Monthly Archives: September 2017

Mobile UX Optimization For Higher Conversion Rates: Top 14 Tips

Hussain Fakhruddin
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Hussain Fakhruddin

Hussain Fakhruddin is the founder/CEO of Teknowledge mobile apps company. He heads a large team of app developers, and has overseen the creation of nearly 600 applications. Apart from app development, his interests include reading, traveling and online blogging.
Hussain Fakhruddin
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Mobile UX optimization tips

 

In an ideal, utopian scenario, the conversion rate for mobile applications should be 100% – i.e., every app that is launched at the store(s) would be downloaded and installed. However, in the actual world – things are far from being that rosy, and as an app developer, you can be fairly pleased if the conversion rate of your applications hover around the 2% mark (biggies like Dropbox and Evernote and Google Drive have 4%-5% conversion rates). The conversion rate also varies across categories – with games typically having the highest conversions (~10%), while advanced software-as-a-service (SaaS) apps often have sub-1% conversion rates.

The concept of mobile conversion rates has evolved with the growing importance of delivering optimized user-end experience (UX). There was a time when achieving high click-through rates (CTR) for apps used to be the prime objective of developers. That aim gradually evolved into maximizing the app download figures. At present, app conversions also include the retention rates of apps (only 1 out of every 5 newly downloaded apps is ‘retained’ on mobile devices beyond 90 days), and the overall commercial viability of the latter. Put in another way, the app-usage experience needs to be good enough to ‘motivate’ users – so that they keep using an application. We will here discuss some basic tips and pointers for mobile UX optimization, for attaining higher conversion rates:

  1. Make your app discoverable

    More than 40% of total app downloads happen through search behaviour in the app stores. Contrary to what many believe, the ‘user experience’ does not start only after a person has come across your app. The ball actually starts rolling from the moment the user starts looking at the app store(s) for an application similar to the one you have created. Make sure that your app can be organically discovered with ease – and is not one of those hard-to-find ‘zombie apps’. Following proper app store optimization (ASO) techniques is of paramount importance in this regard. Higher visibility would increase the probabilities of higher CTRs and more downloads…pushing up conversion rates.

  2. Design for the mobile

    Browsing behaviour on the web is different from navigating on the mobile screen – and failure to take this difference into account invariably results in poor conversion and engagement rates. Make sure that each screen of your app has just the right ‘text-to-graphics’ ratio, the buttons and tabs are easily tappable, and there are ‘pinch-and-zoom’ features for relevant pages (this feature is hardly ever required for web applications). Do some research to find out what people are likely to do after launching your app, and plan out the in-app navigation accordingly. Do not just create a mobile version of your responsive website….the web and the mobile are separate mediums, and what works well for one might not be good for the other.

  3. Splash screen and load time

    Smartphone-users are an impatient lot. The longer your app takes to load (i.e., the time required for the app assets to get ready for use) – the more fidgety they are likely to get, and the drop-off figures are likely to go higher. As a rule of thumb, users should not have to wait for more than 5 seconds (ideally, 3 seconds, according to the ‘three-seconds-or-less’ rule) after they tap on your app’s icon on their handsets. Also, during this ‘waiting period’, the splash screen of the app has to be displayed. Add some element (small graphics/animation) to display the loading progress on it. A static, 8-10 second long splash screen can easily make people feel bored – often prompting them to close the app, and try another one.

  4. Ease of onboarding

    Ever tried to tell a joke to an audience, and then had to explain it – because no one had quite got its meaning? The UX designing of a mobile app is somewhat similar to that. The onboarding process for first-time users should be easy and intuitive – so that they can start using the application immediately after downloading it. It would be a good idea to allow people to give some ‘view only’ access to users, even before they have registered themselves on the app (i.e, a walkaround before they become full-time users). In the app store description as well as within the application itself, include a section/screen on how the app is to be used. Remember, your goal is to ‘please’ your app’s users – and that is going to happen only when you do not force them to ‘learn’ something new. Using your app should come naturally, without additional guidance.

  5. Think from the users’ perspective

    There are two ways in which a new mobile app can be marketed by developers. The first would be to describe the nature of the app per se (“all-new media streaming app”) – while the latter would involve highlighting the user-needs it would resolve (“catch all your favourite tv shows, whenever you want”). The onus lies with the copywriters to create the pitch that would actually ‘motivate’ the users into giving a new application a try. Before adding any new element/functionality to an app, think how that would be useful for the end-users – and whether it would indeed boost the overall user-experience. For conversion rates to move upwards, users need to be convinced about the utility of your application.

  6. Device support and offline usage

    There should never be any uncertainties about the devices on which your app would be usable. Nothing irks a user more than going through the trouble of locating an app in the store and installing it on his/her handset – only to find that the application is not compatible with the device. Create separate, customized versions for smartphones, tablets, and (if applicable) wearable devices. There is a tradeoff involved over here – compatibility with a greater range of devices would ensure wider reach, but an app with cutting-edge features might have functionality issues with older versions of mobile platforms (iOS or Android). In addition, it is often advisable to make sure that the app retains its core functionality even when there is poor (or, no) connectivity. Games, in particular, are often played on the go (say, in public transits) – and for users to stay engaged, they have to be be available in offline mode.

  7. Searchability

    On the homescreen of a mobile app, only the ‘primary content’ and the navigation scheme (for instance, tabs) should be highlighted. To ensure that people can get to the screens/sections they are interested in quickly and without any hassles, there has to be a ‘search’ option (box) present. In e-commerce and mobile shopping apps in particular, search features enhance product visibility in a big way – thereby pulling up probable conversion (sale) figures. Depending on the precise nature of your app, you can include keyword-based search, product search, or even image-based search.

Note: If you are creating a m-commerce app, be extra careful while designing the individual product pages. The actual purchase decisions are taken over here – and unless the information and layouts are optimal, conversions would remain low.

  1. Make things personalized

    The ideal length of the registration screen (and the number of fields contained therein) is a point of many discussions. While there are no hard and fast rules about this, it is prudent to keep the registration process short – with users being requested to provide only the most basic information. In case you do wish to collect more user-data, consider making some of the text-boxes non-mandatory (user should always be able to control what (s)he wishes to share on the app). With the help of the collected information, provide personalized experiences to repeat users (customized ads, preferred content, suggestions, etc.). In essence, people should understand that the app ‘remembers’ them, and ‘knows’ what they want to see/do. That’s where the ‘wow factor’ starts to take form.

  2. Notifications and widgets

    There is a very fine line between sending important, interesting information to users through real-time notifications and widgets, and irritating them with notifications that are way to frequent. The latter would hamper the user-experience (let’s face it: anyone would be irritated if an app continues to send notifications all day long!). Find out what type of data/updates you should ideally send to the end-users, the degree of personalization that would be involved in such notifications, and the frequency at which they should be sent. Avoid generating popup messages, which are likely to ‘disturb’ a person. Requests to rate the app at the store (store ratings are mighty important) should also be sent at proper intervals. Do not be too whiney about it.

  3. Advertisements and in-app purchases

    If you are creating an app as an experiment or for charity, you need not worry about its monetization. Then again, if that were the case, you would not have been reading this article in the first place. In free apps, placing advertisements is a popular monetization strategy – but it is also something where things can go horribly wrong. During the app testing phase, make sure that the ads are not hampering app-usage in any way (there are plenty of free mobile games in which the ads encroach into the playing area). What’s more, consider the appropriateness of the ads as well – particularly in children’s apps. You also need to ensure that the in-app purchases (another form of app monetization) can be done smoothly and securely. Give your users the option to upgrade to a ‘premium’, ad-free version of the app. Using a mobile app should be a seamless process, advertisements should not disrupt it.

  4. Colors, call-to-action and clarity

    For mobile shopping apps in particular, the ‘call-to-action’ (CTA) buttons should be systematically placed and easily visible. Generally, multiple A/B testings can give you a fair idea about what would work best (the text on the buttons, the position of the clickable area, etc.). Create a task-based, user-centric design – where the user would never be confused about what his/her next action should be. In other words, prepare a easy-to-follow roadmap of ‘user-touchpoints’ in your application. Be careful while choosing the color scheme for your app as well. Be consistent with your color usage – to generate an air of familiarity, which would help in your branding endeavors. In general too, users should be able to get an idea of the core purpose of your app even before they decide to download it. Trying to pack in too many features in a single app is often counterproductive – from the usability, retention and, of course, conversion standpoints.

