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INFOTECH INDIA | Tech Briefs

Indian Home-grown Tablet PCs On the Rise
Users Give Google+ A Big Thumbs Up in India
Language Lessons for Computers
MphasiS Plays Down Deal Termination Impact with Santander
HCL Co-innovation Lab

Indian Home-grown Tablet PCs On the Rise

Bangalore-based EAFT Technologies is set to launch the ‘Marathon’ tablet PC this month. Priced at Rs. 29,900, it sports a 10.1-inch screen and runs an Android (Version 2.2) operating system powered by an NVDIA Tegra2 chip. It also boasts of a USB and HDMI port.

EAFT (Everything At Finger Tips) is a product engineering company. Last year, it introduced its ‘MagicTile’ mobile entertainment device that sports multiple connectivity options, an inbuilt global positioning system and HDMI output to enjoy movies on TVs. The company hopes ‘Marathon’ would complement its product line.

‘Marathon’ is not the last of the tablet PCs from the Indian stable. While Olive Telecom, MSI and even IT services company HCL Technologies have already launched tablet PCs in the country, companies like Spice Telecom, Bharti Teletech, Micromax, Zen Mobile, Karbonn and Lava Mobiles appear keen to introduce their own tablet PC versions in the market soon.

Market research firm, CyberMedia Research expects the Indian tablet PC market to account for 100,000 tablet PCs or 0.1 per cent of the mobile market this year. Analysts say the need to hit the market with a tablet PC model has become critical for most mobile PC vendors.

Last year, wireless devices maker Olive Telecom unveiled a 3G tablet PC, OlivePad, which was priced at about Rs 25,000. Designed as a multi-functional device, OlivePad functions on Android operating system 2.2 and supports 3.5G HSUPA, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth. With an inbuilt three-megapixel camera and a front camera, the OlivePad can be used for browsing, multimedia, instant messaging, social networking and also works as a smartphone, allowing voice and video calling. What sets it apart from established tablet PC devices like the Apple iPad is the fact that it supports flash and sports a mini USB port. Arun Khanna, chairman, Olive Telecom, had then asserted that USB tethering and portable Wi-Fi hotspot would distinguish the device from its competition. While tethering allows one to use the tablet as a modem when connected to a PC or a laptop through a USB cable, the Wi-Fi hotspot feature makes converts the tablet PC into a Wi-Fi router, so that OlivePad's 3G connection can be shared with multiple Wi-Fi devices.

Lava Mobiles would launch a seven-inch tablet for about Rs. 18,000. It has even set up a team to develop India-specific applications. Zen Mobile too, is soon expected to add an Android-based 10-inch screen tablet PC, which would be priced at Rs. 15,000-Rs. 20,000.

HCL Technologies has also decided to step into the market, with its Me tablet PC range that runs on the Android 2.2 operating system. The company has launched two different Me models-one with a seven-inch screen, another with a 10-inch screen. The tablets have the HCL Touch function, which allows users to access local content with the touch of a button. PC makers like MSI have also jumped into the tablet PC wagon with WindPad, which is priced at Rs. 34,990. Manoj Kumar chief executive (consumer durables and electronics), Future Group, says, “MSI has launched the first tablet with Microsoft Windows exclusively at e-Zone, and we are sure the consumer will like it.” The WindPad 100W tablet PC features the Intel mobile platform processor, a 10.1-inch multipoint touchscreen, an SD card reader, USB 2.0 slots and a mini HDMI port.

Globally, the tablet PC market is dominated by established brands like Apple Computers and Samsung. More recently, mobile device vendors like Motorola and HTC and PC makers like Research In Motion, Dell, Acer and Lenovo introduced tablet PC models in the domestic market. Although many analysts agree no product competes with the millions of tablet PC apps that Apple's iPad offers, Android's latest Gingerbread version made specifically for the tablet PC models has been well-received by tablet users.

