Category Archives: Technology

Life Inside Apple’s Walled Garden

For many years now, I have been a firm believer in having a cohesive, seamless technological experience. I don’t like mixing technologies/products from different ecosystems, as they never work as well. For many years, I had heavily invested in Microsoft’s ecosystem and products. When Windows Mobile croaked, I had to make a decision and I went with Apple. Since then, I have moved almost all of my services to Apple’s ecosystem & am enjoying the comforts of Apple’s Walled Garden.

To lock myself completely in this garden, I also had to move all my family members inside it. Over many years, I was successful in doing so. Below is how life is like, living inside Apple’s Walled Garden:

Apple's Walled Garden
Apple’s Walled Garden, PC: Macstories

What?

FunctionProductComments
Email/
Calendar/
Reminders
iCloud+ Custom domains are supported. Email works very well (on Apple devices). AirDrop is useful for sending larger files.

Calendar supports shared calendars.

Reminders supports shared reminders.
Desktop OSmacOSWorks very well with Apple services. The M1 Macs are very fast and energy efficient.
Mobile/Tablet OSiOS/iPadOS
Photo StorageiCloud+HEIF format used by Apple results in efficient storage of photos and allows lossless editing.
Photo SharingiCloud Shared PhotosWorks very well. I share photos to my family; they can comment/like. Is like a private Social Network.
ProductivityPages/Numbers/Keynotes
Cloud StorageiCloud+I wish they had a tier between 200Gb and 2Tb.
Instant MessagingiMessageVery well refined ; I now use it exclusively & have a lot of fun playing games inside iMessage apps.
Music StreamingApple MusicCurrently unbeatable with the introduction of Spatial & Lossless Audio.
Movies (Buy/Rent)iTunesLarge collection of movies available, especially in 4K HDR.
Maps/NavigationApple MapsNot as good as Google Maps, but at least they don’t track my movements.
Audio/Video CallingFacetimeUnparalleled quality, supports Spatial audio and Memojis.
BrowserSafariVery fast & responsive .
NotesApple NotesFunctional, supports sharing notes with family.
Password ManagementiCloud PasswordsCan detect and alert user to compromised passwords. Also has a TOTP generator.
HealthApple HealthVery intuitive and supports data inputs from a huge range of apps and services.
Home AutomationHomekitLarge number of Homekit devices available on the market. They all work seamlessly without separate apps.
My Walled Garden

It does take a decent amount of money to enter this walled garden, but once you’re in, the recurring costs are not high. Most of their services are decently priced (and can be shared with family) and devices last for years and have a decent resale value.

My Worst Purchases-Dyson TP03 Air Purifier

Continuing with my series, the next entry in the list is Dyson TP03 Air purifier.

Dyson TP03
Dyson TP03

It was the day after Diwali 2019 in Gurgaon. Because we Indians cannot celebrate festivals without polluting at least 1 element of nature, the AQI was 1999. I already had air purifiers (Different makes) in all the bedrooms, but it was getting difficult to breathe so we decided to get one for the living room.

We had had a very good experience with the Xiaomi 2S, so we decided to get another one for the living room. Headed out to Ambience Mall (I miss you so much) and went straight to the Xiaomi store. We had already decided what to buy, so I asked the sales guy to bill one for us. Instead, he laughed at us and said “Stock hi nahi hai to kaha se du”. (We don’t have stock where do I give it from?). Angry at his rudeness, we decided to get the Dyson TP03 (Also known as Dyson Pure Cool Link) instead. Surely, compared to the Xiaomi (₹7999) the Dyson (₹29999) would surely be much better? How wrong we were.

Here’re my views after using it for >1 year

+ Is Stylish, looks nice in the living room
+ Setup is easy and app is very nice
+ App can show historical AQI data
– Can only show AQI on a scale from 1-10 (Both the tiny display & the app). No other details
– Is noisy
– Doesn’t really purify very well or fast. On most days, it couldn’t keep up with outside air leaking in
– Since it throws air straight at the user rather than up in the air, in winters it becomes uncomfortable

At the end of the day, I think the company’s Air Multiplier technology is not really suitable for air purifiers. Basically, if the fan draws “X” amount of air from the pedestal (and via the HEPA filter), it draws 15*X amount of air from the back of the air multiplier which doesn’t pass the filter at all. So at any point of time, only 6.66% of air thrown by the purifier is clean/has passed through the filter, compared to 100% for traditional purifiers.

