Friday, December 10, 2010

What WikiLeaks really means

"A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has" - Margaret Mead, anthropologist.

An unknown individual who calls himself 'Australia's most famous ethical computer hacker' - Julian Assange - puts up a website that supposedly carries leaked versions of documents and communications on sensitive state subjects. All hell breaks loose, as the one of the states concerned is a mighty power, engaged in multiple controversial & costly wars abroad, and the leaks put a big question mark on the entire authority of the apparatus itself! Apologies in advance are offered to friendly nations worldwide by the superpower (perhaps a diplomatic-first of its kind). Red-faced bureaucrats and politicians patch up in advance on many issues likely to emerge! The website promises more and more juicy releases, nation after nation goes after the site's founder (and administrator) and finally one of them nabs him.

Welcome to the WikiLeaks controversy. Perhaps for the first time in modern history, a single individual has challenged the might and repute of the superpower that's the USA, and dragged alongwith the reputations of many others. Perhaps for the first time, world governments realise how vulnerable they are to what a single man can do to them. Perhaps for the first time ever, media and its unbridled power to create extreme transparency are under question.

This controversy raises fundamental questions which I will attempt to answer below. I feel the three questions raised are
  1. Does a State have the right to do anything in the name of sovereign power? And then cover it up?
  2. Can media truly exercise extreme transparency without upsetting human civil values?
  3. What is the nature of truth itself? Are there permanent truths for us to hang on to?

Saturday, December 4, 2010


Oh the images that a Sunday conjures in our minds! Happiness, joy, enjoyment, togetherness. While we all have our own reasons to look forward to the weekly manna from heaven, I conducted a small survey among my social media friends, and here are the innocent, happy and amazingly enjoyable replies to the simple query - What is the one thing you enjoy doing on a Sunday?

The insights I got by asking a simple question were revealing. 360 degrees, in fact. From the apparently enjoyable act of merely dozing the day off, to the more cerebral tasks of planning and executing, the range is exciting! The more analytical minded of my readers will want to do a statistical post-mortem of this compilation. Go ahead! I am sure lovely learnings await.

A million thanks to all those who shared their thoughts.

For all marketing managers, here are the insights you were looking for. Now plan your budgets, and get cracking :)

What's the one thing you love to do the most on Sundays?

Kaushal Kasat - Sleeping, watching Movie, playing cricket and picnic.....
Pooja Khatri - Movies
Gireesh Nagar - Outing after a week long work.

Friday, November 26, 2010

The repositioning of Airtel

airtel logo for bright sparks blog for PT education Sandeep Manudhane SM sir
We have arrived, world!
All of us have been hit in the face by the new logo and brand identity assumed by Airtel recently. There is no street, no traffic junction, no major hording that's left untouched by the striking red and white combination of its unique new design.

Why is Airtel doing what it is doing? And how is it doing it? What does it hope to gain from this? Here is a detailed analysis.

What's in a name!
Well, nothing really, but surely a lot! The name carries the entire persona of the brand with it. The words used, the colours chosen, and the way the whole thing blends together is a direct representation of the class of the brand itself. Just like situations and circumstances in the real world change, so does a brand's need to stay relevant and contemporary. The latest major upgrade by Airtel to its visual brand representation is precisely this - a desire to stay relevant (in the consumers' minds) in a changed world.

A picture speaks a thousand words

Time for goodbye
As said, the logo becomes the visual depiction of the entire company. The striking visual becomes the live embodiement of everything the company stands for. People may not know the company well, or may not be its customers, but the logo strikes a certain chord in their heads when they see it, and the company ensures that it (it's brand, that is) has ensured a position in the mindspace. At least for now. The large clutter in the brand street also explains why the "red" was chosen - the human mind is hit hard by red. That's why traffic lights are red too (of course, there's the Physics behind it - minimum scattering due to maximum wavelength etc.).

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Fiction : The day Ajinkya thought of it all

This blogpost is a work of fiction. It's an excerpt from a book I am writing on this theme. 
If you are a reputed book-publisher, contact me at

The day Ajinkya thought of it all

Ajinkya Joshi looked outside the PMO's window pensively. He was overwhelmed by emotions, as memories of the past decade and a half flooded his mind, rushing like a series of powerful gusts of storm winds, ready to uproot everything he held dear all his life. It was the 28th of April 2023, when Ajinkya, as the Prime Minister of the broader state of Indian subcontinent, was presiding over a nation that was rooted in a new geo-political reality. The 'broader state of Indian subcontinent', as it was now called, included chunks of other neighbouring nations, some governable, others chaotic. It was the only democratic nation left in Asia.