Global trends, however, are different from those of the Indian tablet PC market, which is still in its infancy. Recent figures from research firm IDC say tablet shipments in the first quarter of 2011 fell 28 percent sequentially to 7.2 million. This suggests the demand for tablet PCs may not be quite as high as it is thought to be. Apple iPad and iPad 2 continued to be the best sellers in the first quarter, but even Apple posted quarterly shipment numbers “well below expectations.” Android-based tablets, on the other hand, cashed in on Apple's woes, with the operating system's market share spiking 8.2 points sequentially to 34 percent.

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Users Give Google+ A Big Thumbs Up in India

With 60 percent of India’s online audience logging on to social networks, according to online audience measurement and analytics platform ViziSense, the introduction of Google’s latest social networking site, Google+, has made Facebook and Orkut users sit up and take notice.

With hundreds of Facebook users from India already on Google+, which has allowed select numbers of users from around the globe to test the site and is in a beta testing phase, the initial user reactions seem encouraging.

Google+ is the search engine giant’s latest attempt to carve its place into the people-centric territory, where Facebook has a 54 percent reach among the 100 million Internet audience in India. Twitter enjoys a four percent market share.

“When Google launched Gmail seven years ago, people went crazy to get an invitation from peers. In every blog and every forum, people were requesting an invitation. Now, the same is happening with Google+. It’s natural for people to get attracted to it, as it’s open only to a select few. It’s becoming like status: Hey, I have a G+ account. Some are even selling G+ invites on eBay for $0.99,” says Dhiraj Kapasi, a software tester in New Jersey, who joined Google+ last week.

Mahesh Murthy, the founder of pay-for-performance digital marketing firm Pinstorm, has also moved on to Google+ and claims he spends more time on it than on Facebook.

“This is because it offers a huge benefit over Facebook, where everything you say is to everybody. On Google+, it’s easier to build groups or circles of different people, say family, colleagues, alumni and such, and only share content with the group you want to share it with,” says 45-year Murthy, also a co-founder of VC fund Seedfund.

Murthy has 5,000 friends on Facebook.

“Facebook neither lets me grow that number nor lets me take their details elsewhere so that I can create a group with my own friends. This is stupid,” he says. That’s where Google+ scores: It puts no limit on the number of friends a user can have.

Google’s earliest attempt at social networking, Orkut, boasted 80 percent of India’s Internet market just four years before. The site, which receives 35 percent of its traffic from India, continues to roll out features like integration of Google maps for small business owners and a ‘like’ feature for posting reactions to friends’ stories.

Alok Kejriwal, a 42-year Internet entrepreneur, recalls Orkut as his first social media website. “I liked the fact that I could see who had visited my Orkut profile page. It was a nice voyeuristic experience, but I moved away when the site became sleazy and tacky,” he says.

With Kejriwal’s business thriving on social media, he says he hires, seeks ideas, gets feedback, and even ‘friendsources’ work to his 10,000 contacts across social sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc.

Social media is no longer just a medium to chat with friends. Users like Kejriwal also bank on these sites to complement their professional needs. That’s another area where Google+, dubbed a project by the company rather than a product, hopes to score.

Google+ is a loosely stitched-together-version of existing Google services like Picasa, Blogger and some influenced by Facebook.

For instance, Google+’s Stream is Facebook’s News Feed, and the +1 button is an open imitation of the Facebook Like button.

What Google offers that Facebook doesn’t is features like Sparks, a special-interest search engine that helps you find stuff on the web to share with your pals, with topics ranging from recipes to robotics.

It also builds in a fundamental principle of Twitter that allows a member to follow others without seeking their permission, and it’s a unidirectional action that doesn’t require them to follow you back.

But Google has to impress users like Hareesh Tibrewala, a serial entrepreneur and social media evangelist, who has joined the list of Google+ users. “I am a little skeptical about Google, as it has made many false starts earlier in social media and has pretty much not got anywhere. Unlike any other technology where features are an important driver, here, the driver will be the network. If lots of my friends move to Google+ and life starts manifesting on this site, then I, too, will spend more time on Google+,” he says.

Google also has a tough task to impress the 30 million Facebook users in India to try its project.

