Making it For India

A couple of months ago the streaming music service Spotify was launched in India with great fanfare. I had tried Spotify about 7 or 8 years back but then they started to block IP addresses from India so I quit using the app. At first I wasn’t planning to try it again but I did and I’m so glad I did, their recommendations are spot on…no pun intended.

What really caught my attention during the launch was their pricing matrix. Yes, the monthly price is cheaper in India Rs. 119 (USD$1.70) vs the US at Rs. 693 (USD$9.99). But they also offered daily packs at Rs. 13 (USD$0.18) and weekly packs at Rs. 39 (USD$0.56) as well, almost like the FMCGs offer sachet packs of their products. Sachets – a single-use, a simple flat pouch or stick pack for powders and other runny liquids and gels.

Spotify took that concept and turned it into a digital sachet. It’s a great way to get people to try the product. This is a great example of localization of a product.

When building an app or platform and going to other markets, there is always talk about internationalization (i18n) and localization (l10n) within the technology team. 7 or 8 years ago foreign companies would sell their products in India and only focus on internationalization. For example, if an app requires a login via a phone number then they enable +91 for Indian mobile numbers.

But the trend is to go one step further and localize the app or platform for the Indian market. And that is where Spotify just nailed it with it’s very Indian pricing matrix. I’m seeing more and more companies localize for the Indian markets because that’s where the growth is as other markets are mature and growth has slowed or stalled.

UPDATE: I’ve received many emails about the confusion about internationalization and localization. For me and the teams I work with, I break it down as:

internationalization – the backend technology to enable the use of the app or platform in another country. For example: language, phone numbers, etc…

localization – the frontend that the consumer will see and you. For example: pricing, localized content, specific features for a country, etc…

Kids, I’m Back on Twitter

In early 2018 I switched from an iPhone to Android and in the process decided not to install some of the apps on my new phone. One of those apps was Twitter.

I felt it was too distracting and it wasn’t really adding any value. However, I would still use Twitter from the desktop but I wasn’t very active in conversations and just shared a bunch of articles I found interesting. One of the things I truly missed about being on Twitter was the vibrancy of technology talk and hearing about new technologies or use cases.

I decided it was time to revisit Twitter on the phone and make some changes to the way I would use it. First thing I did was unfollow EVERYONE and get to zero. Then I added people back that were from the technology field, all the way from deep technology people to product managers.

I made a conscious effort not to follow any news organizations or breaking news accounts. I can’t be bothered by the latest crap from Trump or what Modi is up to. This time around with Twitter, I want to learn from it and hopefully interact with people on the technology front in a constructive way.

Okay, I did cheat a little bit and added a couple of automotive related accounts. So far it’s been a couple of weeks and I’m pretty happy with how things are progressing with using Twitter on the mobile phone. Let’s hope it continues to be useful and doesn’t turn into a cesspool of useless crap.

Is Cable TV Dead?

In a nutshell, yes. The reason is plain and simple – Jio and our addiction to video content. Over the past 6 months when friends get together and discuss what shows to watch, I hardly hear anyone mention the shows that appear on cable TV. Instead, it’s about the latest series on Netflix, Amazon Prime, ALT Balaji, Hotstar or other streaming providers which are collectively known as over-the-top (OTT) providers. The name stems from the fact you can bypass your local cable TV provider and stream the content directly from the internet.

And don’t even get me started on YouTube. This past week there was an article in the Wall Street Journal which talked about the rise of YouTube in India as a search engine. Want to learn how to make a cake? YouTube it. Want to learn the best way to sleep? YouTube it. YouTube voice search is perfect for India where illiteracy is high. Users can speak what information they want and then the search results are videos, where they can see and hear the content.

In fact, I’m finding the quality and content getting better and better even with more and more content creators on the YouTube platform. Just like a Google search you need to know the right keywords for YouTube. But, where YouTube really shines and keeps you on their platform are their algorithms to show you more content that you will like.

A recent example was when I was searching on YouTube for a good vlogging camera. Yes, there were hundreds of thousands of videos but after watching 4 or 5 I was able to decide what camera I needed. And in the process, I came across the YouTube channel called Camera Conspiracies. The guy is a mix of camera reviews and comedy. I’m no longer looking for a camera but I still watch his YouTube channel because the content is addictive.

