Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Uber awesomeness!

I am using Uber for this whole week and not using my personal car at all. I want to see the benefits of using Uber vs. driving your own car. It has been fairly established that  Uber is more cost effective than  buying a new car. But this blog is intended for those who already own a car and are driving it just because they own the car. I will do a cost comparison for that later. But I wanted to first highlight advantages of using UberX.

Note: These observations are from India and some of these might not work elsewhere. Also, these views are based on current rates of Uber. Not sure if they will hold true when their rates fluctuate. But again, petrol rates also fluctuate a lot in India hence that can also affect the decision.

  • Lifestyle change - The decision to switch to Uber permanently than driving your own car involves a lifestyle change. Your car is not there with you anymore; not there outside your office waiting for you. You start walking a bit more.  You start depending on public transport more. There is no baggage of ensuring that your car is safe somewhere. 
  • Parking - You don't  waste time finding parking in mall or office. You don't worry whether you will get parking space and you can focus on getting the work done. 
  • Time utilization - You don't drive your car. Hence you utilize the time in the taxi to read a blog you always wanted, connect with your friends, send mails. By the time you reach office, you have already caught up with your day's work. 
  • Conversations - If you have someone with you in the taxi, you can easily talk or discuss with them. Even if you are alone, you get to make great conversations with drivers. I have found most of the drivers cheerful and happy till now. 
  • I don't have to worry if I am stuck in traffic now, because even though I am in traffic, I can utilize the time to read up something. It costs me only Re. 1 per minute (based on current wait charges) if I stuck  in traffic. But I utilize my time a lot more for Re. 1. Totally worth it! 
  • More cheerful - Since you are not driving the car in traffic, you are more cheerful when you reach office or when you reach home. Your legs/hands/back don't pain from driving a car. You are mentally and physically better.
The way I see it, Uber is not providing you a car, it is providing you a driver. Everyone owns a car but very few people have their own driver. Hence Uber's tag line in their app 'Your private driver'. You get to share a driver for a month at 1/4th the salary of driver on your payroll. I think that's the value addition that Uber gives. It's not about the car, its about the driver. All the above things are possible because Uber is giving me an on-demand driver.

Now, coming back to the cost of owning a car vs. taking Uber.  

Few notes for calculation - I read this blog by Sam Altman and have referred his calculation.  I own Hyundai Santro, 2007 model. It gives me mileage of 11 km per litre of petrol and the current fuel cost is Rs. 68/litre in India. I would value my Santro at Rs. 1,50,000/- running in good condition. And I would apply a depreciation rate of 15% to my car in India. Also, my office is only 5 km away from  my home hence the cost of UberGo per km is Rs. 16.5. For longer trips in Uber, the cost would come down to Rs. 14 or even lower. 

Based on these facts, here are the figures: 

km  traveled per year 6000
insurance per year Rs. 6000
maintenance cost per year Rs. 6000
depreciation per year Rs 22500
parking per year Rs. 9000
petrol  cost per km Rs. 6 UberGo Rs 16.5
Total  Rs.79500 Rs 99000

So based on these figures, I am paying around Rs. 19,500 a year more for using Uber's on-demand drivers. 

I changed these numbers above for Honda City, 2005 model, and compared UberX at rate of 18 per km. And the usage cost per year for Honda City is Rs. 112500 and using UberX for a year was Rs. 108000. I think Uber will be more cost effective if the distance traveled is more and it will be cheaper  if you are driving a mid size sedan like Dzire, Amaze etc. 

You can change the values above according to your vehicle. You could be running diesel, you could have more distance traveled per year, you could catch a different depreciation rate (even 10%). I compared UberGo because I drive a Santro. You could compare UberX. In any case, even if you have a small car like Santro or Alto in India, Uber would make more financial sense. If you want higher end cars, they have UberBlack too. 

So, you don't need to own a car, no need to pay any EMI and yet  roam around the whole town. You don't have to pay monthly salary to the driver and enjoy all the benefits mentioned earlier.  That's good enough reason to switch to Uber.  

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Connect Mobile Phone headphones to mac mini for using microphone

Mac mini has only two ports - one for headphones and other for Line In. If we connect the generic headphone to Line In port, Mac does not detect it as a headphone. Hence lot of people have suggested online to use a battery powered headphone or a usb mic or a connection from preamp to use a mic.