All of this results in a lot of air flow in the (already very cold) room but very little purification. My impression of all this is that Dyson has over-engineered its purifiers for the simple purpose of purifying air. I feel terribly guilty for not buying 2 Xiaomi purifiers for the same price as this and still have cash left over.

I Love Optical Disc Drives

For as long as I remember, I have loved and have been fascinated by Optical Disc Drives. There’s something about the spinning disc, the red laser and the up/down pulsating & sideways shifting of the lens that I love.

Below is my story with Optical Disc Drives.

Audio/Video CD Era

My first Optical Disc Drive was a Sony Portable CD player like this.

My First Optical Disc Drive
Sony Discman

It read Audio CDs at a measly 1X speed and had no error correction cache. This meant if I shook the player too hard, the audio skipped. Still, coming from a cassette walkman, the audio quality was mind blowing. There was also something calming and therapeutic looking at the spinning disc through the little window while pristine sound entered my ears through the earphones. One of my first audio CDs was Disney’s Modern Classics which I bought from Jwala Heri market.

My second CD Player was an Aiwa music system with 3 CD changer and VCD capabilities.

Aiwa 3CD changer, PC: Puget Sound Estate Auctions

It was amazing to watch the CD changer tray come out and the system change the CDs from the top translucent window. You could also copy CDs to cassettes to play in the car later. I remember watching all the Rocky movies on it without having to switch from Disc 1 to Disc 2 manually.

I remember switching to an AIWA portable CD player when I went off to college. Compared to the Sony, it read discs at a blazing 3X speed and had an error correction cache. This meant that shakes were not a problem anymore.

My second Optical Disc Drive
Aiwa CD Player, PC: Amazon

I would quite often listen to CDs with the top door open, overriding the detection switch with some rolled up paper. It was fascinating to see the CD spin at high speed, the player cache the audio and then the spinning stop. All the while the audio continued to play. I would also stop the spinning CD on purpose using my finger to test the caching.

Computer Era

When I got my first computer, it came with a Samsung 48x CD drive.

Samsung 48X Max, PC: Telecommander

The first CD I put into this was the shitty soundtrack of this shitty movie (I don’t remember why). It was fascinating to see the green LED on front flash as the CD was being read. I wanted to copy the tracks to my hard drive, so I went into explorer, copied the (1 byte) .cda files to my desktop and was amazed that it was all done within a second. Later I found out this wasn’t the correct way to copy audio CDs and you actually had to “rip” them.

During this time I also found out that there was a second “audio” cable from the CD players to the sound card. Although you could bypass this using software which played Audio CDs digitally. I also got into a habit of disposing off old CDs by throwing them at the ceiling fan and watching them shatter into hundreds of pieces.

All my friends had the fancy Creative CD drive, though. This drive was notorious for having a very high failure rate. When my Samsung drive died, my father had it replaced with the “AudioExcel” version of the drive which was more reliable. It came with many buttons on the front and a remote control. Especially fun was the “Turbo” button which toggled the drive between 36X and 52X speeds.

Creative Infra 52X (Not AudioExcel), PC: Baber

Eventually, I moved on to Combo drives (DVD reader and CD writer), DVD writers and then the cloud/streaming era but my fascination for Optical Disc Drives never faded.

I still have an external HP DVD writer but nothing to plug it into.

