Comcast Wireless?

I have long been advocating the position that Comcast’s business continuity plans in the face of major disruptions in the media consumption behavior of its customers (particularly the younger ones – the customers of the future) would have to necessitate a deep strategic review of the company’s business plans.

As most industry followers doubtlessly are aware, Comcast has the ignominious distinction of being the most hated company in America. But one has to give credit where due. The company leadership is obviously looking very seriously into its addressable market segments and core lines of business and thinking about evolution.

First came the $45 billion TWC acquisition. Increasing economies of scale and according to some, increasing free cash flow per share for Comcast. Comcast claims it will give customers a better deal because it will allow it to have better leverage in negotiating with content providers – but the author feels, simply put, that its bunk. Consumers will suffer due to monopolies in the short to medium term before market and technology reacts to produce other options. Long story short – the acquisition, while it addresses some short and medium term concerns for Comcast – it does nothing to address the evolution of the industry and the demographic habits of the newly emergent potential customers for Comcast.

Of course, Comcast might choose in the future to be just dumb pipes – in other words, divest itself of all content acquisitions like NBC – and focus on 2 core business areas – a) ISP b) Infrastructure player where content providers lease bandwidth for distribution to end customers (in my mind, it has the additive benefit for customers to choose ala carte what they want to view).

And then finally, the reason I thought about writing this post – Comcast becoming a player in the wireless space. As mentioned before, I have long held the view that it is a logical outcome of Comcast’s investment in the core fiber infrastructure and hotspots makes it a natural player in the wireless provider space.

However, I would have assumed that the most natural way for Comcast to enter the market was not necessarily through an acquisitive process but through partnerships with existing wireless players (which Comcast has been open to – given its partnership with Verizon Wireless etc.).  And the reason I say that a partnership would be a far viable option is because I also happen to have years of experience firsthand as a consultant in seeing and being involved in, very closeup, about the operational challenges of merging Telcos – let alone the new swathe of challenges that would come in acquiring and integrating an MSO.

I know decisions regarding corporate mergers and acquisitions are rarely taken with integration challenges being factored – there are too many parties with distorted interests – CxO ( think stock price movements), Investment Bankers (fat consulting fees) and a host of other players across all levels of the organizations with own defined self-motivations.

Comcast has a legitimate case for eyeing the wireless provider market – especially with its ability to integrate content consumption in ways that add value over the current telecom stack. However, it would behoove them to very seriously and deliberately think of the challenges involved before getting into the acquisition mode – these mergers with Telcos are much easier planned for than accomplished.

Tech. disruptions or displacement?

This post on BGR set me thinking. Even for someone who follows the high tech. industry pretty closely and considers himself to be relatively tech. savvy and educated, the sheer rate of technological evolution is now overwhelming.

It seems only a few years ago that I spent $1200 to buy my first DSLR – a state of the art (for the time) Sony Alpha A90. Fast forward just a few years later and the whole underlying technology (mirror based shuttering), not to mention the ability to take quality pictures (as we knew it) seems to be increasingly thrown into the bins of history.

Forget that its not just regular cameras that are doing that. Increasingly, such technology is coming to hand-held devices along with the image processing capabilities to actually edit the pictures on the fly on the same devices. I know you still need some serious horse power to run software like Adobe Photoshop Lightroom – but I can’t imagine the day is far ahead when one would presumably able to do everything Lightroom does and more on your tablet or your smartphone.

And this is just one example. One could go on. It’s exciting and amazing.

But for those of us who thought we could talk knowledgeably about such topics – it’s a feeling of displacement. Maybe we are getting old after all.

 

Thoughts on the Dell Latitude 6430

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I have always had an HP for my work at GreenDot. Now, out of that place, my new employer’s preferred tool is the Dell Latitude. When I started, I got the Dell Latitude 6430.

Never one for posting a review of anything technology the moment I get my hands on it – and having used it for 3 months now – I thought that this would be an appropriate time to post a review as a user.

First thing first – if you are in the market for an ultra-portable, easy to carry laptop – this isn’t the machine for you. Its heavy and large. Heavy enough that if I were traveling like I was in my prior job, I wouldn’t want it.

Also, for a laptop in the premier business segment, it could do with a better display. It’s not bad – its wide screen, large and the matt display does well to keep out reflections – but at least on my model, it seems a little washed out. And the viewing angles aren’t the best.

While on the list of gripes, the 6430 comes with a CD / DVD player / burner – and it probably is the worst designed aspect of this laptop. It resides on the front end on the right side of the laptop – and will pop open with the slightest touch of the machine (as in while picking it up during meetings and such).