  5. Social media integration and chatbots

    Artificial intelligence and machine learning are making rapid strides at present – and they can play a big role to pushing up your app’s engagement and conversion levels. In shopping apps, a chatbot (with a persona of its own) can very well act a guide for the users – with everything, right from product search, to final purchase-decisions and payments – happening on the same chat screen. In addition, most apps should give people the option to: a) sign in with their Facebook/Twitter or LinkedIn profiles and b) share content easily to their social media profiles. In-app networking – through real-time chatting options – is yet another way to provide some additional ‘delights’ to users.

Note: If your app is based on any cutting-edge smart technology (say, augmented reality), go the whole hog with it, and don’t just create a gimmicky application. A good, genuinely unique app has better chances of adoption.

    13. The importance of feedback and rewards

Think of it this way: you come across a cool new gaming app at the store, download it on your device – and find that the very first level is extremely difficult. An immensely frustrating experience, right? Developers should look to build the confidence levels of the gamers – by starting off on a easy note, and gradually ramping up the difficulty levels. At the end of each ‘task’ (a purchase, or clearing a level in a game), there should be immediate feedback available too – in the form of accumulated reward points, or virtual coins, or stars, and the like. For many apps, being repetitive is actually a good option (the ‘match-3 games’, the shopping apps, etc.). People can ‘get used’ to working with such apps – always a good thing from the app retention perspective.

    14. Test your apps

The fact that practically all leading mobile app companies have separate, well-trained teams of app testers is no coincidence. If any bug or functionality issue remains undetected in the final build and released version of the application, crushing reviews and lowly 1* ratings would start to pour in from the first set of users. It would be almost impossible recover from this early damage – even if bug-fix updates are quickly released. Testing should take place both on simulators/emulators as well as on actual devices (by people who would mimic the behaviour of first-time users). Make it a point to test each and every element of the app (including the apparently trivial ones). Never give your users an opportunity to complain.

Note: Conversion rate optimization (CRO) does not finish with a bug-free app being downloaded by a user. Problems can crop up at any time, and a 24×7 support team should be available to handle customer queries.

A recent Google survey revealed that 6 out of every 10 customers dropped off if they could not find the product or information they were searching for quickly enough, from a mobile site or application. This clearly highlights the close association between an app’s UX and its final conversion rates. Systematic mobile UX optimization can pull up conversions by up to 150% – and you need to follow the above tips to bolster the chances of your app’s success.

Teksmobile – Now In South Korea!

Hussain Fakhruddin
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Hussain Fakhruddin

Hussain Fakhruddin is the founder/CEO of Teknowledge mobile apps company. He heads a large team of app developers, and has overseen the creation of nearly 600 applications. Apart from app development, his interests include reading, traveling and online blogging.
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Early last month, Teksmobile launched its South Korean chapter – Teksmobile Korea. This was the fourth international office working under the Teks brand, following those in United States, Sweden and Australia (there are a couple of offices in India as well, at Kolkata and Pune). On the occasion, global CEO of Teksmobile, Hussain Fakhruddin, gave a brief overview of the new Korean offices, the key principles of operations for Teks, the organizational targets, and many things more. Here are some excerpts:

Logo of Teksmobile Korea

“Hello everyone…my name is Hussain Fakhruddin, and I happen to be the founder/CEO of Teksmobile. It gives me great delight to announce the start of Teksmobile Korea from this month. When I had started this company some 11 summers back, I had not imagined that Teks will have offices in 5 different countries – all within a decade or so. It’s been an exciting journey…and I look forward to building on our successes thus far, and scaling greater heights.

 

By the end of 2017 Q2, Teksmobile had (all branches combined) clients from 45+ different countries. Apart from US, Canada, UK and Oceania (Australia/New Zealand) – we had a strong client base in Asia. That, in turn, fueled my motivation for starting a new Asian chapter for the company. Eric and me managed to forge a collaboration, the formalities and completed…and bosh!…Team Teks had new offices in two South Korean cities, Busan and Seoul.

 

I have always been very particular about selecting the locations for our overseas chapters. While opening offices in the United States or Sweden were practically no-brainers – my team had conducted in-depth researches and studied the trends in the Australian market, before we decided to take the plunge there. This time too, we did our homework – and while countries like Japan and China were the more obvious choices, we felt that that the South Korean mobile app market presented considerable untapped opportunities. Over the last 4-odd years, this market has grown by nearly 800% – clearly underlining the prominence of Korea as one of the fastest growing app economies in the world.

 

A bit about our ambition to emerge as a leading force in the domain of 2D/3D game development. Our studies revealed that South Korea held the 6th rank in the world, in terms of revenues generated from games. There were more than 25 million gamers in the country, and the figure was rising steadily. This was a marketplace, I told myself, that would give Teks the opportunity to show off our skills as high-end game developers in particular, and drivers of technological innovations in general. It’ll be a challenge…what good thing isn’t, after all…but I feel that Teksmobile Korea will be a rousing success. We will, of course, have to give it some time.

 

During my career as a mobile app and API architect, and of course the CEO of Teks, I have been fortunate to meet and form mutually fruitful partnerships with some great people…people who have done more than their bit to expand the company’s reach. I should, at this point, mention the name of the COO of Teks Sverige, Maria Bergström, in this regard. Eric Jinsu Kang, who is the head of the South Korean Teks Team, is the latest addition to the list of amazing work-partners I have had the good fortune to meet. The man is an expert on software and big data in his own right, knows several languages…I think 7…and is a go-getter in the truest sense of the term. If something can be done ‘today’, Eric believes in doing it ‘now’ – and he is precisely the type of person I was looking for to be the ‘face of Teks Korea’. It might sound like a cliche…but Eric does remind me of a younger version of myself, from the time when I had just started to plan big things for Teks. He has the same hunger, the same drive…and his presence augurs well for our South Korean chapter.

 

One thing that we must not lose sight of is the existing competition in the South Korean market. It would be way too naive to think that Teksmobile will be automatically successful over there – since there are already several other mobile app companies present in the country. Commitment to maintain uniformly high quality of service is going to be the biggest tool for us in making inroads in the Korean app and mobile software markets. Team Teks has always followed a ‘client-first’ strategy – something that I believe has been a major reason for our sustained success over the years. For our Korean chapter too, we will continue with the same business philosophy…the philosophy of being completely transparent with our operations, and never compromising on the quality of our products. I have been a mobile app entrepreneur for more than a decade…and my experience has taught me that sincerity always works wonders in the long-run…gimmicky promotions don’t.

 

I would also like to point out that the start of Teksmobile Korea would bring increased exposure opportunities for my team-members….more like the members of my ‘Teks Family’. A senior software developer is already assisting Eric in setting up the offices in Seoul and Busan – and will be looking over the first set of projects. We also have plans to send over more people to Korea, for handling the projects over there. Eric, of course, is already busy recruiting people and setting up his own team. The Swedish, Australian, American and Indian chapters of Teksmobile will closely coordinate with the Korean chapter – to help the latter in the initial stages.

 

In our Korea offices, we will be offering services related to a wide range of cutting-edge technologies. Developing mobile apps for the iOS and Android platforms, along with custom APIs, will remain our core service – but Eric and yours truly have plans to start delivering IoT tools and applications, VR and AR solutions, AI-powered chatbots…and maybe even something based on blockchain technology. The more we expand our horizons, the greater will be the chances of our success.

 

I am thankful to my team-members – the developers and the designers, the testers and the backend experts – for giving their all for making ‘Teks’ a brand that is automatically associated with ‘quality’, ‘creativity’ and ‘great software’. Our body of work to date includes over 1000 applications, many websites and portals, quite a few mobile games, a children’s storytelling app that has widely been recognized as among the best of its kind, and several other advanced software solutions. The goodwill we have managed to build…the positive word-of-mouth publicity from our clients – these will play a big role in helping Teksmobile Korea get off the blocks quickly. Do wish us the very best.

