jay's old blog

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Supported Platforms – End Users

[Ongoing series of blog posts to inform potential developers, users and (hopefully investors) about this new app ecosystem I am architecting, designing, developing and deploying. More details at this page]

An ecosystem is worthless if people cannot use it on the platform of their choice. A few years ago (like say 2 years ago) deciding on the supporting end user platforms was tricky. The major platforms were windows desktop, windows touch enabled stuff – windows 8 and windows 10, then there was windows phone, the web browser on desktop, the web browser on mobiles, the web browser on tablets, and then of course android on phone, android on tablet and lastly, ios on phone and ios on tablets.

Phew! That is a lot of platforms. That would drive any developer crazy! It sure did drive me crazy.

Today, and during the year in which this blog post was written, I would say the tech revolution has reached its satisfactory conclusion. That’s good because, now things are simpler. As I continue my work on project TD, I must confess that life is a lot simpler now. With that knowledge, I know now that to reach to the widest audience, I only have to reach out to the following three platforms – Web Browser on desktop, android on phone, and iOS on phone.

Web Browser on desktop

At the end of the day, any machine with a keyboard plugged into it can run a web browser. I recently wrote about the appeal of web development. Web browsers have reached that maturity where they can support full-fledged applications. They also work well with touch enabled devices. A few years ago, I would have no choice but to build a traditional windows desktop application, the touch enabled and so called ‘modern’ or ‘metro’ apps for windows 8 / windows 10, and do the same for Mac and Linux.

Now, I don’t need to target any of these desktop platforms with native apps. The browser based app will take care of all this. Imagine the amount of effort I am able to save here. More importantly, we are now entering an era where a lot of people no longer think running applications in a browser is odd or weird. For someone who grew up in the 90s and early 00s, not using native desktop applications is odd. However, for those who grew up in the late 00s and onwards, using web app comes naturally. That means, having zero native apps will not hurt my ecosystem if it should go wide.

Android and iOS on phone

Intentionally, I have decided to leave out tablets entirely out of the picture. Perhaps, five years ago, we thoughts that tablets might go mainstream and even replace PCs and smartphones. Unfortunately, that did not happen, and I pretty much concluded my own observations in this post. Just this morning, I found out that the iPad version of the Instagram app is but a blown up iPhone app. This does not imply that a large company such as Instagram is lazy. On the contrary, it is a reflection of reality. Tablets are not a major platform and any time/money spent on it is not going to give returns.

Besides, phones have been getting bigger and have become ubiquitous. Thanks to improving infrastructure, it is not that expensive to download apps anymore. Phones also have better SD card support now, and most of them come with decent onboard storage as well. All in all, the mobile platforms have achieved a certain maturity which I should exploit.

Previously, I was of the opinion that I don’t wish to touch iOS. I assumed that developing for the apple platform can be pretty expensive. I also assumed that there are very few iPhones running around. However, I re-did some research, and see if perhaps the passage of time has changed the situation. I found out that at least some things have changed. A cheap Mac and a cheap iPhone can be obtained at prices slightly more than android development gear. The developer license continues to be expensive but that is a business cost. Further, I noticed that there are a small chunk of folks who are indeed using the older generation iPhones such as the 5c and 6, so perhaps there is indeed a user base to target.

All things considered, I decided that when it comes to mobile, I should target both android and iOS.

While I am writing about this, I must also mention the state of mobile optimization of the web apps, which are anyway being developed. I would say no. I am not going to go out of my way to optimize the above mentioned web apps to work on the small screen. Folks who want to use the site on their mobile browser should simply install the available mobile apps. Either that or live with poorly optimized web app. That, I am afraid, would be there choice.

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They are not making tablet computers anymore

A tablet computer or simply tablets, have been around for a while now. When Apple (10 years ago) introduced the iPhone, it completely changed the landscape of phones. Then, it did it again with the iPad, that completely changed how we could get things done in a new device that was a mix of a desktop computer (larger screen, support for keyboard, increased productivity) but with the convenience of a smart phone (portability, app store, touch screen).

Today, Apple is still the king of tablet making. Obviously, the legion of Android manufacturers go where Apple goes, and have their own range of tablets. All this is good and fun, but things were strangely different when I finally decided to grab one of these bad boys for myself. I found out that many companies simply have stopped making tablets, and there was little choice, if there was any at all. The tablet market has...matured, and has changed drastically.

Oddly enough, the cheapest and decent (at least a 1080 p screen and actually good processor) was from Apple. Can you believe that? Apple making the cheapest product in a given category? Strange world. Despite the low price, buying a tablet (or for that matter, even a phone) is kind of suicidal for a power user or even a casual user. The thing is, Apple steadfastly refuses to allow usage of SD cards. Sure, people in US and Europe and all those modern countries may have super cool broadband access, but here in India, we still have to rely on 'stored on storage' stuff for entertainment. The larger is the storage space on an Apple device, the more insane will the price become. So yes, we dont want to buy Apple stuff. Not yet anyway.

