Sunday, September 16, 2012

Flyte - A review

A very common explanation for piracy in India is that things are too expensive. Movies, songs software everything. Aside from being expensive things are also rather painful to buy. Especially any digital content. Flipkart, the Indian e-tail giant launched Flyte, it's i-tunes like store some time ago. I've used i-tunes sparingly but not any other form of digital content except for games ( with the excellent steam).

Flipkart requires you to sign in with a Flipkart account or it gives you the option to sign in with a Google or Facebook ID, the minimum one would expect from a decent website. Buying tracks one by one is rather cumbersome. Flipkart suggests buying a prepaid wallet. You essentially top up this wallet using a Credit/Debid card or netbanking and use it for one click shopping ( it actually is rather one click shopping )

There is a Flyte app available for Android and iPhone. It's kind of like a music player + content manager. Not bad but not great either. It's reasonably smooth and usable but most people are going to prefer using their stock music players.

Interface

You can grab your songs off the website or through the the Flyte app on your smartphone. Browsing through the smartphone app can be a bit underwhelming. There is hardly any way to see a larger catalog of songs. The website though much better still lags the i-tunes setup by some distance. Right now Flipkart offers a rather spartan view of songs by album. The biggest drawback with their interface is that it doesn't show songs that you already own. Not an issue when you are starting out, but after some time when you have a reasonable collection, it's very easy to accidentally buy a song again. Not cool. Also offered is a Flyte download manager that is quite useless.

The Quality of the the songs

The quality of the tracks themselves is good. I downloaded tracks encoded at 320Kbps. Other options include 64Kbps and 128Kbps. IMHO 64Kbps bit rates are kind of crap and I can't imagine anybody downloading them unless they are desperately stuck on a mobile connection for some reason. Encoding was good, album art was appropriate and none of the mp3 tags were screwed up. I know this is trivial stuff but nobody usually manages to do this correctly. Usually 5 min songs take anywhere between 12 and 15 MB. Pretty neat stuff. Here is where my second major gripe with Flipkart comes in. You can download a song a maximum of 4 times. Now I don't know what prompted this. Perhaps high hosting bills ? I could understand this limit if these were songs encoded in 120MB FLAC files but 10MB a song hardly puts a dent in your hosting bills. The only time somebody might bother re-syncing their phones is when they move to a new device, but anybody with even a reasonably large collection would rather do a manual sync than download everything. File hosting is not that expensive. Just Flipkart being lazy.

Pricing

While I'm not unhappy with the pricing, I think a trick Flipkart has missed is to price everything at a uniform rate. One of the most unnoticed but stand out features is the simplicity with which iTunes prices its songs. $0.99 a song. I think if Flipkart took a leaf out of that book and priced every song at Rs.10 instead of it's strange pricing of Rs.6, Rs.9 and Rs.15, it would be much better. From the pricing it's clearly visible that newer and more popular songs tend to be priced at Rs.15, older and popular stuff at Rs.9 and the rest at Rs.6. That wreaks of opportunism and leaves a bad taste. The fact that songs within an album are priced differently is also not cool. Uniform prices would be much better for them in terms of maintaining stuff, sales and also user perception. 

Competing with iTunes ?

Flipkart has done well enough in the Indian e-tail space to make Amazon think twice about Indian operations. Their growth has been impressive too. However despite what I feel is a huge amount of effort they have missed a lot of things that they need to do to put iTunes in the same position as Amazon.

First off Flipkart have completely neglected the fact that people tend to sync music to phones, tablets, MP3 players and even other computers. An iTunes type software that manages a music library, syncs across devices, displays content and plays music is a must have. Providing a platform independent Media content manager would go a long way in solidifying Flipkarts position.

Secondly they have to get the whole pricing bit right. 15 for good songs and 9 and 6 for the older stuff seems like a rip off. 

Third they have to get the marketing of it right. That means handing out Flyte credit with any phones or tabs or any other media devices they sell. The hardest step with anything like this is getting people to use the whole ecosystem for the first time. Like Amazon eventually found out, selling content only doesnt always cute it. They made the Kindle and now with the whole Kindle fire series they've built up a whole ecosystem for content delivery. That's perhaps a step too far for Flipkart. But eventually they do need to get there. Move up or move out.

The only thing going for them right now is that nobody in India is doing this stuff. their first mover advantage is massive and if they do this right, they could win India, the worlds next big market.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Silverware or Empty Vessels ?

It was 1999 and football was starting to be broadcast in India. I never liked watching football and kind of found it boring. This was after all the peak of our obsession with cricket. Sometime after India's dismal world cup, I was randomly browsing channels and happened to switch to ESPN. A football match had just started. It was an older match being shown as part of some classics series. I thought - what the hell let me see this match through and see what all that fuss is about. about 100 minutes later, I had experienced one of my best sports viewing moments. In case you were wondering what the game was it's embedded below.



It was my footballing birth. I eventually found more info on Liverpool and read about Shankly and all the league titles and the European cups and Hillsborough ( I used altavista.com !! ) and all the other pieces history. This was also the time when Steven Gerrard and Michael Owen and Jamie Carragher were on their way into the first team. It was a club with history, with young players making it big. It epitomized everything  good about football. I couldn't be anything but a Liverpool fan. It's been an emotional roller coaster ever after. We haven't had the luxury of buying whoever we wanted to, but we've chugged along and fought for some memorable wins and silverware. Arsenal and Manchester United were similar teams. Maybe a different football match on a different day and I may have supported one of them. I guess it's destiny. But all three clubs were gritty, hungry and ambitious and they were and still are doing it the hard way.