Ajinkya was barely 45 years old when, four years ago, he was urgently summoned by the National Council of Patriotic Indians (NCPI), from his Finnish hometown. As a brilliant IIT graduate who earned his PhD in Nuclear Physics, he shone in the world of global security establishment. He had not understood fully the reason for the immediate call, but the broader picture was clear to him. Ever since he left the American Nuclear Command Services based at Washington DC in 2016, he had decided never to dwell back into that kind of work ever again. Though India always held a dear place in his heart, he really did not think his family would be able to adjust to the grim socio-political realities of the subcontinent now. But nonetheless, he had returned, much to the cheer of everyone in the NCPI. Much against his wife's and daughter's protests, he had left the secluded underground town of Kristiinankaupunki in Finland. Kristiinankaupunki was one of the few destinations in the world that boasted of completely nuclear-radiation-free lifestyles, still (most others had resigned to the fact that residual radiation was a part of life, and one had to move on nonetheless). Immigration was strictly controlled, and robotic processes ensured only those still un-inflicted could get in. Scandinavia had 21 such locations, interconnected through underground tunnels. There were open areas and cities, of course, but the risk of getting irradiated was entirely the residents'.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Limits of Success - what internet companies can teach us

As we go about experiencing and studying the business model of internet companies, there is a fundamental big lesson to be learnt about managing businesses - the limits of success.

Every business, new or old, successful or not, has to undertake strategic planning for its future. It can be an informal approach (as it is with most SMEs and FMBs) or it can be a formal HQ directed approach (as with most MNCs). Whatever the model be, there was a time when strategic planning meant creating a vision for the next several decades. Then it got reduced to perhaps around 10 years, and then 5, and then not more than the present fiscal. I doubt if strategic planning today can be done with any amount of confidence even for the next 6 months.

This is especially true for internet companies. By the term "internet companies" I refer to those firms whose main business is to provide a certain platform/service to users on the internet. This platform/service can be social media (Facebook), search engine (Google), online auctions (eBay), cloud services (Microsoft) or retail store (Amazon).

What do we mean by "the limits of success?"

Going beyond strategic management, the internet companies are a great way of learning crucial lessons about the most pressing question in business management - the limits of success. Four questions define this:
  1. How much can a company succeed in its business?
  2. For how long can a company succeed in the same business?
  3. How profitably can a company keep on, in the same business?
  4. Is success permanent?
These questions almost seem encroaching in the domains of philosophy and futurology, but they remain the core questions that every manager worth his/her salt has to confront some or the other time. As I said earlier, studying the internet firms is a fantastic and enriching way of understanding the answers to these questions regarding the limits of success.

Let me illustrate my thought with some detailed examples :
    The engine and the windows
  • Browsers I remember way back in 1993, there was a time when the email was just beginning to make its presence felt. As the email spread around the corporate world as the most fancy thing to have, the path was set for the development of the first business model of dominating the internet - the browser. Netscape Navigator (NN) was the first classy internet browser that came along. Created by the famous Mark Andreessen, it soon became the dominating force for desktop internet search. However, this lasted only for a couple of years when Microsoft made a u-turn on its stand on the internet, and decided to come full force and destroy the NN. In classic Bill Gatesian style, Microsoft bundled a free Internet Explorer browser with its dominating operating system the Windows, and naturally, as always, it killed the NN in a short span of just 2 years. NN could do nothing and watched in horror as it almost vanished from the market. It still exists, but the glory days are over. As a dedicated user of the NN, it was quite shocking for me to see its sudden demise, and the inexorable rise of the IE browser. This - amongst other things - culminated in a legendary battle between Microsoft and the US Justice Dept, which again Microsoft won, and saved itself from being cut up in parts to avoid its monopolistic abuse of power.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

ICH - an enduring brand

I wrote this awash in nostalgia. It might as well be written by a student of the discipline of marketing, and for all I know the story carries so much gravity it could easily turn into a case-study one day. I hope it does! I like it when Indian stories take that route.

For almost all of us, some of the enduring memories of childhood relate to the time we spent with our loved ones while eating out. Those memories, vivid in detail, flash through the mind several times in later parts of our lives. These are pleasant memories, happy moments that stay with us forever.

It is rare for service providers and manufacturers to last beyond a certain age. Usually companies come and go. That's the rule. Very few stay. Either the concept gets worn out, or the promoters may lose interest for a variety of reasons.

Especially so for (retail) food companies that don't indulge in aggressive marketing. If they survive as a brand for decades, it means three things for sure
  1. the quality of food is excellent
  2. the loyalty of customers is pretty high
  3. pricing of certain critical items is strategically done
India has its share of successful food brands. Amul is the foremost and the poster-perfect example of one such success-story. What makes Amul special is that it's not some high-sounding corporate that created it, but a cooperative federation. It's a sterling example of a truly unique experiment that was managed to near perfection. Not just the philosophy behind it, but also the commercial side was taken care of very nicely.