I turned my eyes away from the super attractive apple iPad and looked at the Android offerings. Android has always been the poster child of variations and customizations and give something to everybody. This held true for smartphones (there are phone availabel from as little as 3000 rupees and going all the way up to 70000) and I assumed that they hold true for the android tablets as well. Unfortunately, for me, that wasnt the case at all.

I noticed that there almost all the big name tablet vendors have quit. Taking the 1080 p screen as a minimum benchmark for a decent tablet, there are literally no such tablets being sold at a price that is less than a apple, and has a 1080 p screen. The tablets that are sold fall into two categories. Cheap tablets that cost less than 10000 but have pitiful specifications (like no 1080 p screen) or super expensive ones that cost more than 40000 which are simply not practical to buy.

I looked at myself, and wondered I wanted to buy a tablet. As I have explained in the earlier blog post, I had a niche requirement of a tablet for writing my blog and novels. So, I decided to buy a cheap as salt tablet and now I am blogging on it right now. If not for this writing hobby of mine, I am quite content with my Oppo phone which meets all my other entertainment as well as productivity needs. In other words, the android smartphones have cannibalized their own tablet shaped brothers.

Why would anyone buy (and carry) a 7 inch tablet (the most popular size among tablets) with them when their phone is already 5.5 inches (the more popular screen of phones these days) and can do everything tablets can do. Since people are not buying tablets, there is less innovation in the tablet category. As I said before, the tablet specs are just pitiful. Another reason I could think of is that, tablets dont need to be replaced as often as phones. I have no choice but to buy a new phone every 10 to 12 months because I use it a lot (the mobile nature of my job) and wear them out. A tablet, on the other hand, wont wear out so fast. So, they get replaced less often.

Then, there is the windows 10 factor in play. Tablets are mostly brough for productivity (since phones, and their big screen have gobble up all the entertainment and communication part) and windows 10 is finally making its presence felt. Windows 10 tablets are cheap, they have support for any and all productivity software. Also, they work flawlessly on cheap and expensive hardware, and Microsoft has actually done a good job of selling Windows 10. If not for the fact that some of the apps I need are not available on windows 10, I would have sprung for a cheap windows 10 tablet than the cheap android tablet I am using solely for blogging and writing.

For tablets, they are fighting a two front war. On one side, their own brothers i.e. android phones, are eating into their share. On the other side, Windows (which was desktop only) is now becoming totally mobile (as far as productivity is concerned), is also eating into their marketshare. Essentially, they have become a niche category like health bands and smart watches and other things only some people will need, and every body will never care for them.

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When Microsoft is more cool than Apple

It is not just regular folks who can get petty. Large corporations can also get extremely petty. For instance, both Microsoft and Apple had their tech events, pretty much on the same day, or at least within the same 24 hours. For extremely obvious reasons (time zone) , I was unable to watch the events live. That leaves me to follow on my favorite tech sites, which provided me with the summary for both Apple and Microsoft events.

Over the last few months, I have learned that rooting for a single party is no longer option. There was a time I was a strong one technology partner guy. Windows PC. Windows Phone. Windows Tablet. Server means Azure. Browser means Internet Explorer... You know, like that. Of course, the way I see it now, such things do not work anymore. Microsoft makes the best Keyboard and Mice, but Apple makes the best tablets. Azure has the best cloud services but Amazon is cheaper. Microsoft has the best development tools but perhaps, not the best customer mobile platform. That vote goes to either Apple or Android.

So, I now follow multiple tech companies, and am open to using their services if they are indeed the best in their category. That brings to the above two videos. I have got to say, Apple presentation was simply the opposite of 'wow'. It was perhaps as boring as the many (I mean 100s) presentations by my class mates in my b-school education days. Perhaps, the most bumming part is the lack of Macbook Air. Before this presentation happened, if someone were to recommend a portable, I would have told them to go for a Macbook Air. Now though, I would rather they bought a Surface Pro. Then, I would also tell them not to get the insanely overpriced Touch Cover Keyboards. Instead, simply buy a wedge keyboard and a sculpt mouse.

The Microsoft presentation though, it was simply more diverse. The dial (which looks useful), the huge display PC, the VR stuff, the hologram and the 3D things. Of course, all of them support direct, keyboard less interaction. Overall, it is simply so cool, and for once I can look at an Apple fan and say, 'Dude, MS has the goods now'.

Does that mean, I am happy that Apple is not doing cool stuff? On the contrary, it makes me sad. The way our world works, or rather how it should work, is that all involved parties should be trying to outdo each other. If not, innovation stops. If Xbox One wont innovate, than the Playstation 4 has less of an incentive to innovate. If Samsung does not keep pushing edge of the thing stuff, then Apple will lose its motivation to do cool stuff. Windows Phone might be dead, but that does not stop Microsoft from keep pushing at least some stuff to its down and out mobile operating.

So, rather than allow a smug look on my face (yes, I am now more open to other company stuff but I still lean heavily towards Microsoft) I will hope that this was simply an aberration in the scheme of things. Next year, perhaps we can have a win-win. Apple shows off cool stuff, Microsoft shows off cool stuff. That would be the most amazing thing that could happen.