Wednesday, October 08, 2014

My smart time has come


I totally get it

I had stopped using my Swatch after the Android wear was announced. I wanted to know what is it to not use a watch before jumping on the smart-watch bandwagon. I wanted to know if my watch was just an ornament?

I did miss it at times especially when I was out. I had to pull my phone out to see the time and missed knowing the time just by glance. So the reason I pulled my phone out other than making a call or messaging someone was to look at the time and go through the notifications. This was exactly the pain point that was solved when I started using the LG G Watch. I could check the time and also the notifications and use my phone far less than before.



The Good

  1. I’m glad that it doesn’t do too many things. It shows notifications from all the apps on my phone and I can also act on them. Then there are Watch specific apps that can also write into my notification feed based on context. That’s it! I can't or wouldn't want to compose a new email on my watch nor do I want to play games on it.
  2. The voice actions are good but I'm not sure if I will end up using any. But the way it’s designed is so ‘right’!
  3. As I now check my phone fewer times, the battery lasts longer. Earlier the battery on my phone would usually drain out by 7 p.m, but now at the same time it’s at 50% battery.
  4. I have this habit of leaving my phone at the desk and going around discussing things at work. Now when I get a call, I can reject the call on the watch and run back to the phone only if it is absolutely necessary.
  5. I also like the way it tells me that ‘it’s time to go home’. I used to miss this Google Now notification on the phone previously, but now it’s magical.

The Bad

  1. My LG G Watch is given by my office as a reference device. Even LG calls it a Developer’s reference device. It looks like a toy watch. But I’m not sure if it’s worth paying 17k for a better looking Moto 360 for what it can do. I bought my Swatch for 6k and used it for around 7 years and it’s still working. I agree the Moto can do way more than the Swatch, but if I switch to the smart-watch bandwagon; I will have to buy a new watch along with a phone every 2 years. That’s kind of ridiculous, isn't it?
  2. The “OK Google” hotword has never worked for me. It may help me in making a call when I’m driving as my phone is locked. But I expect Android L to fix some of these pain points.

Yeah, I couldn't think of any more.

What I missed

  1. A hardware button to get to the home screen / watch-face quicker is what I missed the most! I’m not sure if the buttons on the Moto 360 and LG R Watch can do this.
  2. There should be a way to put my phone on silent from the watch.

Final thoughts

If the only real value proposition of a smart watch is to notify me at the right time, then I think the Pebble would do it better than Android Wear watches. Of course the hardware looks shitty and the interface is not rich but I think there is something fundamentally right about their e-paper approach. The non-touch interface is functional and works with both iOS and Android (not a deciding factor though). Also the battery lasts for a week and it’s cheaper too. I think if the Pebble hardware goes through a serious design overhaul, support round and good looking watch-faces, then it has a very good chance of winning this race.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

My tryst with Google Glass



Wouldn't it be amazing if what I need to know is right there in front of my eyes?

I'm a big fan of RoboCop and his heads up display and right from my childhood I always thought it would be super cool for me to have something like that. I think as an idea Google Glass is anyones or at least every geek’s dream come true. But is it usable in it’s current form? Not exactly. I think the Glass has a long way to go before it becomes mainstream and also socially acceptable.

How does it feel like?


… as ridiculous as those idiots who walk and talk around with a bluetooth headset.

This is what my Boss who gave me the Glass told me when I asked him about his reactions. This is infact right because if you don’t wear glasses regularly, wearing just the Google Glass makes you look absolutely ridiculous. For someone who wears glasses I think it doesn't look that bad. Look at Isabelle Olsson’s picture above. It won’t be long enough before brands make glasses that are compatible with the Google Glass. What makes it then ridiculous is when you start interacting with it.

You look autistic

This is the comment I got from a friend who was observing me interacting with the Glass tapping and swiping at the side of my head and winking at people around. It also looked like I was talking to myself.