Another alternative is to use the headphones that come with your mobile phone handset. You use these headphones to listen songs and also to answer voice calls. Connect this headphone to the headphone port of Mac mini and your headphone and microphone, both will work on mac.

Predictions for hardware devices for 2016-2017

When I wanted to buy my first laptop in 2010, two screen sizes were popular during that time - 11" and 14". I really wanted to buy a Dell 13" Vostro laptop as it was the perfect size for portability and office use though I felt it was bit small for software development. But 13" laptops were very very expensive in 2010 and I bought  a 15.6" for more screen space than 14". But today, 13.3" laptops have become mainstream, thanks to Apple Macbook Air, and lot of companies are launching laptops with 13.3" size.

When I bought my Samsung Galaxy Note 2 in December 2012, almost everyone went aghast at the 5.5" screen size of the Android phone. iPhone fans obviously revolted at the phone and many thought it was insensible to walk with such a huge phone in your pocket. Before Note 2 I had Sony Xperia X10 Mini Pro - a 2.5" phone. I was convinced that we could do a lot with Android or iOS Having used Sony for 2 years  and hence more screen space was required to get basic tasks done like typing, viewing videos and use the phone throughout the day (good battery life). Plus I didn't want to carry a phone and tablet everywhere so I bought a phablet. After 2014, almost every phone is more than 4.8". Even Apple launched iPhone 6 and 6 plus. Currently phablet has become a phone now.

Having been successful twice in the past in selecting devices, I write this blog to make my current selection and the prediction for next two years. I might be wrong, but I sincerely feel that these are the devices I would like to own for the next two years:

1. Laptop - I would definitely buy  a 13.3" laptop now. 11" Macbook is still very small and 15.6" are too heavy. We are now used to getting lot of stuff done in tablets and phones and we need a laptop which can start quickly and get the job done. In past 5 years, there was lot of innovation happening in tablets and mobiles but now laptops are fast catching up. Intel has launched 5th Generation Core-i processors and also Core M processors for Chromebooks. Companies have figured out to reduce the weight of the laptop by using good alloys for the body. Lenovo is launching a laptop in May which will weigh only 800 gms! You don't really need 500 GB space as most of the stuff today can be put on Google drive, Dropbox, S3 etc. Hence a  laptop that is 13.3" screen, 128 GB SSD, 4-8 GB RAM, weight of less than 4 pounds is perfect to buy at a price of around USD 800 to 1000. I don't care if its touch screen or the 2-in-1 types (laptop + tablet).

2. Mobile -  I would use a 4" to 5" mobile phone now instead of my current 5.5" phone. I would only use it for calling, whatsapp and doing a quick search on Google. I don't really play many games and I am not very active on social media now. Hence I think that 5 to 6" phones are good for daily use and many companies are pushing boundaries to make it thinner and more usable in your hands. A phone with less than USD 500 (unlocked) will be good enough. I would also consider  Firefox OS or Blackberry, apart from Android/iOS/Windows.

3. Tablet - I don't own a tablet yet and would not buy one. I think tablets are of little use today unless you are a kid under 10 or senior citizen above 60. Other age groups can use a good ultraportable laptop for reasons mentioned above. No one wants to carry a laptop, tablet and mobile with them everywhere. Lets face it, you can't really type documents or make presentations or do programming on a tablet.  If you only want to access content - watch videos, read news, check mails, play games, learn something - tablet is perfect for you. But creating content isn't easy on tablets. The hardware for tablet is ready but the software still isn't. Hence the need for laptops. And since laptops are becoming fast and ultra portable, then you can access and create content on laptop  better than you would do on tablet. Plus most of the content can be accessed on a good 5" mobile phone too - play games, watch videos, check mails, be connected etc.

I see less innovation happening in tablets in next two years. Apple launched iPad mini 3 with only one small feature upgrade. Or probably companies could come up with a new OS for tablets and not keep the same OS for mobiles and tablets.

Buy a 11-13.3" laptop and a 5" phone. Tablet if you have kids or elder people at home. I would also buy a Kindle e-reader to read books if you love reading.

So, in short - these are my predictions for next two years - return of the laptop, mobile phones getting thinner and better, and tablets being just tablets!