Usual ports that most users need – 3 USB, 1 HDMI and one SD card reader (which I haven’t used). Also comes with standards like an integrated webcam and such.

Now for the good stuff. This thing probably has the best laptop keyboard I have used outside of a Lenovo ThinkPad. Fantastic feedback, great spacing. Its backlit with 3 levels of lighting which is more than adequate for my use. It has a fantastic, large palm rest with a rubberized covering – which is one of the best in any laptop I have used – including the Macbook Pro. Fantastic for marathon Powerpoint, Word and Excel projects. The palm rest is often an under appreciated aspect of a work laptop – god knows, we spend 8-10 hours on this thing everyday – and where you keep your palm and how comfortable it feels really, really makes a difference.

The touchpad is also adequate for a windows laptop. Its not Apple class – but then Apple redefined the touchpad for a laptop – however, it does support limited multi-finger gestures (like scrolling), which is nice.

Another great aspect about it is the battery life. Just fantastic – I don’t think I have ever had a machine (save for the Macbook Air) that comes even close. I easily get 4-5 hours out of it with 75% brightness at regular work usage – Powerpoint, Word, email and some browsing.

In terms of performance, it is easily the fastest Windows 7 laptop I have ever owned. Start to login screen is about 10 seconds – and this isn’t a fully loaded machine. Its an Intel Core i5 with 4 GB of RAM – which is fairly mid-market in today’s term. But I am nothing but seriously impressed by its performance and the way it handles the key tasks I throw at it.

And finally (but not the least), is aesthetics. Like I mentioned at the onset – this isn’t a light machine. It is large and fairly heavy. But Dell has done a fairly good job at “corporatizing” this machine. The lid is a grey / black brushed aluminium which looks pretty decent. It seems fairly well built (sorry, no unibody here) and is free of creaks and such.

I had a very low impression of Dells before I got this. For most of my professional career, I have always had either HP or Lenovo. I have to say that this machine has impressed me mightily.

 

Blogging

I have always maintained that blogging is a little bit like working out. It’s great when you are in the groove. You have great ideas that you want to write about, feel passionate enough to spew out inspiring prose and feel that warmth every writer feels after having written a prose that one is proud about.

And like working out, there are times when nothing seems to inspire anything. And writing becomes a chore. And even when you do – as in sit down and try to write something – primarily out of the force of habit more than anything else – only insipid prose stares at you on the face. How many times have you entered the gym and that sweaty smell in the gym just makes you want to run back to your couch and watch a movie. Same thing.

So, I have nothing but the highest respect for those who keep blogging year after year with regularity. And write really good engaging stuff. As I am trying to get back to writing, I realize how difficult that can be.

For one to be motivated to write about anything. Anything at all. My muse, my country, India – changed over the last one year, politically. It was a treasure trove for a politically interested blogger – but zilch. No ideas.

So for those bloggers that I follow – with or without mass readership – I value what you do. Its incredibly tough.

Sort of like working out week after week.

Revisiting Apple

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Disclaimer: This is NOT an iPhone 5s review. For an excellent, exhaustive and technical review, head over to Anand Lal Shimpi’s review on AnandTech.

What this is – is the experience of a die-hard Android evangelist in owning and using the Apple iPhone 5s.

So what happened was comical. Sprint finally decided – after years of wait to build out LTE in my home area. At the time, I had the excellent (and rather long-named) Sprint EVO 4G LTE as my daily workhorse. And exactly 4 days after finally getting to enjoy the kind of data speeds that my friends at Verizon, ATT and even T-Mobile would boast about – its LTE radio died. Just died. The phone would connect on 3G but would shut itself off the moment I enabled LTE.

So, I decided to walk into the local Best Buy (since I had subscribed to their excellent mobile buy back program), sold my 20 month EVO back to them for 270 and on a whim, walked out with a silver iPhone 5s.

Having owned and used it for a few months, I have had very different feelings about the phone – and hence this post. If you are an Android user thinking about jumping ship or thinking of upgrading from iPhone 4 / 4s / 5 – may help you making your decision that goes beyond technical reviews and such.

So walking out of Best Buy, I was a little underwhelmed. Yes, I had read reviews that it was the best iPhone ever. Sure, but i read that everytime a new iPhone is released. The build quality was fantastic – but we’ve come to expect that from Apple now. The screen just seemed too small – coming from my HTC Evo. The websites I normally read  – New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Engadget – they all seemed just too small, cramped, difficult to read. So yes, I remember, walking out of Best Buy debating to myself if I should come back and return it within the first 14 days and get another Android phone. (Problem was, there wasn’t any compelling Android device other than the HTC One – but it was a few months old already – and I wasn’t signing on a two year agreement with a 10 month old device).

