Category Archives: Technology

The Aakash: India’s $35 iPad competitor

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The Indian government thinks the $35 Aakash Android tablet has the power to change the world. After testing one out, we’d tend to agree.

An Aakash tablet was brought to the VentureBeat office on Tuesday by Vivek Wadhwa, a visiting professor at the University of California at Berkeley and Duke. Wadhwa, who is researching the Indian education system, and is a columnist with the Washington Post, was given the tablet by Kapil Sibal, the Indian minister of human resources and development, who has been the driving force behind the tablet project. The device (whose name means “Sky” in Hindi) was produced entirely in India — a point of pride for the Indian government.

Update 10/28/2011: We’ve published a closer look at the Aakash tablet, including video.

The 7-inch Android-based device will be distributed at a government subsidized price of $35, making it the world’s cheapest Android device. The general retail price will be $60, which is still remarkably cheap for such a powerful device. A contract between the Indian government and Canadian development partner DataWind, should put between 10 and 12 million devices in the hands of students across India by the end of 2012, according to Computer World.

Aakash stats at-a-glance

Screen: 7-inches; 800-by-400 pixels; Resistive touchscreen

Operating system: Android 2.2, Froyo

Processor: 366 MHz Connexant; HD Video co-processor (both with graphics accelerators)

Memory: 256MB RAM (internal); 2GB Flash (external)

Storage: 2GB card included, expandable up to 32GB

Ports: Two USB 2.0; 3.5mm audio out jack; 3.5mm audio in jack (No built-in speakers)

Connectivity: GPRS; Wi-Fi 802.11 a,b,g

Power: Up to 180 minutes on battery; AC adapter, 200-240 volt

Weight: 350 grams

We tested the Aakash, surfing the web, using apps, typing text documents, plugging in peripherals and playing Bollywood videos. Here’s our exclusive first look at what a $35 tablet can really do. (See a video of the Aakash in action at the end of the article.)

Hands on with the Aakash
Jugaad is an Indian word which means “to make-do.” The Aakash tablet is a Jugaad in a very high tech way. The components inside the Aakash tablet are cheap, and easily sourced. For example, the Aakash tablet has a headphone jack and an audio-in jack, but no external speakers — an obvious cost-savings measure. However, with the addition of cheap headphones, and an equally cheap microphone, the owner can make calls on Skype and has the potential to communicate with people around the world.

The screen is pressure sensitive (also called resistive touch) and responds somewhat slowly to gestures. It’s definitely not as dazzling as the high-end tablets familiar to Western audiences, such as the capacitive touchscreen iPad, or even the HP Touchpad.

The Aakash is running Android 2.2, Froyo, with the UniSurfer browser installed. Made by DataWind, UniSurfer is supposed to make webpages process faster, probably to compensate for the slower processor and connection speeds. However, while browsing the Internet and testing out apps, we couldn’t help but notice that the reaction time seemed very slow. Scrolling, for example, is a swipe-and-wait affair. However, the speed is going to be quite sufficient for someone who has never in his or her life had a smartphone or computer. It’s all relative after all. Compared with the iPhone 4s, the iPhone 3G is a “slow” smartphone, only because speedier alternatives are available. Even in a context where the market is full of smart devices, like in the U.S., speed helps us make decisions incrementally faster, but rarely are these issues of genuine consequence.

And given how slow navigating the user interface is, watching videos on the device was incredibly impressive. We used YouTube to watch a clip from a Bollywood film, and the video came through fast and clear, with no hiccups.

The Aakash has both GPRS and Wi-Fi capabilities. Its battery power is limited to 180 minutes of use on a full charge, but it comes with an AC adapter. What’s important isn’t that the tablet can run off of the battery for long periods of time, but that it will still be able to work and surf the net when the power goes out.

Weighing in at less than double a handheld smartphone (350 grams), the device itself feels a bit like a toy. A goofy plastic cover protects the screen, slowing down the touch response considerably. It might remind you of the conference call controller in a corporate boardroom. Though its design is minimalistic, absent are any Apple-like design flourishes that might evoke the word “magic.”

Unlike the XO, the low-cost laptop produced by One Laptop Per Child for the world’s poorest children, with help from Frog Design, the Aakash tablet is not going to win any beauty pageants. This is certainly one of its strengths. A big problem with the XO is it was seen as relatively arcane technologically by the time it was actually available.