Which brings me to the two modern day irritants. Chelsea and Manchester City. Both clubs have virtually no limits as to who they can buy. They are never constrained in the transfer market by where they finished in the league. Now with Manchester City, as there was with Chelsea, is a sense of inevitability that they will retain the league and eventually be champions of Europe. While money doesn't translate into immediate success, the ridiculous kinds being put into these clubs facilitates success sooner rather than later. Sport is one of the very few areas where success must be earned not bought. When I see the likes of Man City, Chelsea and PSG, I feel sad for the rest of the football clubs who know that no matter how good their infrastructure and academies and coaches and first team are it's just a matter of time before they fall behind. I wonder how a Chelsea or Manchester City fan ( and I mean specifically those outside the UK with no obvious ties to the clubs ) can feel proud of their clubs successes. After all who are we kidding. Sure the players in question might have earned it, but the club as an entity has had no role in that success. Behind it all is some rich guy indulging a childhood fantasy of playing FIFA football manager with unlimited cash. It kind of undermines the whole point of forming associations and clubs and ultimately the spirit of the game.

Even if Liverpool were relegated to the championship for a decade, I'd be a Liverpool supporter.Tomorrow if Abramovic or Sheikh Mansour bolted, leaving their clubs to live a mortal existence, I'm pretty sure all the newly anointed Chelsea and Man City supporters would be gone with the wind. That would never happen to Man Utd or Arsenal or Liverpool or even Spurs. I just don't get how Man City supporters can be ecstatic at the sight of 4 or 5 Ex Arsenal players starting a game for them. And as Malaga, Portsmouth and Rangers have recently found out, the sudden withdrawal of an uber rich benefactor is the prelude to what is surely a gruesome gutting of the clubs assets and players.

I do not have anything specific against City or Chelsea. I would have written the same thing had it been any other club like say Villa or Sunderland or anybody else trying to buy their way to success. Spurs and more recently Newcastle have shown that it's not about money, that good old scouting and coaching and team work can also get you to the top.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

The invisible supernova

I was a rather late adopter of Facebook. I don't think it was till late 2009 did I finally move to Facebook. Three years on, I think the Facebook like button is the most ubiquitous object in cyber space. Almost every website I visit seems to want me to login with Facebook and wants to tell the world that I was there. That's creepy. Very creepy. Not to mention an invasion of privacy. Sure Facebook will tell you they offer privacy controls, but they are clumsy and don't work.

For what it's worth, I have had a much bigger online presence since I started using Facebook. I wasn't very prolific on the previous darling of the masses - Orkut (or MySpace for others). More than knowing about my friends updates, I tended to use Orkut more as a means to get back in touch with people who I thought had lost to the travails of time. Facebook much cleaner than Orkut and although it's kind of crap in the mobile form, it's helped me reconnect with many more people than I ever Imagined. Thank you for that Zuck.

In 2010 Facebook hired their first college graduates from India. One of them also had an offer from Google but passed on it in favor of what he must have felt was an exciting new world at Facebook. Suddenly Facebook was the new Google, and Google was the new Microsoft - a clumsy old corporation. Facebook poached Google's college grad hires, their staff and even their head chef ( ouch!! ). At the time I thought, Ok they are offering a few more dollars, but how exactly does Facebook make money ? Turns out they don't make a lot of it.

Being a dreamy eyed startup and handing out "I'm CEO bitch" visiting cards was a far cry from the rules other companies like Google and Microsoft and Apple were playing by. And then Facebook went public. What followed was a well documented series of gaffes. First lead under writer Morgan Stanley cut earnings outlooks during the IPO roadshow. For those un-initiated with finance, the rough price of a stock is usually some numerical factor multiplied by the companies earnings. Nobody ever cuts earnings during a road show. Then on IPO day Nasdaq botched trading in Facebook. As of today Facebook is valued at $44Billion, down from the awe inspiring $100Billion they started off with. As of close of business, Google, Microsoft and Apple all have enough cash on hand to buy Facebook. Strangely, nothing has changed at Facebook in these months. If anything they've added a few million users, some new features and some more ads.

Last week Knight Capital's computers went haywire and lost the firm more than $450Million. The whole financial world was talking about it. Regulators, bankers and even the politicians. If $450Million is a flash, then the $66Billion of wealth destroyed by the Facebook IPO is a supernova. But it's an invisible supernova, because this time we can't blame the machines.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

The gender hide and seek

My parents have recently asked me to think about getting married. Sure, why not, everybody seems to be doing. But I would need to find a girl and I seriously wonder how somebody working at least 60~70 hours a week, would find the time to socialize let alone date. And it got me thinking about something else.

When I was in school my class had about one girl for every guy. As I moved to Junior college that dropped to 4 out of 10 and when I finally reached college it hit about 2 out of 10. Surely it couldn't get any worse. And then I took a job, where that number hit 1 out of 10 (any lower and we'd have to have half a woman! ). Now admittedly I joined a group that did IT for Prop trading, a ferociously demanding and competitive part of the Investment banking world, with long and irregular hours. When I look around and see other groups in my firm or even other firms, they are marginally better but still have same big-Oh (read as "trend" for for those not familiar with computing parlance )  when it comes to the number of women at the workplace. A lot of my friends work in the software industry and though they have slightly more women in their work force it's still nowhere near 50-50.

In school most of the girls I remember were hardworking, sincere and motivated, all qualities you would associate with a successful modern career and not with brash school boys who seemed to eventually have these successful careers. So where did all the women go ? Where did we push them out of mainstream  ?Remember these are women who were from middle class homes. Growing up I don't remember girls being treated differently than guys, not at least till after college and definitely not while they were in college.

 Or maybe there is a secret office where all the women work. I'm sure that's it.


Thursday, April 05, 2012