One more brand that has stood the test of time is the Indian Coffee House, or ICH. The name is a misnomer as they serve a full range of meals and food-items. And very tasty & healthy stuff really!

The Indian Coffee House is run by a series of worker co-operative societies. It has a strong presence with hundreds of restaurants across India, but largely in South India. I really like the idea as it is a commercially successful venture run by worker co-operative societies. This is as close as you can get to a healthy blend of socialism and capitalism.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Indian Microfinance saga

Over the past few weeks, I have watched in consternation as the malice and hatred inside and towards the MFI industry has spilled onto the streets, and in the media, and the paragons of virtue (the promoters of MFIs) have perceptibly fallen from grace. The drama has all the ingredients that a Bollywood blockbuster requires - the poor looking for messiahs, greedy MFI promoters, husband-wife battles, politicians hungry for power, red-tape and bureaucrats, billion dollar IPO valuations, the inevitable suicides, and the clamping down. From the glowing and rich praises heaped upon the work of Nobel laureate Md Yunus of Bangladesh, to a typical corporate-political potboiler is quite a distance travelled by the MFI industry, in South Asia.

For any entrepreneur, management student, or a policy-maker, the MFI saga presents an excellent ground for learning.

Before I get into the nitty-gritty of this story, let's run through the basics.

What is the concept of "microfinance"?
When you lend money to tiny businesses, you are doing 'microfinancing' of those tiny enterprises. A tiny enterprise could be as small as just one individual.

What are MFIs?
Imagine the scenario in small villages and towns, when people who have very little steady streams of income want to grow and meet their financial obligations and chase their dreams.. and no established source of credit comes to their rescue. Big banks surely do not. Governments are - generally speaking - tardy enough not to be very effective. So who helps these guys, if at all? It's the Microfinance Institutions (MFIs). These companies (or institutions) extend "loans" to these small guys. So naturally, it all sounds good. The small guy needs small sums, the MFI hands it over to them, and everyone is happy. So, microcredit is given to many borrowers by microfinance institutions (MFIs).
Microfinance firms typically give loans to small businesses that have no access to banks and charge an effective rate of 28-32 per cent a year, about double the rate on bank loans.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Civic sense in India - Indians speak out!

Recently, I started a discussion with my social media friends on this topic - "Indians lack civic sense - basic manners in public places that keep civility alive. Suggest one thing you wish to change in Indians' habits, that would improve civic sense and civility."

The list of answers I received reflected pain, hope and frustration in almost equal measure. Here I present the entire range of opinions expressed  by various individuals. It makes a fantastic read.

Indians lack civic sense - basic manners in public places that keep civility alive. Suggest one thing you wish to change in Indians' habits, that would improve civic sense and civility.

Shoaib Ahmed If everybody loses "I am the king, no one messes with me or talks in even a lil higher voice with me" then India or atleast Indore would be, atleast, a place to live in.
Nikita Phadke I think talking loudly on phone in places is a habit people should try to improve.
Navneet Bajaj Every Tom, dick & harry in India has some 'Neta' connection, which not only empowers them to keep their civic sense at home but also enables them to take law in their hand...
Rahul Sinha the correct word is nepotism :)
Menal Lunawat The mentality of the people and would like to widen their thinking...people want all the luxury but dont want to make any efforts from their people love living in clean city but still will throw wrappers n stuff on road even when proper place to discard them is there...but people should understand that make some efforts because 'boond boond se gadh bharta hai'
Yuvraj Jaipal staring @ people..
Anurag Mangal As a resident of Delhi, I believe that people should get themselves more calm. Unnecessary aggression especially in north India is very high. Which reflects on traffic lights, que of metro, buses etc. Those who are not a part of this aggression while watching others violating their rights makes them also to be a part of this disease.
Giriraj Singh Chundawat recently some official (i dont know name) claimed that we Indians have inferior cleanliness sense than west. I felt bad but somewhere inside i thought that actually he is partially correct too. The way we spit on roads, throw garbage wherever we wish, etc shows how much we care for our prestige. We sincerely praise the clean foreign roads (yar UK ki roads to kaach jaisi hoti h!) and then turn away in disgust our face when it comes to clean our own house. i wont suggest some law or something else to ban spitting etc bcoz thats very difficult to implement in the country of our proportions. But i think it can't be done unless we realise the moral responsibility of keeping our country clean. And we can do it. Why cant we keep our roads clean when we think twice before spoiling a five star hotels' floor? We are one of the oldest civilisations on earth. We have taught the world how to live. Cant we do it again??

Sunday, November 7, 2010

No action replay, please.

The emptiness, fluffiness, unbelievable-ness and thoughtless-ness with which a movie can be made becomes visible to the audience. You cannot hide it. Even the lightest and most humorous of movies need solid gravity to succeed. They need at least one solid anchor to pull them off!