I was not able to wear the Glass properly to start with. I wear prescription glasses for myopia and it’s impossible to make anything out of the Glass’s prism display without glasses. So I somehow managed to wear the Glass over my glasses. Even though I could see the display it was not exactly like the way I was expected to use it. I understand that the real value of using Glass is when I start wearing it all the time like my prescription glasses. At one point I had contemplated wearing it over my glasses all the time but the terrible battery life didn't help. Every 10 minutes it either went out of power or got heated up and asked me to switch off. It also had it’s random power failures. I wonder how the explorers manage to wear it all the time.

How does it work?


When I wore the Glass for the first time, it asked me to install the Google Glass app on my phone. The app was supposed to show me a QR code with the WIFI settings in it. But it didn't work. So I tried using the Glass Setup page on my computer and it worked. Once it got connected it gave me options to do some things like ‘Send a Hangouts message’, ‘Take a picture’ etc. It also asked me to pair the Glass with my phone for it to work on the move. After pairing with the phone it gave me options like ‘Make a call’ and also started showing notifications from the phone. I installed some Glassware using the phone app and the Glass main menu started giving me more options like ‘Tweet’, ‘Share on FB’ ‘Check In on 4sq’ and ‘Send an email’.

I tried tweeting but it didn't get posted to Twitter for some reason. I took pictures and accidently shared some of them on FB. I did manage to reply to a Hangout message I received. The camera was on wide angle all the time but the picture quality was really good, so ended up taking some nice ‘point of view’ shots. I checked out the navigation feature and it worked pretty well but I couldn't put it to some real use while driving. The Glass had problems in understanding my English accent even though Google Now on my phone did a better job at it. I made calls using the Glass and the voice quality was bad. My friend couldn't hear me at all. I played a song using the Google Play Music app on the Glass but it was pretty pointless without a proper earphone.

Overall a patchy experience.

How I want it to be?


The best thing about the Android Wear apps is that the primary way to use them is when they show me a contextual notification.

I think right now a smart watch is the most socially acceptable gadget that can show me a contextual notification. But I still think Glass is the best gadget to do it if it can do it the right way. But it goes downhill from the point it allows you to ‘book a cab’ or ‘reply to an email’ by talking to it. It feels so unnatural to talk to my glasses or watch. According to me devices like a SmartWatch and Glass should only show me contextual notifications in an ambient manner without me asking for it. That’s it. Everything else I will do on my phone as it’s almost an accepted notion that I can talk to a phone and do things with it. So here is what I think the Glass should be to become useful, usable and socially acceptable.

  1. Make it more wearable by not making it stick out. Target it only for people who wear glasses as an add on augmentor. Let’s see how it would look like then.
  2. Show me information at the right time without me asking for it or doing the autistic tapping, winking and scratching on my head.
  3. The only job of an app on the Glass should be to show me contextual notification.
  4. The only “actions” I do on a Glass should be restricted to ‘taking a picture’ with just a tap and ‘navigating through the notifications’ by swiping. No Tweeting or Sending email. Just transfer the pictures to my phone instantly and I'll share them from there.
  5. Better battery and cooling down issues. I'm sure it’s just a matter of time.

Nevertheless I think the Glass is an engineering and design marvel. It’s easy to be an armchair critic but I can actually imagine the pain they took to make the Glass as we see it today. Just that it’s not ready for prime time and I'm sure Google also knows it.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Inside Out or Outside In?



Even though I had earlier designed solutions for mobile, it’s while working for CloudMagic I got to learn about the subtle nuances of how things work in iOS and Android. It was indeed a challenge to design the app’s features keeping the OS restrictions and possibilities in mind but was equally exciting to just know about them and the thinking behind.

Apple is all about hardware and Google about software

If you observe closely this is evident in lot of the thinking behind how similar looking features are implemented in both the operating systems. The most interesting of the lot is push notifications. They are so similar on the surface but absolutely different under the hood. Let me try to explain in the context of an email application.

iOS

Apple’s own apps on iOS have superpowers but 3rd party apps have a lot of restrictions. For starters 3rd party apps like CloudMagic are not allowed to run in the background forever. The native email app can. This is to make sure that 3rd party apps don't abuse the OS resources to make it slower and drain the battery. So for an app like CloudMagic the only way to receive and update new emails is to wait till the user opens the app and download the emails from the server. Here is where push notifications come into the picture. It notifies the users about the new mail outside the app and swiping on it would open the app to start downloading the new email.

