From Humble Beginnings: the NFL vs. eSports

By most accounts, American Football1 started out with humble beginnings: a college sport that branched off association football (rugby) that spawned a bunch of disorganized professional organizations that eventually coalesced into the NFL and the college football behemoths we know about today.

The game started in the mid 1800s. The first professional game was in the 1890s, with the first player getting a secret single game contract that paid him $500 (a staggering $13,000 in 2016 dollars). By 1920, what would be the NFL was born. Players were averaging a few thousand dollars a year ($27K in 2016 dollars) by the 30s and often took second jobs to make ends meet. By the 70s, the modern game and the college game began to take the form we see today. The rest you know: Billions of dollars and a billion fans watching for it’s marquee event.

Parallels

In the late 90s, a new genre of competition now called MOBAs (multiplayer online battle arena) came to be. Derived from a popular real time strategy game, Starcraft, it has since spawned a growing industry of games in that genre. A few games, League of Legends (LoL) and Dota 2, have tournaments with million dollar prizes. They have college clubs around the world, including at a few you may have heard of. They even have their own doping problems.

Discovery

ESPN streamed a Dota 2 tournament in 2015 and even broadcast a MOBA on ESPN2 last year. Hard core sports fans were less than impressed.

I admit, I also was a little confused why a game I personally had never heard of, let alone played, was worth broadcasting on TV. Being me, that meant I started doing my research: learned about big prizes and huge audiences, read about the massive popularity of eSports in Korea, and looked at the games themselves.

That these games are the popular tournament ones makes sense to me. I used to love RTS games back in the day2. These RTS games are the predecessor to LoL, Dota 2, and Vainglory. MOBAs still share a lot in common with their ancestors. These games are a mix of:

  • pure reflex and physical skill
  • complex strategy carried out on a deceptively simple field
  • clear, easy to understand objectives

Actually, kind of like the NFL.

In other words, if you don’t play, you can still tell what’s going on at a basic level (kill the other team, take an objective). But if you play… wow, there are layers to unfold and strategies to debate and technique to admire.

I don’t play Dota or LoL, which is why a single Dota 2 broadcast couldn’t keep my attention for the whole event. I thought it was cool, recognized the RTS heritage, and basically went back to watching sports.

Revelation

One day, I picked up Vainglory. It’s a free MOBA for iOS which was featured during an Apple event. I dove in and immediately was hooked. I wrote about Vainglory (indirectly) last year. At that time, I had been playing the game frequently for months, so now (except for a couple month hiatus around the birth of my daughter) I’ve been playing this game for over a year. I literally play a round most nights before I head to bed.

I’m naturally competitive, and so naturally I want to be good at this game… Which is when the whole thing finally clicked.

In the Twitch post, I likened watching Twitch to the Golf Network. Boring if you’re not a golfer, but a great source of tips and help if you are. This is true of the entire community around video gaming now. For example, I’ve been watching videos on YouTube like BenTimm1’s videos to learn strategy and tactics. Tournaments are often streamed on Twitch.tv, so that’s another good resource.

Vainglory also has televised tournaments in Korea. The Vainglory IPL is broadcast on OGN, “a South Korean cable television channel that specializes in broadcasting video game-related content and eSports matches.” Here’s one of their broadcasts of a Vainglory IPL final:

Those are pretty good production values, which isn’t very surprising given the popularity of eSports in Korea. You can see a huge improvement, though, as each subsequent tournament is streamed. There’s a big improvement in the commentary, for example, even from the Vainglory World Invitational final, which took place right before the IPL tournament embedded above.

It’s important to note that this is for Vainglory, a relative newcomer to the MOBA and eSports world. Take everything I’ve said above and amplify it for LoL or Dota 2. This is a shot from Wikipedia of the Dota 2 finals crowd in Seattle:

By User:DarthBotto, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=33874814
By User:DarthBotto, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=33874814

Legitimacy

While the Great Depression hurt the growth of the NFL, it did provide one benefit: it convinced otherwise respectable men to turn to football as a primary source of income. These were college educated men, disproportionately from white collar families who probably would’ve pursued other opportunities. This raised the talent level, making the league stronger and likely creating a feedback loop3.

Vainglory, my favorite, is still small, paying out 10s of thousands for their grand prizes. Dota 2 has much higher payouts and an enormous prize pool. LoL is further along in their growth, and their tournaments provide a sense of where things are going. Riot Games, makers of League of Legends, provides salaries for their tournament players along with travel stipends. Make the choice to leap into professional eSports easier and the talent should follow.