Unfortunately, if the quality of the movie "Action Replayy" is anything to go by, I would request the director Vipul Shah that "No action replay now, please!"

This movie has seriously dented the image (at least in my mind) of the much-applauded director. And in this fiasco of a wannabe blockbuster, the biggest losers are those who are actually not at fault - the actors. And the audience!

One enters the movie theatre with high expectations as the promos seen on TV are excellent, the cast is solid, and the director is a proven one. Yet, one of life's surprises is sprung when we find that even all these do not add up together the way they should.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

A Sunday accident

This note was written on Sunday, 31-10-2010.

Had an interesting and sad experience today. While going out on a long drive with family (at 3 pm), I saw a motorcycle driver on Indore Bypass (near Truba college) lying on the road, bleeding profusely from the head. He had just met with an accident, and when we crossed by, I could see him trying to call for help (while lying on the street). People from nearby HP Petrol Pump and Dhaba had begin to gather around him.

I sensed that the accident must have happened barely 3 or 4 minutes ago. From the looks of it, the motorcycle was coming from the other side of the road (perpendicularly) and the car that hit it could not see it come, and hit it. That car had vanished by now, leaving just the fallen back bumper on the site. The victim was not wearing any helmet.

My family was in very good mood today. But this accident suddenly changed everything. Having seen that man bleeding & lying helpless on the highway, there was no way we were driving away heartlessly.

Usually, you do not see blood dripping like water from someone's head. Perhaps a whole lifetime will pass by and most of us will never witness such a sight. So when one is confronted with that unexpected situation, the mind finds it difficut to react immediately. I guess that's what happens in most accident cases with most onlookers.

Around 50 people had gathered by now. Dazed. Stunned. Silent.

I parked my car safely a little distance away from the site of the accident. My son got very scared, and asked me what we are going to do. I said "we are not driving away, that's for sure. But let's wait a minute before I get down and do something about this."

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Kaun Banega Addicted

Watching Amitabh Bachchan's "Kaun Banega Croreparti" on television is a fantastic exercise in not just rewiring and acid-testing your grey cells, but understanding the cultural nuances of India as well! It's an addictive & well-lubricated series, and hence immensely enjoyable to be part of such an exercise.

How easy it seems!
Well, KBC is a general knowledge based quiz programme, intended to bring out the best in its participants, all of whom chase the seemingly not-too-far a target of Rs 5 crores. In just 12 seemingly simple steps, you can reach the pot of gold! But no one seems to reach there quite often. Come to think of it - in an informal sitting, if I make you an offer that in just 12 questions you can win Rs 5 crores, and you can use 4 helplines too in the process, you'll think I'm a lunatic (as you will be almost totally sure of winning). But then, on the sets of KBC, not many people actually reach there. Amazing, isn't it?

Amitabh's style has the following distinctly positive elements -

  • Ultimate grace - you will never find Big B losing his calm and composure even under provocation. He remains cool, dignified, solid and friendly towards the participants, and the audience.
  • Helpful hints - perhaps as a part of the programme designers' strategy, Amitabh gives several hints before 'locking' any answer. A smart contestant on the hotseat can easily pick the clues.
  • Puts life even in repetition - the whole format is repetitive. After all, what's there in it? You get 10 people to do "fastest-fingers-first", then you get one of them onto the hot seat, then you throw 13 questions at him/her, then you award the money, and back to step 1. Even then, the whole process looks (feels) totally new everytime Amitabh reboots it. Credit goes to his personal charm, charisma and quality of communication.
  • Sartorial treat - most of the times, the dress designers earn a 10/10 for Big B's fantastic suits and ties. Even the most boring (rare!) of episodes seem to scrape through due to this!
The programme has revelations for you, if you take some pain to delve deeper -
  • A gold-medalist teacher who is on the hotseat, and unable to answer a question because he does not know the meaning of "vacuum" is a big red flag for Indian teaching system
  • A computer engineer (B Tech, 24 yrs of age) who does not know what the "S" in the "SIM" card stands for, is another big red flag for the engineering education in India
  • Many of the apparently easy questions are not easy at all! You realise that once your confident answer (delivered in front of your wife and kids) goes haywire. Ha ha!
  • Even a very slow programme (the KBC is quite slow - just 10 to 20 questions per episode of 1 hour) can be made addictive for millions of viewers, for years on end
These are revelations! And KBC has such nuggets in abundance.