Push notifications are only possible for email apps with a server component, like CloudMagic. It checks for new emails in the server and intimates the Apple Push Notification Service to send a push notification to the phone. This is the reason why Sparrow doesn't support push notifications and hence will download new email only when its open.

1. Push notifications show up as a list on the lock screen. I can either swipe on a specific notification to go to the app directly or just unlock the phone. After that the list disappears. I also have the option to set notifications from some apps appear as an alert too.

2. The missed notifications continue to live as a list grouped under app names in the notification center which is absolutely out of sight. The app has the ability to remove the notifications from the list once opened or they will continue to remain there forever.

3. I can customize the notifications to an extent in the Settings app which is detached from the original app. But things like changing the alert sound is not in there. For this reason, almost all 3rd party apps end up giving notification settings on their own which adds to the confusion.

4. To circumvent the ‘out of sight’ problem, the notifications can also add a number badge to the app icons. This again behaves different from app to app; again configurable from the app’s settings as well as from ‘Settings app’.

Android

Android apps can have an always on agent called a Service, stay in the background to interact with the OS when the app is not active. This agent can either keep checking emails on timed intervals or like in CloudMagic can listen to push notifications sent from our servers.

1. When a new email is received, our server passes it to Google Cloud Messaging which in turn pushes a notification to the phone.
The agent receives the new email information from the notification and pokes the CloudMagic app to wake up from its slumber.
The app wakes up with the new email information in the background and start downloading the rest of the content from the respective email servers and keep it ready to be read.

2. Once the email is downloaded, the app shows a message in the Notification Center. This is biggest difference between iOS and Android. In Android the notification center is completely controlled by the app and every notification is a micro widget in itself. It’s up to the app to decide what, when and how the notifications should be shown. This is how CloudMagic shows a single email notification that can directly take you to the new email and update it with a grouped notification when more emails are received. The format of the notification, it behavior, sounds and the action buttons, basically the entire notification experience is controlled by the app and not by the OS. Of course the framework provides templates for the format for consistency but its up to the app to follow it or break out to give something better, or even worse. Hence the settings to control notifications remains in the app itself.

3. When the notification area receives a message, it shows a visible animation and then continue to show as small icons on the status bar till they are removed. So the notifications are kind of out of sight (non intrusive) but not out of mind.
Once the user has accessed or dismissed a notification on one device the same notifications are removed from other devices owned by me.

Android notifications are well thought through than iOS

Android notifications were designed with the objective of letting an app effectively notify the user about an update. If I remember right, when iOS started supporting 3rd party apps, there were no push notifications. It would have been an afterthought that made them add push notifications later in order to poke the user to open the app and load new content. Later it went through a lot of iterations to become what it is today. It’s still messy and largely unusable.

Starting with the right problem is key for designing better solutions.

Sunday, May 04, 2014

What's the logical end of your product?



Simplify, even when the natural inclination is to keep expanding.
This quote I read somewhere recently has made a profound effect on me. It's something that I always believed in but just that I didn't know how to express it in words. As a product designer I believe that my job is to design software solutions that will simplify human lives. The more simpler the solution is, the more it would simplify lives. In today's world we have a lot of things craving for our attention and they all keep us busy. Our attention span is on an all time low while dividing our time among all of them. Thats why it's important to make products focus on doing smaller things the most easiest way possible. This doesn't mean all complex problems should be ignored. What it only means is that someone who is in need of a simple solution need not understand and use a bloated solution that can also solve the simple problem. Simple solutions have a value of their own. It need not become complex to become more valuable. Thats why we should be clear about the the logical end of the product we are designing.

Whenever I design products, I try to also define what the product should not be. That way I make it clear that what exactly are we solving and who we are going after. So does that mean when the product is developed as per design, our job is over? No. Thats when we have to start seeing if the product can further simplified to make things easier. Of course the product has to undergo changes in order to keep up with the times. But it never should go beyond its original soul or the logical end, as I call it.

