so they can be used as backup devices as well.

Therefore, Time Capsule is a BitTorrent servent in reverse; it's already a backup device, now it just needs BitTorrent capability. And since BitTorrent is open source, some enterprising genius could put a program together and load it into Time Capsule. Hey, if folks can hack the iPhone, then Time Capsule can't be that big of a challenge!

And even if Time Capsule doesn't have an operating system, I doubt that it'll be long before a talented hacker or two installs Linux (or Mac OS X, for the purist hacker) and loads BitTorrent on it to fulfill the function.

Time Capsule take 2: Apple-branded BitTorrent servent.

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Saturday, January 19, 2008

Mac OS X 10.5 "Leopard": the largest beta tested Mac OS yet

Mac OS X 10.5
Steve Jobs announced at Macworld San Francisco 2008 that 5 million copies of Mac OS X 10.5 a.k.a. Leopard had been sold. And that this amounted to about 20% of the installed base. (I don't think the 5 million number includes copies of OS X 10.5 included with new computers.)

When I heard (or rather, read) about this, I immediately thought, "Wow, that's a lot of beta testers!" Apple had seemingly succeeded into using these 5 million customers to weed out bugs that its internal QA team was unable to.

I'd been following the numerous problems that upgraders had faced. There's a very long list over at Macfixit.com. Issues included graphics distortions, incompatibility with existing programs, files deleted/changed, and more.

Other complaints not related to upgrades had to do with an important component: the user interface. The three main complaints were the translucent menus, Downloads folder in the Dock, and difficult-to-identify folders.

Which is why I did not upgrade to Leopard. I'm waiting for the bugs and other silliness to be more-or-less removed before taking the dive. Or maybe I'll spring for a new computer for the Intel CPU and faster speeds.

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Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Singapore PHP User Group meeting - my first time

After missing the first two Singapore PHP User Group meetings (due to unforeseen last minute events), I finally managed to show my face at the third meeting this evening. I must admit that I went in with low expectations, based on the programme, but came away, well, a bit more knowledgeable.

There were two parts to the meeting. The first part was a presentation about "design patterns", i.e. a run-through of three popular methods for structuring a (software) program, regardless of programming language used. It's similar to how you can learn to drive a car, but don't need to know how to specifically drive a Toyota (example taken from the presenters).

The key takeaway was that design patterns simplify development work through a "divide and conquer" method, such that one person's work not only doesn't overlap another person's, but also doesn't overwrite other work. Theoretically, this can be expanded to cover any form of work.

From this first part, I learned a bit about other design patterns besides the familiar model-view-controller one (which I was forced to learn when doing my first program for Mac OS X). However, it was the second part of the programme where I totally tuned out.

The topic was to learn how to connect to a MySQL database with PHP. I didn't follow this session not because I am already familiar with the methods, but I believe in making use of commonly available frameworks. These sets of pre-built code not only simplify the whole process, but also reduce the chances of programming errors.

But I guess that's the problem with a one-size-fits-all meeting. There was a mix of experienced PHP developers and newbies. Like they say, before you can walk, you must learn how to crawl. Frameworks are for developers who know how to walk already. But once they learn walking, they'll be running very soon too. And that's why I personally believe that newbies should be exposed to frameworks as soon as possible.

Anyway, I got to chat with a few people, both familiar and not, so that was pretty fun too.

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