 

As I said right at the start, I had not imagined that my little startup in 2006 will become a multinational company with offices in 5 countries in 2017. Now though, I feel that there are no limits to what we can reach – and with the support of our clients old and new (I like referring to them as our ‘external employees’), and my team-members – a couple more overseas chapters might well be in the offing. Pretty soon.”

iPhone X, iPhone 8 & More: Top 12 Announcements By Apple

Hussain Fakhruddin
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Hussain Fakhruddin

Hussain Fakhruddin is the founder/CEO of Teknowledge mobile apps company. He heads a large team of app developers, and has overseen the creation of nearly 600 applications. Apart from app development, his interests include reading, traveling and online blogging.
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“Let’s meet at our place”

This was the tagline for this year’s widely anticipated iPhone-launch event, which happened on September 12. For the first time ever, the event was hosted at the ‘Steve Jobs Theater‘ in Cupertino (hence the reference to ‘our place’). 2017 marks the tenth anniversary of the iPhone – and expectedly, the event was a grand affair, and the launches were certainly not limited to the new lines of mobile devices. Let us here do a quick roundup of every important announcement made at this year’s ‘Apple September event‘:

  1. iPhone 8/8 Plus

    The ‘tick-tock development cycle’ traditionally followed by Apple has finally been ditched – with the Cupertino company opting to launch the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus this year (instead of the ‘s’-variants). The bodies of the new handsets are created with ‘the most durable glass in a smartphone’ – with both the front and the back having glass finishes, along with smooth stainless steel borders. The screen sizes for the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus will remain the same as their predecessors (4.7” and 5.5” respectively), and the devices will be water-resistant up to depths of 1 meter. Wireless charging has also finally made its way to the Apple devices, on the new flagship devices. The built-in A11 Bionic processor chip of iPhone 8/8 Plus will boost the speeds of these devices by close to 25% over the iPhone 7/iPhone 7 Plus range. The audio qualities of iPhone 8 are also superior than that of iPhone 7 (better bass, higher volumes). The LCD screen of iPhone 8 comes with high-quality Retina Display with True Tone (along with, of course, 3D Touch).

Note: The A11 bionic chip has a 64-bit design. The superior GPU performance of iPhone 8/8 Plus will make the experience of gaming and using augmented reality (AR) apps more immersive.

  1. AirPower – the wireless charger

    Apple is playing the catch-up game here, with select Android devices having the wireless charging feature for some time now. Named AirPower, the wireless charging pad (the first of its kind made by the company), it can be used to charge both iPhone 8 and the iPhone X (we are coming to that in a bit) – along with the AirPods and the third-generation Apple Watch. Interestingly though, not much information was shared regarding the price and availability of AirPower – and experts are looking forward to an early-2018 release of the wireless charger. There are certain regulatory formalities (related to the Qi wireless charging standard) that need to be completed, before AirPower can hit the markets.

Note: Users can, of course, still use the Lightning Connector to charge the new iPhones.

  1. Improved phone camera performance

    iPhone 8/8 Plus share broad design similarities with last year’s models – but there are several upgrades in the new handsets. We have already talked about the wireless charging feature – and we will put the spotlight on the superior performance of the iPhone 8 camera. The 12 MP camera has an interesting colour filter, together with a brand-new sensor – for better stability and crisper photography on the go. Images will be sharper as a result of pixel processing, while the low-light autofocus is significantly faster as well. As far as the iPhone 8 Plus phablet is concerned, light effects can be enhanced with ‘Portrait Lighting’, while the dual-lens camera has also received two sensors (f1/2.8 and f/1.8). Slow-motion videos can now be shot at 240 fps and 1080p – marking a huge upgrade over the previous models. At the event, Phil Schiller opined that iPhone 8 boasts of the ‘highest-quality video recorder ever in a smartphone’.

Note: The iPhone 8 will have three colour variants – space gray, silver and gold. The prices of the 64 GB models are $699 (iPhone 8) and $799 (iPhone 8 Plus) respectively. Pre-ordering starts tomorrow, and shipments will start from 22 September.

  1. iOS 11

    Thanks to the uniformity of Apple’s mobile platform (unlike the fragmented Android ecosystem) – the latest adoption figure of iOS 10 has jumped to 89%. At this year’s ‘iPhone event’, the latest iteration of the platform – iOS 11 - was announced. The new version would debut on iPhone 8 and iPhone X, and has a wide range of new features – right from greater support for augmented reality applications and a rejigged Control Center, to improved Apple Maps and a nifty person-to-person (P2P) payment system via Apple Pay. The 11.0 Golden Master preview of iOS 11 was released a couple of days back – and the final version of the OS is set to arrive on September 19.

  2. iPhone X

    Right from the Airport base station back in 1999, to the iPod, the iTunes store and the Apple Watch – the ‘one more thing’ announcements at Apple keynotes have always generated considerable excitement among tech-enthusiasts worldwide. This year, that pride of place has gone to the high-end iPhone X (the name is pronounced as ‘iPhone 10’) – a $999 handset that commemorates the tenth anniversary of the iconic smartphone line. Much like the Samsung Galaxy S8, the iPhone X also has a bezel-less display screen – with the physical home button giving way to a digital one. The surgical-standard steel bands provide additional protection to the glass body (back and front). This model also sports a OLED Super Retina Display (unlike the LCD display of iPhone 8/8 Plus) – and it will be available in two colour variants (space grey and silver). The presence of the breakthrough Face ID facial recognition software is worth a special mention – with iPhone X having the capability to detect changes in facial features (hairstyle changes, facial hair, etc.) and can also identify faces during the day and night. Since there is no home button in iPhone X, Face ID replaces Touch ID – and it is the only way to unlock the device.

Note: Apple VP Craig Federighi ran into a minor glitch while demonstrating the Face ID feature during the event. A second ‘backup device’ was required to complete the demonstration.

  1. macOS High Sierra

    The new version of the macOS platform (v.10.13) – macOS High Sierra – was announced at this year’s Apple WWDC – and September 25th has been confirmed as the date on which shipments will start. The update will be downloadable on practically all Mac systems of 2009 or later make (albeit with certain exceptions; there might be compatibility issues with older apps). The Photos application has been revamped, while things have been given a dynamic tweak with the enhanced VR (virtual reality) support. ‘Autoplay Blocking’ is yet another key feature of macOS High Sierra – and it will prevent media content from autoplaying anywhere on the web. Changes have been made in the core file system of the platform as well (powered by the new APFS filesystem).

Note: HTC VIve and SteamVR headsets are compatible with the latest version of the operating system.

  1. watchOS 4

    The fourth iteration of the watchOS platform has also been announced by the Cupertino tech giant – and it has also been armed with an excellent set of features. For starters, there is a special HIIT mode (high-intensity interval training mode) in the Workout application – while the upgraded wearables can also be used to seamlessly exchange pertinent information with gym tools and equipments. The heart rate analysis has also been bumped up in watchOS 4 – with particular attention being placed on resting period heart rates and recovery periods. The P2P Apple Pay system on the iOS 11 platform has been brought to the Apple Watch platform as well, and the overall integration with Apple Music has been made stronger (auto-syncing of personalized playlists now possible). Swim-tracking has been upgraded too.

  2. Apple Watch 3

    Some might dismiss them as ‘too expensive’, but Apple Watch is certainly the runaway leader in the global smartwatch market. In a report published last month, it was revealed that sales of Watch were up by ~50% in 2017, on a YoY basis. Apple CEO Tim Cook took the opportunity to highlight that Apple Watch had now overtaken Rolex in terms of sales – catapulting Apple to the position of the numero uno watch seller in the world. The much-anticipated Apple Watch 3 made an appearance at the event – with the built-in cellular data connectivity (LTE support) making it much less reliant on paired iPhones (no more mobile data drains, finally!). Thanks to the addition of a brand-new dual-core processor, the latest rendition of Watch is more than 65% faster than its predecessor. The smartwatch can do things like stream Apple Music, send/receive messages, follow maps and place/receive calls – without the user having to connect it to a iPhone. Several new Watch bands were also showcased, along with a new Apple Watch Edition model (gray ceramic).

Note: Apple Watch Series 3 with LTE connectivity is priced at $399 (without cellular data, the price falls to $329). Shipments are slated to start from 22 September.

  1. Smarter ARKit applications

    At the launch event, there was a live demo of an AR game (with detailed player positioning and all) – to provide Apple developers a clear idea of the type of technical enhancements coming to the ARKit platform. We have already mentioned that iOS 11 will have expanded AR support – and the improvements in ARKit will enable third-party app developers to come up with more interesting, innovative and engaging applications. While interest in VR and AR has been rising rapidly – real-life ‘made with AR’ applications have mostly been clunky and rather ho-hum in terms of performance. With the new and improved ARKit (along with Google’s ARCore), things are set to change – if the sheer quality of the first set of apps made with ARKit are any indication. It might well be that, half a decade later – 2017 will be viewed as the year when AR technology really took off.

