BigData – An industry Mashup for Beginners

BigData copy

The craze around Big data has led to increasing number of startups and lot of venture funds being poured in. In this multi part series we will take a look at the complete Big Data technology stack and map the … Continue reading

Is Tesla the symbol of modern car tech ?

2013-Tesla-Model-S-interior-dash-and-touchscreen

  Software Technology has evolved a lot over the last 10 years.  But still there are some old school technology that we use in our day-to-day lives.  One among them is in-car dash technology.  Automotive sector have embraced technology for better engine throttling and Anti lock braking. But those never made into the dashboard and for the infotainment of passengers.  Lately we are seeing a change in this trend. More and more automakers are adopting modern technology inside their vehicles.

So am I talking about Google Self Driving car here. No !  I love driving and I am not willing to hand over the steering to an on board computer.  But that’s just me.  There are millions of people around the world who just waste their time in bumper to bumper traffic.  It would be great for them if they can use their time productively !

What do I expect from a Next Gen Car dashboard ?

  • Google Maps Navigation- Yes I want “Google Maps” with offline support to power the cars navigation – it is high time we need navigation built into the car directly, but powered from the cloud.  Google Maps gives you’re the power of Google Search, which means less typing and thank God no more fiddling with those old GPS systems.
  • A Google Now like system which can inform on proximity of business which are of my interest based on my previous usage pattern.
  • A highly stable voice assistant  which can control almost anything from climate control to changing the song and even change destination on the fly.  Based on legal requirement and individual preference this can even help replying calls and emails.
  • Better designed touchscreen for the dash. The current systems looks dated by at least five years. And to be frank, they are a visual disaster with poorly laid out icons and overly complicated menu systems.
  • A good operating system which can handle different parts of the car and also totally customizable. I am not advocating either of mobile platforms – iOS or Android but it would be great if these familiar systems make their way into the car.  Not surprisingly Apple just announced their iOS in the car  during this year’s WWDC. More on that in a later post.
  • Currently most modern cars come with Sirius World Radio or Pandora built-in.  I don’t want those multiple freaking smart phone apps to be  all around my dashboard screen, instead I just want a simple and harmonious interface. This can be achieved only by having one cloud radio being part of the base operating system.
  • Intelligent driver assist – Lane assist/blind spot alert with visual indication on the dash, proximity warning system, backup camera, driver warning based on road signs. Most of these technologies has become standard in luxury models.
  • We should be able to power the car’s internet using smart phone. Remote startup using smart phone would be bonus.

And the award for the best tech equipped car goes to

Enter Tesla Model S , yes the darling of Silicon Valley is the winner hands down.

This car has caught my imagination of a beautifully designed vehicle with loads of technology. See a detailed video here. Me being a fan of long distance driving, is not excited about electric vehicles yet; I emphasize on the “yet” because I reckon that it is the future.  Tesla Model S has a range of 200 miles after which it need to charge for half an hour.So what’s special about this car ?  You take a sneak peek inside and you will be astonished that it does not have knobs and dials, instead it has a large 17 inch touch screen which is similar to a tablet fitted on your dashboard. I have played with this touchscreen recently and must admit it is pretty cool. Tesla accomplishes most of the above in my wish list except that it has a built-in 3G connection which needs freaking AT and T connection.  It also lacks all driver assist except backup camera.

Audi S7 emerges as the runner-up.  This is a gas-powered car with lot of modern technology. Audi has equipped this car with adaptive cruise control which means your car can come to a complete stop and start again when the traffic moves. Like Tesla it has got built-in 3G connection, comes integrated with Google Maps and Street View. Audi’s driver assist is pretty impressive and to me it is the best of the lot.  But unlike Tesla this car ‘s software looks pretty outdated.

Some of the dashboard equipment providers are now moving fast. QNX announced their updated platform which will support Android apps.  Nvidia  is working towards an Android based Car dashboard.  It would be interesting to watch this space as multiple vendors and technologies wage war to take control over your car.

If you are like me and excited about all these developments, do let me know your thoughts by leaving your feedback or comments below.

Why did Google acquire Waze ?

        Reports are coming in today morning that Waze will be acquired by Google.  If your were not following the news, here is a quick digest.  Waze is a mobile mapping app which got to prominence for its real time traffic information using crowd sourced information.  Based out of Israel, the company was in news lately as there were multiple bidders from the likes of Facebook and Apple.

        I can understand why Waze was a hot acquisition target. Maps are considered as very important tool in any company’s basket which is aiming for glory in highly crowded smartphone and wearable device market.  Location info is a highly valuable input for user profiling and ad targeting.  The stakes are so high that Apple was worried about Google Maps as its default mapping app ( There are debates on this though) .  Both Facebook and Apple were bidding for Waze.  But eventually Google won the battle.

        Google Maps are considered as golden standard for digital mapping .  So what prompted Google to acquire Waze at 1.3B$ valuation which is one of its most expensive acquisitions.  To have a quick idea about it – listen to what Waze CEO said sometime back – Waze’s only real competitor in Mobile space is Google Maps.

       In my opinion, Google just thwarted its biggest threat in mapping.  A standalone Waze could not have done much threat to mighty Google Maps. But in the hands of companies like Apple or Facebook, especially Facebook it’s a big threat to Google’s core business of ad targeting.  Facebook already has an upper hand with treasure of user data, adding a solid location framework on top could have helped its yet to takeoff ad business.