According to ViziSense, an average user spends about 15 minutes per visit on Facebook, but that might change with young users like 23-year Arjun Tomar, a VFX artist.

Tomar claims, “You cannot be loyal to a social media website. Being sociable comes with a huge desire to abandon the tried and tested and trying the new and exciting. And, with Google’s extremely clever marketing ploy, more and more people are lining up to join the + bandwagon.” He says he was on Facebook long before it was accessible to the general public. “Being a student of Georgia Institute of Technology, I was one of the people who used Facebook when it was meant exclusively for college students and that’s what attracted me most to it, the exclusivity. As everyone came on board, it just lost its appeal to me,” he reasons.

If it wasn’t for users like 27-year Abhishek Shroff, a business development executive with Educomp, who swears by the need to be connected with his friends on Facebook, founder Mark Zuckerberg would have been a restless man today. Shroff, who continues to use Orkut albeit just once a month, prefers to spend his time on Facebook. “I don’t see anything that Google+ offers that Facebook doesn’t already,” he feels.

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Language Lessons for Computers

What would it mean for a computer to actually understand the meaning of a sentence written in ordinary English, or French, or Urdu, or Mandarin? One test might be whether the computer could analyze and follow a set of instructions for an unfamiliar task. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's (MIT) Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab have begun designing machine-learning systems that perform exactly the same function “with surprisingly good results,” according to an MIT release.

Regina Barzilay, associate professor of computer science and electrical engineering, her graduate student S.R.K. Branavan, and David Silver of the University College London showcased their approach to computer-learning by playing the ‘Civilization’ game at this year’s annual meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics. ‘Civilization’ is a computer game in which the player guides the development of a city into an empire across centuries of human history. When researchers augmented a machine-learning system so that it could use a player’s manual to guide the development of a game-playing strategy, its victory rate jumped from 46 per cent to 79 per cent.

Complex computer games such as ‘Civilization’ include algorithms that allow players to play against a computer. The games’ programmers have to develop strategies for the computer to follow and write the code that executes these strategies.

“Games are used as a test bed for artificial-intelligence techniques, simply because of their complexity,” says Branavan, the first author on both ACL papers. “Every action that you take in the game doesn’t have a predetermined outcome, because the game or the opponent can randomly react to what you do. So, you need a technique that can handle very complex scenarios that react in potentially random ways.”

Barzilay and Branavan’s system begins with virtually no knowledge of the task it’s intended to perform, or the language in which the instructions are written. It has a list of actions it can take, like right-clicks or left-clicks, or moving the cursor. It also has access to information displayed on the screen and ways of gauging its success. But it doesn’t know what actions correspond to what words in the instruction set.

But as it takes various actions, different words appear on the screen and it can look for instances of those words in the instruction set. It can also search the surrounding text for associated words and develop hypotheses about what actions those words correspond to.

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MphasiS Plays Down Deal Termination Impact with Santander

Information technology (IT) and business process outsourcing services (BPO) provider MphasiS on Wednesday said the decision of Santander UK to terminate its retail banking-related call center contract will not have any significant impact on the company.

“The revenue impact on MphasiS due to the contract termination will be insignificant and below 0.5 per cent,” the company said in a statement, adding the contract was to come to an end in the third quarter (July-Sept) of 2011.

Santander UK, a full-service retail and commercial bank and a wholly-owned unit of Spain’s Banco Santander It had outsourced its call center operations to MphasiS in 2003.

Last week, the company said it would move the call center services to the U.K. since its customers felt frustrated dealing with an offshore call center.

In its accounting year ended Dec. 31, 2010, MphasiS posted revenues of $1.09 billion. Presently, Europe contributes about 19 per cent of MphasiS’ annual revenues.

MphasiS managed Santander’s services from two centers – Bangalore and Pune. It, however, declined to give the number of people employed in these centers.

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HCL Co-innovation Lab

Information technology (IT) major HCL Technologies today announced the opening of a co-innovation lab in Singapore with American pharmaceutical firm Eli Lilly to develop new technologies and solutions specifically for the drug maker.

