Wednesday, December 11, 2019
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How could Motorola make Moto E so cheap?

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Original Moto E

For $120 Moto E is one of the cheapest phone you could buy that offers excellent value for money. But how could Motorola manage to keep its price so lower than its competitors?

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When it comes to pricing of a mobile phone model, each company has their unique priorities. Apple couldn’t sell their products for cheap or its premium brand value will be diminished. Android smartphone manufacturers on the other hand, cater a wide range of customer segment.

If a reputed manufacturer offers a device much lesser than their competitors there should be some reason. Google bought Motorola in 2012 just for its patents; they were not at all interested in running a manufacturing business.

In the brief time period Motorola was a Google owned company, they launched Moto X and Moto G, the predecessors of Moto E. Moto G in particular was well received for being so inexpensive in comparison with similar phones in the its league. Some people even said Google was the only company who could sell Android devices at these price points. They didn’t have to make a profit margin by manufacturing mobile phones; they can make money from commission for purchases made through Play Store.

Other priority of Google was to increase the market-share of Android devices, which will eventually happen with introduction of such value-for-money devices. Another priority of Google was to encourage usage of their cloud hosting services. For this they made Moto G fixed memory device instead of hooking up with a microSD card. During all this time, an even cheaper model was in works for the developing markets – Moto E.

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Google sold Motorola to Lenovo after retaining Motorola’s patent portfolio. Lenovo is a Chinese manufacturer which has substantial presence in electronic goods manufacturing in Asia. Lenovo was eager to make presence in the US market; all they wanted was a good brand image. With the acquisition of Motorola, Lenovo gained just that.

Moto E, which was already in works when Lenovo acquired Motorola Mobility, managed to get a low price like Lenovo phones. In India, Motorola completely shut down its supply chain after they withdrew from Indian market. When Moto G was introduced it was sold exclusively through Flipkart, an online store popular in India. Motorola is doing the same with Moto G too.

Now, Flipkart is a rapidly growing ecommerce platform. By tying up with Motorola to offer a sure to be successful product like Moto E will surely force a lot of customers to use Flipkart. This is in a country where people are skeptical to give their credit card number online and worse most people only have a debit card which increases the risk. I wouldn’t be surprised if Flipkart made a deal with Motorola to sell Moto G at a low to nil commission with the sole intention of increasing its market penetration. In return to the favor, Moto E is also getting a heavily highlighted top-spot on Flipkart website.

Lastly, Moto E will serve as a stepping stone for future prospective buyers for Motorola’s high-end models. Building brand loyalty will take time. Motorola already a good following in India but customer’s inevitably choose other brands once they stopped their operations in India. Now it is the time to get back old glory. This is a win-win situation both for Flipkart and Motorola. The best means of publicity is word of mouth, it is better than spending millions for 30 second TV commercials. Moto E is highly successful in this regard. Moto E has already gone out of stock 3 times since it was launched, all within a matter of hours. If you’re lucky enough you could snatch a Moto E early when it comes in stock again.

Moto E sets New Standard for Budget Mobile Devices

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Moto E Image

Once in a while there comes a product that revolutionizes the whole industry by radically introducing a new concept into its product, like the time when iPhone was introduced by Steve Jobs.

The mobile industry in particular, is like the battleground to introduction of new technology. The wow-factor each release of new iPhone is enormous, but not everybody can afford the newest hot iPhone with all the latest bells and whistles.
With the release of Moto E, Motorola Mobility has brought a new kind of innovation to the mobile space – cheap devices with rock bottom prices. Moto E is like a budget buyers’ dream come true. It has pixel density comparable to iPhone 5, Gorilla Glass 3, 3G, a 4.3” display. These are the things no other international mobile maker offers in its price range. But how did Motorola achieve this?

Moto E Image

The cost of mobile phone production in general has gone down significantly in last few years, thanks to the rapid adoption of smart-phones and mass production accompanying it. The introduction of newer and cheaper chips has also played a role in decline of the prices. But this price drop did not result in affordable mid-range mobile phones.

