Category Archives: Editorials

Nokia Music Shows The World How To Kill Piracy: $26 A Year For Unlimited DRM Free Music

Nokia Music went DRM free in India in December last year and I thought it was a pretty big deal. When the service first launched, the idea was to give you access to a huge catalogue of DRM’d music for one year with the purchase of a new Nokia device, and after that one year you could keep all the music had downloaded, but there was no way to renew the subscription. If you wanted more downloads, you’d have to get a new ‘comes with music’ device.

Since then the service has changed considerably, and has been brought to low cost devices like the Asha series. These devices sell for less than $200, and come with the ability to download DRM free music that you can send to your friends, or copy and play on another device. Today via the official @NokiaIndia Twitter account, the ability to renew your Nokia Music subscription was announced. Currently you can only renew for one month at a time, and the cost of the recharge is just Rs. 113 a month which translates to just over $2.

(Downloaded from the Nokia Music Store, transferred to the Mac and from there onto the iPad and so on. DRM free win).

So for Rs. 1356 (just over $26) you can download millions of DRM free, high quality 256 kbps music – all year long. That’s just amazing. You can purchase a renewal pin online, or at a Nokia store in your city.

The Nokia Music Unlimited service in India gives you access to 4 million tracks, which in addition to a very large collection of international music, offers an extensive selection of local music, including some really old tracks that you’ll have a hard time finding anywhere else. Nokia Music Store includes wide-ranging catalogues from major global labels like Sony Music Entertainment, EMI Music, Nokia’s local partnership with Indian Music Industry (a consortium of more than 150 music companies), Hungama that represents major labels including Yash Raj, Tseries, and SIMCA (South Indian Music Companies Association), amongst others. Basically, it’ll have pretty much everything you are looking for. Plus, through things like the Nokia Music Theater, you’ll also find a selection of content from great local artists who haven’t become quite so popular, yet have excellent music.

All of that for a full year, for less than what you’d spend on a meal at a not so expensive restaurant. Rs. 113 is an unbelievable price, and if Nokia can stick to it, I am sure a lot of people will only be too happy to sign on. No service in the world offers access to such a large quantity of DRM free for such a small price. At least in India, Nokia Music has the potential of becoming a bigger draw than even Nokia Maps, and that’s saying a lot because Nokia Maps is an excellent itself.

There are still a few things I’d like them do to – the first is start supporting Macs. The tracks are DRM free MP3 files and there is no longer a technical reasons for the service to be Windows only. Next, I’d like to see Nokia offer higher quality downloads over the air in addition to the compressed versions that are currently available. If I have a 3G plan, or am on WIFI, I shouldn’t be forced to download the compressed track.

Finally, I cannot wait to see Nokia Music launch in India on the Lumia series as well.

PS: I am certain, Nokia will not be able to offer this price point in other countries. But for India, this is a great price.

How I Got Pulled Into Apple’s Ecosystem & Why Soon It’ll Be Too Late To Get Out

The real magic in Apple’s products isn’t that they are great looking or that they come with great features, the real steal is in the fact that each one makes you want to buy the next one, across product lines. Just like iPods sold Macs back in the day, today iPhones sell iPads and vice-versa. Talking to a friend yesterday I realised that I have (un)knowingly become completely entrenched in Apple’s world. At the time of writing this I own a MacBook Pro, an iPad 2, an iPhone 4S and an Apple TV. This did not happen overnight and I am concerned.

The Move To A Mac

I switched from a Windows laptop (an HP tablet PC) to a Macbook in 2009 and very soon I grew to absolutely love it. Infact working on a Windows machine started turning into a not so pleasant idea. With this my perception of Apple as a brand changed. It went from being a company that had its set of fans that at times mindlessly raved about it, to one I actually started paying more and more attention to. This was of course after the introduction of the iPhone, and looking at the first few iterations I had decided that there was no way I was switching to one.

So for the next year or so, I happily used a Mac along with a Symbian/Maemo/Android device. Then the iPad came along. My first reaction to it was the exact same one that I had to the iPhone – too restricted, no multitasking and so on. However, iOS 4 came along and with it came multitasking. I took a long hard look at the iPad and decided that I wanted one, and what clinched it for me was the fact the that even if I needed to do a task necessary for a ‘power user’, then I’d have my smartphone which wasn’t shackled one bit.