All of that combined makes being a professional “League of Legends” player a viable career opportunity. This helps the game reach its full potential, because we want to avoid our pro players coming under financial stress and having to hold down part-time jobs. We want to make it so being a pro player is a completely viable career opportunity.

Riot Games’ CEO, Brandon Beck

It’s still not huge money. With sponsors involved, some of these players are making a decent living, even if they need to also have a side job. Kind of like the early NFL.

Prediction

The big MOBAs are growing the infrastructure around eSports in a way that points to a sustainable future. There are campus organizations forming along with amateur associations. There’s also more mainstream acceptance of gaming thanks to smartphones, and thus a bigger potential audience. The choice to play competitively is getting easier to make for players. Those trends just need to continue in the same direction, and eSports could be a huge thing. Maybe… kind of like the NFL.


  1. … hey, I’m overseas now, have to distinguish! :)

  2. I was a decent Starcraft player in my youth, and related titles like Warcraft III and Command and Conquer are still some of my favorite games. And wow, I didn’t realize C&C was still being released…

  3. I didn’t find too many sources aside from that one book (which I only have the Google excerpts for – it’s out of print, it seems). The draft came to be toward the end of the Depression and pre-WWII, which could correlate. It’s unclear (to me, right now) if the draft initially was because of an abundance of potential players or a way to entice players in. Worth doing more reading around this.

Master & Dynamic MW60 Headphones – Bluetooth headphones that live up to the hype

So, I may have a headphone problem the way some people have shoe problems.1 It’s not quite as bad as what I see with hard core audiophiles, but still, it’s bad.

Headphone addiction is kind of like they way people get hooked on adrenaline sports. You just need to get a taste, that first moment when a pair of headphones make you sit up and go, “whoa!”

For me, it first started with the first pair of headphones that really drove consistent bass (remember Sony’s Mega Bass? I totally got sucked into that hype). Eventually I grew up, realized that there was a lot more going on aside from the bass, even for EDM or whatever. The real a-ha moment came with a pair of Etymotic ER-4Ps that I still own to this day. They are my reference for great mid & treble response. Their only drawback is their bass response. It’s good, but not great, especially for tracks that really need solid bass response.

Still, I have so many “whoa” moments with these headphones. I’ll be listening to music I’ve listened to a hundred times with other headphones and I’ll just hear some detail that will pull me out of whatever I’m doing. “Whoa, what was that?” I’ll just stop & listen. It might just be the brush of fingers on a guitar, the bite of a bow on strings, or individual instruments that seem to merge together on other headphones.

The problem with the Etys is that they are IEMs – in ear monitors, or what everyone else calls earbuds. They go into the ear canal, creating a seal. The quality of the seal affects bass response. That adds a variable on top of the 4Ps flat response. So, while they feel exceptionally clear, sometimes I want to feel the sub-bass thump of an EDM track or the bass line of a hip hop track. They just showed me what was possible, but I knew there had to be better. Beyond that, IEMs aren’t as comfortable for long sessions, and they’re not interruption friendly (can’t just drop them to my neck). Plus, no mic or playback controls on these, either.

So when I returned to ESPN, knowing I’d be working in an office again 2, I started looking for over ear, closed headphones. I’ve used a pair of Sennheiser HD-280s (which I also love) at work since I moved to CT, through 4 different companies, but they are finally falling apart. Besides, they aren’t very portable nor do they have controls for play/pause/skip or a mic for calls. So, I began searching for a good desktop pair that also had phone controls and great, “whoa!” inducing sound.

One caveat – I’m not an audiophile, I don’t have golden ears, so while I aspire to own something truly crazy like the HiFiMan HE6’s3, I’ve generally stayed around the $300 mark (or less). For me, headphones are less about an ideal sound and more about clarity. I want them to show me something new about my music while staying very close to what the artist heard in the studio.

I’ve gone through my share of headphones. I tried the Sennheiser Momentums, knowing I like Sennheiser’s sound, but returned them due to fit issues (ear cups were too small for me). I bought a pair of PSB-M4U1s based on reviews at Marco Arment’s site and The Wirecutter. Those were the pair I was using daily until recently.

Though the reviews were great, for my taste I found the PSB’s a tiny bit bass heavy and a little muddy in the mids and muted in the treble. Good all around sound, I like them, but I had very few “whoa!” moments. Maybe even zero… I can’t remember any right now. They’re also huge, at the outside edge of portable.