The best example I think of in order to make myself understand this philosophy is Cars. Every car made has a very specific target audience, purpose and price point. Manufacturers only add or remove things to further simplify the driving experience and also do facelifts to keep the car relevant to the times and trends but they will never transform a hatchback to a luxury sedan. Nor can I, as a user, ask the manufacturer to add a boot to my hatchback coz I like it that way.

The best example of this in the software world is the recent unbundling of the Google Drive app on mobile. This is what google says about the unbundling...
...to make it easier for you to quickly find, edit and create documents, spreadsheets, and presentations on the go ..... Starting today, you can download new, standalone mobile apps for Docs and Sheets... Need to find a spreadsheet? Go to the Sheets app. Need to create a document? Go to the Docs app.
Foursquare also has announced that they are going to split their app into 2 serving specific functions for fewer users. Mailbox's new version added some new features that would further enhance their GTD goal and at the same time also removed some features to make it more focussed. Zomato has changed a lot to integrate social into restaurant finding and has become so much better and simpler. My favorite Cleartrip has launched more standalone products that would help people plan their trips. However I feel Cleartrip has kind of failed in further simplifying their flagship product. Even though it's still the most usable airline booking site in India, it doesn't have the simplicity it used to have once upon a time.

It's tough to understand this philosophy in software as we can easily get drawn into adding more features based on user feedback and matching competitor products. There is nothing bad about adding new features but it should only be to further simplify the way currently people use our product. Everything else is scope for another product.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

The TV as we know it has changed in my house



Last year we upgraded our old tube TV to a Sony Smart LED TV. My idea of going for a smart TV was to watch a lot of videos on demand. The TV had a stripped down YouTube app but was a PIA to use it with the TV remote. Later I had to dump the smartness of my TV and instead used it as a display for my laptop connected with a HDMI cable. That's when my wife discovered the Project - Free TV site and started watching all her favorite TV series online but plugged into the tv. It was almost perfect. No getting back home on time, no re runs and no missed shows. Just go online, select the show and episode and watch whenever we have time. Hooking up the laptop on to the TV had its own quirks though. The laptop went out of power as we were watching and then had to connect the charger to make the whole setup a wired mess.

Enter Chromecast, the wonder device from Google. Chromecast converted any regular TV with a HDMI port into a Smart TV. Chromecast enabled us to keep the laptop docked to the charger on the study table somewhere inside but cast the Chrome browser tab on to the TV, thus making us watch the shows without the wired mess. Also allowed us to cast Youtube and Google Play movies from our Android devices on to the TV anytime. Our TV has more or less become like radio now. We watch the TV channels if we don't have anything specific in mind, all other times we search on the internet and chromecast it on TV to watch. We also came across this site viooz where all the latest English movies can be streamed free of cost. It also has some good Indian movie collections.

Should TV channels be worried? I don't think so. Instead they should embrace this phenomenon. It's an opportunity for them to make more money. I really wanted to watch the 24 hindi series last year, but couldn't as I kept on missing the show times and also coz of my December vacation. When I got back, I searched all over the internet for the episodes and couldn't find them anywhere. What if Colors made all the 24 episodes available on Youtube along with advertisements? That would have made some additional revenue for them and also made people like me happy. TV channels in India should open up their content more on YouTube, Google Movies and iTunes. Also make their mobile apps Chromecast friendly. Its also the most effective way to fight piracy.

TV has changed in my house and its going to change in every house, quite soon. TV channels and content creators, are you ready for the new TV revolution?

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Smartly driven



Whenever I go abroad I make a point to use public transport to explore that place. Back home in Bangalore, we seldom use public transport as it’s inefficient and less comfortable. Our recent trip to Australia was no different. It was absolutely a new place for us, but we chose to go by trains, buses and trams and never took taxis, of course with the help of Google Maps and other public transport apps.

One sunny afternoon as usual we looked at Google Maps to spot the nearest bus stop and the exact time the bus would arrive. The bus arrived on the dot and we got in. We went to the driver and told him where we wanted to get down and he told me the fare and also that he accepted only cash. I quickly started taking out the money from my wallet and started fumbling with the coins. Sensing my discomfort the driver smilingly said…

Just calm down. Take your time. I’m not in a hurry.
This was surprising for me. Back home I've seen bus drivers and conductors being rude and screaming at passengers for not giving proper change or not getting in or out quickly.

