Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Tech it easy

I WAS in tech journalism for the first five years in NST. I wrote for the Computimes pullout and later Computimes Shopper Malaysia magazine.

I enjoyed my time there. Assignments were fairly straightforward: go cover product launches, write about product. Get review unit, write review.

I loved the informal but purposeful way with which events were conducted. I loved the people I met. I found them to be real, resourceful and down-to-earth.

Not many people know this, but tech journalists are some of the most well-travelled ones around. They are treated very well by tech companies with the budgets to send journalists to cover overseas tech events.

So if you love to travel, tech journalism is the place to be.

My times at Computimes and Shopper were also some of the most creative periods of my life.

I taught myself video editing and problem solving, and even learnt Photoshop and started a side career in cartooning.

But the best part was still the fact that we got to play with gadgets and software.

This we used to our full advantage. Say, for example, I developed a curiosity for a particular Mac computer. I could then call Apple up, ask for a review unit and play with it until I was satisfied that all my questions were answered before buying the product, all on the pretext of doing a product review.

I loved the mental stimulation. During tea at the canteen, my colleagues and I would LOL at some of the most obscure jokes and twisted puns you can ever think of.

I really thought we were some of the coolest people in the office.

But when I moved to Life & Times in 2005, I had the shock of my life. It turned out that the rest of the company didn't think much of me.

On the contrary, they thought I was one of the more boring people in the whole wide office!

My colleagues at the new desk gave me this look of horror whenever I tried to impress them with some of my classic puns. It took me some time to control my tendency to crack a joke.

What I learnt from this episode of my life was that not many people like smart Alecs.

One of the dangers of being tech-savvy is falling into the trap of superiority complex.

You start out like any other chap: humble, precocious and willing to learn. All the right ingredients to become a talented tech writer.

After a few years when you are able to form opinions about your subject matter, you are given the confidence by your editor to maintain a column.

You begin to have followers. You find yourself having a certain influence on the general public - or at least, those within your magazine's circulation figure.

Soon, however, your followers grow to a size that worries even someone like Ayah Pin.

You get on Twitter and have even more followers. Your level of influence extends to the global level.

At this stage, you begin to feel infallible. Others' technical opinions do not matter anymore.

There is an Arabic word for this: riya' (pride). According to Islamic teaching, techies who have riya' even the size of an atom in their heart will not go to heaven.

You can tell when a techie has riya'. He walks around with a MacGyver strut and doles out unsolicited "advice" about gadgets to hapless consumers.

Don't be like this techie. On Earth, people do not like it when you demonstrate how smart you are. When you die, you will burn in hell. You lose on both counts.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

I say, this just won't do!

TWO months into using the iPhone, I find myself spending more and more time on it.

These days, I'd say half of my online time is spent on the iPhone. The other half on my laptop.

In fact, I rarely Facebook or email on my laptop anymore. The iPhone has replaced it as my primary device for these tasks.

Why? Because it's so darn convenient. You pick up your phone from the coffee table, wake it up and it's instantly online as it recognises your home network.

You tap on the Facebook icon. And since you keep your Facebook and email accounts logged in all the time, any new messages can be seen on the iPhone in an instant.

The concept of logging in and logging out is no longer a hard and fast rule.

It gets better. Wi-Fi introduced us to the concept of surfing the Internet in your living room or bedroom but with smartphones like the iPhone, you can walk around the house or lie down while you're at it. How comfortable is that?

And your addiction gets worse if you have a good 3G plan. Not only do you tap away on your phone indoors, you also do the same outdoors. Because you know those few minutes on the Internet won't cost you much.

So you find yourself blogging, Facebooking and emailing while you are out and about, standing in line at the cinemas or waiting for food at some roadside stall.

Recently while on assignment camping in front of the Kamunting detention centre waiting for the release of the ISA 13, guess what I did? Yup, I Facebooked.

Yes, you really can become addicted to the Internet on the mobile. You have been warned.

But then, therein lies the problem. As you spend more time on your mobile device, you start noticing its shortcomings.

On the iPhone, frankly there are not many. Just the battery life.

Prior to buying my iPhone, I had been warned about its lousy battery life. I refused to listen then, because I had already set my mind on buying it.

The first few weeks of usage was fine. I found the criticism to be unfounded. My phone could last two days on a full charge, which wasn't bad at all.

