Takeaways from Alexa Dev Day, Bangalore
Voice-based interfaces are all in rage right now. On one side tech is being driven by Machine Learning. On the other side, speech-to-text, text-to-speech and Natural Language Understanding are complementing it from the perspective of user interfaces. This is not to say that keyboards and touchscreens are going to go away. It does suggest that there are many applications where sight and touch can be freed for parallel tasks while you converse with your apps using voice.
Some of the speech agents that power voice-based interfaces are Siri, Alexa and Cortana, just to name the well-known ones. Today I had the chance to attend Alexa Dev Day organized by Amazon Alexa team. Similar events are scheduled to happen all across the world in the coming weeks. The event hall was packed, mostly with developers, and mostly with those who already owned Echo devices. I found this to be the key differentiator with Alexa. Amazon has managed to get Echo devices into a number of homes and offices. Early adopters perhaps bought them for the novelty factor but thanks to them, basic uses cases have been shown to work. Now there's sufficient interest from developers to reach this bunch of Echo owners and beyond to interest them with innovative apps. Novelty therefore is moving from Echo hardware to apps powered by Alexa. I met someone trying to do railway ticket bookings with Alexa. A couple of guys from Sulekha are exploring voice-based hyperlocal searches. Another person is looking to give first-aid advice and emergency care.
Powered by Multi-access Edge Computing (MEC)
Until a few years ago, for many decades, telecom operators had been claiming that all they provided was a "dumb pipe". It was not their concern what those pipes carried; and they were not responsible for content that was served or consumed at both ends of the pipe. Their main goal was to ensure that the pipes had enough bandwidth to serve average and peak traffic requirements. All was well and good until over-the-top (OTT) content starting dominating the market. Such content bypassed legacy circuit-switched services and value-added services provided by the operators.
Indeed telecom operators started to lose both ends of the bargain. They now wanted control over the content and charge a premium but all they could collect from their customers was for bare bits and bytes. In a price-sensitive market, "unlimited plans" became the order of the day. When OTT content became predominant, operator revenues started to drop. Content also became rich in multimedia, particularly video that congested backhaul links. Operators couldn't afford to upgrade these backhauls. Yes, operators were providing dumb pipes but apparently even these had a hard time keeping up with demand.
Learnings from Mobile Growth Bangalore Meetup
If you're a beginner to the world of mobile apps, you may be looking for someone to guide you. Developing an app and getting it out on the app store is only the start of a long journey. Many questions will hound you from the start. Why are so few users downloading my app? Why do many users stop using the app within a few days? Why are users not making purchases via the app? Why are users not using the app as often as expected?
Obviously, all these questions cannot be investigated at the same time. Where exactly should you focus your efforts and budget? How should the issues be prioritized? Is it a matter for developers, digital marketeers, product managers or customer support staff? Wouldn't it be nice if there's a community of mobile developers to share and exchange best practices? That's exactly what Mobile Growth provides.
Plus an exciting quiz on IoT
IoT Project Day is our quarterly event. It's an event for exchanging knowledge, inspiring others and networking with peers. It really doesn't matter how trivial the project, we give chance to everyone to showcase what they have built, get feedback, learn and iterate. By having college students and industry folks on the same platform, students become aware of industry trends and project opportunities. As usual, we are happy to have it at Microsoft, Bangalore, and we thank them for opening up their venue for this purpose. We also thank all presenters who gave demos and withstood the barrage of tough questions from the audience!
Takeaways from a Singapore-India FinTech event at Bangalore
I have to start with a disclaimer that I'm no expert in the area of FinTech. What I'm going to share here are some things I picked up at an event today where experts discussed FinTech in very specific terms. The event brought together the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and FinTech Valley Vizag, along with Bangalore start-ups and corporate delegates. MAS is partnering with the Andhra Pradesh government on a number of tech initiatives and FinTech is one of them. While Singapore is becoming the FinTech hub in Asia, Vizag is making bold moves to become the FinTech hub of India.
Three things stood out for me at the event:
- Beyond Payments
- Government Policy
- Skilled Manpower
An opinion on the diversity of cloud services
I've just returned from AWS Summit held at Taj Vivanta, Bangalore. It was a busy day of multiple back-to-back sessions interspersed with networking over tea, coffee and lunch. The venue was packed. The sessions were heavy, at least for someone like me who has never used AWS in any big way. I was familiar with some of the terms before coming to this event but I was surprised how much more there is to the AWS platform. They say that as a developer you can focus on developing your application while the cloud takes care of everything else: deployment, configuration, scaling, security, access control, monitoring, etc. While this is certainly true in the long term, as developers we need to put in upfront investment in terms of time and effort to understand the plethora of services that a particular cloud platform provides.
They say there are 90+ services in AWS. It's bad enough that developers need to aware of all these different services at their disposal. It's worse when you consider that making the choice of the right set of services for your application isn't trivial. This is particularly hard for folks used to only on-premise software built in monolithic fashion. We have to be really clear what we mean by the word "monolithic", which is usually not properly explained in such summits.
Measure, analyze and optimize app experience
I come mostly from a web app background. I haven't done much work in the mobile apps except for dabbling with some sample code in React Native. Mobile has come a long way. Yes, it's built on the foundations of web app development but today it has a life and roadmap of its own. I was therefore glad to attend today's event organized by Flurry, which is a platform for mobile analytics. Flurry was founded in 2005 and acquired by Yahoo in 2014. The event this afternoon was attended by entrepreneurs, developers and marketing executives. There was so much information packed into one afternoon that I'm sure everyone took away something useful from it, even if they were experienced in the mobile space.
The format was a mix of panel discussions and focused talks. It was nice to see representation from a spectrum of Indian start-ups. It happens sometimes that events organized by US or European companies feature speakers who know quite well their US or European markets but nothing much about the Indian market. Today's event was quite different. With speakers and moderators from Paytm, Flipkart, CouponDunia, Wooplr, Bounty, YourStory and more, it was clearly and rightly focused on the Indian market. There were of course guys from Flurry, Truecaller and Branch Metrics who gave lot of additional insights.
The future of real-time apps
This afternoon I got to attend an event organized by Kranky Geek at 91Springboard, Bangalore. The topic of the day was WebRTC, an API and protocol that enables real-time communications without the pain of installing plugins, configuring devices or worrying about security. The event was nicely structured: an overview, a detailed explanation of a typical call setup and its API calls, a live coding demo, a look at multiparty complexities, and finally an insight into how a startup PiOctave is using WebRTC in its IoT product.
Real-time communications has always been a challenge on the web, although I must point out that the birth of UDP/IP/VoIP owes a lot to Network Voice Protocol (NVP) of the 1970s, perhaps the first real-time protocol of the Internet. The problem was that back then we were handicapped by low bandwidths and modem speeds. This is not much of a problem these days but true many-to-many media streaming is hampered by the architecture of the web. WebRTC is trying to overcome that.