  2. Fifth-generation Apple TV

    Dubbed as the ‘Apple TV 4K’, the fifth-gen Apple set-top box will be the first to support for 4K resolution video playback, along with ultraHD and HDR compatibility. The latest Apple TV will be powered by the powerful A10x fusion chip – with experts estimating that the chip will make it at least 2X faster than the fourth-gen set-top box. According to senior VP, Eddy Cue, the GPU of Apple TV 4K is, under optimal conditions, 4X faster than that of the previous model. Watching live sports will become more interactive than ever before, and all media content purchased FHD itunes will be amped up to 4K, as and when such 4K content becomes available. The built-in HDR support will help in generating brighter colours and better contrasts. Apple TV 4K preorders will start tomorrow.

   Note: 4K videos offer much sharper display than the full-HD 1080p videos supported by previous Apple TV versions.

    11. Animojis for iPhone X

The Face ID software of the $999 iPhone X makes use of infrared sensor and flash (useful for low-light detections) in its pioneering ‘true-depth camera system’. Animojis (animated emojis) are playful new additions – that create cool emojis on the basis of the facial expressions of end-users. Videos and images with Animojis can be sent/received as well. Several different Animojis are available – including fox, monkey, panda, and even an alien. In essence, the facial recognition software of iPhone X can ‘read’ facial expressions, and then, it creates animojis to mimic these expressions. A fun feature indeed!

    12. And finally, Apple Park

Tim Cook showed his emotional side at the Special Event, as he expressed his gratitude at being the first person to welcome the audience at the sprawling 175-acre Apple Park – and the newly inaugurated Steve Jobs Theater. Often referred to by outsiders as the ‘Apple Spaceship’, the Park was described to have been ‘a sea of asphalt’ once – before being designed to its elegant, sophisticated, green form at present. Interestingly, the entire Apple Park runs on fully renewable energy sources (there are >9000 trees over here). This will be the company’s new main campus – and the employees will begin to move in here before the end of 2017.

Note: The Apple Park also houses one of the biggest solar installation systems in the world.

Pre-ordering for the iPhone X (billed as the ‘future of the smartphone’) will start from October 27 – more than a month after iPhone 8/8 Plus goes on sale (September 22). Some experts also noted the fact that Apple shares dropped by ~4% on the day of the announcements – probably indicating that more was expected from the event (particularly on the AR front). Even so, the first-ever ‘iPhone event’ at the Steve Jobs Theater was a grand affair with many interesting announcements (none bigger than the iPhone X). All eyes are now on the release of these products – and the sort of reviews that they manage to garner from early adopters.

Top 14 Industries That Are Being Disrupted By Blockchain Technology

Hussain Fakhruddin
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Hussain Fakhruddin

Hussain Fakhruddin is the founder/CEO of Teknowledge mobile apps company. He heads a large team of app developers, and has overseen the creation of nearly 600 applications. Apart from app development, his interests include reading, traveling and online blogging.
Hussain Fakhruddin
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2 out of every 3 banks are likely to be actively involved in the commercial production of blockchain (distributed ledger system) solutions by 2019, according a recent IBM report. The adoption of blockchain open ledgers has been rising rapidly – and by the next couple of years or so, nearly 30 proof-of-concept (PoC) use cases of the technology are likely to be tested. In the United States, ~43% business owners opine that blockchains have the potential to cause disruptions in their respective industries, and nearly 56% entrepreneurs are of the opinion that non-implementation of the technology would amount to a missed opportunity to gain a competitive advantage. Over here, we will take a peek at some of the industries where blockchain technology has started to prove itself useful:

  1. Payments, banking and finance

    The financial sector was the first adopter of blockchain distributed ledger systems, and by the start of 2018, 15% of all the large banks globally will be using the technology. The Corda platform, which is being created by the R3 consortium (with more than 80 members), warrants a special mention in this regard. Barclays and UBS are among other big players that have initiated blockchain testing for adding efficiency to their work processes. Last month, ‘Coinbase’ had the distinction of becoming the ‘first cryptocurrency unicorn’ (on the Global Unicorn Club). American Express has also recently embedded a new payments startup and blockchain wallet – named Abra – in its system. Blockchains and cryptocurrency transactions are gradually adding an edge to the overall business infrastructure of banking and payments.

Note: The implementation of blockchain technology can bring down the costs on intermediaries/middlemen in banks by up to $20 billion.

  1. Supply chain management (SCM)

    In July this year, UK-based blockchain startup Provenance raised a whopping $800000 as new seed funds. The company, which specializes in ensuring complete traceability and transparency of trade, is a classic example of the potential of blockchain-based smart contracts to revolutionize the supply chain management industry. Since these ‘smart contracts’ remove the necessity of centralized middlemen – additional overhead costs (along with the probability of manual errors) are removed, and the state of goods/assets can be tracked at any time by network members. Provided that the smart contracts are being managed, recorded and executed optimally, the technology can deliver a lot of value in this sector.

Note: The Port of Antwerp (Belgium) revealed a blockchain logistics pilot in June.

  1. Vehicle and automation

    Nearly every stage in the transaction cycle of automobiles – right from loan agreements and origin tracing, to interest calculations and repayments, distribution, confirmations and allocation – can be fully automated with the help of blockchain technology. Earlier this year, LBBW successfully collaborated with Daimler to launch a new, ethereum-based blockchain pilot (worth $110 million). In particular, blockchains are being viewed as useful tools for preventing transaction manipulations – thanks to the cryptographic signature requirements of the technology. It is still early days for blockchain technology, with it not expected to become mainstream before 2021 – but already, its effects on the automobile industry are becoming apparent.

Note: At this year’s Paris Air Show, the probable influence of blockchain systems in the aviation industry – within the next 2-3 years – was discussed.

  1. Education

    Several months back, Sony first floated the idea of storing educational records (diplomas, test results, degrees, certificates, etc.) in the form of ‘digital transcripts’, by using blockchain technology (development of the digital system was completed in August 2017). Russian blockchain company BeOne has also revealed plans of combining online learning, course deliveries and blockchain benefits on a single platform (at present under alpha-testing). Apart from secure digital storage of credentialing data and facilitating smooth online learning, blockchains can also play an important role in verifying peer-to-peer knowledge transfers. Fraudulent claims of educational credits would, hence, be drastically reduced – and academia would evolve from its traditional, paper documentation-heavy structure.

Note: In June 2016, MIT Media Lab and Learning Machine came together to release Blockcerts – an open initiative for blockchain credentials.

  1. Personal identity

    Between 2002 and 2013, ~40 million travel-related documents (primarily, passports) were reported as either misplaced or stolen. Blockchain offers a technically upgraded way out from such tricky ‘identity-loss’ problems. The Dubai government recently got into an agreement with ObjectTech (a blockchain startup based in UK) to start the creation and issuance of ‘digital passports’. These ‘invisible’ e-passports would make the Dubai airport ‘borderless’, and would allow people to stay in control of all the information stored and shared about them. Iris scans, fingerprint data and facial recognition features would be stored in the digital passports, ruling out the risks of data thefts.

Note: International travels should become quicker (no passport check queues) and safer with digital passports in particular, and blockchain technology in general.

  1. Insurance

    The Aeternity blockchain project is showing the way in which the crucial ‘trust management’ factor in insurance agreements can be effectively managed through ‘smart contracts’ and ‘trustless, direct communications’. In order to feed actual data (preferably, on a real-time basis) to these ‘smart contracts’, oracles can be used. A wide range of data verifications – including, of course, personal identifications – can be done via the distributed ledger platform, delivering additional security layers to each individual insurance contract. It has already been more than a year since the arrival of LenderBot – the blockchain insurance bot application created by Deloitte, Lemonway and Stratumn.  The technology can solve the long-persisting need for maintaining secure, immutable public records of asset/insurance transactions.

Note: Marine insurance has become the latest sub-domain to adopt blockchain technology, with Maersk being the company to deploy it. The world’s first blockchain-based insurance policy was launched by AIG in June 2017.

  1. Cyber protection

    The KSI (Keyless Signature Infrastructure) blockchain platform by Guardtime offers highly scalable and reliable cybersecurity solutions to users. With reports of cyber hacks and data attacks growing at an alarming rate – the need of the hour is to make the existing legacy systems more robust, with blockchain-powered solutions. The fact that all communications on a digital open ledger are examined/verified through complex cryptographic methods ensures proper identification of data source points – while minimizing chances of interception by unauthorized, malicious third-party agents. Once again, the removal of the human ‘middlemen’/intermediaries help in cutting down on a) corruption, and b) human mistakes. The large-scale data authentications involved in blockchains make cybersecurity much stronger than ever before.

Note: In the very recent Equifax data breach case, more than 140 million people were affected. Blockchain technology has the potential to tackle such risks effectively in future.

