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Is the Smartphone Industry ‘Curious’ about Curiosity?

The world holds its breath as the next battle for dominance in the smartphone industry begins with the launch of the Samsung Galaxy S4. Apple recently defeated Samsung in a patent lawsuit involving user-interface elements. Samsung lost the battle, but they don’t necessarily have to lose the war. Samsung will not fade away into the night without putting up an aggressive fight. Samsung plans to sue Apple on its using the LTE (a technology for faster data speeds called Long-Term Evolution) chip in the iPhone 5.

As the smartphone war rages on, it is evident that there are many areas where industry giants compete for dominance – user-interface, operating system, physical design, connectivity, storage, and camera.

But there is one area where companies haven’t done much – the battery. Until the smartphone industry invests heavily into battery technology, devices are limited to what they can do on a single charge. Lithium-ion batteries are used extensively in all smartphones as of today. The life of a single charge is a few hours (assuming a user talks, texts, and uses data connections such as Wi-Fi or 3G/LTE). After a smartphone runs out of battery, users have no option but to carry a charging cable, USB charger, portable USB charger, a battery pack (like Mophie), or just wait to reach home to charge the phone.

Talking about battery life, the smartphone industry can learn a lot from the Mars Rover Curiosity. Curiosity has reached Mars and has starting sending photos, conducting experiments and, exploring the Martian mountains. For doing all this, Curiosity needs one thing – power.

Previous generations of Mars Rovers used solar panels to power various devices. However, dust settled on the solar panels making them inefficient. Also, note that the Sun looks much smaller from Mars as Mars is at a greater distance from the center of the solar system. Smaller sun = less light = less solar power.

To solve this problem of inefficient solar power, Curiosity uses a Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (MMRTG). Simply put, Curiosity uses the radioactive isotope Plutonium-238 as the raw material. Heat is automatically generated due to the natural decay of Plutonium-238. A device called a Thermocouple uses this heat to generate electricity. The Plutonium-238 is well shielded, and the heat – and not the radiation - is used to generate electricity. This device can last for 14 years without requiring any maintenance! Curiosity will constantly receive its power until Plutonium-238 completely decays.

Now, coming back to the smartphone industry, why can’t we design something like this for smartphones? Imagine having a very small amount of radioactive isotope that is well-shielded and attached to the smartphone. The device could then, theoretically, produce electricity for at least a year (or more!). Instead of battery packs like Mophie, we could have smartphones that generate their power and don’t need a recharge! Depending on the stability of the technology, we could have a smartphone that could last for years without a recharge. You buy a smartphone and dispose of it after a few years without charging it even once.

When I told my wife about this idea, she said, and I quote: ‘I am not carrying a nuclear bomb in my pocket!’. Well, what I am proposing is not exactly a nuclear bomb since there is no chain reaction like nuclear fission or nuclear fusion going on. The natural decay of Plutonium-238 generates heat and hence the power. Theoretically, a well-shielded pack of Plutonium-238 is safer than batteries that we have today. The current batteries have greater chances of exploding than a well-shielded pack of Plutonium-238!

The future of the smartphone industry is uncertain. There are no obvious winners as of today. In my opinion, only the company that designs and patents advanced battery technology will emerge as the winner. The company holding the key to advanced battery technology will be the undisputed winner and will rule the smartphone industry for generations to come. Simply because, more power equals to more things the smartphone can do without dying.

Hey Apple and Samsung – are you listening? Hopefully, I can expect to be paid a billion dollars for my idea!

(MMRTG Source: http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/mission/technology/technologiesofbroadbenefit/power/)

Edited by: Prarthna Sri

Auditing in a touch-screen world!

Every time I inspected a home before renting it out, or even before buying it, I wish I had a quick checklist of repairs or cleaning required. In the absence of a checklist, there was no perfect way to record the defects in a house. Not having a checklist would lead to problems later – if both parties do not agree to defects. For example, you may have to pay for the stain on the carpet that was not your fault.

I found this amazing app called iAuditor. The iAuditor has a few built-in checklist that can be filled out using an iPad or an iPhone. The UI is a very simple and intuitive:

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I started a new Audit. The App has a few built-in checklists (you can also create your own customized checklist):

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I decided to try out the Accommodation Inspection Checklist:

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The checklist has the following options: Yes, No and Not Applicable. Selecting No gives an option to directly add photographic evidence of non-compliance by clicking the Camera icon.
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There is also an option to add additional comments. An interesting feature of the App is the option for both parties to add signatures directly from the iPad!

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Once both parties have signed on the Audit checklist, the App gives an option to directly export to PDF. This is how an exported PDF looks:

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As a Technical Writer, I am extremely impressed by the perfectly formatted PDF output. I can imagine hundreds of good uses for this App in business. The following uses come to my mind:

- Safety Inspection
- Regulatory Compliance
- Manufacturing
- Pharmaceuticals
- Construction
- Real Estate

In addition to the above business uses, this App can be used in personal situations as well.

