Sep 16, 2007

RSS agents and Instant Messaging bots

It is hard enough to keep track of all the RSS feeds we have in our subscription list; knowing when they have been just updated would be helpful, but even more tough. Why not combine the power of RSS and Instant Messaging to give you an instant update? The idea is nothing new, and there are tons of services out there already.

Yahoo Alerts helps you pick different topics from a list, or even enter a custom RSS feed from third-party site, which can be delivered by email, Yahoo Messenger or text message. Some other websites that provide similar services are Imified, Rasasa, FeedCrier and ZapTXT.

You can use them to subscribe to RSS feeds (news, weather updates, sports score, etc.). As soon as the feed is updated, the bot would IM you the summary. It actually converts the pull based RSS into a push technology; you are updated as and when it happens. Of course, you can control the frequency and content of the updates through a web interface. What is really great is that some of them don't even require registration; just add a bot as your IM buddy list and you are done.

Imified, for instance, has a Blogger widget. You can add the Imified bot as a buddy on your IM, start a chat session and pull up sports score (from an RSS feed) or update your Blogger post; all of this from your instant messenger. Kind of like Twitter, which also has the same functionality. You can also create your own widgets and customise it to your requirements.

What is really great about using IM as a platform is that you can use your mobile phone's IM client to access the services anywhere, anytime. You are waiting for your bus, and in comes a new instant message : "Manchester United 2 : Liverpool 1 FT". No more expensive text messages, no more manual browsing!

More Bots

As you may know, Google Talk uses the Jabber protocol. Add eliza at (in the usual email id format) as a contact in your Gmail account and you can start up a chat session with a bot.

There are also lot of Jabber bots that can provide weather, dictionary and mail notifications. (Jabber bots and IM Bots for Jabber). Please do leave a comment if you find other interesting services/bots.

Sep 5, 2007

Unlocking your iPhone - Legal or not?

It has been some time since I put my last post. Six months, to be more accurate. And so much has happened in this time that I can't even begin to describe what. Google has bought over Doubleclick in a multi-billion dollar deal, the iPhone has finally come out (and promptly unlocked, I must add), Opera Mini 4 is in beta, millions of blogs have started since, and a lot many abandoned. Wow, and I haven't even scraped the surface yet.

Let us get back to the iPhone. I have said this once, and I will say it again - Apple is a master marketer. Their phone is not the first to have touch screen, nor is it the only smartphone with music capabilities by a long shot. Heck, it doesn't even have 3G. Still, you find thousands of people waiting in serpentine queues to get hold of the sleek black gadget. Pretty impressive for a commodity product, which is also tied to AT&T as the sole service provider. But then again, Apple has succeeded in setting up the iPhone as "the" product, and not a commodity after all.

Now to the whole unlocking the iPhone issue. Hacker groups across the world would have been working tirelessly to crack open the iPhone's lock to the AT&T network, ever since the product was unveiled late June. It is to Apple's credit that it took them so long to break open the lock; most hardware and software protection technologies have fallen in a few days' time. However, once the first method came in, others have followed pretty rapidly. Both hardware and software workarounds have been devised, independently confirmed by leading websites.

So the question is, would unlocking the iPhone be legal? If AT&T has not subsidised the cost of the handset from Apple to the subscriber, then surely this is between the user and Apple, isn't it? Or is it? What business is it of AT&T's to check what a user does with a phone she has bought from Apple? Seems like a pretty grey area even for the legal pundits, and as for me, I am still left wondering. However, if you go by common sense, what I do with hardware I have bought is nobody else's business, not even the company I bought it from. I could buy an iPhone and use it on AT&T network or choose not to, use it as a very expensive doorstop or simply put it in a blender and run the motor. Most product warranties would be void if you do any of the above three things, but wouldn't I still be legally entitled to do this? The US Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) has explicitly cleared unlocking phones as long as they are used for legally connecting to a network.