  1. Predictions and forecasting

    From election results and outcomes of sports matchups, to stock market movements – distributed ledger technology promises to bring in a never-witnessed-before accuracy and sophistication to the so-called ‘predictions market’. The secure storage of transaction records (blocks) on the open ledger ensures more insightful data analysis – and that, in turn, should ideally lead to better predictions and forecasting performances. The open-source and decentralized Augur platform – which recently got into a collaboration with IDEO CoLabs – also brings in a system of rewarding users for faster, more accurate predictions. As the disruptions caused by blockchains in other industries grow bigger, the impact on the ‘forecasting industry’ will become more pronounced.

Note: The ethereum-backed Gnosis platform is also growing in popularity for applications to be used in the ‘predictions market’.

  1. Music and entertainment (intellectual property)

    Illegal downloads have plagued the global music industry for a fairly long time now. According to conservative estimates, a massive 85% of artist royalties are lost because of this activity. Blockchain technology has already started to help music and digital entertainment asset creators to protect their ownership and compensation rights. The ascribe.io platform tracks how digital assets are used and shared, and helps in locking in attribution rights – thereby protecting the intellectual property rights of the original owners. Distributed ledgers and cryptocurrencies also form the backbone of the MYCELIA music-streaming platform (created by Imogen Heap). The need for record labels (which serve as intermediaries) is done away with, and artists can finally get just rewards for their creations.

Note: In February 2017, the META decentralized platform (powered by ethereum) for protecting rights in the music/entertainment industry, was announced by JAAK.

    10. Land registration and use

The processes of land registration and checking proofs of property ownership have traditionally been long-drawn and often problematic (due to the significant chances of overlooking some details while going through piles of property documents). The fact that blockchain technology can be used to seamlessly track land registries and ease out the overall procedure has been shown by Sweden – where the Lantmäteriet blockchain is officially being used for registrations (since July 2017). Implementing the blockchain system should significantly speed up the processes, and make things more transparent and confusion-free. Accessing and checking pertinent information on the distributed ledger would also be easy.

Note: According to estimates, the Lantmäteriet blockchain should help in generating annual savings of close to $107 million.

    11. Retail

Activities in the online retail industry have been revolutionized by the decentralized Openbazaar platform (developed by OB1). Over here, the method of working is a far cry from those in a traditional marketplace (say, Amazon) – with buyers and sellers being connected directly (P2), and no intermediary websites (the ecommerce website) involved. In Openbazaar, the sellers get remunerated with bitcoins, while customers have the option of buying stuff with as many as 50 different cryptocurrencies. All types of important retail information, like shipment details, information on the actual products, purchase bills/invoices, and even records of crypto payments, can be stored on the ledger. The technology would bring about a scenario where buyers and sellers would be able to ‘trust’ each other, instead of having to rely on a centralized depository.

Note: To ensure food safety, IBM has announced a blockchain collaboration with a consortium of retailers (members include biggies like Golden State Food, Nestle, Dole and Walmart).

    12. Voting

Over the years, national elections and rigging accusations have almost happened hand-in-hand. Things are, thankfully, set to change with the adaptation of blockchain-powered online voting platforms – which would make sure that votes are cast only once, only the valid votes are counted, and records of voting are securely stored (without any chance of modification/deletion). At the start of 2017, ‘Follow My Vote’ became the first-ever company to launch a full-blown online voting software, with the robust Bitshare blockchain built into it. Voting should always be (and unfortunately, is often not) completely democratic – and the availability of voting records on a public and immutable ledger would go a long way towards achieving that.

Note: The ‘Sovereign’ application, created by Democracy Earth, has been created to express the power of true ‘liquid democracy’ with the support of blockchains.

    13. Legal and governmental affairs

A powerful open IoT registry was launched by Chronicled last August, paving the way for everyone to see and understand the importance of blockchain technology in law enforcement. The immutability of the distributed ledger makes sure that the chain/trail of evidences cannot be tampered with by any particular entity. The Chronicled platform also has NFC (near-field communication) chip support, for better evidence management. The network can also send notifications to concerned parties, as and when any suspicious activity is detected. Public service management is yet another field where blockchain technology is starting to make its presence felt. In the US, Vermont, Delaware and Illinois are some of the states that have already launched blockchain initiatives to make legal infrastructure systems stronger.

Note: The blockchain technology is being exploited by Bitfury Group to secure land titles (land title registry) in Georgia.

    14. IoT and networking

The Internet of Things (IoT) revolution continues to pick up momentum – and blockchains are becoming mighty important tools in the ‘connected ecosystems’. With tools like ‘Autonomous Decentralized Peer-to-Peer Telemetry’, or ADEPT (built by Samsung and IBM), the need for a centralized portal/gateway/hub for mediating between two smart devices has been removed – and objects can now directly communicate with each other. As a result, things like bug-detection, energy monitoring, performance tracking, and software update management will become less time-consuming and complicated. The condition of any particular IoT device/asset can also be tracked with the help of the records stored in the distributed ledger. Establishment of autonomous ‘connections’ will build on the efficiency factor.

Note: In March this year, $15 million was raised by the Filament industrial network, for the creation of high-power blockchain IoT networks.

From human resources to ride-sharing (Arcade City working on a ‘decentralized Uber’ system), and from corporate governance to real estate and share trading – blockchain technology is disrupting many other industries, albeit in varying degrees. On the medical and healthcare front, the arrival of the Gem (ethereum-powered) and Tierion platforms have been major recent developments. Earlier in 2017, Storj started a token sale – indicating the arrival of the technology in the domain of cloud storage. Even in charity activities, blockchains have started to make a difference (the BitGive Foundation for bitcoin donations was founded in 2013).

It took more than three decades for the internet to cause an overhaul in the global economy. At present, 1 out of every 2 big firms is driven by web resources and technology. Blockchain tech is growing at a rapid pace, and it has – as is evident from our analysis – potential for large-scale adoption in practically every important industry. Internet 2.0 is being ushered in…and soon!

 

[Guest Post] Mobile VR in 2017 and Beyond

Hussain Fakhruddin
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Hussain Fakhruddin

Hussain Fakhruddin is the founder/CEO of Teknowledge mobile apps company. He heads a large team of app developers, and has overseen the creation of nearly 600 applications. Apart from app development, his interests include reading, traveling and online blogging.
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Review of top mobile VR tools

Until recently, virtual reality had long been an abstract idea, mostly reserved for futuristic scenes in the movies. Although innovators in the 90s tried to breathe some life into the technology, it didn’t take long for the experimental phase to end and the dormancy phase to begin.

Today, the age-old idea of immersive entertainment is no longer a mere concept, but a practical way for users to experience both real and virtual worlds, right from home. Major tech companies like Sony, HTC, Samsung, and Google have invested huge amounts of money into giving eager consumers a decent variety of VR gadgets to root through and pick what pleases their hearts and wallets.

As virtual reality evolves into a fully baked industry, however, there’s a huge debate raging on if and when it will achieve mainstream success. A primary hindrance to the widespread adoption of VR is its seemingly absurd price, which effectively makes the technology a fantasy for many would-be customers. For instance, while the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive are the best VR headsets on the current market, but the two will set you back $600, and that’s excluding the high-end PC you will need to process virtual reality content. You can enjoy seamless virtual reality gaming with the significantly cheaper PlayStation 4 console, but at $399, the PS VR headset isn’t exactly pocket-friendly either.

For the bargain lovers, therefore, premium VR is more than an arm’s length away. But thanks to mobile, you can still get in on the virtual reality action for a fraction of the price. All you require is a cheap-as-chips headset and the smartphone in your pocket.

Mobile VR Today

The current mobile virtual reality setup uses your smartphone’s hardware as the engine, and the headset to provide the visuals. Mobile VR headsets come with varying designs, but at their core, they’re glorified lens cases that turn your phone’s screen into a 360-degree display.

Because of the relatively simpler technology, the mobile VR market presents a wider variety of headsets than the PC scene. Here are some that have stood out from that ever-expanding bunch.

Samsung Gear VR

If you’ve just bought a recent Samsung phone, it could be worth it to dig a little deeper into your wallet and pick up the newest Gear VR. The Gear VR range of headsets has come quite a long way since the first gadget hit the shelves in 2015. This year’s version, which was released alongside the Samsung Galaxy S8 in the spring, addresses several issues that marred previous models, such as the annoying screen fog and having little room for glasses wearers. The device also includes a hand-held controller, which adds to the immersion.