After I got the ticketing done I sat down super impressed and started observing him more. The bus reached a busy shopping area and a lot of people started getting in. I understood that the system worked on mutual trust. There was no one to check if the passengers had really taken tickets. Tickets were issued to those who approached the driver, that’s it. He smiled at everyone. Stopped the bus till everyone got their tickets and seats. Once everything was in order he closed the doors and started the bus. Then I saw a lady running towards the bus waving at the driver suggesting the bus to stop. I was expecting the sweet driver to stop the bus but to my surprise he didn't and drove away. I felt a bit bad.

Then I started thinking about why he didn't stop for the lady and what would have happened if he had. If he had let the lady in, he would have had to stop the bus till the ticketing was done. That would make the bus 2-3 minutes late for the next stop. Continuing to do this would make the bus run late. Suddenly his behavior started making a lot of sense to me.

Your customers love you for the way you are, what you believe in, the product you have built, the problems you solve, the features you have, the features you don't have and for the happy experience of using it. It will not be the same if you start blindly listening to what they ask for and change things in the fear of losing them. Then you will lose all the qualities for which they loved you in the first place.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

5 things Credit Card companies can do for better user engagement


1. Home Page as a Pinboard of great things money can buy

Instead of a banner busy christmas tree home page which is absolutely useless, it can be a constantly updated curation of great things to do using my credit card. Eg, A map showing the stores having sale, happening bars, restaurants, events based on the time of the day.... Hard to resist items that can be bought on the web, eg on Flipkart or Myntra. Great getaway ideas based on upcoming long weekends.

Basically the home page can be a great discovery service for things you can buy and get discounts or earn points using the credit card. Potential customers will find this as a sure shot reason to jump to the next tab to look at the different credit cards and apply. Existing customers will visit the site to discover interesting stuff and not only once in a month to look at their statement.

2. Social

The same curation service they can extend on social networks like Pinterest, G+ and Facebook. On Instagram they can do roundups of the different events and also showcase products. Allow customers to post tweets like "I lost my card. Please block" or "I'm going abroad and will be using the card. Please don't block." from authorized handles. Authorize FB to show friends who have shown interest in curated products on the home page.

3. Quick loyalty points redemption

Dont hide the loyalty points inside some statement. Show it as clear scannable number in the header, along with the credit balance. Show me the numbers changing based on my activities on the site, like Cleartrip's split view price counter that changes based on my selection. Show me a catalog of products I can redeem my points on by just one click. If I'm falling short on loyalty, allow me to pay the rest using my card balance.

4. Better Statement & Payment

Make the statement super scannable. Bring up the most important numbers and make the details go into the background. Like Cleartrip's Air ticket design. I like ICICI Credit Card's statement, its very scannable. In both billed and unbilled statements, allow me to modify the expense description to something I would remember. There were many times I wondered what the hell I did with my credit card at Yum Brands. And above all a dead simple way to pay the credit card bill.... think Cleartrip Expressway.

5. Better on the go

Most of the time when I'm at a store, I'm not looking at paying my credit card bills. But I'm thinking credit balance. Show me this information upto date damn quick; without making me login all the time. Simple way??? Get onto iPhone passbook.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Can Samsung's success be attributed to Android's popularity?


Like every other Android fan I have also been in iPhone vs Android fights where I have gotten into heated arguments about the advantages of Android's open and cloud friendly architecture. But then I quickly understood that the advantages which I thought were great didn't even make sense for an average iPhone user. Eg How I could set Chrome browser as my default browser on Android and how on iPhone it cant be done. At that point the iPhone user asked me why would he use Chrome browser as he was happy with Safari. There has also been an instance when an iPhone power user in US told me that a research says Android users have low IQ. This made me think.