All major mobile vendors have low-end models particularly for developing markets. Traditionally low-end android phones had screen sizes between 2.8” and 3.2”; 3.5” was reserved for premium mobiles. What happened overtime is, the screen size of higher end mobile phones started going upwards. 4.5” and upwards became the new norm for flagships.

As the outcomes of mass production high end smartphones and cheap availability of raw materials, the price of large screens started going down. But the manufacturers still kept pushing low end devices with smaller screens to justify higher prices their midrange devices.

When Nokia introduced Lumia 520 in 2013, the model instantly became a hit in India and other developing countries. It was a new breathe of life for Microsoft’s struggling Windows Phone OS. Lumia 520 featured 4” screen with a price tag much lower than Android phones having same set of features. The price at launch was around INR 7000.

Samsung soon responded by launching Samsung Star Pro, a 4” screener with similar features of Lumia 520. Soon others followed and 4” screen became the new standard for low-end Android phones. Everything was great, but in order to justify ridiculously high prices of mid-range devices like Galaxy Trend and Galaxy Ace 3, manufacturers capped RAM to 512, just enough for Android to keep running.

Local manufacturers like Micromax was no exception. 1GB was exclusively reserved for mid-range devices. In 2014, Nokia entered Android race, with Nokia X series. Since Nokia don’t have any plan to release high-end Android phones, it was free to choose a reasonable price based on actual cost of production of its Android phones. The industry standard for cheap Android phones was once again set on 4” screen 512 MB RAM formula.

Motorola just took the game two steps further. Moto E was launched for a price even cheaper than Nokia X, with a bigger screen and a 1GB RAM. The price of Moto E awed budget conscious buyers who needed a reliable brand. Moto E established a new standard (4.3 inch and 1GB RAM) for specs of budget Android devices. Soon other manufacturers will follow the suite. Micromax, the manufacturer who is most likely to suffer losses with the launch of Moto E, has responded by introducing Unite 2, a Moto E contender.

Image Credit: Motorola

Ubuntu 14.04 has been Released; Unifies Mobile, Tablet and Desktop UI

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Ubuntu Logo

Canonical has released its much anticipated Ubuntu release Ubuntu 14.04 aka Trusty Tahr (Tahr species of ungulates related to the wild goat). Canonical has stated its agenda of converting Windows XP and Windows 7 users as they are coming near to end of their support.
Microsoft has already decided to pull the plug on Windows XP support. This is perfect timing with the new Ubuntu release as Ubuntu will run perfectly fine with most of the computers those have been running Windows XP.
This version of Ubuntu is an LTS version, meaning it will be supported for 5 years unlike normal support period of 9 months. The last LTS version was Ubuntu 12.04 (Precise Pangolin), still going rock solid. Trusty Tahr will be supported until April 2019.
Shuttleworth, the man funding Canonical from his own personal fortune, indicated that the focus in this development cycle will be a release that is characterized by “performance, refinement, maintainability, technical debt”.
The UI used in Ubuntu 14.04 is stable Unity 7, instead of going for Unity 8, because LTS versions are meant to be more stable than going cutting edge. The new Unity window decorations will support full GTK3 theming (GTK is a toolkit for creating GUI), they will introduce improved resizing speed and anti-aliased corners.
Ubuntu 14.04 is available to download from Ubuntu’s Official Website.

A Tale of Balloons, Drones, Lasers and Satellites by Google and Facebook: The Golden Age of Free Internet is About to Come

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Hans / Pixabay

LoggaWiggler / Pixabay

The Internet giants – Facebook and Google are persistent to provide free Internet access to the next billion who are yet to come online. Two thirds of the world population still does not have access to the Internet.

Google envisions a world that has its rural and remote areas connected by high-altitude balloons placed in stratosphere. The speed is comparable to that of 3G. The balloons are maneuvered by adjusting their altitude to float to a wind layer with the desired speed and direction using the wind data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The project was unveiled in June of year 2013.