Most importantly, Samsung and Oculus are continually adding new games, apps, short films and TV shows to the Gear VR, making it never-ending fun for anyone that gets their hands on one.

Google Daydream View

The Daydream View wins the hearts of many mobile VR enthusiasts for its comfortable, lightweight and attractive design. It comes in three different colors, and while its controller is not as functional as the Gear VR’s, it does well to mitigate the need for a third-party device.

In addition to the ever-increasing content, Google has announced that the headset will be supporting more smartphones shortly, which means that those without a Daydream-compatible phone will be able to make use of the headset.

The Google HTC standalone headset is set for release before the turn of the year, but until then, there’s still life for the Daydream View.

Google Cardboard

Many pioneering devices eventually pave the way for more advanced gadgets, but surprisingly, the Cardboard has done nothing of the sort. Google has recently redesigned the device to feature a better control button, support for 6-inch smartphones and a simple three-step assembly procedure. Interestingly, the company has also opened up the platform to iOS developers.

The official Cardboard may seem a bit costly, considering what you’re getting, but there are plenty of third-party builds out there, some which cost as little as $5. Just look for the headsets with a “Works with Cardboard” badge.

Some Worthy Alternatives

Samsung and Google may be leading the mobile VR campaign, but other players are making significant contributions as well. If neither the Gear VR, the Daydream View or the Cardboard tickle your fancy, you could take your chances with the Merge VR Goggles, View-Master VR, and FreeFly VR Beyond.

Another excellent choice, the Zeiss VR One Plus is great if you want a gadget that’s as comfortable as the Daydream and works perfectly with both iOS and Android.

Mobile VR in the Future

Both tech analysts and developers are in agreement that mobile virtual reality is the VR technology that will break into the mainstream. Mobile has the upper hand over PC VR because it has the power to scale. While the HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift require high-end VR-ready computers, there are billions of smartphones on the market today, with largely varying price tags, for all to buy.

There’s also the aspect of the distribution ecosystem. Mobile apps are far easier to find, coming from sources like Google Play, the App Store, Steam, Oculus/Gear VR store, and the web. PC VR developers, on the other hand, only distribute their content through their stores on Steam and the Oculus Store. With such an extensive network of distribution, mobile could build a more dominant VR culture.

Room for Improvement

Smartphones and headsets are advancing at a breathtaking pace but the mobile VR experience still has a long way to go before it can pose significant competition to its pricier PC counterpart.

For instance, although many high end smartphones can handle the minimum requirement of 60 frames per second for smooth VR, improvements are still needed to reduce eye strain. The headsets could also use position tracking sensors to detect standing, sitting and walking. And, because smartphones are the primary communication device for many users, there needs to be a practical way to handle phone calls and notifications during VR use.

Regarding content, mobile VR needs more quantity, quality, and variety. Creators are constantly experimenting, however, and VR content for mobile platforms is bound to evolve explosively in the coming years.

Final Word

Virtual reality is still in its infancy, and some experts are raising questions on whether it’s progressing fast enough. Nevertheless, Mobile VR is showing immense promise for the future. With the mobile gaming market recently surpassing the PC and console share of the industry, it’s likely only a matter of time before the same happens with VR HMDs, and mobile cements its place at the top of virtual reality innovation.

Why Should Industries Implement Blockchain Technology?

Hussain Fakhruddin
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Hussain Fakhruddin

Hussain Fakhruddin is the founder/CEO of Teknowledge mobile apps company. He heads a large team of app developers, and has overseen the creation of nearly 600 applications. Apart from app development, his interests include reading, traveling and online blogging.
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Blockchain technology easily features among the biggest technology disruptors of recent times. Over the last five years or so, the number of times ‘blockchain’ has been Googled has jumped by close to 1950% – a clear indication of the exponentially growing interest in the distributed ledger system introduced by Satoshi Nakamoto. Often billed as Internet 2.0, the value of the global blockchain industry has been projected to soar to $2310+ million by the end of 2021 (in 2016, the value was ~$210 million) – with the 2016-2021 CAGR hovering around the 60% mark. We will here highlight the main advantages of blockchains and why it should be implemented by organizations:

  1. Longevity and immutability

    Transaction data (block data) stored on a public blockchain remains on the open digital ledger as long as the ledger itself remains operational. There are no chances whatsoever of data losses and/or problems in accessing information – since all the parties in a network can view all transactions. What’s more, since blockchain records are immutable – they cannot be altered or deleted by malicious third-party agents (or a rogue player), without creating a consensus first. The integrity of the confirmed blocks in a blockchain remains unaffected at all times.

  2. Decentralized and disintermediated

    The blockchain technology facilitates direct, peer-to-peer (P2P) transactions – and does away with the involvement of centralized authorities/units (say, an IoT gateway), working as intermediaries. Such transparent and trustless exchanges minimize the chances of counterparty risks cropping up at any stage. Since the technology is decentralized, the data is not stored in any central database – and is kept at all the edge nodes of the networks (i.e., with each party in a network). There is no ‘single point of failure’ that can be targeted by hackers. This ensures enhanced safety and reliability for users.

  3. Availability of clear audit trails

    Blockchains are created by miners, by systematically adding new transaction records (called ‘blocks’) to the existing chain in the distributed ledger. A trail of all transactions on a particular asset can, hence, be closely examined at the time of financial audits. This benefit makes distributed ledger technology particularly useful in the banking and financial sector, while the functionality comes in handy for checking supply chains, food audits and even art provenance. The creation and easy availability of audit trails makes blockchains a great tool for storing land registry records as well.

  4. Security and scalability

    In a traditional data transfer/transmission setup, scalability is often a point of concern. The centralized portals/gateways, in particular, cannot be scaled up quickly – and that causes efficiency losses. Blockchain technology, by virtue of being shared, is completely scalable, and can be used to deliver optimized services in all scenarios (blockchains are often called the ‘internet of value’). In addition, blockchains offer enhanced data security – since all processes/new records are validated by by ‘miners’ from all over the world. Chances of fake/manipulated transactions getting added to the chain are minimal. The fact that transactions are generally anonymized (the transactions are open; the identity of the transacting parties are not) also adds to the user-privacy layer.

Note: There have been talks about the ethereum blockchain platform (with the ‘ether’ cryptocurrency) switching over to a ‘proof-of-stake’ model. As and when that happens, the authenticity of the miners’ activities will receive a further boost.

  1. The best IoT registry

    From ownership and maintenance of digital assets and connected devices, to authorization and usage – blockchain technology has a big role to play in the IoT (internet of things) space. It is relatively straightforward to write small programs to prove the ownership of any remote device, while repairs/modifications can be done after secure authorizations validated on the ledger. Data from both home-based IoT systems as well as enterprise IoT systems can be fed into blockchains – to ease usage and keep confusions and probable conflicts over asset ownership at an arm’s length. The technology helps in building a level of trust among users (OEMs, suppliers, end-users) and facilitates better collaboration among all parties.

  2. Improved security standards and feedback

    Blockchains make data storage more secure than ever before. Advanced independent cryptography (pre-verified) is used by miners, for storing each and every new transaction record/block. Under the existing ‘proof-of-work’ system, complex mathematical problems have to be solved by the blockchain miners, for adding new blocks to a chain in the distributed ledger. On an optimally functioning blockchain network, it is easy to connect assets with actions, and remove all probabilities of security breaches. Since end-to-end traceability is a key feature of the technology, owners of digital assets can receive real-time feedback at various stages (installation, shipping, implementation, etc.). Such feedback goes a long way in pulling up asset management standards.

  3. Quality of data

    For digital recordkeeping and analysis to be effective, the collected data has to be highly authentic. Irrespective of the sector where it is being used, blockchains offer the best services in that regard. The presence of a single, distributed ledger (as opposed to the task of adding records to multiple ledgers) keeps the blockchain ecosystem transparent and decluttered. The data, as already mentioned above, is readily available to all parties on a network as and when required, and is highly accurate (thereby bolstering reliability). The consistency and completeness of blockchain data also contribute to enhancing the overall data quality. Authorized users can access information on transactions in the network at any time.

  4. Blockchains as ‘consortium databases’

    Operating in a blockchain network fosters cooperation and collaboration even among competing parties. A classic example of this would be the ‘Open Music Initiative’ for protecting the intellectual property rights of artists and music labels. The ‘Corda’ distributed ledger platform used in the R3 consortium for banking/financial markets is yet another instance of blockchains bringing competitors together. In a blockchain-powered consortium, the individual members are not controlled by/do not have to give their powers to a centralized authority – and that, in turn, diminishes friction among the parties. Blockchain technology also encourages the interoperability of public networks, increasing usability levels further.