The more things change, the more they remain the same -
  • The show's lead sponsors keep changing. But that does not at all affect the continuity of the show and the brand image "KBC". Logically, at times I think, it should.. as so much is at stake through the active involvement of the lead sponsor. But the KBC brand remains intact, irrespective of all this.
  • Even the anchor changes, and the brand remains intact! Shah Rukh Khan led the show in its third version, and came out a winner. And today when Big B is back, KBC is as vibrant as ever. This is quite amazing. And it indicates that the underlying trust of millions of viewers is much stronger than anything else.
  • KBC appeals to the most intellectual of viewers, as well as to those with no particular interest in the pursuit of knowledge. That's a significant achievement, especially in the Indian context. Perhaps that's why Bollywood was roped in to lead the show.
  • I guess one of the unstated clinchers in the KBC drama (I use this word positively here) is the cultural exploration of the contestant's background, by Big B. The way questions are asked (and answers given) about the personal, social and cultural background of the hotseat'ed' is very revealing. And at times, it seems to overshadow the quiz itself! But no one minds.
  • KBC holds lots of practical lessons for students of management - in marketing / advertising / branding, in operations / processes, and in strategy.
So on the whole, a wholesome treat to eyes, ears and the mind. KBC remains that lottery that can change your entire life, at least for some time!

Rock on, KBC!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

China's Nobel nightmare, and lessons for India

It finally happened. Despite aggressive posturing by China over the past few months, the Nobel Prize Committee decided in favour of granting this year's Nobel Peace prize to Mr Liu Xiaobo, a Chinese dissident.

What's the story?

Well, in the year 2008, before the Beijing Olympics were to be held, a group of prominent Chinese intellectuals and dissidents met to discuss and debate the issue of "Universal Human Values" and whether these truly are universal (and hence worth pursuing) or - as the Chinese Communist Party likes to put it - a Western plot to push its own values onto the unsuspecting East.

The meeting ended with the creation of a Charter called the Charter 08 - which was a declaration that certain values like freedom of speech and democracy are indeed worth pursuing, are universal, and hence even in China, they must have a possibility of democratic debate and ultimately, a democratic government system.

This was enough to enrage the Chinese government. Obviously! So they did what they are best at - a rapid crackdown saw most of these intellectuals behind bars, Mr Liu included. The charges were 'revolt against the state'. But what Mr Liu had done was not unique. This was the feeling in the minds of a large number of Chinese, although not many openly speak up in the Chinese system of perpetual repression of free speech.

This incident opens up a lot of issues worth pondering.
  • How long can the Chinese trick of posturing (aggressively) before various world governments continue? Every time some head of state wants to meet the Dalai Lama, there is a stern warning issued by Beijing warning them of dire consequences. Even Norway was issued a similar warning recently (that relations will sour between the nations if the peace award was indeed given to Mr Liu). But Norway went ahead and did it. It's another matter that the Norwegian government is now trying to project that the Prize Committee and the Government are two distinct entities!
  • What is the "Chinese model of growth" that so many of us in India are also enamoured of? Put simply, it is a model of forced growth, where one central planning body takes all the decisions, and simply puts them into execution. They do not seek anyone's views, permission or dissidence! They just go ahead and do it, Nike style! There are no courts to interfere, and definitely no free media to slow them down. This model has created an amazing material prosperity for large parts of the Chinese mainland, and has been touted as perhaps a model that India would be better off with. In short, this is a model that does not value democracy, and believes firmly in "ends justifying the means".
  • A lot of Indians too have a feeling that perhaps this "Chinese model" may be better for India. They are lulled into thinking so because what we see around us is a lot of poverty, illiteracy and decadence. They see corruption, debilitating delays in the judicial machinery and horrendous inefficiencies. And they come to a simple conclusion - "Democracy is the main cause of India's backwardness".
  • I beg to differ. I strongly feel that democracy is a better system and must be followed by India always. I feel that democracy is the only way the universal value of freedom can truly be practised in a practical format. So where's the catch then?
  • Democracy is not responsible for our poverty and backwardness. The corruption and lethargy of the State apparatus is responsible for all this. We have to learn to differentiate between these two extremely different issues. If the State machinery is corrupt, inefficient and insensitive, that does not mean that democracy is responsible for it. It may mean the opposite - that despite democracy, the citizens are not taking these problems seriously enough to effect a large scale long-lasting change in the society.
  • In fact, the Indian State has become a parasite - feeding off its own people, demotivating the honest & the enterprising. Ominous portents. Problem with large part of Indian media too - can't genuinely differentiate between the goodness of democracy (as a model) and the badness of our State's apparatus. They automatically equate the two - because we have so many poor, hence democracy is bad. How wrong a logic this is! I repeat my conviction - we are poor because our State does not perform efficiently, not because we are democratic.
  • A final argument in favour of Indian democracy - it is a fantastic system of checks-and-balances, and generally is able to keep absolute power from falling into any one hand. And since absolute power corrupts absolutely, perhaps we are spared the tyranny arising from the same!
So my fellow Indians, the luxury of democracy is something we can surely live with! But the decadence of a deteriorating State apparatus is something we should all cry hoarse about.