So I’ve been keeping an eye out for a new pair. This winter, I decided to get myself a gift, the Master & Dynamic MW60 Wireless headphones.

I found out about them from a bunch of press reviews around the launch, all of which were uniformly positive: The Next Web, Wired, Engadget, the Verge. Basically, a great sounding Bluetooth headphone with a unique design and a listening profile that matches my tastes.

The main criticism is their cost. These are expensive, luxury headphones but they live up to the luxury end of the deal. The materials are amazing. The construction is solid. The earcups are so soft and just plain pleasant to wear that I’m happy to wear them for long stretches.

They’re also Bluetooth headphones, with the tradeoffs that implies: requires charging, can have interference, and requires codec support on your playback device.

I’m not concerned about charging. The MW60 have a built-in Li-Ion battery, and charge using a micro-USB cable. I have yet to run down the battery, and I’ve gone a few days without charging at times. They claim 16 hours of use between charges. They can also fall back to corded use.

On the interference front, I’ve had nearly zero issues. The MW60s have much better range and reception than most Bluetooth headphones owing to their iPhone 4-like external antenna design. Like the iPhone 4, though, you can touch the antenna or brush it accidentally and cause the signal to drop out. I’ve had a few blips now and then, but not enough to get me to switch to corded use (a cord is included, can be used instead of BT). It is awesome, however, to not have to deal with the cord anymore and to still have really good sound.

To maintain sound quality over Bluetooth, the MW60s support aptX, so you have that available if your phone or other playback device supports it. iPhones do not support aptX, but not to fret. Apple chooses to send AAC audio over Bluetooth, which the MW60 supports (I confirmed w/ Master & Dynamic before ordering). Depending on who you ask, the quality is comparable to aptX.

As I mentioned, my sound preferences tend toward the more balanced side of things. The MW60 delivers on that, with a slightly bumped bass response. That’s pretty much perfect for me.

There are a few things I would improve. The button controls for play/skip/previous could use a rethink. The buttons have several functions overloaded in unique (to me) ways. The headphones have 3 buttons, but they don’t map to the typical 3 button remotes on other headphones. The Apple earbuds, Bose QC-25’s and my PSBs all use the main play/pause button as a skip/previous button: single tap play/pause, double tap skip, triple tap previous. The MW60 uses long presses on the volume buttons as skip/previous buttons. It introduces a delay in the skip process – basically, I want to go to the next track, but I have to wait. I also can’t skip quickly because each skip is a press, wait, press, wait, etc…

One other smaller gripe: I wish the included cord was a mic + remote cord. It’s nice to have the ability to go corded for long calls, especially in the car, and to know that I can move the mic closer if it’s particularly noisy.

These are all ultimately small issues. My only real regret is not getting the brown leather version. I ordered the black pair, as all my other headphones are black, but almost immediately regretted it, too late to change the order, though. I’ll live though. They’re still amazing to look at. Just not as striking as the brown leather.

I haven’t yet mentioned the price, but they’re expensive (MSRP is $549). There is a lot of competition in this price range. Other reviews have suggested the Bang & Olufsen BeoPlay H7, the B&W P5s, or the Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 as alternatives. Those are cheaper and many have a noise-canceling option at a similar price point. I haven’t tried any of those, to be honest. I’ll admit that this purchase was at least 50% driven by the design of the headphones4 I’m glad I took a chance on this.

Overall, I would recommend these if you like the look of the headphones, are OK with the tradeoffs around Bluetooth (which, IMHO are minimal with this or any high-end modern set), and are looking for a luxury item. There are better value picks out there, but this pair is gorgeous.


  1. though my wife swears I have a shoe problem, too…

  2. I really miss working at home sometimes… being able to crank a pair of desktop speakers is pretty nice.

  3. … which require a higher end amp to drive them, probably another $500-1000 on top of the price of the headphones…

  4. Though, I did research Master & Dynamic’s previous releases to make sure I would like the sound and they lived up to the reviews. The MW60 are based on the wired MH40, which have a longer review history. For example, check out Head-Fi’s reviews of them.

One year later with the Twelve South SurfacePad

A year ago, I wrote that the Twelve South SurfacePad was my favorite iPhone case. After a year, I’m still very happy I bought the case. I love knowing that I can leave the house with just my phone knowing I have the two most important cards with it.1 I thought it would be worth following up on two aspects a year into using this case based on the most common questions I saw in reviews while buying the case.