So where does that leave the existing players? It will be very tough for the direct to home (DTH) providers like DishTV, TataSky and Airtel DTH because they have no real strategy to add more customers. Most of the people I know don’t even turn on their DTH box and are planning to cancel the service when their subscription comes up for renewal.

The cable operators like Hathway are also in a similiar situation but since they own the physical connection to the consumer they have the ability to implement newer technologies such as gigabit fiber to the home. In fact, Reliance backed Jio recently completed the acquisition of Hathway not because of all the users of its cable TV platform but because of the physical access they have to the consumers home. I live in a building which has both Hathway and Jio GigaFiber and I can tell you first hand, we have not even turned on the set-top box (STB) for Hathway in 2-3 months. And all that viewing time has switched to the OTT providers and YouTube.

The Podcast is dead, the Vlog emerges

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If you have been following my blog you know I started a podcast about 6 months ago. Even before I started the Performalux podcast I secretly knew it wasn’t going to last. Podcasting is a great medium for many topics like financial information, news, and talk shows. But a podcast about cars is not one of them. All the cool kids are vlogging because people want to hear the exhaust, see the inside of the car and see how fast objects go by while speeding on a street.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks with podcasts is the distribution of the content, people just don’t know how to listen to podcasts. 5-year-olds know how to use YouTube and skip the intro commercials but listening to podcasts required a Ph.D. Spotify and the other streaming audio providers are trying to change that by having better discovery mechanisms in their app. Will it reach mass adoption is yet to be determined. So long to the podcast format…enter the vlog.

The vlog is hosted on my YouTube channel. I don’t really have a name yet, I’m toying with “The Garage Guy” or my username “mrjain”. I have some time to think about the name, in the meantime I’ll be focusing on getting some great content on the channel. I will not be reviewing Maruti’s and Hyundai’s as there are already a ton of those YouTube channels. The channel will focus on cars I really like and would love to buy. And also talk to the owners of these cars and get their take on what drives them…yes, a horrible pun gone wrong. I’ll stop now.

 

Behind the Podcast: The Gear

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Samson Meteor Mic on the left and the Shure MV5 on the right, the complete setup.

When I tell people I have a podcast, there are a couple responses I get:
1. Wow, that’s cool. What’s a podcast?
2. How does that happen?

The “that” usually refers to the entire process of recording, editing, hosting and listening. The good news is that this blog post will talk about all the technical details of running a podcast show. I know I spent a shit load of time Googling and watching YouTube clips on starting a podcast. So this should save you some time, let’s do this…

Topic
Pick something you love, not just like but love. If you love something, it will be very apparent in the conversation. If I had to do a podcast on international taxation, I would probably kill myself.

USB Mics
I really wanted portable USB mics because most of my guests and including me would not travel to a studio to record a podcast. The mic that everyone talks about on YouTube is the Blue Yeti mic, it’s great but it was a bit heavy at around 19.4 oz (550 grams). Since I would need two of them (one for me and another for the guest), that would be 1100 grams. Instead, I opted for the Shure MV5 (5.6 oz., 160 grams) and the Samson Meteor Mic (9.3 oz., 264 grams). These two mics are very good at capturing sound and for the price can’t be beat. Listen to my podcast and you can judge yourself.

USB Hub
I have a 12″ MacBook which is the lightest laptop at 920 grams that you can buy on the market today. The downside is that it has a single USB Type-C connector. Which means with 2 USB mics I need a Type-C hub, luckily Amazon has one under their AmazonBasics line for Rs. 1099.

At this point you must be thinking, damn this guy is only concerned about the weight of everything. And there is a good reason, I have a slight shoulder issue so the lighter the better for me.

Software
Once the mics are connected to the hub which is connected to the MacBook you need some software to capture and edit the audio. The technical name of this software is called the digital audio workstation (DAW). On the Mac there are 3 main competitors to choose from and I used all three – Apple’s GarageBand, Audacity (open source, meaning free!) and Adobe’s Audition.

I used GarageBand for 15 minutes and quickly realized it’s great for kids. Then as a true Marwadi (read as – cheap, err value seeker) I looked at the open source Audacity. It was really good but then I got side-tracked and started to use Adobe’s Audition and got hooked. Partly because of the number of tutorials on YouTube for Audition seemed much more. For any issue I faced, I would goto YouTube and there would be 10-15 tutorials on how to solve/fix my problem.