But once I started Facebooking, emailing, surfing the Internet and playing game after game of Bejeweled on it, the battery life was just good for one day.

Now, I have to charge my phone every night.

And if you have to be online for an extended period, the battery life may not last you through the day.

Based on my two-day experience at Kamunting, after waiting from 7am to around 1pm, I had to start looking for a place to charge my phone.

Why is it like that? It's the screen.

The iPhone's screen is both its best feature and its curse. At 3.5-inch, it's one of the largest you can get on today's mobile devices.

Together with the Multi-Touch gestures it supports, the screen makes surfing the Net on the iPhone a less painful proposition compared to other mobile devices.

However, this large display is also the biggest culprit behind the iPhone's `paltry' battery life. As a rule, the larger the screen is, the faster it drains the device's battery.

You have better luck at night, as you can reduce the brightness of the screen to the absolute minimum, thereby extending the battery life considerably. But under the sun like in Kamunting, I had to keep the brightness at a minimum of 50 per cent.

Friday, April 3, 2009

It takes a Genius...

FOR Malaysian iPhone 3G users who have been having problems with caller ID not appearing on their brand new smartphone, Apple’s latest announcement will sound like custom ringtone to their ears.

The iPhone maker has released a software update that promises to solve that very problem — and more.

The announcement on Tuesday by Apple will see its iTunes do-everything-from-music-to-movies-to-apps-to-contacts software receiving a feature boost in the form of a Genius for Contacts.

This is the second Genius feature on iTunes. Genius made its debut last year on iTunes 8 as a way to instantly and automatically create playlists of songs that go great together.
The songs are from iTunes Store as well as from the user’s own music library.

In similar fashion for Contacts, the names and phone numbers of iPhone users are anonymously sent to Apple’s servers where it is combined with the anonymously gathered knowledge from millions of other iPhone users and processed through Apple developed algorithms.

Information is also gathered from social networking sites such as Facebook.

Additionally, Genius will identify people outside of the user’s circle of contacts who are common friends or have similar tastes in computer and phone (Macs and iPhone), and recommend that the user adds these people to their contacts.

Apple has access to information on 30 million iPhone and iPod touch users to make this work.

In addition, the company knows an estimated ten-fold more of other consumers who have Googled “iPhone” on their computer.

“The Genius feature worked very well for music on iTunes. So we decided to extend it to other parts of the iPhone-iTunes-App Store ecosystem starting with Contacts,” said Greg Joswiak, Apple’s vice-president of iPod and iPhone product marketing.

“Besides, you need to be a genius to solve the iPhone caller ID problem. Bwahahahahaha!”

The introduction of Genius for Contacts was timely in light of problems faced by iPhone customers in Malaysia, Apple’s latest market.

Thousands of customers who bought their iPhone from Maxis recently in a fit of techno-lust discovered they had “lost” some of their contacts.

Instead of the caller ID, iPhone displayed the caller’s number.

Most people have no idea what their friend’s or spouse’s numbers are.

Bengong betul. How can a company like Apple overlook something so basic?” an indignant customer was heard complaining loudly soon after wiping drool from his new iPhone.

“Even a RM300 China phone can do that properly.”

“I love my iPhone,” said another happy customer. “It allows me to do calls, SMS, listen to music, watch video clips, browse the Internet, get organised, play games – everything. Except see my caller ID.”

At least 30 marriages and relationships were reported dissolved nationwide when iPhone users, who received missed calls from their partners, responded with, “Sorry, who is this please?”

But these newly-single iPhone users have no reason to be sad.

Apple said Genius has a built-in Contacts Store containing over 25,000 beautiful people who are real-life iPhone users.

With just a few taps on their iPhone, users can add these beautiful people’s phone numbers at prices ranging from US$0.99 to US$4.99 and US$24.99 depending on desirability.

Third-party developers are also offering add-on Contacts that will allow users to add celebrities to their contacts and even have these celebrities appear on their Facebook friends list to impress people. Huhu.

Mac pundit Lee Harvey Aswad speculated that Apple will eventually extend Genius to other parts of the iPhone-iTunes-App Store ecosystem.

“I predict they will eventually have Genius for apps, Genius for e-books, Genius for quotes, Genius for twitter, Genius for FB status updates, Genius for Genius,” said Aswad.

An Apple representative declined to comment.