The biggest question was around one of the marquee features: can it be moved/removed without residue and while still remaining effective?

For me, I ran into a snag, but was able to get it off and onto a new iPhone successfully. The snag has to do with how the adhesive is made. It’s basically attached as a sheet to the insider of the leather. As I started pulling the case off the phone, the adhesive sheet started separating from the case and sticking to the phone. I just stopped when I noticed that, made sure I got the adhesive off, and then made sure to peel by pulling the adhesive & leather. The adhesive stayed intact as a sheet, still attached to the case, once I got the first edge pulled off. I had no problem after that. No residue on the old phone, too.

I then reattached it to the new phone. So far, it feels snug, I can dangle the phone by the case and the adhesive doesn’t seem to budge at all. I’m pretty happy.

The second question was around how the leather would age. Leather darkens and can stiffen as it ages, especially something like a phone case that’s always in my hand or in a pocket.

It has definitely darkened, and I’m debating whether to get a new case for this reason. I do like the darker red, but I’m going to get some leather cleaner and see if I can brighten it up.

The slots that hold the cards still hold the cards well, but they do slide around a tiny bit. I have one card that’s heavier, made of a faux metal material, that does want to slide out if I shake the case. That may seem contrived, but I do jog with the phone in my hand, which does worry me a little (I check to make sure the phone is right side up as I begin.

I’ve included a photo below that shows the case back when I bought it, the case now, and the back of the old phone. The phone photo was taken without any cleaning or other work – just the case removed. Click on it for a larger view.

Even with the wear, I’m really happy with the case.

Composite-SurfacePad-Shots-small


  1. Interestingly, in the US, that’s my driver’s license and main credit card. In India, I just carry two credit cards since I don’t have a valid driver’s license.

Saying goodbye to Google Analytics, Hello Piwik

In my previous post, I mentioned that I was looking at reducing my dependence on free services as an experiment to see if I can improve my privacy.

That post was about changing my behavior as a consumer. This time, I’m looking at the services I use in my personal development work, especially those services that feed ad networks. In the case of my personal sites, this means Google Analytics (GA).

I did some looking around, and decided I want to be close to the same functionality as GA. It’s not a fair comparison if I don’t have the same features, so that criteria limited my choices.

After some poking around, I settled on running Piwik. It’s open source, free, and can be self-hosted on hardware I control. It seems extraordinarily customizable, though I haven’t done much here.

There are other choices like Mint or Woopra or Snowplow. There are actually more commercial options than I realized, in addition to the giants like Adobe’s Marketing Cloud (aka Omniture).

Ultimately, I chose Piwik because of it’s simplicity, it’s feature set, and it’s flexibility. I wanted to own the data1 and I also wanted the ability to keep up with a massive site if necessary.

So far, so good.

My Piwik Setup

I setup a cheap VPS somewhere, created a domain to host the server, and then ran Piwik on that single box. It looks like the service could have been installed on my simple web hosting account at Pair Networks2 with room to grow, but I wanted to work through the server setup for a refresher on setting up a VPS from scratch.

I then followed the Getting Started guide. That’s pretty much it.

Setup was also not as smooth as hoped. The configuration wizard has a bug, for example, that wouldn’t let it complete (I fixed it locally because I could – yay open source). It’s also non-trivial setting up an Apache server with SSL enabled when you haven’t done it in a while.

Cost

Piwik has a hosted option where I still own the data, but it’s not cheap (Piwik Cloud is minimally $29/month). Not the best option for me.

The good thing is that the software itself is free. Of course, nothing is exactly free. Here are some of the costs I ran into:

  • hosting for my own Piwik instance
  • SSL certificates to enable HTTPS
  • GeoIP database for accurate IP to location lookups (I ended up sticking with their free option)

This list doesn’t include my time getting all of this running, plus the time required each year to make sure the servers are secured, running the latest security patches/upgrades, and are monitored.

Looking back on it, Piwik Cloud might have been worth it when you consider the time & money spent.

Bye Google Analytics

I’ve removed Google Analytics from my main personal web projects, and replaced it with the Piwik tracking call. Since my server is the only thing that sees this data, hopefully people are more willing to whitelist the tracking domain in their ad blocker.


  1. I’m surprised more companies don’t setup their own analytics, at least in addition to their primary service. A lot of interesting things can be done with the raw data.