Note:Interplanetary Linked Data’ and ‘Interledger’ are two important protocols for interoperating networks (i.e., ‘network of networks’).

  1. Creation and maintenance of smart contracts

    This is one of the biggest advantages of blockchain technology. On an autonomous distributed ledger, users can code self-executable smart contracts (in essence, ‘if-then statements’) – which are triggered as soon as certain pre-specified conditions/limits are met. In other words, the smart contracts regulate the precise manner in which transactions between two parties would take place (say, releasing water for irrigation in smart agriculture, or releasing payments after receiving a shipment). These smart contracts can be securely stored and maintained in the blockchain system. Product manufacturers can also store important metadata about their items on the network. In a highly digitized field like 3D printing, the benefits of implementing blockchain technology are immense.

  2. Lower time and cost requirements

    In a traditional data exchange setup, significant investments are required for: a) installing the centralized gateway, and b) arranging for the resources and manpower for ensuring complete security of the system. With the removal of intermediaries in a blockchain, such overhead costs no longer have to be incurred – and that brings down the overall transaction costs (for asset exchanges). In addition, through a distributed ledger system, transactions can be completed much more quickly than in a conventional setup. The cycle of inter-bank transactions can be brought down from a few days to a matter of minutes, with the help of blockchain technology.

  3. Benefits of a transparent system

    For seamless transactions between business collaborators, there has to be a certain level of trust among the transacting parties. Blockchains bring that desired level of ‘commercial transparency’ to the table. Probable delays and damages in relations following negotiation attempts have no chances of happening – and all commerce can take place place promptly. Detailed transaction records are storable next to the individual commercial constructs, offering heightened trust and transparency.

  4. Ensuring single-spend of data/resources

    Blockchains have already found widespread popularity on online voting platforms. An important reason behind the growing adoption of distributed ledgers in this domain is the fact that, the underlying technology rules out the problem of ‘double spending’ (i.e., the practice of spending the same resource (coins, tokens, a cryptocurrency unit, etc.) multiple times or sending the same data to more than one user). Many otherwise efficient virtual decentralized systems suffer from the problem of ‘double spending’ – something that the P2P verification process in blockchains can effectively do away with.

  5. Formation of ‘native assets’

    In a blockchain, the database in the open ledger is not owned by any particular unit (say, a central gateway). Instead, the control lies with all the network members/colluding parties. The records are immutable too – and these factors combine to open the possibility of the assets themselves being stored and maintained in the ledger database (as ‘native assets’). The creation of such ‘native assets’ can be an effective way of tackling problems while implementing and validating exchanges – both on traditional platforms (Bitstamp, NASDAQ, GridSingularity), as well as on multi-side platforms.


Note: Given the openness and the complete decentralization of blockchain networks, they can be used as cutting-edge ‘public utility resources’. Bitcoin, for example, is a cryptocurrency/digital money utility.

Blockchain technology has already made its presence felt – albeit in different degrees – in many different industries, from law, defense and retail, to healthcare, energy and governmental affairs. The technology is still at a fairly nascent stage, and there are a fair few challenges, in the form of the huge computing/processing power required, uncertainties over integration, the need for sizeable investments and confusions over the legal status of cryptocurrencies. The technology is here to stay though – and it can be reasonably expected that most of these problems will be ironed out within the next few quarters. Blockchain Internet 2.0 is upon us – and the revolution will only get stronger with time.

Ethereum vs Bitcoin: Which Cryptocurrency Has The Better Features?

Hussain Fakhruddin
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Hussain Fakhruddin

Hussain Fakhruddin is the founder/CEO of Teknowledge mobile apps company. He heads a large team of app developers, and has overseen the creation of nearly 600 applications. Apart from app development, his interests include reading, traveling and online blogging.
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Last month, the overall market capitalization of cryptocurrencies touched the $120 billion mark. Bitcoin, created by the mysterious Satoshi Nakamoto, continues to be the leader in this market – with ~48% share. Interestingly though, the market share of bitcoin has actually fallen rather significantly since the start of 2017 (it was >85% in February). Ethereum, founded by the young Vitalik Buterin (this time, a real person!), has emerged as the ‘fastest-growing’ player in the cryptocurrency market – with an astounding 5000% growth this year (Bitcoin, in comparison, has grown by around 300%). Starting out with a sub-10% market share in January, the platform has constantly made inroads, and currently occupies almost 22% of the market (Ripple, whose share has considerably gone down in recent times, is the third-most popular cryptocurrency). Over here, we will do a point-by-point Ethereum vs Bitcoin  analysis, and try to find out which of the two has the better features and capabilities:

  1. Ethereum is more than a cryptocurrency

    While bitcoin is a digital currency, ethereum is much more than that. The latter is, in essence, a blockchain-powered platform, which includes the built-in cryptocurrency called ‘ether’. In addition, the ethereum platform also has embedded ‘smart contracts’ (the pre-specified set of regulations that are coded to execute if certain conditions are met), and the Ethereum Virtual Machine (or, EVM). Put in another way, while bitcoin is a cryptocurrency transacted and recorded on blockchains, ethereum allows users to build decentralized applications (the code is available on Ethereum’s website). The built-in ‘Ethereum Wallet’ stores the ether cryptocurrency. The overall scope of Ethereum is much bigger than that of bitcoin.

Note: If we were to compare only the digital currencies, a ‘bitcoin vs ether’ analysis would have been more apt.

  1. Price of currency

    Apart from having the biggest share in the cryptocurrency market, bitcoin also has the highest value with respect to USD. From an exchange rate of 1 BTC = $800 – $1000 at the start of this year, the price of the currency has surged to more than $4600 by the end of August. Bitcoin is a highly volatile cryptocurrency though, and in July, the prices fell to a 49-week record low (<$2000). Ethereum, on the other hand, is currently priced at ~$303 (interestingly, the ETH price had climbed to over $400 in June, before an almighty crash brought it down to sub-$200 levels). An analysis of the price movements of the two currencies reveals that ethereum (standard deviation (60 days): 7.07%) is even more volatile than bitcoin (standard deviation (60 days): 5.38%). In terms of market capitalization, bitcoin is more than double of ethereum ($72 million vs $28 million, as on Sept 4).

Note: The price of Bitcoin Cash (a software client fork of bitcoin) is $555, while that of Ethereum Classic (a split from Ethereum) is $16.

  1. Programming languages

    C++ is the underlying programming script for the bitcoin currency. While robust enough, it lacks the sheer flexibility of Ethereum – which has been coded in a Turing-complete combination of 7 different languages. This means that, given adequate time and processing/computing power is available, Ethereum can be used for practically any type of calculations. Varying types of smart contracts and applications can be coded on Etherium – with the decentralized platform functioning as a high-power virtual computer that is created with a large number of functioning blockchain nodes. Bitcoin is by far the oldest player on the block and easily the most well-known crypto payment system – but Ethereum’s functionality is more.

Note: Aragon, Gnosis and Filecoin are some interesting applications that make use of Ethereum’s Turing-complete internal code.

  1. Currency supply

    The first bitcoin was made available way back in January 2009. There is a finite limit or cap set on the supply of this currency, at 21 million (actually, 3 bitcents less than that). At present, more than 16.5 million bitcoins are circulation – and by January 2018, that figure is likely to reach 18 billion (~80% of the total bitcoin supply). There is considerable speculation on what would happen in the aftermath of the currency reaching its 21 million cap (given that there are no expansions made by the bitcoin protocol). The supply of Etherium (first released in July 2015) has no such maximum limits, although a finite number of units is released annually. Currently, well over 94.4 million units of ETH are in circulation – and the number is swelling rapidly. The supply cap on bitcoins makes it deflationary in nature, while ethereum is likely to be rather inflationary due to its unlimited availability.

Note: Polychain Capital CEO Olaf Carlson-Wee has predicted that the ‘ether’ will overtake bitcoin in terms of value (read:market capitalization) in the latter half of 2018.

  1. Block times

    Ethereum has the clear edge in this regard. The built-in ghost protocol of this platform makes the average block time of Ethereum much shorter than that of bitcoin (12-14 seconds vs 10 minutes). This, in turn, makes the creation of more blockchain applications easier on the former. The confirmations and validations on Ethereum are more prompt as well (although there are chances of more ‘orphaned blocks’ being created). Stale blocks (chain forks) are rewarded in the Ethereum platform too. The lower network speed of bitcoin increases the overall transaction costs – and this factor lies at the heart of the growing popularity of Ethereum for transactions. Many traders prefer do the exchanges/transactions in ethereum, and then convert their value in bitcoin (i.e., bitcoin is perceived as more useful for speculative purposes). The decentralized blockchain structure of the two cryptocurrencies are similar – but Ethereum’s design features open up more possibilities.