With that I took a keen liking to the iPad, and slowly but surely its limitations became a less of an annoyance. The quality of apps and the general utility of the device was worth the sacrifice. Then the iPad 2 came along, so did Airplay and while picking up the iPad 2, I also got an Apple TV. Wirelessly showing off photos and videos did sound very cool, and 99$ wasn’t a huge deal. With iOS 5 Airplay really improved, more and more apps started taking advantage of it and wireless mirroring meant that if you could see it on the iPad, you could see it on the TV.

An iPad Sells An iPhone

By the end of 2011, I had been using Apple devices for 3 years, iOS for the better part of 2. Some things still bothered me, but I had become used to the Apple way of things. Yet, till this time I had never used an iPhone as a primary device. This is where’s Apple’s mastery at making one product sell another comes in. It was because I had been using an iPad, I was ready to switch to an iPhone. For all the limitations of iTunes, one thing that works great is wireless sync. Being able to put music, photos, video etc onto the iPhone or even back it up wirelessly is fantastic. The iPhone or iPad could be anywhere in the house and you’d still be able to act as if it is plugged into the computer.

Apple TV

Another huge draw was the fact that a ton of quality ‘paid for’ apps were already waiting for me. Spending money on the same apps on Android/Windows Phone/Symbian and then on iOS for the iPad didn’t make much sense, yes I could have the best of both worlds, but was that so necessary?

The fact that you can buy an app on the iPad and in more cases than not it’ll automatically be downloaded on your iPhone too, for free, makes a lot of psychological difference. E.g. I recently bought the iPhoto for iOS app on the iPad – it is 5$, but when you see it on the iPhone too its almost like you got 50% off, or got it in a buy 1 get 1 scheme. This definitely encourages you to buy more apps, the knowledge that two device will be benefitting from a single purchase lets you pull the trigger much easier. This means that slowly you’ll come to a point where you’ll have a substantial amount of money invested in that platform.
All my Apple devices talk to each other seamlessly. Everything is wireless and it involved no setting up whatsoever. Now the iPhone 4S isn’t the only phone I use, for the sake of keeping current I use the Galaxy S2 too and carry a Lumia 800 along most of the time for the freshness of Windows Phone. But if whenever I need to copy music and pictures, I need to get the USB cable out. I cannot seamlessly show photos on the TV and DLNA is still hit and miss for the common man. All of this pushes me into the Apple ecosystem more and more.

What can change this status-quo?

There isn’t a compelling reason to switch to an Android tablet, and Android in general is too fragmented to create such an ecosystem. Plus there is no Android on the PC. The only people who can pull this off are Nokia and Microsoft.

Windows 8

But there are a few fundamental things they need to do first. The vision is there – an Xbox instead of the Apple TV, Xbox live/Skydrive instead of iCloud, Windows 8 phones and tablets in sync, and a lovely Windows 8 powered laptop. But will they be able to make everything so seamless? Instead of keeping the phone and tablet in sync with each other, Microsoft has decided to keep the tablet and the PC in sync. Something Apple has avoided, Lion looks nothing like iOS on the iPad, yes some features are inspired by it, but that’s it.

What this means is that apps in all probability the apps that you buy once from the Windows Store on the PC should automatically become available on the Windows 8 tablet as well. But this will only happen if they are Metro (ARM compatible) apps. The usual x86 apps won’t work on ARM tablets and that’s where the seamless chain is broken, ergo less incentive for the users to put money down in your ecosystem. (Yes there will probably be X86 tablets also, but I don’t see Nokia doing one).

Next, very few apps will work across both the tablet and phone, and because the developer will have had to do some work to optimse for each; I doubt he’d be willing to offer an iOS like 2 for 1 deal.

Next we need an AirPlay equivalent, doesn’t matter if its DLNA based or ABCD based, it should have an easy to remember name and be bulletproof. Wireless syncing across all devices is a must, and I would go so far as to add WIFI direct capabilities as well. Make it extra seamless.