For normal computer users an Operating System is how they experience it. User Experience basically. In that case I think pure Android can only be experienced on a Nexus Device or any device with the Stock UI. Android on every other phone has the OEM's take on the user experience. Eg Samsung's Touch Wiz UI mimicks the iOS UI but lacks the simplicity of iOS or pure Android. It has more features, crapware, Samsung's own app store and major flaws in hardware design too. Similar issues with other OEMs.

People who are hardcore Android fans always try to get Nexus devices or the more adventurous ones go for some good phone locally available and manually install an experience (ROM) that's close to stock.

Who are real Android fans?

Real Android fans are actually geeks who are Google fans and power users of Google products. Their life runs on Google products, sync files and information on google cloud, use Chrome, develop on Google App Engine, active on Google+, follow and get super excited by Google I/O conference, appreciate and use Google Now. They follow tech blogs, read about new apps and try it out immediately. If its not yet available on Google Play, they side load it and use. As power users of Google products Android is the right choice for them to safely expect seamless usage and also support the above said use cases. As Nexus phones are designed by Google for pure Android experience, Nexus becomes the obvious choice for a real Android fan boy.

Who buy Samsung (or other) Android phones?

Mostly people who really don't know much about Android. They just need a fancy phone with better features (apps) than their old Nokia phone. They see a Samsung Android phone as poor man's iPhone. Most of them don't even have a Gmail id. They don't know Google Play exists. They haven't installed/updated an app in months. They are not online all the time and also switch off GPS to save battery. They use it predominantly to talk, SMS, Facebook, chat on WhatsApp, take 13 mp pictures and transfer it to their computer using blue tooth. I'm not kidding. For these users the next phone could be a Nokia Lumia. Of course there are exceptions in this group, but more about them later.

Why do Samsung phones sell like hot cakes?

The good thing about Samsung phones are they are not late to market. When they launch their flagship phone, viz S4, in US by the next month its available in countries like India. Also they have a phone with all kinds of hardware combinations at every price point which makes it easy for people to get access to smartphones. Whereas Google is not very gung ho about bringing Nexus devices to emerging markets like India. Its pretty funny coz Android sees a lot of adoption in India and other Asian countries than US, which is predominantly an iOS market. HTC One is apparently a great phone but its no where in sight in this part of the world. Its because of this reason Android fans who run out of patience by waiting for Nexus phones to come to their countries, go for Samsung/Other Android phones. The recent announcement of Samsung Galaxy S4 with stock Android will be a huge relief for Android fans who struggle to get their hands on pure Android.

Samsung allows everyone to own a cheaper iPhone. And that's why they are successful. Its not the love towards Android nor is it because of their eye tracking feature. That's why they think they can continue this success with their own OS also. If Apple comes out with a cheaper iPhone for the emerging markets, Samsung will definitely be in trouble.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Piracy has to be curbed by easier access to content! And not policing.


The story goes that Steve Jobs wanted CD drive slots on iMacs instead of the tacky trays. But soon Apple was forced to add tray drives as CD writers were not available in slots. An unhappy Steve Jobs wanted to know why a CD writer was so important for iMac, a consumer device. He got to know people were ripping Music album CDs to distribute/share/own select individual songs. This also lead to mass piracy in the Music industry and they were bleeding. Jobs then went on to convince the industry big wigs that customers should have the ability to own individual tracks and not always albums. He also provided a platform called iTunes Store where the labels could officially sell individual audio tracks for economical rates for the users. Customers would browse or search through a huge archive of good quality MP3 songs on iTunes store, buy and manage their playlist and sync to their iPods. This experience was obviously way better than the effort anyone went through to find people who bought the CDs, ripped and shared on the internet, with the right quality and also without the risk of getting virus. People didn't mind paying for this great experience. This also lead to similar services in the US which revived the music and movie industry.

Indian film industry is going through the same problem right now. Technology advancement, broadband and mobile penetration have made piracy flourish. And whats the industry doing about it other than crying and being offensive? Have they really thought about the crux of the problem? Are people really happy about buying bad quality pirated DVDs or downloading movies on Torrent? But what alternative do they have? Coming to cinema halls? Do they really think its practical and economical for everyone to watch all movies in cinemas?