Test balloons were launched from New Zealand, but recent reports point out Google has expanded its Project Loon tests to the Nevada desert and, for the first time, into licensed 4G spectrum. Using LTE band frequencies minimizes heavy interference that can sometimes trouble 2.3GHz band.

Project Loon is not the only project that Google has for providing free Internet to the public. It is called Google Fiber – Google’s fiber-to-the-premises service in the United States. The service is currently running in Kansas city. Google Fiber offers a 5MBPS connection for free, along with paid subscription for premium services like TV channel subscriptions and 1GBPS speed.

Facebook, which is the largest social network in the world, is also sticking to its commitment to provide free Internet to the underprivileged population in rural areas. The social network has announced its ambitious plan to bring affordable, basic Internet access to every person in the world. It is called the Connectivity Lab, which will research and test experimental technology including drones, satellites and lasers to beam Internet.

Similar to Google, Facebook’s drone project, is not the only effort from the part of Facebook to give free access to the Internet for Facebook users. Facebook Zero, is a stripped down version of its mobile website launched in partnership with mobile operators that don’t charge fees when the service is used. But, unlike Google Fibre, Facebook Zero only provides free access to one website – Facebook.

Google is buying Titan Aerospace, a drone making company, for an unspecified amount. Titan Aerospace’s solar-powered aircraft can fly at 65,000 feet and act as atmospheric satellites. These drones are designed to stay in the air for years powered by solar cells. The drones can also take images of earth, something that will benefit the Google Maps team.
Google’s acquisition of Titan Aerospace is interesting because Facebook was reportedly in talks to by Titan Aerospace earlier this year. Facebook eventually ended up buying Ascenta, a U.K. based solar-powered unmanned aircraft making company, for $20 million.

Google said the Titan team will be working closely with its Project Loon. The team may also work with Makani, yet another Google project which aims to generate power from airborne wind turbines.

Full review of Unisurf 16GB 10-inch budget tablet

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The budget tablet market is flooded with devices that have some impressive specifications and are capable enough to outlook its shortcomings. Unisurf launched a 7 inch and a 10 inch tablet in the December of 2013. The price at launch was AU$199. Later, in the beginning of 2014, Target has slashed its price to AU$129, a whooping A$70 discount. Is Unisurf 10’’ a dream come true, or is it better left untouched?

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Design and Build

At a distance, the Unisurf device looks like an expensive tablet, but don’t let the looks deceive you. Once you pick up the tablet you will notice that it is a bit heavier than its expensive counterparts. On first look, the Unisurf tablet looks like a photo frame. The front of the tablet is clean without any physical buttons. The tablet is designed with landscape mode as its default. The only thing noticeable on the front panel except the screen is the front camera.

The frame itself is rigid and has a rugged feel to it. The back panel has glossy finish giving it professional feel. Back panel has a 3MP rear camera and a set of stereo speakers in the top part.

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Left side and the bottom side of the tablet is free from any buttons or ports. Left side of the tablet has a MicroSD slot, a recharge port with pin kind of resembles that of a Nokia charger, 2 MicroUSB ports, a HDMI out port, 3.5 inch standard audio jack, and the power/screen off button. The top side has volume rockers and an escape button. ( I don’t understand the use of the escape button, during the few times the device got hanged, pressing the escape button didn’t have any effect.)

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The screen is a 10.1 inch high definition TFT LCD display with a resolution of 1024 x 600, the pixel density is very poor but we can’t ask for more at this price. The display is fairly responsive. The colors are not vibrant and viewing angles are just enough to get by. The screen does support up to 5 points at the same time. You might want to install a screen protector as the device doesn’t come with any protection like Gorilla Glass which is found in high end devices.