The problem is that time is really running out. The next wave of retina display powered MacBooks will really begin to impact the Windows laptop market. Macs are no longer the more expensive option, the iPad is the best value for money tablet around and the iPhone isn’t showing signs of a slowing down. All of this puts a lot of pressure on Windows 8. Nokia World 2012 happens end of September, so this means we’ll have not only the Windows 8 release for tablets and PC’s, but also Windows Phone 8 in Q4. If they don’t have an answer to this Borg like ecosystem that just keeps sucking you in, starting the end of this year, it won’t matter what they do in 2014.

The outlook is bright, there are a few niggles here and there, but the bigger picture isn’t bleak. Time to deliver.

Almost forgot – Nokia, if your Nokia World 2012 flagships don’t have an a retina like display for both the phone and possible tablet, don’t bother.

7 Things Windows Phone Needs To Do Better In 2012

From a fairly modest start in 2010, Windows Phone came a long way in 2011. The NoDo update brought some essentials like copy/paste, while the big Mango update truly made Windows Phone useable as a daily driver. That being said, there are a number of things I’d like to see Windows Phone improve on in 2012 to truly become a force to reckon with.

The Tango update is expected in Q1 this year, and is primarily expected to bring support for LTE and at the same time help manufacturers push Windows Phone to lower price points. The Apollo update on the other hand is the big update everyone will be waiting for this year, it was originally expected in Q4 2012, but there are rumours to suggest we might see it earlier.

Here are a few things that Windows Phone needs to do better in 2012, I have classified them under seven broad heads:

1. BETTER HARDWARE: The basic Windows Phone specs have remained pretty constant from the day it shipped, and there is still no support for dual/multi core processors or hi-res 720p screens. Both of these things are rumoured to be coming with Apollo, so I will not dwell on them much.

2. BETTER MULTITASKING: As things stand now, Windows Phone uses quick save-resume to give users a feel of multitasking. While this might help save battery life and keep the phone snappy, it does leave much to be desired. For example, the Dictionary.com apps lets you download the database for offline use. But in order to download it, the app must be running, so even if the screen dims out or you lock the screen, the download gets interrupted. During navigation if you happen to lock the screen the app stops running.

Another problem I have is that third party apps cannot load data in the background. So despite having an active data/WIFI connection all through, my Twitter app will not be able to load tweets in the background, such that there are tweets waiting to be read whenever I open it. Instead, whenever I open the Twitter app, it will then start loading tweets and I’ll have to wait, depending on how fast my connection is. These things need to improve.

3. APP BEHAVIOR: Without getting into technicalities like native code access and so on, because of the way Windows Phone lets developers build apps for Windows Phone, the performance, specially the launch times leave much to be desired. Most third party apps (if not all) like the official apps for Twitter, Facebook etc all need a splash screen to bide time while they launch.

Same with games, developers have been craving for native code access to enable high quality games and I do hope Microsoft will do something about this. E.g. Launching Whats App on Symbian, Android or iOS is instant, but on Windows Phone you will see a splash screen everytime.

Next, apps are also sandboxed. So it is impossible to share data from one app to the other. For example on Nokia Maps, you cannot search for a place and then launch Nokia Drive from within Maps. You will have to search for that place in Nokia Drive again and then navigate. Same with location sharing in Whats App, clicking on a location will not open up Nokia Maps or Drive or even Bing Maps, but just a map within the app. So you cannot simply navigate to that location, unlike other platforms.

4. NOTIFICATIONS: I have talked about notifications in my Lumia 800 review as well, and this should be priority number one for Microsoft. There is no centralised place where you see the notifications. Toasts notifications come and go, and the only place where they stay are on the live tiles. This almost forces you to give the first 8 slots for tiles to apps that like Email, Messaging, Whats App, Facebook, Twitter etc so that you do not miss notifications. On the lockscreen, third party notifications cannot be shown as well.

While my favourite notification implementation is Android’s pull down notification bar that both Symbian and iOS have ‘borrowed’, I doubt Microsoft will go down the same route. Flicking to the left on Windows Phone currently does nothing and MS can perhaps use this gesture to build a notification hub that third party apps too can plug into with ease.

