HTC and the Bootloader

I have always loved HTC because in so many ways they have made their devices not only good-looking but also user community friendly. Their history with this has been long before they were a well-recognized consumer brand. XDA-Developers is one of the most recognized communities for this kind of activity. HTC contemplated about whether or not to lock up the bootloader. After concerns from the community, HTC opted to not forge ahead. This is another testament of HTC’s commitment to the community.

It never really occured to me as to why they would contemplate such a thing especially since of their standing in the user community and it’s one of the reasons why their devices is so popular. As we are exploring other devices here other than the BlackBerry, @lukereeves pointed out the security risks with Android devices that have root access. The issue is to do this, you’d have to open access to the bootloader. Once the Bootloader is opened, regardless of what security you have on the ROM, you’ve enabled a way to bypass it.

I’m really curious about how HTC would balance between the consumer community and the business community which is traditionally lucrative. The other thing to consider is that the consumer space is where most of the bleeding edge technology is now unlike 15 years ago. The consumer is more than likely to switch more often. However, not many people would like to carry two devices so whatever corporate provides tend to be an individual’s primary device. It would be interesting to see what HTC will do. Perhaps start a separate brand to focus on the enterprise space?

Asus EEE Pad EP 121 – Two month review

I’ve always been a fan of Asus and always felt that Windows 7 would make a great tablet for me. I first experimented with the ExoPC but quickly felt that it was quite under powered making it’s use to be cumbersome. I used it for a few weeks but quickly realized that it wasn’t meeting my needs. When Best Buy in Canada announced that it had devices in stock, I quickly ordered it and picked up the device the very same day.

Asus EP-121 with all accessoriesPower Supply

Here are my general thoughts for it:

The Asus EP 121 has a built-in Wacom digitizer on it allowing for very fine grained writing. The handwriting recognition is quite mature on Windows. It does a number of things really well. Windows has a handwriting bar where you can write and it does OCR to translate it to something legible quickly and fairly accurately which is nice. It is more usable then the soft keyboard that comes with Windows 7 which is an absolute disaster in comparison to other OSs like iOS and Android

Windows 7
Having Windows 7 is both a strength and a weakness. It’s great because it is a rich OS. Apps like OneNote and Outlook which I love are available for this device. A number of apps like Kindle and IE support multi-touch really well. Where it fails miserably is that multi-touch is not supported by the OS but rather it’s a bit of an afterthought. Most apps get confused with the multi-touch input. Other things that is a detriment is that Windows isn’t a fast boot up device and it tends to burn through power really quickly. I can probably only get through a couple of hours before runnint out of batteries.

12 inches
The size is actually massive for a tablet in general but it’s a perfect notepad size. I like having all of the real estate on the screen to write efficiently. A 10″ feels cramp to write on in general.

No compromises on performance
It’s an i5 processor that is quad-core with 4 GB of memory and a 64 GB hard drive. It can run most productivity apps that I can throw at it without any lag most of the time. It’s a full blown notebook with USB ports, Bluetooth, WiFi and HDMI capability. When needed, I can dock the tablet to attach a wireless keyboard and mouse and it acts like a real notebook

Wacom digitizer
Unlike many tablets, this is one of the few that has both a digitizer as well as multi-touch capability which means it supports touch as well as pen input. It does both really well from a capability perspective however, it’s multi-touch is limited by the Windows OS in terms actual usability. Hopefully Microsoft will solve this in Windows 8. Another thing about Wacom tablets is that I’m able to buy third party pens from Cross.

This is my 5th Asus device and Asus has had yet to let me down. I love the build quality of it and traditionally Asus has a worry-free warranty for a year. Short of losing it, they will fix anything for free. Another thing about Asus is that they make very nice looking devices and their build quality in general is simply fantastic.