  2. Which I recommend: use this referral link to give me credit.

Goodbye Google Apps (GMail), Hello Fastmail (and MailRoute)

I recently moved nearly all of my email off of Google’s services over to Fastmail, with MailRoute in front of it to block spam. 1

So far, I’m really happy. The services are relatively inexpensive, and the features compare well with Google, both in terms of space as well as functionality that I used. The best thing is that Fastmail offers a real, simple, plain vanilla IMAP implementation, which means it works a lot better with my iPhone and OS X’s Mail.app without weird label/folder/all mail strangeness.

MailRoute’s best feature is the quarantine summary email. Basically, each morning (or any interval you define), MailRoute sends an email listing mail it blocked that might be legit. Each email listed has a link to recover the mail and/or whitelist the sender. So, from there, I can quickly recover false positives without logging in and trolling through dozens of obvious spam emails.

I’m really happy with the setup, and with a lot of the surrounding email cleanup this prompted – I consolidated a few addresses and unsubscribed from a lot of newsletters/marketing crap I wasn’t reading anyway.

On the spam front, it’s just a tiny, tiny bit worse than what I had with Google. There are fewer false positives (legit email that ends up in the spam folder) and once in a while, a spam message makes it into the inbox. There are knobs and controls to twiddle with if that bothered me, but so far I’m not motivated to fix it – it’s just not enough of an inconvenience that it bothers me.

Whys and Wherefores

Both Fastmail & MailRoute are paid services, while my use of Google Apps for Domains/Business/Work/whatever-its-called-today was free. So, why did I do this?

I had a long, rambling explanation written talking about tracking and the ad market and evercookies and super cookies and why this bothered me, but I’ll summarize all of this with a few images. These are all the third party elements loaded when you visit a major online site like people.com:

people.com

Step down to a smaller publication that has to be more creative about ad networks or revenue, like, say the Norwich Bulletin:

norwich-bulletin

Tell me the business models and privacy policies of all of those third party sites. I’m in the industry and even I don’t recognize them all.

While most of the top 10-20 online sites are pretty good about restricting the partners they work with, ad retargeting and related ad models are getting more popular, all of which require tracking you as you wander around the web.

I just want to browse the Internet without a simple Google search or visit to an Amazon product page, for example, following me around the Internet for the next few days. So, that means not relying on services that need that data unless I have no choice. 2

Email is only one of the things I’m looking at removing. I’m testing out DuckDuckGo instead of Google Search.3 I’m also contemplating writing/installing/tweaking a web analytics package to get rid of Google Analytics. That’s a bigger time commitment, though, so I may just need to find one with a better privacy stance.

Why Fastmail and MailRoute?

There are a lot of services out there and, if I’m being honest, I didn’t do a ton of research on this one. Just too busy these days. I heard about both of these services over the last few months from the Accidental Tech Podcast (MailRoute sponsored them a few times, I think), and co-host Marco Arment has blogged about them a few times.4

So, I basically just ran with that recommendation after pricing it out and deciding that the $5-6/month was worth it. A little more privacy (plus the better/different features) for a little bit of money seems like a fair tradeoff.

Like I said, it’s been about a month and I’m very happy so far.


  1. My @gmail.com address can’t be moved, and I’m keeping it. While I’m shifting most of that email to my main address, I’ll still use it for some things.

  2. I still can’t justify/rationalize quitting Facebook or Twitter. Moving email providers was easy. Yay, standards!

  3. so far, Google just seems better, especially for technical/programming searches. I haven’t switched over to DDG yet.

  4. That post, by the way, expresses a lot of what I like about this setup

On the New MacBook

I’ve been using the new MacBook as a personal travel laptop for the last month or so. I’ve been coding and writing blog posts with it and I wanted to share my experiences.

If you care about these sorts of things, I’m sure you’ve read countless reviews of the device. So I won’t try to cover everything. Instead, I’ll hit on a few specific things that matter to me.1

This thing is liiiiight

So, I bought this sort of on a whim. I had to travel quite a bit recently, internationally and with a lot of luggage already2. I’m working on an app for myself, and using that to learn Swift. I couldn’t justify the weight of a second laptop in my carryon, so I couldn’t/didn’t want to bring my own MacBook Pro in addition to my work laptop.3

For this scenario – a second, lightweight companion laptop – this thing is perfect. Far better than an iPad with a keyboard, because it runs OS X, and light enough that it’s like carrying a book. I hardly notice the extra weight. It’s just awesome.