Next, there seems to be a bug with tile notifications with third party apps. For example with Microsoft’s own Facebook app, even after you have seen the notifications from inside the app, the icon depicting unread notifications on the live tile doesn’t disappear immediately.

Finally, push notifications also need to get better. WP checks for notifications periodically for the ‘Me’ tile and you have no control over how often does this happen. In general too, across third party apps the situation could be better.

5. OPENING UP WINDOWS PHONE: An open ecosystem is something which Nokia users have been accustomed to for ages. Be it side loading apps, sending files via Bluetooth or using the phone in the mass storage mode to drag and drop content. While Microsoft may not want to allow all these things, it should definitely look at allowing Bluetooth file transfers and ways to support the homebrew community. The Chevron unlock was a good initiative, and even if the Chevron developers don’t want to run it further, Microsoft should undertake the activity itself.

Next, it should allow a lot more customisation. From custom colour accents, to letting users pin multiple shortcuts within a single tile. There is no point in wasting a ton of screen estate for a simple shortcut, pinning four shortcuts into the space reserved for a single tile makes a lot more sense.

6. UPLOADS: Like I mentioned in my Lumia 800 review, Windows Phone resizes pictures before they are uploaded to make it easier on the network. But there are times you want access to the full resolution, yet there is no option to enable that.

7. APP LAYOUT: Windows Phone is all about lists and that’s how all the installed apps are displayed, alphabetically. You can jump between them by alphabet or use the search button to enter a name and filter through the list.

While you do get used to this method, it’d be great to have options. I’d like a grid-based layout as well, where you can flick between pages of apps. One problem that I have faced with the list method is that it is easy to forget apps, as newly installed apps also get buried in the list. I’d also like WP to highlight the newly installed apps for a little while at least.

Reading this post might give you an impression that Windows Phone is hard to use in its current state, but this sentiment would not be justified. While the points I have made above need redressal, none of them is really a deal breaker that should make you reconsider your Windows phone purchase. There are some excellent Windows Phone devices in the market, and I am sure future updates will make them better.

What would you like Windows Phone to do differently in 2012?

Nokia Music Goes DRM Free In India & Why It’s a Huge Deal

Nokia Music Unlimited has been around in India for a while now and the model it followed was that with every purchase of a compatible Nokia handset, you got access to the millions of tracks on the Nokia Store for one year. You were free to download as many tracks as you liked and keep them after the expiry of the one year period, but there was a catch they were DRM protected.

That meant you couldn’t play that music on your other devices, and if you didn’t have a Windows PC, you couldn’t play them on your computer as well. So Mac users were out cold and that was never good. Next problem was that you could only use so many PC’s to download music from, so if you didn’t have WIFI or an unlimited data plan you would again hit a wall.

But all that has changed since last week. Along with the Nokia Asha 200 and Nokia Asha 300 and Nokia X2-02, Nokia announced that its Nokia Music service would be going DRM free. So with each subscription, you can now download as much music as you like, send it to friends, copy it to your other devices and that’s great. For once you have access to unlimited legal music downloads that come with all the metadata and album art intact. For over the air downloads, the tracks will be compressed so that downloads over EDGE will also finish in a minute or two.

Nokia Music Goes DRM Free In India & Why It’s a Huge Deal

Further, unlike the old way of activating the service via a coupon, Nokia Music will come pre activated with each phone. On low cost devices like the Asha series the service will be free for the first three months with the option of renewing the service by paying from the device itself. You will be able to opt for 3 month, 6 month and 12 month packs by paying a fee that hasn’t been revealed yet. Previously you got access for one year and that was it. If you wanted more, you had to get a new Nokia handset.

The beauty of the Nokia Music Unlimited service in India is that in addition to international music, it offers an extensive selection of local music, including some really old tracks that you’ll have a hard time finding anywhere else. Nokia Music Store includes wide-ranging catalogues from major global labels like Sony Music Entertainment and EMI Music and Nokia’s local partnership with Indian Music Industry (a consortium of more than 150 music companies), Hungama that represents major labels including Yash Raj, Tseries, and SIMCA (South Indian Music Companies Association), amongst others. Basically, it’ll have pretty much everything you are looking for. Plus, through things like the Nokia Music Theater, you’ll also find a selection of content from great local artists who haven’t become quite so popular, yet have excellent music.