Upgrading and Accessorising
The Asus EEE Pad EP 121 comes with a case, pen, spare nibs for the pen and power supply. The case makes it look like a proper portfolio and it comes with a slot for an extra pen. The case also allows you to prop the tablet in either landscape or potrait mode. The power supply is extremely slim and has a port for USB charging. I love the little things that Asus does to make their devices stand out. There are a few things that I would probably like to do over time. The first is of course to upgrade the hard drive. After the warranty is over, I’d like to open up the casing to put in at least 120 GB of hard disk space. A stand would be nice too. I have one from the ExoPC and it’s great to use when I get home. I also have a Logitech MX550 keyboard and mouse attached when I’m at home.

Tips and tricks
This really is more about RTFM then about tips and tricks. If you’re like me, reading manuals are always quite optional. The Asus EP-121 is actually quite intuitive but there were two things that I found useful to know. The first is that when in boot up mode, the volume rocker buttons act as up and down navigation which is intuitive enough but I didn’t realize that the base button also acts as the enter key. This is useful when recovering from a bad reboot. The base button activates the Aero program scrolling which is very useful especially in Windows 7 where touch navigation is a bit cumbersome. Another really useful feature is that holding down the base button also acts like Ctrl-Alt-Delete which really helps to lock your screen

I’ve had the Asus EEE Slate for a few months now and I have to say that I love it. It has made my job so much more productive and I can’t imagine functioning any other way. I had always envisioned in going to meetings with an electronic notebook. I love my Asus EP 121 for this because it runs Windows and by default runs OneNote. OneNote is by far the best note taking tool I’ve ever used. Evernote comes a close second. I like that I can handwrite my notes quickly. I also like that I can organize my thoughts in Notebooks, Section Groups and Sections. It’s allowing me to combine multiple notebooks in one. Although it is pricier than most other tablets, the conclusion is that it is quite worth it. At approximately $1200, it combines a full blown notebook (and not a netbook) and tablet in one.

HTC Flyer – First Impressions


I didn’t think the wi-fi version of the HTC Flyer would be available today but good friend, @karatedan, mentioned that it was so I went out to pick it up while I was in the New York state on a short vacation. Here’s a picture of it sprawled all over the floor of my hotel room after I got it this evening. I managed to spend around 30 minutes with it and thought I’d write about my first impress

Some quick specifications of the HTC Flyer

  • Android 2.3 OS(Gingerbread)
  • 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor
  • 7-inch capacitive multi-touch sensitive TFT screen with 1024 X 600 resolution
  • 1 GB of RAM , 16 GB of internal storage and Micro SD memory card support
  • 5 megapixel camera with auto focus on back side and front-facing 1.3 megapixel camera
  • 4000 mAh Lithium – ion battery
  • Bluetooth 3.0 with A2DP for wireless stereo headsets
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n
  • Internal GPS antenna with navigation system
  • GPS Sensors, Ambient light sensor, G-Sensor Digital compass, Accelerometer
  • HTC Sense Pen API

My initial impressions about the HTC Flyer is a positive one unlike how I felt about the ExoPC. 7 inches is a really nice form factor for a tablet. Large enough that reading on it is a pleasure but small enough to carry around with you. Android is a much better tablet OS than Windows because multitouch is supported by the entire OS and not only by certain applications. The HTC Reader app is quite nice and is linked to Kobo and Adobe. I suspect it’s actually the native Kobo Android application. Other than that, I haven’t had the opportunity to play with anything else on the device. I will write a more detailed blog in a month or two after getting a chance to use it some more.

Lockitron Lets You Unlock Your Door With Your Phone

I’m loving this idea for my home because I rarely have my house key with me but I always have my phone. I currently have a Weiser lock that allows you to punch in a code to open the door but there are a few things that bug me about it based on how I use it.

Batteries run out
The only time I have my house keys on me is when I drive otherwise I’m reliant on the ability to come in through the Weiser lock. I remember a number of times when I am essentially praying that there is just enough power to turn the lock. It would have been quite unfortunate if there wasn’t.

Emailing keys to others
Every once in a while, we’d like people to have the ability to enter the house when we’re not home. They can be trades people or friends who need to pick something up. The problem with the Weiser lock is that is that it isn’t easy to change the lock code and as an individual, you have to remember the new lock code.