What makes the Aakash tablet different is that its creators didn’t strive for perfection. Instead, the emphasis was on getting the product into the market quickly so it could be adopted, tinkered with, and improved over time. As Wadhwa said, “to get the cost down, you have to make some compromises.”

The unmistakable impression we all got from using the Aakash tablet was that it is built for performance. Every design choice that might seem like a negative reveals three, four, five — or more — net benefits.

Why does it have two USB ports? So you can plug in a keyboard, of course, and still have a free slot for an external hard drive, or some other device. What about that screen cover that seems like it’s made from laminating material? If the tablet is meant for educational use, it’s probably going to have to contend with some pretty rough handling, dirt, dust and moisture. Better that it should withstand damage than look the extra bit nicer.

Seeing the tablet’s potential
The Aakash Tablet is an example of a “leapfrog technology,” a concept where the latest innovations jump directly into areas where legacy technologies never penetrated. Tens of millions of people throughout India who never had access to a landline phone now walk around with cell phones in their pocket. Many of those likely to use or own the the Aakash Tablet will never have used a desktop computer, and it’s possible they never will.

Now imagine the educational potential of the world’s lowest-cost tablet being unleashed to hundreds of millions of Indians eager to join the world economy. At the heart of the Aakash tablet is an HD video co-processor that will connect viewers to one of the largest educational libraries ever assembled: YouTube. When the Aakash tablet reaches villages across India, an entire generation will have instant access to rich educational content such as the Khan Academy, and anything else their hearts desire.

And with the Aakash tablet in hand, students across India will be free to do what their global counterparts do — or should do — with their computers. There are the educational basics such as creating documents and spreadsheets, and browsing the web for research materials. But as with anything, young people will probably spend a fair amount of time playing games online and chatting with their friends.

India’s history with affordable tech
India, which has a population of nearly 1.2 billion and is home to 40 percent of the world’s poor, has experience paring down high-end technology and making it affordable and accessible.

A similarly transformative Indian-created product is the Tata Nano car, a revolution in automobile design built to give mobility to millions of low-t0-mid-income Indians. When it came out in 2009, the Tata Nano was heralded as the world’s cheapest car. But while the Tata Nano is ultimately a destructive force — adding drivers to the congested roads and vehicle exhaust into the air — the Aakash tablet will be used to educate hundreds of millions of children.

The Hole in the Wall initiative is another example. It put a computer kiosk in several rural villages throughout India, giving thousands of children and adults their first access to a computer and the Internet. The organizers compared it to the village well, where the community could come together to exchange knowledge and learn from each other. In this case, however, the well was connected to the world’s deepest reservoir of knowledge, the Internet.

And next month, the first Aakash tablets will go on sale throughout India, and millions of children will be able to join the tablet revolution that is transforming education, communication and entertainment across the world.

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Facebook vs. LinkedIn – What’s the Difference?

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Credit goes to Forbes.com

LinkedIn: Professional Social Network – Today Focused on Job Seekers and Recruitment

LinkedIn is a professional network, which has monetized its connections through its tremendous power as a corporate recruitment platform. With around 160 million members (mostly professionals in their 30s and older), LinkedIn has become the “virtual rolodex” for business people. When I meet someone professionally and I don’t get their business card, the most likely way for me to locate them is to find them on LinkedIn.

Leveraging this network, LinkedIn has now built a large and fast-growing business selling data and application services to recruiters. In fact, more than 50% of the company’s revenues come from “hiring solutions” and this percentage goes up every year.

The recruiting industry is a $120 billion industry and is highly fragmented today (recruiters, recruiting systems, recruiting tools, job boards,
recruitment consultants, assessment tools, etc.). Today LinkedIn is going down a path to capture more and more of this business as the company continues to develop richer and richer data tools to help people find jobs, and jobs find people

The company’s latest acquisition of Slideshare will compliment this strategy. In order for LinkedIn to thrive, it must not only attract more people (and younger people, as I discuss below), but also more data about each person. Slideshare, which is essentially the professional sharing platform for PowerPoint, helps drive this strategy. Once we start posting our best PowerPoint on Slideshare, our LinkedIn profile becomes that much more valuable.