Inefficient babus, corrupt netas, slow office procedures, lack of vision in project design and  implementation, amazingly slow judiciary... all these are eating into the vibrant democratic freedom that we have offered ourselves.

Let wisdom prevail. Let change come.


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Finally, an iPhone.

Finally, an iPhone - a review by a first-time user.

After a 14 year love affair with Nokia, only briefly interjected twice by Samsung and HTC, I have finally moved on to the domain of Steve Jobs. The great, grand Steve Jobs. My new Apple iPhone 3GS has taken me - for the time being - to a different plane altogether now.

Apple Inc logo image for Bright Sparks blog of Sandeep Manudhane sir
A bite, anyone?
Having observed the consistent failure of Nokia to provide a really good smartphone that could stir my fancy, I clung to my 3 year old E90 (Nokia Communicator) with all the loyalty I could muster. But it just did not measure up to what the world was now becoming.

Media played its role too. Apple turning into a tech company with the world's highest market capitalisation, and laudatory reviews appearing persistently in global media played their own part. The clincher perhaps was a full page article in last week's The Economist which talked at length about the travails of Nokia. Somehow, I thought, let me try this new stuff.

So here I am with my new iPhone 3GS - 16 GB. Do excuse me, as I write with some enthusiasm! I am using this stuff for the first time, and as someone who can appreciate the beauty of original thinking, I think I am in love with a lot of what it has to offer.

But first, the precautions:

  1. As a Nokia enthusiast, it will take some time to get adjusted to an iPhone. The first 48 hours are most painful. The thought of switching back to Nokia crossed my mind several times, but I persisted, and tried to learn all the features. And it worked!
  2. The interface is everything. Apple wants you to enjoy the iPhone. One cannot really use it - one has to begin to enjoy it. Then you start becoming a part of Steve Jobs' vision of technology serving man, and not the other way round.
  3. The iPhone is symptomatic of the new world of smartphones that will be the lingua franca of the mobile industry in years to come. Even at the entry level, chances are, iPhone like features will be industry standard. But iPhone is not built for India! It's too smooth, too shiny and too soft for it. That's a huge minus, and hence one needs to be physically very cautious while using it.
  4. Learning the on-screen typing will take some time. It is not easy. Nokia enthusiasts accustomed to the tough qwerty keypads may find it frustrating to actually focus their minds on individual alphabets as they pop up in big sizes (beautiful!) as you type from the onscreen keyboard. It takes some time before you realise the wonderful magnifying glass waiting to be at your beck and call!
Now, the adolescent moments of joy!
  1. The touch experience is breathtakingly beautiful. It just rolls! And rolls! And if you learn it fast enough, and move your fingers 'across', it rolls even faster. This is pure joy. Seamless, non-jerky, non-discrete. Silicon Valley has scored a big plus over Scandinavia, in touch.
  2. The way Apple has ensured simple tasks remain simple, in a touchscreen environment, is praiseworthy. To delete an sms/email, just wipe your finger across and the red coloured delete button appears for you! It sure gives you a sense of control.
  3. iPhone image for Bright Sparks blog of Sandeep Manudhane SM sir
  4. The icons are outstandingly beautiful. Steve Jobs' love for calligraphy, simplicity and beauty is all too visible in the way each icon is designed and placed.
  5. SMS experience is totally different. Instead of being stored as discrete pieces of communication (like in most other handsets), various SMSs exchanged between any two people are shown in a series of communication bubbles. That changes everything! You can view your entire conversation with someone over time, not just pieces of it (though there is a major minus in it, which I will mention later).
  6. Typing, copy-pasting, deleting is all very intelligently designed. A new user must spend some focussed time learning these tricks of the iPhone trade, to fully release its raw power and energy.
  7. Setting up the phone is a lovely experience. Smooth as silk, everything settles down quickly, and the unique packaging (in which it arrives) makes you scared at first (Oh my god!, this is so different.. I hope I can handle it) and delighted soon thereafter!
  8. Managing pictures and videos is really very cool. In fact, the entire phone - oops, device - is all about its "cool" factor. It is very visible that Steve Jobs and his team have done everything possible to retain the "cool" factors even while the device goes about handling the most mundane of tasks. Making calls, for example. The way the list of calls made (recd/missed) is displayed, and gels with creating new contacts is superb. It is extremely user-friendly once you master it. It takes some time for that, though.
  9. The device's homepage icon management is classic. You can do anything you want to - this is one freedom very few companies offer. You can create multiple home pages, with any possible arrangement of icons. That is the extreme to which you can push customisation. And it really helps generate a sense of ownership in the owner's mind (it did, for me!). The way a folder gets created is classic - just drop an icon "into" another icon, and presto! the folder is ready - it uses commonsense.
  10. Steve Jobs pic for Bright Sparks blog of Sandeep Manudhane SM sir
    Steve Jobs and his digital world
  11. The online iTunes store's width and depth surely must be huge, but I have not started using that fully so far. I guess it must be one of the most populated online stores, and options on applications must be varied and rich. My son's first horrified reaction "Dad, nothing is for free here!!!" proved wrong when we spotted the "Free" tab, and discovered a whole host of free goodies available. Now for an Indian user, that's really important :-)
  12. The arrival of 3G networks in India will multiply the pleasure of using an iPhone. It is truly designed for that infrastructure only. The tardy speeds at present kill the joy of seeing a webpage load in all its glory, with easy navigation and delete options.
  13. Using the phone in hands-free mode (without a headset) is very convenient as the on-screen icons are very large and clearly visible.
  14. Spending time on online-social-networking (OSN) on this handset is very interesting. From feeling that you are on a miniature PC to enjoying the adjustable-screen-display-tilt feature, it glides fairly smoothly. Webpages are a breeze.
  15. Emails are very smooth to manage. And the push-mail feature makes it very Blackberry like (though almost all brands offer this feature now). But I must admit - Blackberry is totally business-like in appearance and behaviour. So perhaps the iPhone is for evolved business-persons! Ha ha. And thank God they do not restrict the number of email accounts one can install.
But the product is far from being "perfect". Limitations are:
  1. SMS communication thread makes it very difficult to identify the last received sms from any user (as it gets inside some communication somewhere!). It is only upon the first prompt that you can see the fresh sms clearly, and then it is lost inside the whole list of communication threads stored. You may change this through the settings feature, I guess, but the thread utility will be lost then.
  2. Why, oh why, do you have to create a separate tool for a thing as mundane as a SIM card slot! It is a foolish idea. The pin just cannot be preserved safely for long. And since billions of other handsets in the world are easily working with a manually (and easily) openable sim card slots, why do we need a pin in the iPhone to accomplish that task?
  3. It is clear that Steve Jobs did not have India in his mind while designing the iPhone. My small advice - please wake up to the subcontinent's realities, if you really want to crack the market here. The dust, grime, sweat, jerks, tumbles and drops here are unlike anyplace else. The iPhone is too sophisticated to become a mass product in India (which ultimately Apple will try to become). It catches dust easily, gets scratched very quickly, and the real danger of the windshield ruined to pieces is all too scary!! I have issued clear instructions to both my kids that the first one to smash my screen will have his/her PC confiscated.
  4. The handling of the device needs extra care. Apple should put a good grip on either sides of it, that's leathery and rough, so we can hold it properly. Smooth metal is hardly the best idea!
  5. Of course, it is costly!
  6. The best way to silence an incoming call is to have an on-screen icon like most other handsets have, by default. The lack of this feature in the iPhone 3GS surprises me - is there some higher purpose here?  (you can silence it by tapping the volume-control switch provided on the left side)
  7. I am still not able to see the "automatic into drafts folder" option for sms that you suddenly lose while typing (Nokia has this very useful feature). It is very irritating to lose a large w-i-p sms after typing out most of it!
  8. Nokia phone image for Bright Sparks blog of Sandeep Manudhane sir
    Nokia's great vision
  9. It is frustrating for a business user to notice the lack of a flash while taking pictures. It ruins many images totally. Nokia rocks in this feature! Apple iPhone 4 removes this anomaly, but it's fairly costly for that.
  10. We all know that Apple is a closed universe - their own hardware, their own software, their own policies, and their own showrooms (mostly). So it will take some time before adjusting to this reality. This is in stark contrast to a very open Nokia system, that grows on you like addiction in no time. (the Ovi service never could catch on as much as Nokia would love it to)
  11. The microphone quality is a bit inferior though, and one needs to speak loudly at times, when using the speakerphone mode.
  12. The auto screen-tilt feature is not foolproof in the iPhone. It works best when the phone is held perpendicular to the ground, not when it is at an angle.
  13. A big irritant is the absence of a "delete all" feature for sms and emails. How do you delete multiple sms / emails? One by one? Come on!
  14. Big letdown - Battery gets drained very fast, not a suprise given the size of the display screen. So while one could get away with a 2 days non-charging period with the Nokia E90, here it's a tight situation, even with a low 'screen brightness' setting.
  15. An advice to Apple and Steve Jobs - send a team of designers to India, and let them study the sturdy, tough, unbreakable (almost) handsets of other manufacturers that operate for the Indian market. In the long run, that learning will work wonders for Apple, as it goes about grabbing a meaningfully large share of the Indian market.
My verdict : If you are totally happy with your present handset (which most likely will be a Nokia!), no need to shift. You are in sturdy, solid hands. But if you have had enough, and want a complete change, iPhone it is.