Podcast Hosting Service
Once you create the final .mp3 audio file from your DAW, you will need to upload it to the internet. There are many podcast hosting services but I stuck with the one that has been around the longest – Libsyn.

Podcast Submission
You will need people to find your podcast via the big directories like iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, etc.. This article has the full details on that.

So there you have it, the podcast gear I use to create the Performalux Podcast. Now go on and let the world hear your voice!

Upgrading The Home Network

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My Updated Home Network

Several months ago we renovated our flat and I decided it was also time to upgrade the home network. Before the renovation, I had a simple Linksys Wi-Fi 1200 router and everything connected via Wi-Fi. It was working but I wanted to add some new devices like a NAS (network-attached storage) box and IP cameras. It was clear the Linksys Wi-Fi 1200 transmitting on the 2.4GHz band (max 300Mbps) was not going to cut it.

I decided NOT to cable the house with Cat6 cable because I thought Wi-FI on 5Ghz would be good enough and fast enough. Uh, big mistake. The wireless speeds were good, however with a wired network I could have put wireless access points and IP cameras anywhere. By running a single ethernet cable to the device it would be connected to the network AND get powered from the LAN switch. Oh well, you live and learn.

I switched out the Linksys Wi-Fi 1200 for a Linksys WRT1900ACS wireless router. The WRT1900ACS is a dual radio router which means you can run 2.4GHz and 5GHz at the same time. In other routers, if you have a single device connecting at 2.4Ghz then all the devices connecting to the access point have to run at 2.4GHz, which is not ideal. Although I went with a Linksys WRT1900ACS wireless access point, I would suggest looking at eero if your house is over 2,500 sq. ft. since it uses the latest in wireless mesh technology to eliminate dead spots in a large house.

The second addition to my home network was the Synology 218 NAS device. It’s a two bay device and the really big feature is the ability to provide on the fly transcoding of 4K 10-bit H.265 files, the latest video codec standard. I populated the NAS box with a couple of Western Digital 2TB Red Series drives and configured them for Raid 1. Raid 1 mirrors the data on both drives, which means my NAS box has a total capacity of 2 terabytes.

Before buying the Synology I was pretty sure it would be overkill for my needs but after using it for a month or so I have found 3 good uses so far:

  1. Before I was using Apple’s Time Machine to backup my iMac and MacBook to an external hard drive attached to my iMac. Now I have both computers backing up to the NAS box. 
  2. Download torrents directly to the NAS box using the Synology DiskStation Manager software
  3. Stream content to my TVs and phones with on the fly transcoding

What’s next? In the next couple of months I’ll be adding an IP camera to the mix and I’ll be able to stream that video feed to the NAS box as well. I would highly recommend a NAS box to anyone that is serious about having a complete home entertainment center. Granted it’s not something that is plug and play but it’s highly useful as our lives continue to revolve around digital content.

Download the full network diagram.

The Switch to Android

Screenshot_20180112-184127Several months ago, I talked about moving to Android and most of my family and friends were like “whatever, you will never move.” Hell has frozen over, my new daily driver phone is now a OnePlus 5T which runs on Android. I got it as a Christmas present from Santa Claus and so far it’s been great.

In my original blog post I wasn’t clear WHY I was planning to switch to Android. Below are my main reasons:

1. 3rd party keyboards still don’t work smoothly on iOS. It blows my mind that the default iOS keyboard still does not support typing by sliding your finger such as SwiftKey, Gboard, Flesky and Swype to name a few. And it’s even crazier that so many iOS users have no idea what they are missing by swiping instead of typing.

2. The ability to record phone calls. I’ve been in several situations where people agree to certain terms and conditions on a call and then later seemed to have forgotten what they agreed to. In Android it’s down right easy to record calls and share them quickly if required, the app I’ve been using is called Automatic Call Recorder.

3. Truecaller support. Getting SPAM calls is so much worse then SPAM email and that’s where Truecaller can identify callers before you pickup the call. I have tried Truecaller on iOS and it’s wonky, it has a mind of it’s own when it wants to work.

4. Pricing. With the introduction of the iPhone X it’s clear Apple is moving up the pricing curve because people are willing to pay. I don’t blame them but there are several excellent phone brands in the Android ecosystem such as OnePlus that offer great value for money.

Over the past several weeks when taking pictures of friends and family, several of them have commented quite loudly “Oh my god, you did switch.” I very much did…finally.

Above are the screenshots from my new OnePlus 5T and the apps I have loaded.