Over the last few years the company has been working on building out some kind of “skills” assessment system, which tries to figure out your skills based on your experience and connections. So far it hasn’t gotten very far, but it will get better as more and more content gets attached to you.

(By the way, another social company which is trying to build a similar “expertise” network is Quora, a company which recently achieved a $400 million valuation with almost no revenue at all, demonstrating the tremendous demand for this type of network.)

LinkedIn’s strength in this market is its “#1 position” as the professional network in the world and its strong data analysis skills and capabilities. The company’s weakness or risks like in the age and nature of its users. LinkedIn users tend to be in their 40s and older, they tend to be white collar professionals, and they tend to be people with college degrees. This is a great population for corporate recruiters, but it is a limited population and LinkedIn is aggressively recruiting college graduates and other bands of professionals around the world to continue its growth.

Remember that the world is rapidly getting younger (55% of the US workforce will be under the age of 35 within 3 years), and in many countries the population is even younger. These younger workers grow up on Facebook and Twitter and may not have found (or ever find) LinkedIn a useful tool. The company now has a more aggressive college recruitment program and I believe it is critical for LinkedIn to very aggressively market itself to college students in order to continue its growth.

As far as reaching out to hourly workers, blue collar workers, and non-professionals, today it’s not clear that LinkedIn can (or wants to) extend itself in these directions. The entire website is designed as an “information rich” system, not a “photo and personal sharing” system liked Facebook and other networks.

Thus LinkedIn’s business value is driven by its ability to grow, monetize, and expand this professional network. LinkedIn is a magnificently well run company, filling a huge need for professional networking and recruitment. We all change jobs on average 7 times in our lifetime, and many of us change careers many times as well. Every time we do this we undergo tremendous stress trying to find contacts, develop new friends, and open new doors. This entire process is greatly aided by LinkedIn, and we are willing to pay for this help. And recruiters, who many of us may not directly relate to, spend more than $3500 per position to fill every single job. (Bersin Talent Acquisition Factbook®)

Facebook – A True Social Platform

Facebook, while also a social network, is very different. The entire platform and system is designed to let people “share and communicate.” Its design is based on the principle that people like to communicate with each other, so all its features and capabilities are built around “hyper sharing.” Many professionals find Facebook a bit frightening, actually, because it shares so much. And I believe this “hyper sharing” aspect to Facebook is likely to be its biggest challenge in the future.

For example, in the last year there were a series of applications built called “social news” applications which let you read articles and posts by others from the Washington Post and other major media outlets. The problem is that every time you read an article all your friends could see what you were reading. A little too creepy for many people, and most of these apps are now shut down.

Facebook is really a platform, not an application. While LinkedIn is being run like a data-driven application, Facebook is really a sharing platform from which many companies can build applications. One of the more interesting applications in my industry is BranchOut, a fast growing application that essentially replicates the professional networking of LinkedIn within Facebook. BranchOut was founded by two technical innovators who sold an earlier networking business to Monster.com, so they understand the problem of job searching and job finding. (Monster.com now has a similar service called BeKnown, which is also starting to grow.)

In the last few months BranchOut has exploded with traffic. It now has more than 30 million active profiles, and it is growing at several million per month (as fast as LinkedIn). Branchout lets you shield all your personal information and create a “professional network” from all your facebook friends.

What Branchout has going for it is the enormous audience (850 million +) of people in Facebook, many of whom may or may not use LinkedIn. This includes high school kids, college grads, hourly professionals, and frankly anyone who uses Facebook and wants to connect with employers and professional friends outside of their “personal facebook” persona. I would expect its network to continue to grow at these exponential rates as the word gets out.

What Branchout has found is that Facebook connections are very different from LinkedIn connections. Where every one seems to be “connected” to business contacts on LinkedIn (I have around 3,000 connections, many from professionals in my industry I don’t know very well), Facebook friends have very strong connections. LinkedIn connections are like people in a rolodex. Facebook connections tend to be people you know quite well.

