Sapphire, Apple’s new secret

9 Sep

By Julian Wong, geek and tech watcher

My daughter has dropped her iPhone several times over the past three months. In two occasions she cracked the screen and had to have it replaced. When told about the new Sapphire glass that the new iPhone 6 is rumoured to be endowed with, she immediately replied, “Thank you Daddy in advance,  for my birthday present!”.

So what is sapphire glass and why does Apple think it is going to be yet another game changer?

Sapphire glass is not glass but a form of crystalline material made from aluminium oxide. Next to diamonds, sapphire is the most durable and hardy naturally-occurring substance found on earth.It is currently being used albeit in small quantities in camera lenses and on the protective disc of the Touch ID home button of the iPhone 5s. If you are eagerly dying to own a smartphone with sapphire glass today, you can go out and purchase the US$11,000 Vertu Signature Touch.

You can expect the next generation of iPhones from Apple to not needing a screen protector and staying pristine and scratch-free under heavy usage, thanks to sapphire glass.

There are several down-sides to the usage of sapphire crystals for smartphone displays, the most important being cost. The manufacturing process is torturous, needing high temperatures and taking more than two weeks  to produce a batch. Production costs are estimated by Corning, manufacturer of sapphire crystal’s closest rival, Gorilla Glass to be more than ten times more expensive.

However, with Apple’s investments to accelerate the development of GT Advanced Technologies’ (GTAT) next generation manufacturing facilities in Arizona, USA, analysts predict costs to be significantly reduced. The agreement is for GTAT to supply sapphire crystals exclusively for Apple for the next five years starting from 2015 so don’t expect to see sapphire glass appearing on a smartphone other than from Apple any time soon.

Although more scratch-resistant, it is still up for grabs as to whether sapphire crystal is able to withstand impact from say, a one-metre fall. Again test results published by Corning on the website allude to the fact that sapphire glass is less durable thanGorilla Glass of the same thickness. Plus sapphire glass is 1.67 times heavier and consumes a hundred times more energy to produce when compared to Gorilla Glass.

iPhone 6 technology

9 Sep

It’s been a long time since I’ve blogged.
Now is as a good time as any to re-start again with something I’m passionate about, Apple.
In a few hours, Apple will announce a new iPhone and if rumors are true, a wearable device and a mobile payment service will emerge as new Apple categories.
Let’s re-look at the iPhone’s background. At MacWorld in 2007, I remembered the late Steve Jobs say, “One more thing” and he revealed the iPhone. It was brilliant. It launched the smartphone era and was enormously successful. Single-handedly, it created the mobile internet industry and led the way for other smartphone makers to emerge.
Today, more than 500 million iPhones have been sold. The prediction is that iPhone 6 will sell between 10 million to 16 million units in the first three months.
How will it achieve this? The US and Asia-Pacific are its best markets. There’s huge demand for it in China where Apple plays in the high-end market segment where it is less affected by the arrival of cheaper Androids.
With the iPhone 6, existing models will stay with the 5C as the entry level version. A new premium model, perhaps with the Sapphire glass, will make up a trio of iPhones available.
Here’s what Horace Dediu, Apple watcher says about Sapphire in his interview with Forbes recently:
“… if the screen has any curvature, especially around edges, it needs to be sapphire as glass can’t take strain in that shape. The scope of the plant they are building implies that they will have massive volume potential with at least one major iPhone model using the material. It’s a significant material because it allows design freedom in new directions.”
I’m waiting with bated breath.

Written by Tan Chade Meng, a googler who teachers this course at the search giant, it is a book for people who want to learn about meditation but afraid to start because of any number of reasons from its attachment to religions or that it’s difficult. This my review of the book:

Only Google would ask if contemplative practice can help people succeed in life and work.
The American search giant is big on innovation and questions like this are normal in the company.
Google engineer Tan Chade Meng answered this question using his “20 per cent time” where employees can pursue their own areas of interest.
The result was a course called Search Inside Yourself (SIY) which began in 2007. The book emerged out of this as Mr Tan wrote the curriculum.
The distinguishing feature of Search Inside Yourself is its emphasis on training core emotional skills. Mr Tan’s basic premise is that a happy person leads to a better work environment and personal life. This can be achieved via meditation which calms the mind, gives clarity of thought and enables a person to control his emotions better.
It emphasises training mental and emotional skills. For example, it does not tell you how to react in an emotionally difficult situation. Instead, it gives a step-by-step guide on how to train yourself to become calm and collected in an emotionally difficult situation so you can think clearly and choose for yourself how you want to respond.
This leads to improved emotional intelligence which leads to better people relationship and management. This also makes for a happier person able to subconciously influence other people to be happy too.
More happy people lead to a more harmonious society and, in turn, world peace – Mr Tan’s ultimate goal.
The book gives a step-by-step guide to meditation. You can meditate anywhere and at any time – at your desk or sofa or cross-legged. You can close your eyes or open them.
You focus on breathing. A few minutes every day will help you learn to calm your mind on demand. Concentration and creativity improve, as will empathy, Mr Tan says.
To those who think all this is much too airy-fairy, Mr Tan says that as an engineer he gathered scientific evidence to support his beliefs.
The book provides simple exercises, and Mr Tan says practice makes perfect – to enjoy the benefits, you need to practice the various skills regularly.
The book arose from a question Google asked: can Googlers use contemplative practices to improve their careers and personal lives?
He used his “20 per cent” research time to look into this which turned into a 20-hour course spread over seven weeks for Googlers. The course started in 2007.
Testimonials from Googlers who attended the course say they benefited in various ways. They became better managers and were happier in their personal lives. One even reduced his work week to four days but remained so productive, he was promoted.
The book has received praise and support from many, including the Dalai Lama whom Mr Tan met in 2008.
There is a foreword by Daniel Coleman, a proponent of emotional intelligence and illustrations by Singapore cartoonist Colin Goh. Mr Coleman praised Mr Tan for beta testing a mindfulness-based emotional intelligence curriculum at Google and then offering it to anyone who might benefit. Mr Goh in the book said: “If you change the habitual patterns of your mind, you can change their resulting attitudes and emotions and find peace and inner happiness.”
Similar praise published also came from former Singapore President S.R. Nathan who said the book will “help improve all aspects of our lives and in the process lead to a world where greater peace and happiness is possible”.
Mr Tan has taken a complex topic and turned it into an easy to read book.
I recommend it. The book is available in local bookstores.
Grace Chng

Steve Jobs on iTunes

25 Feb

More than a year after Apple co-founder Steve Jobs died, his name keeps popping up. You’ll see his name mentioned in magazine stories on innovation and design.
Out of curiousity, I checked out iTunes. There’re countless translations of Steve Jobs’ biography by Walter Isaacson – from English to Japanese, Polish, Italian etc.
But I’m surprised by the number of iPhone/iPad Apps on Steve Jobs. Some of it are books in an app form like the biography. But others are trivia on Jobs and Apple; there’s even a game on Steve Jobs! No I haven’t tried it yet.
I’ve listened to are some podcasts and watched some videos on Steve Jobs when he’s interviewed at AllThingsD in the mid-2000s. Some things he said have come true. Also look out for the CNBC interview with him and the 3 movies on him. Yes, I watched them. Enjoyed them all.

How sad, my four-legged children are growing old

10 Feb

13 years ago, Latte joined the family. I remember the day she came. A choc lab, she’d arrived from Aus, wasn’t even showered yet when I saw her at the pet store. She waddled to me and peed!
Dog owners would be the ones to say that’s was oh so cute! It really was. So she became #1.
A year later a male choc lab, Uno, arrived. He was unwanted, sat in the cage in the pet store for 6 mths, no one wanted a male. I took him and he turned out to be the cutest, loveliest boy. Sandy a golden lab came next, she’s 10. Four years ago Zach a temperamental JRT joined the brood cos his mistress didn’t want him any more.
Zach bit me 5 times but I don’t think he meant it. He jumps to action first when he’s irritated. But with patience, lots of activity and love, he’s calmer and more responsive.
Over the years, I can see the greying of the whiskers and hair. They age like people. But they are just as demanding and active.
They love unconditionally.
What will I do without them?

My friend, Chade Meng

3 May

Whenever I see my friend Chade Meng, he always has a ready smile on his face. It is infectious, I can’t help but laugh and smile throughout our conversation. His life ambition is to create world peace. Meng as he is known in Google – he’s among the first engineers to work there in 1999 and the first Singaporean to do so – is spreading this message by conducting a self-awareness class at Google.

When I met him in January at Googleplex in Mountain View, we spoke about meditation, as a way of beating stress as well as focussing the mind. To me, meditation is sitting in a quiet room, thinking about nothing and generally focussing on the breath. Well I got the breath right but not the rest.  Meng advices that one-minute of meditation anywhere and at any time once or twice a day will lead to a clearer mind and the ability to withstand stress. From one-minute, extend to 2 minutes, once or twice a day.

Just sit down and close the eyes and focus on breathing in and out, he adviced. Do this at your work area or anywhere, ignore the activities around you. It’ll be difficult initially but after practice, it will become easier. He practices it himself and he is able to handle office dynamics better, he told me.