OK I cant talk for everyone but I'll talk about what I think here. I really dont like encouraging piracy but I also dont want to go to cinema halls every week. That means I'll be really choosy about the movies I watch in cinemas and would mostly opt for a big happy movie with super stars etc running that weekend. I really wanted to watch movies like Jolly LLB and Da Thadiya but I missed them as I didnt want to go through the effort of going to the cinema, finding some company and spending big money. Also Malayalam movies are shown on unholy show hours and they disappear after the first week in cities outside Kerala. I really wanted to encourage these movie makers but I dint have an option. Yes I can wait for months till the DVD comes out but by then the fizz is gone and I can rather wait for it to come on TV. Also I dont want to buy DVDs and then figure out storage space for them. I'm not saying Cinema halls are unnecessary. There is indeed a need for them as the main outdoor entertainment medium other than malls in India. But there has to be parallel medium in Home entertainment. These movies should come out on DVDs and Internet as early as possible which will help customer get access to the movies easier and they will definitely wont mind paying little more than the amount they pay for bad quality pirated DVDs. This will definitely curb piracy.

I'm surprised that the Indian movie industry has still not woken up to this fact. They rather do policing and we all know what policing can actually help achieve. One regular answer I get from everyone is its not easy. Well nothing is easy in life. Even for Steve Jobs it was not easy. He had to go from label to label to talk to the executives and convince them to do it. Someone has to take a step towards it. The new generation movie makers should do something about it if they want to sustain. I know Apple and Google have started their movie stores in India but looks like they are not serious about it. Ek Tha Tiger and English Vinglish are the latest movies available out there.

My friend Sreejith Nair has taken a bold step towards this by starting up CinemaTalkies.com, a Hulu like on demand online streaming service for Malayalam movies. However the movies there work only outside India and it doesn't have the hot from the oven new movies. I talked to Sreejith about this and he said his vision is to have simultaneous releases and make them available even in India but he had to make a start somewhere. Offering good quality streaming service for NRIs itself was a great achievement. I really hope the producers realize the potential and satisfy movie fans like me who live outside Kerala. And if this works out, I'm sure movie producers all over India will take notice. Its hight time now.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

3 things that will improve Indian Railway user experience on the move


I know there are various value added high tech services offered by Railways and 3rd party services targeted towards transparency of information but I havent found them handy when I'm badly in need of them on the move. Btw I havent done many rail trips in a long time but whatever little I have done and whatever I have experienced when I go to see off / receive people from stations, I thought of these 3 medium tech solutions that will ease out some regular user pain points on the move.

1. Countdown Timer

Most of the time I dont know how much time I have to board the train which leads to a mad rush at the door step. Also as a passenger I'm not comfortable getting down from the train to get something from the shops at the platform as the good old mobile vendors who used to get food near the coach windows have disappeared.

Count down timer LCD displays on the platform showing how much time I have before the train leaves will help me in this situation. These counters should be prominently displayed on the platform along with the displays that show coach numbers and platform number. If the train doesn't leave on time the counter should go into negative which makes it clear that the train is delayed. This needs to be there on all stations, no matter big or small.

2. Current ETA at a station

Current ETA (not scheduled) of a train at a station is mostly displayed at the entrance of railway stations but not when you go on to the platform. I have seen some main stations showing information on the platforms like the ones you see in airports but not all stations do this. There are these small stations where long distance trains do a quick stop but the officials there are perpetually clueless about the train running status. Also as a passenger its important for me to know the time my train would reach the destination station. It particularly gets difficult during late nights.

There are several SMS based queries offered which is too difficult to figure out on the move. I dont know if this is already there but I just want a simple service where I can send an SMS with My Train Number and My Station Code (not bloody std code) and I get a reply saying where the train is right now and as per the current running schedule what time it will reach my station.

This service should be prominently advertised on all ticket print outs, coaches and on platforms.

3. Coach Position

Finding my Coach Position at a station is another painful activity when you are rushing to catch your train. Also at the insignificant stations, the officials have no clue about the coach positions of long distance trains.

Again in the above SMS service I should be able to add My Coach Number and the reply should give the platform and coach position along with the ETA.