Web interface
The plus side of this is that it is easy to manage. Web interfaces tend to be more intuitive then remembering a sequence of buttons to press. However, I can see this being difficult to use by people who don’t have smartphones

One thing I’m unclear of is how does it align to other smarthome interfaces. It would be nice to have something that could not only deal with my locks but also with other things I would want to do with regards to making my home smart.

My new Macbook Pro, Optibay and Carbon Computing

 I recently picked up my second 15″ Macbook Pro in as many years. There was nothing fundamentally wrong with it but the now 4 year old Macbook is old and has missing keys and thought it was time for an upgrade there. My old Macbook Pro came with an i5 2.3 GHz processor, 8 GB of RAM and I upgraded the drive from a 500GB HDD to a 120 GB SSD. The laptop worked really well. The one thing I did regret though was not getting the higher resolution screen.

So this time around, I took the new 15″ Macbook Pro with the middle of the line processor – so an i7 2.3 GHz processor, 750 GB HDD, 4 GB HDD but upgraded the screen to the 1680 x 1050 glossy screen. The plan was then to transplant the SSD and RAM to the new machine. One thing I have to say about Apple products is that when they enable you to do your own upgrades, they make it really easy to do so. Swapping out my HDD and RAM took me less that 10 minutes to do both.

Another upgrade that I opted for was to purchase an OptiBay. The OptiBay is a third-party solution that replaces your light drive with a casing to house another HDD in your Macbook Pro. A must if you plan to have a small SSD as your primary drive. While you could install it yourself, I actually opted to buy it from Carbon Computing, a local Apple retailer, in Toronto. More on that later. The concept and implementation works seamlessly and I haven’t noticed any issues yet. I like the fact that I can now fearlessly install crucial apps like… uh… Starcraft 2 and Duke Nuke’em on my Macbook without the fear of losing space.

My experience with purchasing the Macbook Pro was a bit mixed. On one hand, I think the people who work at Carbon Computing are genuinely nice. However, there was a whole slew of miscommunications that would make me hesistant to go back there. First off, when I discussed purchasing the Macbook, I realized it was a Custom-To-Order but didn’t realize it wouldn’t be in stock. My bad on that one. After placing the order, I was informed that it would take about 10 days for the order to arrive. On day 8, after not hearing anything, I decided to check in. I was quickly informed that the order was not in yet and they had no indication as to when it would arrive. After the email though, Quentin, the sales person responsible for the order did a fantastic job keeping me informed. I was informed that the device was finally in Toronto after almost 15 days. Frankly, not a big deal. I can accept that transporting something anywhere run into hiccups. When I picked up the Macbook, the drive was not installed. The good thing is that they did install the drive for me the same day. What frustrated me, however, is that I had to wait approximately 3 hours for it. Not a problem if I lived or worked nearby but I don’t. I ended up going to the office to work and I had to call after 3 hours to check to see if they were done. Finally, as I was on my way home, I got a call from Carbon Computing telling me that there was a bit of a mix up with my bill and they didn’t charge me the full amount for my purchase. Fortunately, I was able to complete the purchase over the phone although I don’t love giving my credit card on the phone. So my personal experience is mixed. Again, good guys and hopefully it was just something off.

All in all, I LOVE my Macbook Pro. I didn’t expect the i7 to make a difference given that I already had an i5 but somehow it does. I definitely the 1680 x 1050 screen. If you’re using it as your primary work computer at home like I do, it makes a difference. It is definitely worth the investment. One of the things that I’m interested to see is if there will be more docks built leveraging the thunderbolt port. If not, I see a BookEndz port replicator in my future.

Being Agile at

It’s hard for me to believe but it has been a little over 9 months since I started working at Points International and what a busy but awesome 6 months it has been. A big part of my job has been recruiting and one of the biggest things that we look for in a candidate is the ability to adapt to our agile environment. Agile is relatively new to Points being intoduced a little over 1.5 years ago here which was before my time. While the company has embraced it, as one of the Agile champions at Points, I find myself constantly thinking of what it means to me especially from a software engineering perspective.