Yes, the keyboard is weird (trackpad, too)

The keyboard is a polarizing feature. Reviewers seem to love it or hate it. I love it. It does take some getting used to, but once I did, I am able to type on it as fast as I can on my MacBook Pro. Switching between the two keyboards is my biggest problem. I make a few more mistakes when I first get on the Macbook, but it goes away quickly.

The bigger problem for me is that the keyboard layout is actually subtly different. Arrow keys and the Fn keys are the big ones for me. I still haven’t figured out the arrow keys, and still stumble around on those regularly. Thankfully I tend to code in things with Vi keybindings, so it doesn’t mess me up as often as it could.

For what it’s worth, I typed up the Mobile in India blog post on my MacBook (and this post, too).

The trackpad is similarly uncanny valley-ish, but more easily ignored. I sometimes tend to crash down on the trackpad to click it (trying to stop the screensaver from kicking in, for example), but since it doesn’t give, the haptic feedback illusion breaks since it doesn’t match the force with which I hit the trackpad.

Performance is merely OK

The Intel Core M processor used in the laptop is Intel’s attempt to build a tablet/hybrid processor. The processor also limits the amount of RAM. It’s OK for most things, but the laptop does struggle with anything that’s pushing a lot of data around. Overall, I see the beachball a lot more than I ever do on my MacBook Pro.4

That said, I run Xcode, I compile apps, and for the smaller applications I’m working on, it’s fine.

On the other hand, for writing blog posts, emails, and that sort of thing… this thing is PERFECT. I love it so much that I reach for it now when I want to sit down to write. The small screen minimizes the temptation to have distractions visible, and the retina screen makes reading type easy on the eyes.

Should you get it?

Depends. If you prioritize weight over performance, this is perfect. In any other scenario, the MacBook Air or the 13” MacBook Pro is a better choice.

For the developers, this cannot be a primary development laptop, but you can get away with Xcode or Atom or the like running with little trouble. Expect build times to be a lot longer than whatever you’re used to.

Bottom line: I love it, glad I took a chance on it.


  1. Two reviews that I’ll highlight, in case you missed them: Marco Arment’s review (he hated it) and Rene Ritchie’s review.

  2. Ex-pat living note: when you travel back to your home country, it’s expected (neighbors will mock you otherwise) that you maximize your return luggage allowance with everyday luxuries that you can’t buy easily here in India. For example, my last trip I had a suitcase full of baby stuff from our attic, many boxes of mac & cheese, maple syrup, and Clif Bars.

  3. Yes, I like carrying a separate laptop for personal things. I’m always hacking on personal apps and ideas, and I do all my writing on personal gear so I don’t cross the streams. Work is work. Personal is personal.

    I recognize this is like the ultimate first world, self-inflicted problem.

  4. I also installed El Capitan on this, so performance has dropped a little as I’d expect with with a beta OS and working in a beta Xcode

Some Observations on the Mobile Market in India

Living in India has given me a new perspective on a lot of things. Professionally, I’m constantly learning a lot just by seeing how differently people use their phones, and how different the market and ecosystem around mobile is here.

Intex? Karbonn? Spice Mobile? Oppo?

The biggest eye opener has been seeing the number of India-focused brands here in the smartphone market.

In the US, there are global brands like Apple, Samsung, HTC, Motorola, and LG and then a spread of other smaller brands. Here’s IDC’s list of the top smartphone vendors in India last year:

  1. Samsung
  2. Micromax
  3. Intex
  4. Lava
  5. Xiaomi

The market is also full of up & comers like Spice Mobile, and Karbonn, & other Chinese manufacturers like Oppo among many others I probably haven’t heard of.

Windows Phone is still a factor here, and I do still see Blackberrys from time-to-time, though they don’t rank in any public market reports I can see.

And feature phones – J2ME, basic phones… still big in India, too.

I’m Developing Android First

Most of the smartphones sold in India run Android. Android has a 90+% market share in India. Nothing else really is worth talking about, when you’re talking about smartphones.

So, while I personally am a dedicated iOS user, professionally in India, our teams think Android first. This is not the case for our US development teams, where both platforms have roughly equal priority and resources.

In the U.S., Fred Wilson’s 2010 call for Android first was bad advice then (and probably still is now), but the realities of emerging markets like India means doing exactly that. It’s literally the only game in town that matters.