The next time you check out a home for rent, make sure to carry your iPad or iPhone. Using the iAuditor App, carefully track the defects that need to be fixed. If not, don’t be surprised if you are dinged for a stain on the carpet that existed before you moved in!

Apple’s Art of War

Apple is the most valuable company in the world today. The main reason for Apple’s success (apart from great products) is how it fights in the mobile war. Apple uses the Guerrilla warfare strategy to make all its competitors bite the proverbial dust.

Strategy 1: Rise from the ashes with infinite wisdom

Guerrilla battle teams rise from the ashes of past defeat with the wisdom required to win. Apple was a fading company in the 90s. With the learning from previous failures, Steve Jobs’ leadership, and the launch of the iPod Classic, Apple rose from the ashes. The rest, as they say, is history.

Strategy 2: Remain hidden until it is ready to attack

Guerrilla battle teams are hidden until they attack the enemy. Similarly, Apple, with its absolute secrecy, ensures that its product strategy is always hidden. Its product lines, features, and components are always shrouded in absolute secrecy before launch. For example, nobody knew Siri was the key feature before iPhone 4S was launched.

Strategy 3: Use its weakness as a strength

Guerrilla battle teams use their weakness as strength. For example, they are small (weakness) and hence extremely mobile (strength). Unlike Windows, that can run on a variety of hardware Mac OS X could only run on the Mac hardware. This exclusivity was perceived as Apple’s biggest weakness. Today, because the iOS runs on iPhones, iPods, and iPads, it thus creates a common framework for Apple Apps. Across various Apple devices, Apple users have downloaded the apps over 25 billion times. This uniformity of hardware and operating system is now Apple’s biggest strength.

Strategy 4: Enjoy Public Support

Guerrilla battle teams enjoy public support – that’s why they win. Similarly, Apple has built a huge cult following over the years that it can tap into. Mac, iPhone and iPod users always remain loyal to Apple. This fan base is a huge plus for Apple since loyal users always upgrade to the newer versions of Apple products. For instance, have you ever heard of people standing in lines overnight for Android or BlackBerry devices?

Strategy 5: Grow stronger as the enemy grows weaker from within

Guerrilla battle teams draw their strength from the weakening enemy. This tendency is psychological as well as practical. As RIM constantly reduces the price of the BlackBerry Playbook, it shows that the BlackBerry Playbook is not worth the original price. HP shutting down its tablet business signifies defeat. The weakening and dying enemies help Apple grow stronger psychologically as well as in market share.

When Sun Tzu wrote the Art of War, I’m sure he did not think Apple would use it to reach the zenith of excellence and success!

How can RIM survive the mobile market bloodbath?

The last few years have been extremely difficult for RIM. The troubled company has been trying to hold on to its success of the past decade. With iOS, Android, and Windows mobile grabbing the market share, RIM is unable to keep the growth steady. In fact, the market share is dwindling and the shareholders are not very happy.

What can the troubled BlackBerry phone maker do to survive and succeed?

Focus on strengths

RIM has a few strengths that are unbeatable. The patented keyboard is the biggest one. You can type without looking at the phone! You can type quite fast and so far, no other device has been able to come up with a better keyboard. This keyboard obviously provides better user experience for business users. For example, much as I love the iPad, I can’t ever imagine typing without a keyboard for extended periods of time.

Encryption is the nuclear arsenal

Governments, mega-corporations, law enforcement, intelligence agencies, and even individuals have great use for the encryption provided by BlackBerry. Nobody has been able to come up with a better encryption system. There have been instances where even governments have been unable to decrypt the code and they have asked RIM to place a server locally. It’s that secure. RIM must enhance and market the encryption feature on the BlackBerry that no other mobile manufacturer can give us today.

Don’t ape the gorilla

If Apple came up with an iPad, RIM did not have to ape Apple. HP actually killed its tablet project. If a mammoth like HP can stop manufacturing the tablet, RIM should have never entered the tablet market in the first place. RIM should just focus on its niche area and strive to succeed. RIM does not have to start competing on every front. Remember what happened when Adolf Hitler attacked Russia during World War II? Germany was fighting on multiple fronts. Similarly, RIM needs to stay focused and not compete on all fronts by aping competitors.

Kill the Touch Screen

There are numerous Android and iOS touch screen devices out there. RIM need not build another one. BlackBerry Storm never did as well as the BlackBerry Curve or the BlackBerry Pearl!

Gaming Apps aren’t the only thing in the world!

It’s true that apps lead to a lot of revenue. Business users use quite a few apps. Moreover, Business = Revenue; so theoretically, business apps can generate a lot of revenue since a business will see value in spending for it. BlackBerry, being a business phone, needs to focus only on promoting apps for business and maybe social media. Focusing on all types of apps is pointless and even if developers build a wide range of apps (say, for education) it is a bit too late for RIM to enter new app markets.