     People like your or me can only speculate on the reason for the acquisition, we will never know what the real reason was.  If you look at the functionality of the two apps, there is not much Google Maps is really lacking.  Google added real time traffic info to its mobile apps which has been Waze’s USP, so that has been evened out.  If you look at review boards on why people like Waze ( especially who has experience with both Google Maps and Waze)  they cite out two different use cases.

  • Initially you need to Plan for your route. This is Google’s fortress, it will be tough for any company to break this.
  • Once you are on the road the equation changes – You need help on turn by turn navigation . But the icing on the cake is the granularity of traffic updates like traffic incidents, Speed guns etc.  This is where Waze wins – its provided by other Waze users  and almost real time.  Google can tell you that there is congestion – but it will not tell you that how severe it is,because it lacks context.  But Waze will tell you that there is serious incident and its better to take another route;  provided you have options.

      So can we expect Waze functionality on Google Maps ?  A definite yes but not sure how long it will take.  Google has decided to retain Waze brand and retain the Israel office and its employees for up to three years as per the deal – says news sources.  That would mean Waze app will still be around.

     What this would mean to other giants ?  Tech evangelists are already wondering why Yahoo didn’t bid for Waze.  By now everyone knows that Maps are hard but still it is a necessity – unless autopilots take over every transportation options that we know of.  There are only two distinct approaches for making maps in my opinion.

  • The traditional way – you collect data from N number of sources and create a beautiful interface for the maps.  But unlike traditional software verification, verifying the data sources is extremely hard in maps case.  You cannot send people to verify whether the road or landmark exists. Another pain is that this information constantly updates and you need to keep pace.  An end user does not care the fact you need some time to update your maps for a road closure –  if you are rushing to a destination and find that there is a road closure at the last minute, you are going to curse the maps no matter what.
  • Crowd source – In my opinion this is the best approach.  The problem with this approach is that your maps are only good as the number of users and user engagement.  I strongly feel that even Google Maps have a long way to go in countries like India where the density of information is sparse.   In fact I would want Google to pay for the users who is helping with crowd sourcing.  Google will make a lot of money in the long run – so why not show some gratitude for the volunteers.

  Hope this acquisition does not create a monopoly for mapping apps. It took Apple Maps to force Google to come with a better design for Google Maps !

Competition is good for everyone !

Happy Sunday folks !

Paper free vacation !

Yeah you read it correct.  Finally I did a completely paper free vacation – well sort of.  I did my part, but there are many contracts and agreements which are still printed out.

It has been years now that smart phones have become popular and common. But if you look around, everyone carries a bunch of paper during travelling – Boarding passes, hotel confirmation, rental car confirmation , destinations. The list goes on and on.

Well I am not complaining, till last vacation I did that too !  And I am not saying that its less efficient nor everyone need to be a geek.  The purpose of this is just tell you all that it is possible for a paper free trip.

So lets look at what do you need.  The basic necessity – smart phone and some apps ( A bunch of friends and a plan too :D ) .  I must say that every individual plans their  vacation differently, and so the requirements will differ from person to person and even trip to trip for same person.

Lets get to to business here, Here is the list of apps I used -

Trip It ( Free ) –  This app is awesome.  Basically you integrate this to you Gmail, It polls your email and finds almost all confirmations ,parses it and find all relevant information and presents to you in an easy and readable format.   It can find your flight itinerary , hotel confirmations, rental car confirmations etc. Another cool feature is that it stores locally so that you don’t have to worry about cell phone reception.

united

The flip side – The occasional crashes which is annoying

Gmail ( Free ) –  This is a fall back app ( in case Trip it fails ! ) that will have almost all of your confirmation emails in one place.  And I did use for another purpose this time.  We were driving extensively in Yosemite National Park and Hwy 395 to Lake Tahoe.  Not surprisingly I did not anticipate cell phone coverage in those remote places.  Gmail Drafts is a good option to save some of these emails. ( Gmail caches emails but it has a offline storage limit ).

The flip side – None

United Airlines App ( Free ) –  I love United’s mobile boarding Pass !   It is a mobile QR code that can be screened at TSA as well as the gate.  This app has let me check-in exactly 24 hours before departure because I can immediately check-in when I receive the email .

photo (1)

The flip side – United’s gate did not have QR code scanner at SEATAC, the gentleman at the gate had to key in the last name to board me.

Google Maps (Free)- We have been on the roads for hours on a given day, so a decent mapping app is invaluable. Google maps is my favorite mapping app and works like a charm and always reliable

The flip side – No offline support (iOS). I relied on my Tom Tom for Navigation.  But I did realized that if you are travelling to Yosemite and not planning any out of ordinary – then you could rely on the direction boards and little bit of memory on which Hwy to take.

Yelp  (Free) – For finding restaurants this has been my go to app.  I have been trying to change my preference to Google powered Zagat, but habits are hard to change.

The flip side – None

Google Now (Free) –  New addition to the list. I found that Now can be helpful when you really need it!  When I was returning to Seattle I was to board the flight at San Francisco International Airport. I was running late and was driving from San Jose to SFO.

I was rushing and boarded the Air train ( from Rental Car Counter to Terminals ) without knowing which terminal or which Gate I was supposed to go.   I figured this is a time to test Google Now and It told me the Terminal to go and the status of my flight . Unfortunately it did not tell me which Gate I am supposed to take, generally It used to be pretty accurate with gate information .

The flip side – You need cell phone reception for this app to work. I have found that it never caches cards locally !

Some of you might be thinking – What If I dropped my phone and it stopped working ?  Yes that’s a risk if you are travelling alone.  I had my friend who had the same information that I had. But if you are travelling alone, its not worth the risk ! Your vacation is more important than saving paper ;)

So next vacation , try be a geek !