Hardware specifications

  • 10.1’’ TFT LCD touch screen (1200×600 resolution)
  • Allwinner A20 Dual Core processor (ARM architecture)
  • 1GB RAM
  • 2MP rear camera
  • 0.3MP VGA front camera
  • 16GB Internal Memory
  • WiFi (IEEE802.11 b/g/n)
  • USB OTG support
  • Accerometer
  • Micro SD card slot (up to 32GB)
  • Dual speakers (1.5W, N/S: >85%)
  • Built-in MIC
  • Bluetooth
  • 3.7V Lithium-Polymer 6000mAh battery

The device comes with a set of standard earphones, a 5V DC power adapter, USB OTG cable and a user manual. The USB OTG cable converts the MicroUSB port on the tablet to a full USB port where you can connect USB flash drives and possibly USB modem. USB OTG function only supported by one of the two MicroUSB ports which is marked as host.

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The battery does hold charge for a day with average use. The device can charge both from the supplied 5V DC adapter or can be charged via USB, which is a handy feature if you don’t feel like to carry an adapter everywhere you go with the tablet.

Software

The operating system included in the tablet is vanilla(AOSP) version of Android 4.2 JellyBean without any custom skin on top. There is no support for Google services most notably Google Play Store. The default app store of the device is 1Mobile Market which includes many of the popular Android applications; although I feel it needs some more moderation. Same applications seem to be uploaded by different users. As always, you can sideload Android applications downloaded from other sources, or install Amazon App Store.

Coupled with MX Player, the device plays almost all video formats. HD videos are played smoothly without any glitch even in hardware decoding. The sound quality is average, the speakers without being too loud.

Games like Templerun, Angry Birds, and Ripetide GP2 ran smoothly. The device supports live wallpaper. The overall UI is overall smooth, the device is capable of running almost all features of Android Jellybean 4.2.

The keyboard on the device is stock Android. In landscape mode it maybe difficult to type with two fingers considering the big 10.1 inch display but in portrait mode, the typing experience is comfortable.

Transferring data from your computer to the device is as simple as plug, copy and paste.

The absence of a SIM card is missed on the device and if you need to access the Internet from places with no WiFi, you may have to use a USB dongle. This feature is not tested yet.

The default browser of the device is Google chrome, which performed well when connected through a Wifi connection. You can always install Opera Mini if you want an even faster experience. The device is great if you want to read e-books and browse the Internet.

Bottom Line

For AU$129 the Unisurf 10-inch tablet(Model: USFUT4210DCWHT) is a good device. It has a large 10.1 inch display, which is great for apps and watching videos. If screen size is a priority, then Unisurf 10 is for you.

Open-source Modular Prefabricated Homes: Lessons to be Learned from Project Ara

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tpsdave / Pixabay

Westchester Modular setting the new second floor on our home.

 

Google is all about to change the smartphone landscape during next few years – betting big time on Project Ara, a project which aims to bring the power of open-source development to hardware too. The idea is people can buy a basic framework of the phone for as less as $50 (They call this framework Endoskelton), and as time goes buy and when user wants it he or she can upgrade it by attaching various modules for their need.

This is a great idea and will reduce the digital divide by a great extend, but there are much important problems to be addressed in the world like basic housing with toilets for millions and a supply of clean water for everyone. Even the most rich and powerful governments can’t make go away all the problems in an instant, because housing and sanitation are expensive to provide, more so for emerging countries.

What we need is a sustainable business model which will facilitate production and assembling of properly plumped houses at a low cost. This is were we can take lessons from Project Ara. It is common knowledge that if something is mass produced its cost of production will go down substantially. Like Endoskelton of Project Ara, we can produce a base unit that can be extended by the customer whenever he needs additional functionality. Unlike the Endoskelton, the base unit of a modular prefabricated home is not something that encloses the whole finished unit, it is more like say a living room, more modules like a dedicated bedroom, kitchen, dining room, standalone bathroom could be added as separate modules.

The base module is like a studio apartment which can be used as its own if the dweller is a single person, complete with a basic toilet  and electric wiring etc.

There are hurdles along the way for such a project. Unlike potential customers of a modular phone is spread all around the world, a modular prefabricated home is in demand only developed world. More about that on future posts. Let us know your thought about such a project below.