I have spent the bulk of the last 7 years developing processes. For me, processes is best used as a form of communication. Processes that are used to exert control is what you get when a team or an organization is undisciplined or isnt’t high performing. When processes are used as control, it fails miserably because they tend to be rigid and brittle. I like Scrum because it removes barriers to communications and reduces friction and enables agility by increasing communication and reduces time and distance to make decisions.

In order to be agile, any team has to be disciplined otherwise you quickly become ad-hoc. I often liken an agile product team to the same an an elite combat force like the Navy Seals or to an elite athletic team. These teams often train hard and are focused. Execution comes like second nature leaving their minds to focus on adapting to the unexpected while the mundane and repetitive comes instantly like muscle memory. An agile product team is no different. Things like automated test coverage, scrums and prioritization should come like second nature to the team.

Having run operational teams before, one of the hardest things to do is to remain focused. Most incident management processes have the concept of severities to help prevent distractions but ultimately they still happen. One of the key successes to being agile is to be focused. There should always be only one priority one for a product team and they work on until it is solved or they are hit with a roadblock. So a big part of a software engineering team’s role in a product team is to look at how many engineers can fit into a story before they block one another. A product manager’s role is to ensure that there are clear priorities and a scrum master will try to keep the product team focused and remove distractions. The idea of herding cats should be gone.

Business Value
What drives the focus of the product team is the business value of what they are producing. The product manager has the difficult role of assessing business priorities with all of the relevant stakeholders and then prioritizing them against one another. Another way that a product manager provides value is to ensure that the product team is working on stories that are thought out so that the development team isn’t spinning their wheels on stories that are constantly changing.

It’s hard to provide business value without quality. Your reputation is often driven by the quality of the product that you build. However how much quality you need is also driven by business value. The one thing that I love about agile product teams is that quality is not a role that is identified with a QA person. Instead, it is considered a trait that needs to belong to everyone. It is everyone’s responsibility to deliver a quality product from ideation to delivery.

Predictability is a powerful weapon to have in your arsenal when running a business. Predictability is useful when you need to commit something to market. Once a scrum team matures and achieves consistent velocity, a business can reliably predict when they can commit something to market with predictable quality and effort.

Ultimately, to achieve all this a product team needs to be cohesive in vision and they need to have self ownership of outcomes while being driven by a business vision. I love the fact that Points is commited to being a company that’s agile. While we aren’t there yet, we are committed to being there and maturing our company as a whole to get there. Working on being agile is one of the many things that I love about working here at Points.

NFC – It’s about the e-wallet

I’ve been really excited about the NFC technology since it’s been announced an have been reading quite a few articles about it. Over time, it has made me re-evaluate why I’m as interested in the idea as I am. After the soul searching, I came to the conclusion that for me, NFC is a means to an end. It’s really the e-wallet idea that really intigues me.

I don’t know when the idea first intrigued me. Perhaps it was being in HK and watching others use the “Octopus” card but it wasn’t until Dexit came to Toronto that it became more of a reality. Dexit failed but Mastercard introduced PayPass and provided a broader infrastructure and it is still being actively used. To me, the idea really sunk in when I was part of the beta group for a Zoompass initiative. The idea of being able to wave my phone at a device to pay was great. Almost everyone who saw me do it enquired about it. Most were disappointed when they couldn’t be part of the program that enabled them to use paying by their mobile device.