I have been a huge fan of Nokia Music Unlimited, and the move to DRM free music makes the purchase of a Nokia device an almost no-brainer. For a lot of people Nokia Maps has been a huge motivation for purchasing Nokia devices, but free DRM-free music could easily take over that role. So for consumers who are looking at the best value amongst the competition a combination of free navigation and music will be hard to resist.

The service is limited to the just announced Nokia Asha 200 and Nokia Asha 300 – and Nokia X2-02 for now, but the move to smartphones is a natural progression. Nokia has already said that Nokia Music will be coming to the Lumia devices in Q1 next year and you can be pretty sure it’ll come with DRM-free music.

One feature request I have is that Nokia offer higher quality downloads over the air in addition to the compressed versions that are currently available. If I have a 3G plan, or am on WIFI, I shouldn’t be forced to download the compressed track. Additionally, high bitrate versions should be available for download on Macs as well.

People want to pay for music, but the pay per album or track model would not be successful in India and its great to see a service that offers them a way around it. If Nokia can keep the renewal price of its Nokia Music service reasonable, I’m sure a lot of people will only be too happy to ditch songs.pk!

On The Road To The Lumia 800, Was The N9 A Speed Bump?

The Nokia N9 has been a somewhat difficult subject for Nokia, one that they are, and should be, immensely proud of. But one that has raised more questions than answers. When the February announcement with Microsoft came, everyone wondered what was happening to Nokia’s upcoming MeeGo phone. Nokia was quick to point out that they would indeed release a MeeGo based device. Then word started coming out that the original MeeGo device, which we now know as the developer only N950, had been canned, and replaced by a beautiful new touch only flagship.

Soon enough, Nokia Connections came and Nokia unveiled the N9. The reaction to that device was incredible, ranging from people calling for Elop’s head because of his decision to kill MeeGo, to calmer, saner voices wondering if Nokia should keep the MeeGo project going, if for nothing but just to keep Microsoft in check. Then we found out that the N9 would only be available in a handful of countries, the world was literally shocked. It made no sense, why release a product at all if you weren’t going to ship it to major markets such as UK, India, US among others. While the world waited and hoped that Nokia would reconsider, another thing happened.

In The Lumia 800 Picture, Where Does The N9 Fit?

A device code named Sea Ray, which we now know as the Lumia 800 leaked. Infact, Stephen Elop’s entire presentation to the employees, which was supposed to be shared on the company intranet, got out. Some called it a controlled leak, while most just took the device in and didn’t care as long as the could look at an unreleased Nokia phone, specially a secret Nokia Windows Phone. The result was that a lot of the chants of ‘bring the N9 to my country’ stopped. Nokia’s policy was finally beginning to make sense, they weren’t going to release a device that looked just like the N9 in the same market as the N9, specially when that device would define their foray into the Windows Phone market.

The N9 shipped to positive reviews, mine included, but the consensus among the reviews clearly was that as much as they loved the device, they couldn’t honestly recommend the N9 to someone knowing that the Sea Ray was around the corner. But the N9’s core strengths really came through, a breath-taking design, a unique yet intuitive UI that made sense, and judging by the Maps and browser, Nokia could do software.

Finally, last week the Lumia 800 was revealed at Nokia’s megaevent with literally thousands watching. The stock market liked what they saw and the Nokia stock started climbing. A did a quick hands on and unboxing and then two days later a much more through (p)review. I really seemed to like the device.

This is when we all wondered, if we had not seen the N9 before would we have loved the Lumia 800 even more? The short answer to that question for me is yes. When you first look at that design, most people go head over heels over it and if Stephen Elop got on stage at Nokia World and showed off that design for the first time, we’d have had an even bigger WOW.

In The Lumia 800 Picture, Where Does The N9 Fit In?

Now for the long answer, knowing that the Sea Ray was coming, should Nokia have released the N9? I’d again say yes. Why? First and foremost, the people in the countries where the Lumia 800 is going on sale haven’t seen the N9. So for a vast majority the design is fresh, new and amazing. The minuscule minority, which has seen the design before will still love it, its still less than two months old in the real world and Windows Phone doesn’t make it any less pretty. Infact, I’d say that the jazzy WP UI is a great match to the N9’s physical design.