Let's see how this battle evolves in the months to come. It can move in any direction, as writing Nokia off may be foolhardy. They simply can bounce back with a disruptive product that again takes people like me to their fold (what a waste of money it will have been then!). For the time being, let me partake of life's little pleasures including wiggling icons, the silver-smooth Apple logo, and rapturous communication threads!

Thanks for reading, and have a good day!

A comprehensive, topic-wise and useful collection of my various posts and answers can be found here. Enjoy.


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Monday, August 9, 2010

Wisdom Speaks - Chief Justice (rtd) Shri R S Garg on his life and times

"As an MBA, whether you choose to be a Dream Merchant, or a Nightmares Supplier is entirely your personal choice."

It's not often that one gets to hear distilled wisdom of several decades neatly encapsulated in the form of wisdom nuggets, delivered articulately, in packets of digestible sizes. Today was one such event, when we heard one of the best speakers who has visited our campus.

As part of the Annual Positive Contribution Award series, PROTON was proud to honour Chief Justice (Retd) Shri R S Garg who recently completed a marathon innings spanning four decades, and retired as the CJ of the Guwahati High Court. Justice Garg then spoke eloquently about his life and times.

He connected the dots spanning a very wide spectrum of topics, including character, tactfulness, diplomacy, law, justice, adjudication, reasoning, communication skills, anger, hatred & love, right & wrong and career choices. It was remarkable to observe a senior Justice of his calibre and standing present the ideas in a language that 20-year-olds could understand clearly. That was surely the mark of a true master!

On preparation: The stage of life that young people are at, is akin to passing through a furnace. Just like cast iron, wrought iron, and steel are increasingly pure versions of iron ore, similarly a student has to pass through fire repeatedly to evolve from cast to wrought to steel. In other words, if you are scared of the fire, be prepared to live the rest of your life as a piece of cast iron. Similarly, a piece of stone can only be sculpted into a desirable statue by repeated chiselling with a pointed tool.

On self-direction: If you are an aggressive (but upright and reasonable) person, people around you will find your edges uneven, irregular and causing lacerations. Over a period of time, you can change the perception to someone whose edges are evened out and are incisive rather than bruising!

On persistence: A small piece of cork that keeps hitting a 1 ton steel plate repeatedly in a pendulum like fashion, may ultimately make the plate move. That is the power of persistence and tenacity. One has to persist; nothing happens overnight.

On arguing: Many people may relish winning arguments on the spot. But they may not be able to win the vanquished's heart(s). It is more important to handle a situation properly, than to win an argument. In other words, there is no point in winning the battle but losing the war!

On truth and perception: There is no absolute truth in this world. There are differing perceptions of reality as people have perceived them separately. So, the glass is half-full for some, and half-empty for some, but in all the cases, the glass remains much bigger and more profound than the contents! You are the master of any situation if you have access to the total truth, which is never possible. Real truth is always larger than the bits presented to us.

On communication skills: Having a good command over the language(s) and being able to speak them well is perhaps the most important skill one can possess. It is important to know that "good" is better than "better" as the former is absolute whereas the latter is relative. To tell someone that "I am like your father" may not go down well, but "In you I see my son", or "You are younger than my son" will have a totally different impact.

On the art of asking questions: It is an art to ask the right question : So should you ask a priest "Can I smoke while praying?" or "Can I pray while smoking?". The answers, obviously, will be totally different in these two cases!

On the art of apologising and letting go: Winning arguments is not necessarily the best option, as discussed. A great tool can be reflected in the approach - "If I am wrong, I am sorry. If you are wrong, let's forget it."

On lessons of life: While relishing a paan in Lucknow, a drop of kaththa fell on the shirt. The paanwala reminded the customer that "Janaab, this is Lucknow. You should bend forward, as even the paan here demands adab!"

Similarly, when someone gets totally fed up with a career, the juiciest fruits present themselves.

On diplomacy and wit: A young lawyer was aghast to hear a judgement that went against his client, despite excellent chances of success. Upon seeing frustration on his face, the judge reminded him of legal propriety suggesting a possibility of contempt of court otherwise. A senior had to gently submit to the judge that "My Lord, this lawyer is new and should be excused. In just a few days, no judgement in your court will shock him!!"

On education and motivation: One needs to be educated when one does not know how to do it. One needs to be motivated when one does not wish to do it. Knowing this crucial difference is the hallmark of a great teacher.

Great one-liners -

"Do not just learn to sing a song, learn the raag"

"Do not just win the game, win the race"

"The glass is always bigger than its contents"

"There is no absolute truth - Truth is what appears to be true : plausible, reasonable, probable"

"Handling a situation properly is more important than winning the argument"

"You may disagree with others, but do it in a style that looks like an agreement"

We agree sir. Totally!

Pictures of the event may be viewed here -