There have been a few concerns about the concept that are interesting that I’d take the opportunity to discuss:

Low Volume of Adoption
For the most part, the segment of people that would benefit most from this technology are people with smartphones. Although there have been discussions about embedding the NFC chip into the SIM card to enable older generation phones to have this capability, I suspect that anyone who would be really interested or will benefit from the technology would likely own a smartphone to begin with.
It’s hard to dispute that the volume will be low initially. Smartphone usage still represents the minority of users in the world. While this number is growing, it is still not there. However, the one thing that should be compelling for payment providers is the segment that they represent – affluent because these devices aren’t cheap. It’s inconvenient and uncomfortable

One of the major concerns have been that it is not convenient to pay with a phone as most people already are comfortable with paying with a credit card. This is probably true if you look at the population as a whole. However if you focus your market segment to people who own smartphones, the argument can be contested. A smartphone to most people is more than a device to receive phone calls. For most smartphone users, the phone is either out in hand or readily available. It is at worst as convenient as trying to access your wallet.

Another argument I’ve read is that it is cumbersome to look for a payment app on your smartphone which is a bit of an absurd argument. Most smartphone users arrange their apps to optimize their usage where the most used apps are also the most accessible. The other thing that the argument doesn’t account for is how modern smartphones work. These apps can be programmed to run on the background and come to the forefront when required.

It’s not secure
One of the more intriguing things about NFC is that it is short range and more importantly, can (and should be) implemented as a two-way communication device. This makes it possible to do a secure handshake to allow for a secure transmission of a financial transaction. I often imagine that you could mimic the workflow of entering your PIN of your payment card on a payment terminal with your smartphone to ensure the security of every transaction.

Consumers don’t care for it or don’t understand it
I would agree that NFC doesn’t mean anything to the general consumer. However, I would argue that smartphone users get the idea of a smart wallet. Back in the day of PDAs, exchanging business cards via infrared was acceptable. Today using Bump to exchange information is not uncommon. There were 10 million instances of the app downloaded in March of 2010. Companies like Paypal have partnered with Bump to facilitate peer-to-peer payment. Starbucks has reported that payments from their mobile app represents 22% of their total payments.

The thing that I like about NFC is that the infrastructure already exist. In Canada, Mastercard PayPass, Shell EasyPay and Esso all use some form of NFC technology. Given that it is based on radio frequency, scanning for an ID would be a lot easier than trying to scan a barcode off a device. NFC could be game changing.

One of the reasons why I think it will be particularly interesting to follow is The Apple Factor. It is public knowledge that I am not a fan of Apple mobile products to date. I don’t find them technologically innovative. The one thing you can’t deny, however, is no one innovates consumer experience like Apple. They have been able to make something nerdy like mobile phones to be cool and socially acceptable. If they release the capability on the iPhone, there’s a good chance for rapid user adoption.

Then there is also the The Google Factor. Google is really interested in NFC but I suspect it’s not for payment reasons. Google had a product called Tag that was associated with their Google Local product line. Tag was basically giving merchants a QR Code for users to scan. I suspect Google will use NFC to beef up it’s Local product to give users a richer and more proactive localized and targeted ad experience. QR Codes was pretty reactives and so are check ins. With NFC, Google could potentially identify where an individual is within a relatively close range outside of GPS coverage and serve up ads within a close proximity of a location.

Another interesting thing about NFC and the eWallet is that it should cause some changes in the industries. Some of the beneficiaries will be:
Mobile payment vendors like Paypal and Zoompass will definitely be the big winners in this space. NFC could represent the ability to bypass credit card companies like Visa and Mastercard and be another legitimate financial vendor. It’d be easy for small companies to use their phones as a credit card device. While technologies like Square already does it but you need an attachment to do receive payments.

Credit card companies like Visa and Mastercard would definitely benefit from NFC. Paypal would likely be able to target segments that larger credit card companies would consider not as lucrative. NFC could influence higher micro transactions and it be an area of increased revenue.

Loyalty programs could definitely be huge winners with products line NFC. Unlike credit cards where consumers are only inclined to carry one, an e-wallet would enable a consumer to carry as many loyalty cards as they deem necessary without bloating their wallet. Loyalty programs should be really interested in an e-wallet not only from the ability for them to better understand their members but also be able to send very targeted promotions to members therefore providing a much better service and incentive to merchants who use their products.