Next, in various interview Elop’s stated that it was a great platform for Nokia to learn from, see what people like and go on from there. He’s made it clear that none of the N9’s strength’s are going away. We’ve already seen the design used with the Lumia 800, Qt is coming to the next billion and the Swipe UI will apparently make its way to Meltemi, Nokia’s now not so secret platform for low-mid range devices.

Finally, the period between February to October was long and painful. Nokia was bleeding marketshare and on top of that mindshare, which we all know can be as bad as loosing marketshare. The N9 showed the world that innovation was still alive and well at Nokia and that the Finnish giant was far from dead. The message was imagine if this is what we can do alone, think about what we’ll do with Windows Phone in a few months.

At the end of the day, the glory period for the N9 is over. Its all about the Lumia 800 now, no matter how you feel about open source versus the closed Windows Phone platform, its water under the bridge. With the marketing blitz planned for Windows Phone devices, only the die hards will cherish the N9 and don’t get me wrong, it’s a device meant to be cherished. The N9 will keep selling in countries where the Lumia 800 isn’t shipping as yet and I’m sure Nokia will provide great support for it, but its time for the Lumia 800 to hold the Nokia torch.

In The Lumia 800 Picture, Where Does The N9 Fit?

The N9 will remain a crown jewel in Nokia’s arsenal, a hacker’s phone, a Qt device to help prime the developers for the next billion. So I don’t fault Nokia for announcing it and then the Lumia 800, look at what Apple did with the iPhone 4 and 4S, those things even run the same OS! The N950 would never have been able to generate the kind of buzz for Nokia that the N9 did, it bided time for the transition and it was never a lost cause. Nokia’s goals with the N9 were just, lets say, different.

Lumia 800 Ads Take Over London’s Heathrow Airport, Yet Nokia’s Store There Shuts Down

Just as you enter Terminal 5 of London’s Heathrow airport, you are literally bombarded with Lumia 800 ads. There are six of them, playing on giant screens across the hall, so no matter where you eneter, the Lumia 800 Ad is impossible to miss. It looks great, feels fresh and draws you to it, giving Nokia’s new launch some necessary eyeballs.

As you can see, screen after screen playing the one minute ad, again and again. Infact, its the only advertisement that one can spot before you clear security. Here what it looks like:

Great. But, I do have one problem with Nokia’s approach. There used to be a Nokia Store at Terminal 5, showcasing all the Nokia products in an exclusive setting. That store closed one week before Nokia’s big Lumia reveal. One week before their phones became cool again.

So instead of walking in, seeing the ad and then checking out the Nokia devices in the ad I’ve seen, now I can see the ads and then – nothing. I cross security and I forget about it, or as Nokia would hope, remember to then specially goto a Nokia Store operator/multibrand store to check it out.

Lumia 800 Ads Take Over London's Heathrow Airport, Yet Its Store There Shuts Down

(Nokia’s Terminal 5 Store As It Was)

I have been a big advocate of retail stores and I possibly could not understand why Nokia was shutting down its own online AND retail stores. Even if they don’t make money for you Nokia, its important to keep them. Most people will come checkout the device and if they like it, buy it at a store which was selling them for a lesser price, and Nokia should be fine with that. So even if the Heathrow store just sold 10 Lumia 800’s in a month, it would be fine because of who knows how many people have would have gone back home and ordered that device online or via their operator based on the lovely experience at Nokia’s Store. What’s better than showing off your top device in a place which you control, and thus guarantee that the customer walks away with the best experience ever?

The prices at Nokia’s official retail stores was always more than the bargain people were getting online and that’s why the model seemed to be failing for Nokia. Yet, when priced right retail stores indulge impulse buys and devices like the Lumia 800, have the potential to cause exactly that.

So we need to see Nokia’s Stores come back, online and in the real world. I sure hope some of that marketing money is going this way, because it’d suck for Nokia if they made Windows Phones feel cool with all their spending and then people walked into a multibrand store and picked up a Samsung Focus or a HTC Titan.