Thursday, 28 April 2011

Still searching for a mobile phone ...

The comparision of the current mobile phone scenario with the PC scenario of the Late 90s and early 2000s has another dimension to it.

Remember those days, when assembling a computer worked out to be more cheaper than buying one off-the-shelf. This is true to most places, and truer to the developing countries (like India).
The premium being charged was hefty for the branded PCs, and the difference in performance was very minimal.

Due to the integration challenges, assembling of the same kind is no longer possible, but you have another way.

In the current mobile phone market, there are two types of players:
those who build their handset: the likes of Samsung, Nokia, SE, Apple, Blackberry, htc etc.
and then,
those who just put their nametag on it: the likes of  Dell, Acer, most Network Operators, and of course, the smaller players, like Maxx, MicroMax, Videocon, Spice, Karbonn, etc in India.

The first group obviously have a better brand name, and command better pricing power. 
In the second group, those who have a better brand, also do, unlike unrecognized brands.

Let us call the first group as Tier-1 player and rest as Tier-2 players (dark horses).

The lower end of the segment is pretty much commoditized. I wouldn't talk much about that.
Now, let us take a look at the capabilities. What does one expect from a smartphone nowadays:
Processing power: ARM is the preferred choice. So, its just a numbers game on the MHz. If you get a GPU alongside, that adds up to the MHz.
Real Estate: Of course, screen size is a factor. The bigger the screen better. As we speak, the really high-end hand sets are touching 512x800 (SE Experia Arc: 480x854, Lower end: 240x320).
Camera Size: Mobile cameras, because of their form factor, can never compete head-to-head with a stand-alone digital camera. Yes, not even the lower end point-and-shoot cameras. Most of the pictures are used for blogging and sharing. Looking at the real applications, Mpix is never a concern.

There are several other features, that add weightage. Most of them have either become standard, or offer very little differentiation.
  • Capacitative Touchscreens are On, and Resistives are on their way out
  • Network Capability: 3G handsets  are quite standard. However, in India, network capability lags the handsets quite a bit. 
  • Features that have become very standard include GPS, WLAN, Bluetooth, Music Players etc.
Coming back to the pricing power, it works other way for the customers. The dark horses offer an extremely good value-for-money proposition to the consumers.

To compare what is available in the market as of today,
- 1 or 1.2 GHz CPU (maybe a Dual core) + GPU
- 5MP camera or a specialized 8MP camera
- 200 to 500 Kpixel screens

- 500-800 MHz CPU with/without GPU
- 2-5 MP camera
- 100-200 Kpixel screen

In the mid-end segment, there are several handsets from the Tier-1 players. However, there are also a lot of dark horses from the Tier-II players. 

To name a few models, a good model from the likes of  Micromax/Videocon/Spice can give the Tier-1 players a good run for their money. 
Micromax A10 or aSpice Mi310 will beat the Tier-1 phones hands down. Both in terms of performance and price. I am talking about the likes of  LG Optimus one, HTC Wildfire, Dell XCD35 or a lower end Samsung Galaxy (I dont really know how many phones Samsung has under this name. Gosh, they should have atleast half-a-dozen only on this segment)

Imagine two people walking into a store and one buys a higher-priced Dell and other buys an unnamed handset with the same features and performance. It is most likely, that they both come from the same assembly line, and only the name plate differs.

In the high-end segment, obviously, the Tier-2 players are behind the leaders. But the game is about to change. I would say that they are about 3 to 6 months behind the market leaders, or may be more.

Like how it happened in the PC industry, the game is about to change. In about a year's time frame, the CPU horse power isn't going to be a differentiator in the performance. The difference between the mid-end and high-end segments will slowly fade down. 

Are  you willing to bet on the dark horses? I have decided to bet on one.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

The prolific eater

We have an oleander (Telugu: Ganneru, Tamil: Arali/sometimes Kasturi) plant in our backyard. The oleander plant has very thick leaves, which I would assume would take more than a few weeks to rot and disintegrate, ie, recycle.

Every year during spring time, we have an unusual problem. We have to watch over the plant carefully every two days. Or otherwise, it would be completely flattened by these larvae, even if you dont pay attention for a few days. I have the task of relocating the larvae to other weeds in the vicinity.

What's intriguing is that, just one of these larvae is capable of taking down a small branch in a day.

Are garbage recyclers paying attention:
We  generate so much vegetable waste, and it takes a lot of effort to recycle the waste. Besides, anything being recycled (rotting) generates methane, which is a green house gas.

And these insects flatten so much, without creating much fuss.

For this year, I have decided to leave these alone. The prospect of a beautiful butterfly flying around is good enough!