Note: By virtue of being the ‘first blockchain currency’, bitcoin has a much stronger community support than Ethereum. Support and documentations for the ‘newer’ currency is growing fast though.

  1. Reward for miners

    Blockchain is a distributed open ledger system, on which the records of the transactions have to be entered/added to the chain. This task is performed by the miners. For bitcoin mining, the rewards for mining (in exchange of the processing power provided) is in the form of certain units of the cryptocurrency. The reward was set at 50 bitcoins per block created at the start, with the stipulation of the figure being halved after every 210000 blocks. At present, this bitcoin ‘block reward’ stands at 12.5 bitcoins (the second and the latest halving happened in July 2016; the final halving would take place in 2140). The per-block reward in the ethereum system is 5 ethers, with a lot of speculation going on about lowering this reward to 1.5 ether. In a vote in March this year, it was found that an overwhelming majority of the ethereum community worldwide was in favour of lowering the reward.

Note: Ethereum offers the so-called ‘uncle/aunt rewards’ to miners who come up with solutions but do not have their blocks included. This reward is generally 2-3 ethers.

  1. Proof-of-Work vs Proof-of-Stake

    Both bitcoin and ethereum currently work on the proof-of-work (PoW) basis. Complex mathematical loops have to be solved by bitcoin miners to create and add new blocks/transactions. The setup ensures that risks of fraudulent activities will be minimal (since adding new blocks will require plenty of time and resources). Ether miners, on the other hand, have to create/execute smart contracts and the transactions within, to get the rewards. However, researchers feel that bitcoin’s PoW model can cause considerable wastage of energy. This is one of the main reasons for the proposed shift of Ethereum to a proof-of-stake (PoS) model. The PoS system will bring in the concept of rewarding miners in the form of ‘transaction fees’ for every smart contract validations and transactions (which also cuts down on the energy wastage that can happen in the bitcoin mining ecosystem). An additional advantage of Ethereum’s system will be the greater focus on collaboration – with the chances of higher payoffs for completing/validating transactions quickly being an important motivating factor. In the proof-of-stake model, the ‘validators’ will have to put their own ethers on the line (put them on stake), for block validation. This will rule out chances of a malicious agent going rogue and disrupting the entire network.

Note: Ethereum’s shift from proof-of-work to proof-of-stake is expected to happen before the end of 2017. The present Ethereum algorithm is called Ethash (a memory hard-dashing algo), while the new consensus algorithm of Ethereum is named Casper.

  1. Transaction costs

    The Ethereum digital cryptocurrency platform makes use of Gas – a special unit – to measure the transaction costs. Putting things simply, Gas tracks the total amount of ‘work’ involved in any transaction – with every Ethereum block/transaction costing a certain number of Gas units. Several factors influence the cost of transactions, including the bandwidth consumption, the storage requirements and the degree of complexity. In the bitcoin framework, there is equal competition between the transaction blocks – and limitations are put by the size of the blocks. The average bitcoin transaction fee went beyond the $1 mark in March – and over the last couple of years, these fees have shot up by well over 1100%. Ethereum transaction costs are also rising fast, and are calculated on a base figure of 21000 Gas.

Note: The median cost of transfer for Ethereum is $0.1513.

  1. Currency forks

    Bitcoin XT and Bitcoin Classic are both important software client forks of bitcoin – but the fork that has made the most news recently is Bitcoin Cash (BCH). It is a ‘hard fork’ (a complete protocol change and a shift to a separate blockchain) – which released in August 2017. At present, the price of BCH is $596, and more than 16 million units of the ‘forked currency’ is in circulation. The fork happened after the underlying technology of bitcoin was upgraded to Segwit2x. On the Bitcoin network, Segwit (Segregated Witness) became active a couple of weeks back. As far as Ethereum is concerned, the ‘Metropolis’ hard fork is set to happen later this month – with the new protocol offering greater anonymity to users (with zero-knowledge proofs) security masking and exponentially increasing mining difficulties. There is a lot of buzz over the upcoming ‘Ethereum Ice Age’, and the Metropolis fork is viewed as an important step towards that. In June 2016, the much-publicized DAO attack resulted in $55-$60 ether being stolen – and as a response to the attack, the ‘Ethereum Classic’ (ETC) hard fork happened. The exchange rate/trading price of ETC is presently ~$18.

Note: Litecoin, a creation of Charlie Lee, is one of the earliest forks of the bitcoin cryptocurrency. According to a Forbes report, the price of Litecoin has jumped by over 2000% since the start of 2017.

    10. Hashing algorithms

We have already mentioned Ethash as the algorithm that powers the proof-of-work Ethereum model. The bitcoin platform, on the other hand, works on the SHA-256 algorithm – that has the capability of generating digits in hexadecimal format. The presence of the Turing-complete internal code (EtherScript) adds greater functionality to the Ethereum platform (bitcoin, for instance, is not designed to handle smart contracts) – but also makes the overall architecture more complicated, with chances of errors creeping in. In bitcoin, the programming is stateless, and there will always be some programs that cannot be written (since it does not have Turing-completeness). Loops generally cannot be expressed in bitcoin either.

Note: Expanse and Krypton (apart from Ethereum Classic) also use the Ethash algorithm. The SHA-256 algorithm is used by a much larger set of cryptocurrencies, including Bytecoin, Bitcoin Dark and MasterCoin.

    11. More decentralized mining with Ethereum

Mining either of the cryptocurrencies require fairly large upfront investments. However, there is a clear point of difference between the ways in which bitcoin and ethereum go about it. The former has built-in ASIC (application-specific integrated circuit) chips, which keeps the mining power relatively concentrated. In contrast, the hard hashing algo of Ethereum encourages greater decentralization of miners. Compared to bitcoin, it is easier for individual users with GPUs to join the Ethereum network – thereby building the community over time. The use of graphic cards in the Ethereum setup also lowers the possibilities of ‘51 percent’ (collusion) attacks. The proposed proof-of-stake (PoS) model will give a further boost to decentralized validation by users.

Note: The electricity consumed per Ethereum transaction can be as high as 45 kWh for miners. The disk space required by Ethereum is also more than that of bitcoin.

   12. Currency legitimacy

In April, Japan became the latest country to accept bitcoin as a legal currency. The volume of Bitcoin trading is the highest in the United States (here, BTC is considered as ‘property’), while the cryptocurrency is also widely traded in countries like Sweden, Denmark, Australia and the United Kingdom. However, there are a fair number of nations – like China, Nigeria and Ecuador, where bitcoin trading is illegal (the ban on the cryptocurrency varies though). Being the proverbial ‘new kid on the block’, ethereum does not quite have the stability and worldwide recognition level of bitcoin yet – but it received a big shot in the arm when Microsoft Azure started to provide it. The rapidly growing adoption and usage of Ethereum in the finance and IoT industries also point to the immense growth potential of the platform. Bitcoin is the more ‘known’ currency, but Ethereum can close the gap soon.

Note: The launch of the Coinbase debit card, along with the legitimization of Bitstamp (for trading in EU countries under the ‘Passport’ program) eased the usage of bitcoins across the world. Companies like TenX and Uquid (in 2016) have also launched Ethereum debit cards. The increasing usability of the currencies is pulling up their values.

From JP Morgan and Cisco, to Intel, IBM and Wells Fargo – many leading tech/finance companies have started using Bitcoin. In 2016, the open-source Hyperledger project was created by these companies (along with the London Stock Exchange Group) The Enterprise Ethereum Alliance is also expanding rapidly – with 86 new firms joining the fold in May. While the share of bitcoin in the overall cryptocurrency market cap is steadily falling – the currency is set to grow, albeit at a lower rate than before (the volatility will also be lower). Ethereum, in contrast, is a more ‘risky’ platform – but can potentially deliver greater functionality and value, leading up to higher gains.

 

Given the inherent differences in the nature of Bitcoin and Ethereum (one is a digital currency per se, while the other is a broad digital blockchain application platform) – it is perfectly possible for the two to coexist and thrive in the foreseeable future. Bitcoin has the early-mover advantage, while Ethereum is moving up fast in terms of usability and popularity. The cryptocurrency market will be something worth tracking in the coming years, that’s for sure.