Price is King, But Technology Matters

India is a price sensitive market. Obvious, right? But what I’ve found living here and talking to coworkers is that it isn’t just price that matters, but affordable value. From Ben Thompson’s excellent blog, Stratechery, talking about Xiaomi’s (and others’) rapidly growing customer base in India & China:

These customers are not conservative, or even pragmatists: they are enthusiasts and visionaries who simply don’t have very much money. The proper way to reach them, then, is not to sell them trickle-down technology: they will see right through that, and dismiss it out of hand. Rather, the solution to is develop new business models – indeed, in the case of Xiaomi, a new company – that is built from the ground-up to serve their specific needs.

This, too, is a powerful opportunity: there are far, far more potential customers in developing countries than there are in developed ones, but just because they don’t have much money does not mean they are technological laggards. Indeed, many of these customers are even more advanced when it comes to being mobile first because of the lack of a PC legacy, and they will embrace a brand that lets them live on the cutting edge.

Specs and feature bullets are still huge here, and not just because so many people in India work in the technology sector.

Android is Different Here

That central point, that people want tech but simply can’t afford the flagship devices, means that manufacturers need to find creative ways to manage cost while still offering an overall solid device. This creates subtle differences in user experience that go beyond the speed or feel of the device.

For example, Rs. 10,000 (~$160) is a common marketing cutoff for “inexpensive” smartphones (all phones are sold unlocked and contract free here).1

So, I decided to pick up a Micromax Canvas A1, which cost me about Rs. 4800 (~$75) fully unlocked, got a SIM for it, and have been using it as my ‘free time’ phone when I don’t need work email or iMessage.

It’s not a bad device – performance is fine – and because it’s an Android One device, it runs the latest version of Android. It does have some limitations that impact how we need to develop apps.

First, it’s a 3G phone – no LTE or HSPA+ etc. Even though LTE is coming online here in the cities, the state of the networks, plagued by inconsistent coverage, make this a less significant limitation. App developers already need to think about bandwidth as a precious resource. I’m used to seeing my iPhone on 2G/Edge networks regularly, and I’m not alone judging from our user reports.

The bigger surprise was the limited internal storage. I always found Android fans’ focus on SD card slots odd, but now that I’m running a phone with just 2 Gigs of internal flash memory, I suddenly understand. I went to download an app yesterday and got an error that I was out of space. And all I had on the phone were about 10 reasonably sized apps (the biggest was Facebook, at 150 MB(!). Android does let you move apps and some data to the SD card, so moving apps (when you can2) is the only way to continue installing new apps without deleting other apps.

There are even more subtle issues, some of which are detailed in this blog post at NextBigWhat. It’s a good summary of some of the challenges if you want to target the broadest swath of Indian mobile users.

Of course, you do get what you pay for. While things like Twitter and Facebook run fine, the screen isn’t as nice as the flagship phones. My main gripe, though? The horribly inferior camera.

Photo taken on my Canvas A1:

Canvas A1 Sidewalk Shot

Photo taken on my iPhone 6:

iPhone 6 Sidewalk Shot

No contest, IMHO.

I’m still learning a lot about India, and writing software for Indians (and the world outside the U.S. more broadly – Cricket, rugby, & F1 are global sports). We’re getting close to a few new releases at work, so I’m sure I’ll have more to learn and share soon. And there’s still other things – missed call marketing, the SMS market in India 3, and so much more.


  1. Contrast that to a flagship Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge, which runs for about Rs. 53,000 (~$833), or an 64GB iPhone 6 which runs around Rs. 56,000 (~$880), though on sale at Amazon for Rs. 43,499 (~$684.49) right now.

  2. So, I have an SD card installed, but not all apps allow themselves to be moved to the card (it’s a developer choice to allow this). Why wouldn’t apps allow this? Because moving to the SD card disables things like the app’s widgets. So… you need to focus on app distribution size, then you have to think about the user experience when the app is on the SD card, and parts of your app just stop working. Bottom line: not convinced SD cards are that useful, and rumor has it that Google is moving away from them anyway…

  3. Every company seems to send free text messages for everything. Seriously.

OK, I’m convinced… Must have headphones for heavy travelers

I can’t believe I’m recommending this, being a Bose-hater for most of my adult life, but the Bose QuietComfort 25 Headphones are now my favorite travel accessory. Overpriced, yes. Average-ish sound quality, sure. But the noise canceling is uncanny. Flip the switch and the silence is surprising. Unlike most other noise canceling headphones I’ve tried, these don’t give me a headache. I’ve used them on a few long haul flights at this point (17-20 hours in the air each trip) and they’re comfortable enough that I sleep with them on.