And of course this is what makes Facebook such a powerful platform. The company generates nearly 10% of its revenue from games (Zygna and others) and is likely to attract many new applications which empower sharing of the network. And this is why Facebook’s business model is focused on advertising (a $350-400 billion market). Unlike LinkedIn, Facebook appears to have no plan to offer “premium services” – so the company is highly dependent on its ability to sell and deliver compelling ads (which is a risky and highly competitive market, note that GM recently cancelled at $10M ad campaign on Facebook because it wasn’t working). LinkedIn, as a premium service to corporations, has a more traditional B2B business model.

As far as comparing professional and personal networks, the two really are different. Some of us have tried to mix professional and personal connections on Facebook, but it’s tricky. If you have a personal trip to Europe and share your family photos, do you really want all your professional acquaintenances to see them? Likely not – hence the need for professional networks like LinkedIn and BranchOut. These more “button downed” networks just play a different role in our lives.

Is BranchOut a true competitor to LinkedIn? It will be in time. Today BranchOut does not yet have nearly the sales organization, staff, data analysis, recruitment functionality, and targeted advertising of LinkedIn. But it does create a very compelling experience, including badges, great recommendations, and a fun and interesting user experience. BranchOut does have the potential to become “The LinkedIn of the Facebook Crowd.”

Remember also that Facebook’s credo is “helping people communicate, ” so the company has developed an application platform that enables many other types of business models. One potential huge opportunity, for example, would be travel applications (reservation systems, reviews, etc.). Hundreds of companies are looking for ways to monetize the Facebook social graph, and these will all drive new traffic (and revenue) to Facebook.

In corporate recruiting there are dozens of applications that help recruiters leverage Facebook to post job ads, promote positions within a company, and create career pages. (Companies like Work4Labs, for example.) Our research shows that corporate recruiters today are less trusting of Facebook as a recruiting tool, largely because Facebook recruiting tools are less mature and generally provided by smaller companies. LinkedIn’s recruiting tools are smoothly integrated, marketed and sold exceedingly well, and very powerful. But the writing is on the wall, just as LinkedIn has become “The global network” for white collar professionals, Facebook (and tools like Branchout) could easily become “the global network” for others.

Two Very Different Companies

While many of the financial analysts compare these companies against each other, they are really very different. LinkedIn is much more of a corporate business and professional tool (today) – which has proven itself in the world of corporate recruiting. The company has the potential to grow exponentially in this market, and leverage its growing “skills and content” database to become an even more valuable tool for businesses. While LinkedIn is a platform company like Facebook, its target market is different and today the company is focused on the needs of professional job seekers and recruiters.

Facebook is a communications platform for many applications, offering innovative companies like BranchOut the opportunity to create new business models in the corporate market. If you invest in Facebook you are investing in an infrastructure company like Google or AT&T – one with a great network with many new applications yet to appear.

iPhone killer? You be the judge.

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The good: The Samsung Galaxy S3 comes fully loaded with Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, 4G LTE/HSPA+ 42 capability, a zippy dual-core processor, and a strong 8-megapixel camera. S Beam is an excellent software enhancement, and the handset’s price is right.

The bad: The Galaxy S3’s screen is too dim, and Samsung’s Siri competitor, S Voice, disappointed.

The bottom line: Pumped with high-performing hardware and creative software features, the Samsung Galaxy S3 is an excellent, top-end phone that’s neck and neck with the HTC One X.

Kickstarter: FLASHr Wants To Make The iPhone’s Bezel A Massive Notification Light

Putting fanboy bias away for a minute, I think we can all agree that the iPhone is an amazing device. But it’s not perfect. Chief among my criticisms is the lack of a true notification light rather than just the LED camera flash. This Kickstarter project aims to fix Apple’s oversight.

The FLASHr is simply an iPhone case that supercharges the LED flash notification. Using a so-called Glow Frame, the LED flash illuminates several sides of the case, making the notification impossible to miss no matter how the phone is oriented. Spouses and dates will no doubt love this case. Owners will never miss a text message, email or call again!

As explained on Kickstarter, the case is essentially made of three layers with an additional small part that reflects the LED flash onto the large glow frame. Each layer is available in five colors, resulting in 125 possible color combinations.

The company is looking for a hefty $75,000 in pre-orders and as of this post’s writing, is currently at $1,500 with 35 days to go. Something this cool needs to be funded. Pledge $35 for one of six color combinations– my money went to the SilverFox. Drop down $50 for a slick special edition that uses a clear outer frame.

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