Create New Markets

RIM must use its strengths to venture into new markets where nobody can follow.

  • Licensing its encryption to high-security areas like Defense, Financial Telecommunication (like SWIFT), or secure Government communication.
  • Licensing its encryption to enterprises will lead to a lot of revenue. BYOD will work if companies use RIM servers and integrate it with various devices. I am sure companies want secure communication and also allow users to use the iPhone.
  • Licensing its encryption to consumers directly will also lead to a lot of revenue. RIM can come up with an app that allows all iPhone users and Android users use its encryption. RIM can charge for the iPhone/Android app and also a subscription fee to generate revenue.

If companies like Surf Easy and Hotspot Shield can make money just by selling encryption, so can RIM. I would surely pay $50 for an app or $10 a month for as service that allows secure communication between my iPhone and the Internet that nobody in the world can hack into. Imagine the revenue RIM could generate from the millions of smartphones out there!

  • RIM can also venture into building new devices for law enforcement. For example, a BlackBerry with a fingerprint recognition device built-in that scans and identifies fingerprints securely from various government databases will generate a lot of revenue. This device will enhance national security and nations will surely spend for it.

Apple (iOS) and Google (Android) are the new kids on the block.  However, RIM has been here forever (well, almost forever). Only time will tell if RIM will emerge unscathed from this bloodthirsty mobile war, or whether it will fade away into oblivion. Until then, the clickety-clack sounds of BlackBerry will keep ringing in our ears.

 

Build and Run your own Cloud Storage with Pogoplug

There are a lot of cloud storage options available today – Dropbox, SkyDrive, MozyPro, Carbonite, and many more.

But here’s my problem: I already have a 2TB external hard drive where I store all my files at home. Copying around 1.5TB of data in the external hard drive to the cloud is very expensive since I would need to buy (or rent) the space, and pay a monthly charge. Plus, I lose the option of plugging in my external hard drive and copying my data from my computer directly.

The question then is: how can I transform my external hard drive into a secure cloud? The answer is simple: Pogoplug.

Buy the Pogoplug device from Best Buy for under 50 dollars. The Pogoplug device has 4 USB ports and 1 Ethernet port. Just plug an Ethernet cable to the Pogoplug device and connect it to the Ethernet port on your cable modem or wireless router. Now, plug in your external hard drive to one of the USB ports.

From your laptop or any other computer on the same network, just go to Pogoplug.com and activate the device. Enter your username and password to complete the activation. You are done! It’s plug-and-play.

Here are the cool features of Pogoplug:

  • Your external hard drive is your cloud! That’s right. You can access your external hard drive via any browser and upload/download the files. The capacity is limited by the size of your external hard drive.
  • Share files with anyone, anywhere. Select the file/folder you want to share and Pogoplug will send an email with a link to the recipient who can then download the files.
  • Use the Pogoplug app on your smartphone. I use the Pogoplug app for the iPhone and it is really cool. Just launch the app and all the photos and videos on your iPhone are automatically synced to your external hard drive over 3G or Wi-Fi. Pogoplug automatically categorizes the files as per the month or date they were taken.
  • Play music or videos remotely. You can play music from your external hard drive via your smartphone or the Internet remotely. Pogoplug optimizes the videos and music for you. You don’t really need to copy your music between devices anymore.
  • Set up a Backup or Redundancy. Here’s the coolest feature. Just plug in another external hard drive and select a folder from the 1st hard drive to be backed up to the 2nd hard drive (via Settings>Backup on your Pogoplug online account). Whenever a file is added to the 1st hard drive, it is automatically copied to the 2nd hard drive thereby creating redundancy. The chances of both hard drives failing at once are extremely rare, so your data is safe.
  • Print remotely. Plug in a printer to the Pogoplug device via USB and you can remotely print over the Internet or via your iPhone. Make sure Pogoplug supports your printer.
  • Automatically copy files from multiple computers. If you have multiple computers in your home/office, it’s a headache to backup the data from all the computers. Install the Pogoplug software and select the folders to be copied automatically (via the Active Copy feature). The files are automatically synced to the external hard drive. This is extremely useful for multiple home users and small businesses where data from multiple computers need to be backed up.
  • Use the Bonus Cloud Storage. When you create an account online, you get a 5GB cloud storage too. You can keep your work-in-progress files here just in case the power goes off and you cannot access your external hard drive. Of course, if you have a UPS, you may never need this feature.

With a Pogoplug hardware and an external hard drive, you can build and run your own cloud. Small businesses can use this setup to cut down costs and store important files within their on network instead of putting them up on the Internet.

It’s as simple as that – your own cloud for zero dollars a month.

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