Mixed Feelings about the Apple Watch

I have been using an Apple Watch for a few years now. I got my first Apple Watch (Series 4, aluminium) in 2018 but gave it to the wife after using it for a few months because of the abysmal battery life & I didn’t like how it looked. Got one again in 2020 (Series 4, Stainless Steel) and have mixed feelings about it

Apple watch with Blue braided solo loop, PC: iPhone in Canada

What I like about the Apple Watch

  1. The integration with the rest of apple’s ecosystem is amazing. Everything “just works”. Setup and use are both pain free, like every Apple product.
  2. The cellular functionality is awesome. I leave my phone at home when walking the dog or going for a run. Can take/receive calls if needed and stream music. It is also impressive how so many carriers support it.
  3. The “Activity” app and the concept of closing the 3 rings is very good. Much better than tracking steps only.
  4. Walkie-Talkie is a fun & useful feature. I use it with the wife’s watch very often. The related feature of “intercom” to send messages home is also useful.
  5. Apps are very useful. Some apps even have full functional parity with their phone counterparts, although I don’t use many apps on the watch.
  6. Heart Rate tracking is one of the best in the business. Once I even got alerted when I was high and my heart-rate went up while I was still.
  7. The glass (on the stainless steel version) is very durable. Not a single scratch in a year.
  8. The Solo braided loops are the most comfortable & convenient watch straps I have ever used.
  9. Amazing obsolescence. Apart from new sensors, you would be hard pressed to find a difference between different generations of watches. Each generation gets OS updates for at least 3/4 years.
High Heart Rate at Rest
High Heart Rate at Rest

What I don’t like about it

  1. The battery life is abysmal. I can’t even go away for a night without worrying about the watch dying. Once I even had to charge it between 2 connecting flights.
  2. I don’t like how it looks. To me, it looks quite like a burn blister on the skin. I much preferred the Withings smart watches in this regard. They were just beautiful.
  3. Every new app installed on the phone gets notifications enabled by default on the watch. Can sometimes be annoying.

My watch is now almost 3 generations old already and I plan to get the 2021 model when it is out. If nothing else, I hope it has a better battery life than the current ones.

My List of Mobile Handsets (updated)

I’ll go back in time now and make a list of all the mobile handsets I have owned till date. You may notice that the list is quite long, with it being especially dense in the first few years.

The iPhone X still holds the record of the longest used mobile handset by me (almost 3 years).

YearPhoneComments
2003Reliance LG RD2030 (CDMA)My first phone, my father had to pull many strings to get me this.
2004Nokia 3530My first colour phone. I miss the paragliding game.
2004Samsung C100Had a hidden temperature sensor and a notification LED supporting customisable colours.
2004Samsung X100Slightly better than the above.
2004Nokia 1100My first phone with a torch.
2005Nokia 2112My last CDMA phone.
2005Nokia N-Gage QDDidn’t have stereo audio for music playback.
2005Nokia 3510iPurchased Second hand.
2005O2 Xphone IIOne of the best phones I had.
2005Motorola C350When the above got stolen. I think I got it for ~₹1000, second hand. Shitty.
2006Nokia 6100Second Hand.
2006Nokia E50One of the best phones I had. It was the sleekest Symbian ever. I still use the Text Tone “Flurry” as my wife’s message tone.
2006Sony Ericsson J100iShitty.
2007Nokia N73 MEIt was thick, but had a good (back then) camera.
2007Nokia E51Back to the thinner E Series.
2007LG KS20One of the worst phones I had. It was unrefined and shitty.
2008Nokia E51Went back to E51.
2009Nokia E52Good phone, died on the flight to Palo Alto. I spent an entire weekend in San Francisco and many days in Gurgaon trying to get it repaired, but failed.
2010iPhone 3GGot this as a temporary phone in Palo Alto, later gifted to mother. Used only a week.
2010Nokia E63Mooched this one off my father.
2011Nokia E7-00First phone I ever pre-booked, and got immediately after returning from Turkey. My first AMOLED phone.
2012Nokia Lumia 900Was obsoleted by Microsoft within a few months of launch. Got it from SGBest.
2013Nokia Lumia 720Got it from MGF Metropolitan Mall
2013Nokia Lumia 925The Lumia 720 didn’t feel premium enough, so.
2014Nokia Lumia 920The Lumia 925 didn’t have wireless charging, so.
2014Nokia Lumia 830Slightly bigger screen, but LCD.
2015Microsoft Lumia 950XLLumia Flagship. Also, a big mistake.
2017Apple iPhone 7 PlusFirst legit iPhone.
2018Apple iPhone XGift from a fiend.
2019Apple iPhone XSGot it for dual SIM during travel, gifted iPhone X to wife.
2020Apple iPhone XSwapped Xs with X with wife, as I switched jobs and didn’t need to travel anymore.
2020Apple iPhone 12 ProCurrent.
List of Mobile Handsets