 

How will software developers make money in the future?

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Software development has gone very far from where it was during the Windows 98 days. Back in the there was likely at least one premium application for getting a specific task done, and there were opportunities to make new applications to solve new problems.

You want to do word processing? MS Office was practically the only choice you had if you really want all the basic features with a familiar interface. Now times have changed, though not polished as MS Office, there are LibreOffice and OpenOffice which pretty much offers everything all an ordinary user would want. Want to create a website? There is WordPress with thousands of professionally looking free themes.

Developing an offline solution for a problem everyone wants is no longer profitable, if the development demands huge investment. Services like GitHub have given a new life to the open source development community. Huge corporations are funding open source projects. If there is something that a large number of users want, it is highly likely that there will be an open-source product to address that problem.

Another problem with the business of offline software is piracy. Times have changed to a point where if your product is famous enough for a user to know about it, they could find and download it from the Internet.

Companies are changing their tactic; Microsoft introduced Office 365, cloud version of MS Office Adobe introduced CreativeCloud, online version of their popular CreativeSuite which includes Adobe PhotoShop and Adobe Illustrator. Unlike offline products, which offer unlimited usage after one time charges, online products are offered on a subscription basis, renewing its license each year.

Application software have come too advanced that an average user can get by using a software which has been outdated say – five or six years ago. More and more advanced features have been added to the software that only a few people care about. Even MS Word 98 could handle all basic word processing needs for an average user, more or less.

The Open Source movement has gained momentum mainly during last decade. What was changed?

The growing popularity of open source movement has to do with the growing number of people who are both competent and willing to do work for free. Two decades earlier there were only a few thousand professional software programmers in the world. Now there are millions. Many of them are employed by big corporations and want to return something back to the community. They do it by contributing a small portion of their time doing what they do best – coding.

Now, that’s just a small portion of the open-source developers. Other segment is programming enthusiasts who are employed or doing business in fields other than IT. They contribute to open-source projects for their passion of programming.

Despite all these support from open-source developers, major open source projects are backed up by major corporations – like Google Android, Ubuntu, Adobe PhoneGap, RedHat Linux, etc. Full time programmers work exclusive for each of these projects making the end product looking as professional as its commercial counterparts.

Advertising: Advertising of third party products or services is rarely used in computer applications, but the business model really took off with the rise of Android platform. Titles from major companies like Rovio were made available for free with advertisements. Although popular apps and games make profit from advertisements alone, an average developer is less likely to make a living by making ad-supported apps.

Freemium: Freemium is a relatively new business model, like a refined version of shareware programs. Popular application come into my mind is AVG Antivirus which offers basic antivirus protection for free. It is available for Windows, Mac and Android. For advanced features like firewall the customer has to purchase their license.

Freemium is a great way to make a large customer base quickly, especially if the company has a quality product like AVG. Only the problem is, there are other companies which offer the premium features of another company for free. In this case Zone Alarm which is a well known firewall developer offers its basic features for free. As company who focus on firewall I believe the firewall features will be much better than that of AVG. For Zone Alarm, it is the virus protection that should be purchased as advanced protection. As you can see, if you don’t mind installing both products you have both virus protection and firewall for free.

Freemium could be used as launching pad for creating a brand, but most of the users of these products are not willing to pay, the customers will keep using the free features as long as they are free.

Open-source is the future of software development. Developers can embrace it, or become obsolete. There will always be demand for businesses which are built around open source products. Products and services those are used by very few individuals in specific niches continue to generate work for developers. It is less likely to make an open-source application software for a cruise-control. But, for generic applications the future is open-source, whether we like it or not.

 

Keep it classy: Free WordPress Hosting from RedHat’s OpenShift (5 pages/second, unlimited bandwidth)

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Most people start blogging with a free Blogger or a WordPress blog. Blogger is a great place for beginners to start blogging, but the problem is you have less control over the whole website.

WordPress.com has annoying advertisements with free blogs, not only that they charge a premium of $30 for the privilege of linking a custom domain (like yourname.com). This is something Blogger throws in for free.