Apple would probably be forced to go after these unlocked iPhones as per their agreement with AT&T and they would probably have the law on their side if the unlocking is being done on a commercial basis (in which case the above DMCA protection might not hold). But what is to stop a hacker group from releasing software on the Net which anybody can download and run on their iPhones to get them unlocked? Would it be still piracy or abuse of Apple/AT&T's IP rights?

The legal muscle of two of America's biggest companies might thwart most outfits hoping to profit out of the whole unlocking debacle, but if you are smart enough to unlock your own iPhone, you just might get away with it. But don't take my word for it, decide for yourself.


Update: Apple has announced a $200 price cut on the iPhone, in less than 10 weeks of the launch. All tech devices get better, faster and cheaper with time, but this one is phenomenal! CNET article

Feb 16, 2007

You will be assimilated

The Borg is perhaps as representative of the Star Trek series as much as Enterprise or Voyager is. Always on the prowl to make contact with new species and assimilate them into the Collective, the Borg is one of the most feared enemies of the Federation.

The Borg is unique. Unlike other species, the Borg do not fight for territory or power. They only need your technology. The purpose of their very existence is to find and assimilate alien technology to their own. Once a species is assimilated, all their technological expertise and cultural distinctiveness passes on to the Collective. The Borg drones are not individuals, they share a Collective mind or its cybernetic equivalent.

I can not help but wonder how much we live in a Borg-like state today, with a life more and more immersed in technology. A new breed of human beings who love technology and want to be surrounded by it, be it our Blackberrys or iPods, our smartphones or laptops. Cases abound of people addicted to the Web or their smartphones, losing all sense of time and reality when they are plugged in, much like the Borg drones. So the next time you feel the urgent craving to check your mail when you are holidaying in Hawaii, stop and recall the Borg hail.

Resistance is futile. Maybe it is true. Maybe we are being assimilated.

Jan 13, 2007

iPhone - Anything different?

Amidst the usual fanfare and hype surrounding any Apple product launch, the iPhone seems destined to be the next star product from the company. Described by Steve Jobs as "magical" and "revolutionary", the iPhone is expected to change the landscape of technology once again.

But before we start drooling over it, a bit of reality wouldn't do any harm. The iPhone is a combination of the legendary iPod and a GSM phone. It also comes loaded with standard smartphone features, Bluetooth and PIM functionalities. The one thing that is sure to excite Apple loyals is the operating system it runs : OS X. Put in a sleek Apple-style cool interface and you have got the iPhone. The 4 GB model that would be released later this year comes at $499, and a 8 GB one would cost $599.

The iPhone has no usable feature that isn't available on other competing devices, so I can't see why they would call it magical and revolutionary. If you are talking about the capability to play MP3 and other digital audio formats on mobile phones, others have had it for years together. WiFi and Bluetooth are nothing new either.

Apple has, quite predictably, decided not to open up the iPhone to third party applications. Any new application that you would like to run on the iPhone would have to come from Apple, and that too, at a price. Most mobile platforms, including Symbian and Microsoft, allow third party software to be run on their systems. This encourages more developers to contribute software, which in turn attracts more users looking for greater variety of software. (Also known as the Network effect).As a result, the price of software on these platforms would be much lower than controlled platforms like Apple's, simply because of the demand supply equations.

iPhone applications would be costlier to develop as developers would have to pay out huge sums as royalties and license fees to Apple, and this would inflate cost to the end user. So anybody getting an iPhone is not only looking at the base price tag, but a much higher investment in terms of cost of additional software. The usual service charges associated with Apple would still stick, as even the battery comes built-in and you would have to go to Apple for servicing it.

With all the above, Apple doesn't seem to be looking to market the iPhone to the masses. But then again, Apple has never tried to be the mass-market company. Either way, it would be really interesting to see how the iPhone does in the already crowded market.

BBC, Wikipedia (Technical specifications)