Searching for a mobile phone

So here I am looking for a new mobile phone. It has not been a year since I got my last one, and I am looking for a new one again. My last mobile, Samsung Monte is great: Has good features, and more importantly fits the bill. What it lacks is customization. I chose this one, when I found the need for Ananya (my baby daugther) to regularly video-conference with her grandparents. Over the last year that I am using this phone, I have tried to add a few more apps, but none is available. I have decided to move on to a mobile phone, which supports a generic platform.

Android is the first choice, when it comes to a good platform for mobiles. Of course, there is Windows, but having spent half my life on computers running Windows, I want to stay away from that. Besides, Android phones outnumber Windows' greatly.

The mobile phone scenario...
In many ways, today's mobile phone scenario is very similar to the personal computing evolution of the last decade. The PC and server chipsets were facing similar innovation challenges almost ten years ago .

There is almost a free ride on the horsepower: The processors for the personal computers are clocking thrice the speed of their mobile counterparts. Desktop CPUs are topping 3GHz, compared to the ~1GHz, that mobile CPUs are offering. The mobiles' will soon catch up, but there'll be an upper cap. 'Coz they dont have the liberty of unlimited power.

Multicore CPUs are starting to trickle in. The PC industry is having this technology for almost a decade now.

So where is the innovation, where is the challenge?
PCs of the last decade didn't have the constraint of fitting in your palm, and  run on the credit-card sized batteries. They also had the liberty of unlimited reconfigurability. If you wanted something newer, you could always buy an add-on card, and plug it into your chassis, and chuck the older one.

Mobile phones, on the other hand, have to come with all the all the functions pre-built-in. You cannot add anything after the consumer buys the phone. Except for, a Bluetooth handset. And the manufacturers have to get the combination right a good six to twelve months before they hit the stores.

Along the way, there are a whole lot of applications that have become standardized. Music Player, a movie camer, GPS, ... (OMG I am already taking the others for granted, whatever there is).

The communication technology is  moving faster than the speed of thought: GPRS, EDGE, 3G, HSDPA, HSUPA, LTE, etc.  I am running out of terminologies, and also out of applications that can use all the available bandwidth.
Simply put, there aren't enough applications to use all the bandwidth that's coming along. Even if there are, the network operator is charging an arm and a leg.

In India, the 3G tsunami is just hitting the shores. (Oh yes, forget the state-run BSNL/MTNL which had an year's headstart, and offered the 3G simcards for free).  Operators are starting to offer 3G services. Yet, the price of bandwidth, especially, the wireless bandwidth, remains extremely high. Most operators charge a cool 10 bucks (50 cents) per MB.

I am nowhere near to closing in on my search. Stay tuned, and it will follow.


Edit: I have completely forgotten to mention the grand-daddy of all cellphones. Apple's iphone running on iOS
No wonder it did not cross my mind.
In my opinion, to be able to afford a ihome, you have to be:
1. Either you have too much money or dont care about shelling out 25K ($600) on a phone.
2. Wishing to be in the chic league, wanting to show off or keep up with others in the league.

I am neither of those. So, iphone is never a contender for my requirements.

Its worth mentioning, iphone has been a major trigger for the cellphone market. Most of the competitors Samsung, Nokia, Sony Ericcson, LG, Motorola (where are you...) try to catch up on what iphone is offering.

It is still interesting that the likes of Samsung and Nokia, releasing two phones every year, dont match the package iphone (features, performance, software integration) , which releases a one-size-fits-all solution every 12-18 months. And they have released only four phones on the market till-date.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Stepping into the Blogosphere

After having waited for almost five years, I have decided to start a blog, today, now.
So, why today, why now?

The spark that got me started is a comment from a fellow blogger that Indians, in general, are consumers of information, than producers of information. Let me take a moment to explain that. Although we search through websites for information,  reviews, comments, etc., we refrain from posting any content on the web. Oh yeah, excluding those pictures from flickr, etc. I am taking about information that other people can source, use and benefit.

So, here I am, announcing my birth in the blogosphere. From this moment on, I have decided to become a producer on the internet. However small it may be, I am going to generate useful content on the web.

What does Thryambaka mean?

Often, we are biased in our speech and comments. My idea is to step back, leave out and bring in a balanced opinion. And that is why, you need something more than two eyes. Enter the third eye, or THRYAMBAKA, (OMG that tests my spelling skills ...).

Thryambaka is also the name of Lord Shiva, the principal deity in Hinduism.

So here I am, announcing my post, surely the beginning of a whole lot to come...

Stay Tuned,