As you can see, my mobile handsets have gone through different eras:

2003-2005 : Feature Phone era. I generally bought any handset I liked.
2005-2011 : Symbian Era. I mostly had Symbian phones with some other platforms sprinkled in between.
2012-2015 : Lumia Era. I purely had Windows Phones.
2017-Present : Apple Era.

Let’s see what the future brings.

My Worst Purchases-Airtel Internet TV

Continuing with my series, the next entry in the list is Airtel Internet TV DTH set top box.

Airtel Internet TV Set Top Box
Airtel Internet TV Set Top Box

I used to have a regular Airtel DTH connection at my place; the non-smart ones where the Set Top Box connects to an external satellite dish antenna and you watch TV. One day the set top box straight up and died so I contacted Airtel for a replacement. They told me that they have an offer where if I pay a years’ worth of subscription fee at once, they will upgrade me to the new Airtel Internet TV set top box. The set top box was supposed to combine the best of DTH TV viewing and App based streaming along with:

  • 1G Ethernet and WiFi connectivity
  • 4K output with 4K Netflix capability (Along with Prime, Hotstar etc.)
  • Voice activated remote with touch sensitive surface
  • Internet enabled programme guide
  • DVR capabilities with storage on external USB devices

I bought it mostly for 4K Netflix capabilities. I was sceptical about getting it because it ran Android TV (Fagdroid), but decided to keep an open mind and give it a try.

It would be safe to say that this was the worst product (across all categories) I ever bought in my life & realised it the same day. Android TV (Fagdroid) is the worst OS ever to power any gadget in the world, period. Some of the complaints that I faced (On day 1) were:

  • Slow as fuck interface (Even with things like quad-core Qualcomm processor etc.). I blame this part entirely on the Android TV (Fagdroid) OS. Even changing channels took 2-3 seconds.
  • Apps crashing all the time. Even the TV app which showed content from satellite crashed regularly with no apparent triggers.
  • The smart Bluetooth remote control froze from time-to-time. The only way to recover it was to remove the batteries and insert them back again.
  • Doing a factory reset was not a straight forward job. After the reset, half of the channels would disappear and would require going into settings and entering some satellite related parameters manually.
  • Advertisements showing up randomly on the UI & also a perpetual, huge Airtel Logo on the corner of the screen
  • Software updates would fix some issues and introduce others.

After tolerating this for a few months, I had had enough & even with 8/9 months of subscription remaining, I threw it in the trash. When I asked Airtel to move me back to the old (non-smart) set top box, they told me that was no longer possible. Eventually, this brought to an end the era of DTH in my house forever & I moved to streaming services permanently; also cementing my resolve to never buy anything Android (Fagdroid) powered ever again.

My Worst Purchases-Microsoft Lumia 950XL

Continuing with my series, the next entry in the list is the Microsoft Lumia 950XL, which was my 29th phone.

Microsoft Lumia 950XL, Dead on Arrival
Microsoft Lumia 950XL, Dead on Arrival

I was super-excited to buy this phone since the day it was announced by Microsoft. In the months leading up to the actual launch, I used to send my family members to the Microsoft Store at Ambience mall every Sunday (one-by-one) to ask about the phone’s launch date. I even had a Google search alert setup which sent me emails as soon as any news article were published about this phone. Although this phone was great on paper (Great hardware, huge display, excellent camera), this phone was my 7th Windows Phone overall and by the time this phone launched, Windows 10 Mobile was all but dead.

I remember the day this phone launched; I had just started a new job that week. I immediately dropped everything I was doing and went to Ambience mall to buy it (For ₹55,000; of course, I had pre-booked the phone months ago). The store employees told I was the first person in North India to get my hands on this phone. At that time I thought I was special. In hindsight, it is clear now, I was one of the few fools in North India to buy a Windows Mobile (at the tail end of 2015).