As I started using the iPhone, some things just rankled. I missed SwiftKey – to me it is the best keyboard ever made. The iOS keyboard seemed juvenile in comparison. I missed the customizability. But then there were some things that I absolutely loved – the smooth UI, the lack of stutter, the speed of doing everything (thanks to the new and according to AnandTech, a pretty amazing A7 processor), not having to constantly manually closing apps to save memory. As I started downloading apps that I normally use, I couldn’t help but marvel at the level of polish of apps that I am used to – any.do, spotify. Even Google Maps.

The screen size started rankling less over time as my eyes adjusted. I started loving the “pocketability”. And the ability to use the phone with one hand – which on the EVO – which is not a very big phone by Android standards, I couldn’t. Did I miss the big screen sometimes – absolutely. Especially while reading busy websites-  but then I realized that most websites I regularly visit are optimized for the iPhone’s screen size.

One of the things that’s really important for me on any smartphone – is it’s performance..well, as a phone. And as a speakerphone – for all the conference calls I take on it. And this is where the iPhone really shone – its radio performance was heads’ and shoulders above my HTC Evo. And its speakers are surprisingly powerful for a phone so compact. The call quality is stellar – both what I heard and what others heard when I spoke.

And then there is the ecosystem. iTunes radio is a big deal for me. Its free – and I can play customized channels. Google Play doesn’t offer that as a free service. The ability to download all the music I have purchased from the App Store over the years from the cloud. And the apps that I have on my iPad.

Some folks hate iOS 7. And maybe because I haven’t owned an iPhone for many years, I absolutely loved the clean look and feel. The bluish hue to everything. And unlike Android – how it was consistent across applications.

On the flip side, I missed not being able to pop in a micro-SD card. I missed not having a removable battery (though, truth be told, my EVO didn’t have either). But as someone who commutes 2 hours each way to work and is constantly streaming Sirius XM while reading news on the train during the commute – I haven’t had too many issues with the battery life as long as, and I repeat, as long as I have a charger at the office.

My feelings have definitely changed over the last 2 months. Can the iPhone 5s be better. Absolutely. Will I regret buying this when Apple releases its what seems inevitable – a new large screen iPhone next year. Probably.

But did I return the phone in the 14 days that I thought I may as I walked out of Best Buy. No. I love the experience. With reservations – but I still love it. And I think I will be able to live with it for the next 2 years.

And who knows, maybe it’s back to Android after that.

Winning the Rose Bowl

It was certainly a long way coming. The last time was way back in 1988 – and for a program that has had its own sets of challenges including scooting coaches for the lure of more money, unreliability in levels of performance and the inability to finish in key games to win the 100th Rose Bowl against a mighty Stanford was nothing short of a Hollywood sports movie. Especially playing without their key linebacker who was suspended because of unknown reasons before the biggest game in a generation by the Spartans no-nonsense coach Mark Dantonio.

It was incredible – this whole season. The way the team bounced back after losing a very controversial game against Notre Dame. And how the Spartans decimated Michigan and emphatically beat Ohio State along the way to win the Big Ten championship outright and qualify for the Rose Bowl.

For those of us who have been long time Spartans supporter – it was a redemption. A redemption for everytime (and especially ESPN “experts”) showered scorn. How, going into the Rose Bowl, noone gave us a chance. After we had handed Ohio State their first defeat. And what a redemption it was.

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The picture says it all, doesn’t it?

A “sort of new” blogging service

Medium

Recently, this article in the New York Times made me check out a new long form blogging service called Medium. Conceptualized and started by a Twitter co-founder Evan Williams, it is modeled as a cross-over between traditional blogging platforms like this one and Google’s Blogger (which Evans founded as well).

Its an interesting concept – other than logging in with your twitter account, there is no set up required. It isn’t a traditional blog platform – in the sense that you don’t create your own space – instead what you do is just write – and the platform’s algorithm links it with all posts that have similar subjects – letting readers comment on your post (interestingly, at the level of a paragraph – not just the entire post).

So, in effect – it is really very similar to Twitter – other than the fact that you aren’t limited to a 140 characters. (to me, that has been a major impediment for a lot of us long form readers in fully embracing the platform). Its almost a social networking of ideas – instead of people.

So while that has many advantages (e.g. completeness of posts) – but also poses one critical adoption risk – in an era of severely restricted attention spans – to get people to adopting posting long form posts may be a challenge (unlike Twitter which gained its popularity by getting all kinds of celebrities of questionable intelligence, on board).

But it is an interesting concept – and what’s more, it might actually serve a public service – by getting its participants to post (and read) beyond the 140 characters.

Will track it to see how it evolves.