I was reminded of his advice when I wrote the story on Meng’s endowment fund for 2 undergrads at NTU. The story appears tomorrow’s issue  (May 4) Digital Life. I admire him because of his peaceful demeanour and his willingness to contribute to society. Google has made him a multi-millionaire and he is using his wealth to do philanthropic work.

For more on Meng and his views on why compassion makes sense for businesses, go to or google him.

A really good story on Apple

4 Jul

Fast Company has put Steve Jobs on its cover.

It’s a really good story on Apple, gives the ingredients on why the company is so successful.

Read the comments that follow the story. Very enlightening.

iPad in an interview

26 Jun

Last week, I’ve been testing my iPad to see how useful it would be in a work environment.

As a mobile device with a 9.7-inch screen, it can be used for writing, well at least to take notes during an interview. I didn’t fancy typing on the iPad. It feels odd. I do touch typing and I would have to type with my fingers flat on the screen which is uncomfortable. Typing in URLs and short notes are fine. But not a 60-minute interview.

So to get started, I’d to spend money. The keyboard is the first consideration. Apple’s wireless keyboard (absolutely love the thin, light keyboard) for US$69. You can get one in Singapore for S$78. To type notes, I needed a document software. So I bought Pages, Apple’s word processing software for US$9.90 from the App Store.

Link the iPad and keyboard via Bluetooth and I can start working. I’ve used it to take notes during three interviews and the combo worked beautifully. The two devices together are lighter than the 1.36 kg Macbook Air.  When completed, I email the file as a Word document to my laptop in the office. Two benefits, don’t have to carry a backbreaking laptop and the iPad and l Apple wireless keyboard are great conversation starters, so the interviewees are pretty relaxed – and talkative – when the interview starts!

One problem I encountered while I was carrying the iPad around. It hooked on to a public wifi network and didn’t let go. For 36 hours, the iPad showed one bar of wireless connection to this public wifi network, draining the battery juice quickly too. It wouldn’t recognise any other network, not even the one at home.

After much frustration, I got enough courage to reset the network settings. But I backed-up the iPad first. Then I hit Reset Network Settings. It worked. I got rid of the public wifi network. My geek friends told me that I could also click on Forget Network. Apparently, this fault is a known bug.

Now, that my iPad is proving itself more than an entertainment device, dare I bring my iPad to an overseas assignment? I’m thinking hard. Stay tuned.

Online purchase of movie tix

17 Jun

Some weeks ago, my friends wanted to see a movie. I agreed to buy them. After all, it’s an easy task. I merely let my fingers do the surfing.

So before I left for a workout on a Saturday morning, I put my iPad in my bag. After the workout, I took it out and surfed over to Lo and behold! I saw a black rectangle. I tried again with the same result. I surfed over the and experienced similar result.

Then it occured to me. The web pages where I book the seats are in Flash and Apple doesn’t support Flash on the iPad. Do I drive home to get my computer? Call my friend to book?

In the end, the better-than-old-fashioned method worked. I booked over the phone. It’s tedious, but it works.

I told my Apple friends to get this fixed because booking cinema tix is a very basic app. My fellow Apple users told me that now they can book movie tix on the iPad. I tried today and I could. So all is well now.

More beggars with dogs

7 Jun

It’s always nice to be in San Francisco. It has a certain charm that’s very attractive.

I’ve seen the city live through a few recessions. In the late 1980s, a few restaurants closed. I’d frequented this Japanese restaurant along, Geary Street, stone’s throw from Union Square. A set lunch/dinner comprising teriyaki chicken/beef/fish with tempura was only USD6.50 to USD8. It closed.

During the dotcom bust in 1999/2000, there were more beggars in the street. Last year, the beggars came back, but with a new twist. There’s so many of them, so how to differentiate themselves? The beggars are quite innovative.

They came with their dogs. I don’t know if the dogs are really theirs but they sit along the curb in Union Square asking for a loose change or a dollar to buy food for their dogs. I’ve seen a beige Labrador wearing shades and carrying a toy in his mouth. He could do this for hours. The dog is made out to be the beggar, because the owner/real beggar is standing to one side, barking instructions to the dog to do his bidding, like walk in small circles, sit, stay etc. I gave a couple of dollars so did many other people. This time I saw more beggar-dog combination. There’s a guy on a wheelchair with a Rottweiler pup, probably about 6-8 months old. The pup pooped on the curb, his owner stopped and carried on when the business was done! There’re at least 4-5 of these combo pairs in a 10-minute walking radius of Union Square.

I also saw a young girl playing her violin and a soprano singing opera arias and hits from musicals. They looked too well-dressed to be beggars, but they were collecting money.

Wonder what I’ll see next.

Page 1 of 912345...Last »