Established at an undisclosed cost, the 35,000 sq. ft. facility is the first of a likely new template for collaboration that HCL intends to employ as it seeks to grow its innovation-driven businesses further.

While this is the IT firm’s “first single-client focused” lab, earlier there have been discussions with other pharmaceutical majors, including Pfizer and Merck and a Dubai-based telecom company, to set-up similar facilities.

“But this is the first to come to fruition,” said Virender Aggarwal, HCL’s president for Asia Pacific, Australia, New Zealand, West Aisa and Africa, collectively known as the Rest of the World (RoW) businesses.

The HCL-Eli Lilly Co-Innovation Lab, Aggarwal explained, will work with a “very loose charter” to create applications and solutions that will support the drug maker’s global operations.

It will also leverage HCL’s existing expertise in cloud computing, automation, business analytics and enterprise mobility, among others, for the development of proof-of-concepts, which essentially indicates the feasibility of a method or idea.

“If any piece of innovation is not utilized by Lilly, we are free to use it for any other customer. They have the first right of refusal,” said Aggarwal, without divulging the exact modalities of revenue sharing between the two parties.

Although executives of Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly, which had revenues of about $23.1 billion last year, were unavailable for comment, the drug maker had earlier this year reportedly indicated it would continue to focus on strengthening its own research and development mechanism. The collaboration with HCL would aid this process.

But for HCL, which has sought to grow its research and development capabilities in Singapore, such ‘single-client focused’ labs could provide a new model for collaborative innovation, especially for servicing those with a presence in the RoW region.

“The commodity, cost-oriented, procurement-driven buying days are pretty much gone. To that extent, it’s very important in the HCL strategic canvas to be able to drive RoW and with Singapore as our pivot point for the entire region. It’s a fantastic destination as a leap-off point,” said HCL VP and chief marketing officer Krishnan Chatterjee.

Year-on-year, on a last twelve month basis, HCL’s RoW business has grown by 59.8 per cent, compared to 26.7 per cent and 19.5 per cent growth in the Americas and Europe respectively, as per the company’s latest results.

To further strengthen its RoW presence, in February this year HCL also opened its Global Enterprise Mobility Lab in Singapore, where it already has about 1,000 engineers working at its Development Center.

“The recession has worked as a reset point. Today what we hear from clients is that IT is being challenged with business growth deliverables as opposed to just ‘cost take-out’. If we don’t start playing in this area and getting into the zone, where for our clients we impact their business growth and competitive edge, we will not be differentiated and that is a threat,” explained Chatterjee.

For HCL, he added, “that is a very strong reason why we want to do this and will continue to do many other such experiments.”

The HCL-Eli Lilly Co-Innovation Lab is a first, but for the Indian IT major it is unlikely to be the last.

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COVER STORY
Mango of Salem:
C. Rajagopalachari

Siliconeer presents an essay in remembrance of those responsible for India’s independence. This year, we take you through the life of a freedom fighter-turned politician Chakravarti Rajagopalachari.


SUBCONTINENT
Outsourced Terror:
Mumbai Bombings

The latest Mumbai bombings could be outsourced to local criminals. The police needs to be more vigilant and less hungry for bribe, writes Siddharth Srivastava.


OPINION
Jugaad:
Power of the Indian Inventor

Angela Saini writes about the promising inventions that Indians make to solve a situation. Now the world is taking a cue.


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FINANCE: The Foreclosure Crisis
BUSINESS: The $32,000 Start Up
SUBCONTINENT: Gays Under Attack in India
RECIPE: Pav Chaat
TRAVEL: Trip to Minnesota
AUTO REVIEW: 2011 Dodge Charger Rallye Plus
BOLLYWOOD: Film Revew: Delhi Belly
BOLLYWOOD: Aishwarya’s Pregnancy
COMMUNITY: News in Brief
INFOTECH INDIA: Tech News
HOROSCOPE: August
ADVERTORIAL: Environment Friendly: New Townhomes:
Sunnyvale Fair Oaks Collection


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