If you are serious about blogging, make sure get a top level domain, preferably a dotcom or dotnet. WordPress is one of the most popular CMSs in the world. It is an open source project. Beginners to blogging probably associate the name WordPress to its commercial offering (wordpress.com) than to the open source project (wordpress.org).

To run a self-hosted WordPress installation we need to have a server for the installation (WordPress installation files are available at wordpress.org for free). Most of the self-hosted WordPress bloggers will be using shared web hosting services because they are very much cheaper than VPS or dedicated hosting services. You could host a website at a shared host with less than $5 per month.

The problem with shared hosting is, you website will be hosted next to thousands of websites hosted on the same server. If some of those websites get huge traffic beyond the limits of the server, all websites hosted in that server are in trouble.

Even $5 per month, a shared host could get expensive, especially for a beginner, who has no traffic at all. A better idea would be to host your blog for free in the beginning using one of the free hosts. But there is a catch. (Also read: Free web hosting services: What’s the catch? )

RedHat’s Platform As A Service (PAAS), OpenShift offers 3 free gears for free for beginners. A gear is fixed amount of resources like RAM and processing power. If you get more traffic OpenShift automatically uses another gear, this continues until all available gears are used up. 3 free gears can handle upto 15 pages/second, approximately 50k visitors per month. A beginner can’t ask for more; that too absolutely free.

Why WordPress doesn’t scale by default on OpenShift?
Unfortunately the default WordPress installation doesn’t support scaling, i.e. you could only use one small gear instead of three small gears freely available. This is because each gears have separate memory, and memory between these gears are not shared. Problem occurs when you try to upload something to the file system. This could be images or one of the plugins WordPress is famous for.

Each small gear comes with 1GB space. That is 3GB available for free per user. If WordPress is set to scale using all three gears, all uploaded files will be stored in the space allocated for first gear. After that, when we try to access those uploaded file, we cannot be sure from which gear application is served. Statistically we fail to fetch the uploaded file one in three times.

So we are stuck with one gear, but still it is a good deal for a beginner; 5pages/second and approximately16k visitors per month. This is more than enough for most beginners, since it will take much time for a blog to reach that level, unless you have a great online presence already or you are going to spend money on buying traffic.

What happens when five pages per second limit is exceeded?
Well, according to one of the contributors of OpenShift forum, the application will not break but speed will be affected. In other words it will take eternity to load a page if more requests are coming.

There is good news though; WordPress could be set to scale with some changes. But it will take some effort to get it running. The default way of pushing an OpenShift app is through Git. What we can do is to locally install WordPress with all plugins we need and push the app through Git. The image files can be hosted on a third party cloud service like Amazon Web Services, or Flickr. OpenShift has an excellent article explaining how to scale WordPress.

For an absolute beginner, it is not worth the trouble to scale a blog that doesn’t have enough visitor. It would be good idea to scale after you get running your blog without scale first, then tweak the installation with plugins you will need. Once you are happy with all the functionality and looks of the blog, you can push the application to scale using 3 gears.

When your blog become highly successful and free gears can’t handle more gears can be bought. With their Silver plan ($20/mo), users will get 16 gears, including the free gears. Or you could use a paid shared hosting service if this is too expensive; thanks to portability of WordPress, though you should expect doing some configuration changes when changing hosts.

There are another PAAS services also offer free tiers and can be used to host WordPress websites including Google App Engine, Amazon Web Services, Padoga Box, Hekaru, AppFog. In this list AppFog doesn’t support using custom domain on their free plan. It goes without saying that none of these PAAS providers need you to put any sort of advertisement on your blog (This is something other shared free hosting providers put as their highlight)

Also read: How to run WordPress on OpenShift
How to scale WordPress on OpenShift.
Note: This blog is currently hosted by OpenShift.
Update: Feb 26, 2014: Hosting moved to Heliohost.org
Update: Dec 3, 2014: Hosting moved back to OpenShift