The Sony noise canceling headphones I used to own would give me a headache on a cross country flight. They were so annoying (and others I tried so poor at canceling noise), that I switched entirely to passive noise cancelation, using IEMs that just blocked sound.

That worked well enough, but on these long flights, enough noise gets through that my music needs to be loud enough that the music ends up giving me a headache after 5-6 hours in the air.

So, consider me a convert. If you have to fly as much as I have had to recently, these are worth the investment.

They work really well in the office, too. I’ll still use my PSB M4U 1 there, because the sound quality is better and I have an office with a door. :)

Moov: Fitness coaching, not just tracking

41WGe2Sns+L._SL250_We’re flooded with fitness oriented wearable devices from the step/activity trackers like the Fitbit and Up to smartwatches like, of course, the Apple Watch. Some phones even have dedicated activity tracking chips.

The sad reality, though, is that most of devices are basically the same. They do step tracking. A few add some extra dimensions of motion capture, or have some additional functionality like sleep tracking, or online tools for food tracking. They’re all about quantifying your day and they’re mostly passive companions. You may get a short vibration when you hit some goals, but that’s kind of it.

There are exceptions, and one of them is Moov. A few years back, I preordered it based on a tweet from a friend and one feature I hadn’t seen before: it pairs with dedicated smartphone apps to provide live feedback during workouts.

So far, they have dedicated apps for Running/Walking, for Cardio Boxing, Swimming, and the trendy 7-minute workout (with Cycling on the way).

I’ve been using the Running app as I come back from my shin splints injury. As I run, the app provides feedback on my balance, stride frequency, and posture, making sure I’m landing without too much force or jarring of my leg. So far, the runs feel better on my legs when using the app, and it’s been good about keeping me from running to fast or too aggressively (it talks to you to stay within a certain stride frequency). It’s simple, but very useful.

I also tried the 7-minute workout app for the first time today. The workout is based on the workout the NY Times covered in The Scientific 7-minute workout. It’s not the exact same workout, instead using a simpler set of exercises with multiple reps. It did feel good this morning – the muscles I don’t workout regularly were slightly sore, and the app’s feedback and rep counter worked well.

Every time I use this device, I’m impressed. I’m surprised it doesn’t get more buzz, to be honest. It’s way more useful than any other fitness tracker I’ve tried. Totally recommended.

An iPad, a Mac, and a Twitch.tv

I found myself watching some players on Twitch.tv this weekend playing Vainglory. It’s pretty much the only game I play these days and has been for months.

This was the first time that I could remember actually watching Twitch streams naturally – not checking it out because it was in the news or whatever. I actually found it helpful to my gameplay, and it was mildly entertaining. Most of you are probably rolling your eyes now, but you can kind of think of this like watching the Golf Channel. If you’re a golfer, you’ll watch because it makes you better. If you’re not a golfer, it’s the most boring thing on your TV.

That’s a big part of Twitch – hanging out, learning from, and socializing with people who take a specific game (or gaming) as seriously as you do.

What’s interesting about Vainglory is that it’s an iOS game. On Twitch, a big part of the experience is watching people play the game. So, they’re streaming live from their iPad (usually with other video, e.g. a webcam looking at them) on screen too.

So, the question is how people stream from the iPad. Today, I snuck in an hour here and there to try and get it setup.

I was prepared to write a nice post with sample videos and screenshots of how I was able to successfully stream and record Vainglory from my iPad, but sadly none of the attempts were good enough to share.

At this point, my conclusion is that streaming from an iPad using a Mac is frustrating and unnecessarily complicated. It involves installing a device driver from Github (to capture audio), running either an Airplay server or routing video through Quicktime, and installing a broadcasting app that’s sparse on the on-boarding.

I gather that the situation is lot better on the Windows side of the world, but I’m amazed that Twitch is so popular considering how barebones the streaming software options are. Even the Windows options, while better, look to involve a few steps.

I’m surprised Twitch doesn’t invest directly in the stream creation experience. They do get Twitch support embedded directly in specific games – that seems to be their avenue of choice – but those integrations tend to be very specific to each game and lack the features that make the good Twitch streams interesting (PIP, the ability for player voiceovers, etc).

On the upside, I learned that Quicktime Player can record video (including sound) off of an iOS device with nothing more than the lightning cable that comes with the device. That’s going to come in handy.