Within months, Microsoft announced the death of Windows 10 for mobiles. Within weeks after that, app developers abandoned the platform. There was still a small community online of loyal fans but we were more and more reliant on 3rd party apps for basic services. Uber, specifically, was a huge pain point. There was no easy way to search for destinations, you had to zoom out on the map, zoom in to where you thought you wanted to go and mark the location manually.

I also remember claiming some of the phone’s cost from my company (There was a company BYOD policy) and my manager laughing at me that I spent such a huge amount for such a phone.

Slowly and painfully, over the next year, the number of useable 1st party apps dwindled to almost zero and I eventually made the jump to Apple’s (Walled) Garden putting an end to my Lumia misery. If I could do things over, I should have bought an iPhone for the same amount and prevented myself from a year of misery.

My Worst Purchases-Bose QC 35 II

Continuing with my series, the next entry in the list is the Bose QC 35 II headphones, which I regretted buying.

Bose QC 35 II
The Bose QC 35 II, stellar headphones

Don’t get me wrong, the Bose QC 35 II are great headphones, with stellar sound quality and impressive noise cancellation. I just realised after buying them that I am not a “wearing huge headphones in public” kind of guy.

A bit of history, my earphones of choice used to be the Bose Soundsport Wireless, which I happily used for a few years, but lost during my last trip to Xiamen, China. I was quite devastated and for some time, considered buying the same earphones again, but couldn’t find them anywhere in Xiamen. I almost bought Apple Airpods from the Xiamen Apple store, but somehow controlled myself because of the poor audio quality.

After returning to India, I saw the Bose QC 35 II on sale at half price and I had wanted to dip my toes into Noise cancellation, so bought it.

The sound quality & the noise cancellation blew me away (Sony MX3 performs even better they say, but I was a Bose purist then). However, after the first few days of use, the novelty began to wear off. I would feel awkward walking in public with them around my ears, sitting at my desk in office. Having phone calls on them looked even more awkward so I started regretting my decision very soon.

On top of that, Apple soon launched the Airpods Pro, which had everything I wanted in the original Airpods and I was done with the QC 35 IIs.

I eventually sold them to a couple of illiterate Gym Bros via OLX at almost the same price I bought them for, so the regret didn’t last for long.

My Best Purchases-O2 XPhone II

This is first of a series where I reminisce about my best purchases and purchases I regret to this date.

I will start with something positive, my second smartphone. The O2 XPhone II, 9th in a long list of phones I have used over the years. Although I did have an N-Gage QD before this, it was barely a smartphone, severely crippled by software.

The O2 XPhone II

The software on the O2 XPhone II was phenomenal. Instead of writing all about it again, I will just link to my original review.

Unfortunately, not all good things last and its joystick broke after a while and was eventually stolen.

This is one of those purchases that changed my life.

Ecosystem

In technology, ecosystem is a big thing. I remember, 10 years ago, while looking for a device/service, one would go for whatever is best in that category. This approach doesn’t work that well anymore. These days it makes sense for a person to stick to an ecosystem and use products/services mostly in that ecosystem, otherwise things get messy. This is because each of the three big companies want the users of their services to use their products exclusively and as a result, don’t support cross-platform compatibility very well.
Here’s an overview of the services/products offered by the Big-three. For those who are curious, I am firmly planted in the Microsoft ecosystem.

Service

Apple

Google

Microsoft

E-Mail ME(iCloud) Gmail Outlook (formerly Hotmail)
Search N/A Google.com Bing
Desktop OS MAC OS None Windows
Mobile/Tablet OS iOS Android Windows
Social Networking N/A Google+ Socl
Photo Sharing N/A Google+ N/A
Productivity Apps Pages/Numbers etc. Google Docs Microsoft Office
Cloud Storage iCloud drive Google Drive Onedrive
Gaming Console N/A N/A XboX
Music/Video Store iTunes Google Play Xbox Music/Video
Maps/Navigation Apple Maps Google Maps Bing/Here Maps
Messaging/Video calling iMessage (proprietary) Hangouts Skype