Slowdown effect: IT firms defer joining dates, tech graduates worried – Source The Economic Times

Despite the global slowdown, campus placement season in city engineering colleges had seemed upbeat last academic year. Several students from top colleges bagged more than one offer on an average, but these attractive offers are yet to turn into reality. 

Most IT firms and IT consulting companies have deferred their joining dates by more than six months, and several students, who were to start work from the first week of August, have now been asked to join from January. 

This is not all. A company, which had offered an annual package of around Rs 4.5 lakh during presentation, brought the figure down to Rs 3.95 lakh along with the joining bonus when the actual offer was made. Students were offered anywhere between Rs 3.5 lakh and 7 lakh a year. Another IT firm, which had hired students from the city for its Mumbai office, is now placing them in Bengaluru and Hyderabad. 

Placement season in most engineering colleges starts from July, at the beginning of the final year session, and continues till November. Students who get offers are given joining dates for July or August in the next year, after they graduate. 

Rahul Mantri, an engineering graduate from a suburban college, who got an offer from a consultancy firm in November 2012, was to get his joining date this month. “When I got the offer, I was told that I would be joining by the first week of July. 

Now, the firm has informed our placement office about the delay. I have joined my family business for now. Around 10 students from my college, who were hired by this software MNC, are waiting for their joining date to come by,” he said. 

A leading consultancy and audit firm had hired around hundreds of candidates from across the country this year. While others have started work, the joining dates for city students have been deferred to January 2014. The firm had hired 36 students from a college in the western suburbs, and 20 more from another top college. 

“Our joining dates have been deferred. 

While I have taken up an internship in a start-up firm, most of my friends are sitting at home. We cannot even join a certificate programme to enhance our job skills as we are not sure in which process we will be placed after joining,” said Rakesh Mehra, a student. 

A few firms have not even intimated the placement offices of colleges, adding to students’ anxiety. 

Prachi Gharpure, principal of Sardar Patel Institute of Technology, said 120 of the 200 students from the current batch are awaiting their joining dates. “Firms, which had taken limited recruits, have given joining dates, but those, which had carried out bulk hirings, have delayed the process. They might be trying to adjust all the candidates in different batches,” said Gharpure. 

G T Thampi, principal of Thadomal Shahani College of Engineering, said most firms are affected by the slowdown. “The depreciating value of rupee is adding to their troubles.” 

Principal J M Nair of Vivekanand Education Society’s Institute of Technology said a few firms in core engineering branches have also have postponed the joining dates. 

“Most organisations are adjusting the on boarding process to match the tepid growth of the industry. I am sure , as has always been the case, 

all offers will be honoured in due course,” said Hari T, chief marketing officer and global head (business consulting), Tech Mahindra BSE 2.54 %.

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With growing internet penetration and data usage, India is Facebook’s new lab – Source The Economic Times

When it comes to his own communication needs, Greg Marra likes to keep pace—an Apple iPhone 5 and a Nexus 4 Android phone are constant companions.

But earlier this month, on his second visit to India, Marra’s preoccupation was phones that go way, way, way back in technology time. His shopping bag had about a dozen handsets, priced from Rs 1,300 to Rs 4,500, from the very basic to an entry-level smartphone. There was a Lava Iris 349, a Micromax X272, an LGA 290, a Nokia 207, a Micromax Bolt A51.

A dissection of these handsets was part of the classwork for Marra and his six fellow Facebook engineers when they spent a week in India earlier this month. This group of seven engineers from the company’s headquarters in Menlo Park in California—all American, male, 23-28 years, product managers—stopped at Hyderabad, Gurgaon, Mathura and Agra, and a few villages enroute the last two towns.

The engineers struck random conversations with random people: what phone they had; what all did they do on this phone and what more would they like to; how many pictures do they click in a day and what kind of pictures; how do they use keypads; what kind of connectivity they had; how did they socialise; where did technology sit in their lives; and, that prejudiced question, were they on Facebook?

Ultimately, for Marra and his team, it came down to this: if these people were not on Facebook, how could they bring them there? And if they were on Facebook, how could they make them spend more time on it? They were looking to identify realworld problems and give technological answers. It all revolved around the dozen handsets they had picked up at the start of their week, from Hyderabad. “Across the world, the number of users on desktop is close to saturated,” says Marra. “Mobile is where the next billion new users are going to come from.”

Last Wednesday, when Facebook announced its results for the second quarter, increasing user traffic and advertising on the mobile was the talking point. Revenues from mobile spiked 75% in the quarter and accounted for 41% of the company’s revenues, against 14% a year ago. “Mobile will soon account for more than half the advertising dollars,” Facebook co-founder, chairman & CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a conference call after the results.

Since it went public in May 2012, Facebook had struggled to demonstrate that it could pull people to the mobile, and monetise that presence, contributing to a 35% decline in its share price since listing. If some of that scepticism lies buried in the recesses of a quarter gone by, the work that Marra and team are doing is the future.They are looking for the code to crack three big questions facing the world’s largest socialnetworking company, with $5.1 billion in annual revenues and 1.1 billion users: how to hook its next billion users and how to keep them there? In their scheme of things, the centrepiece for the answers to those questions is India—which is on pace to become its biggest user base within two years— and the mobile. That’s why the point of collecting those dozen handsets from India.

Eight Versions Of Facebook

Even as the mobile replaces the computer as preferred hardware, Facebook believes a generation of users will leapfrog the computer to the mobile. In its first-quarter results, for example, 189 million of its 1.1 billion users—or 17% of its users— accessed Facebook only on mobile.

Google brings tabs to sneak advertisements into your inbox – Source The Economic Times

The shift away from desktop browsing to mobile web has put the squeeze on Google’s advertising revenues from traditional pay per-click . But the tech giant is trying to set things right by sneaking ads into the user’s inbox. 

The latest example involves the introduction of tabs in Google-owned popular email service Gmail. Google places both emails as well as advertisements under a promotions tab in the inbox and users find it difficult to distinguish between the two. 

Industry observers said this tactic, which has already become the talk of the ad industry, signals Google’s renewed attempt at tackling what has been considered the company’s biggest weakness: slowing ad sales from desktops. 

“Google earnings show that its click rates have gone down over the past two quarters, so this is possibly a great way to catch-up and place ads right in front of its users to increase sales,” said Prasanth Mohanachandran, founder and chief executive of Agency Digi, a Mumbai-based digital communications agency. 

In an emailed response, Google said the new ads replace the ones that were earlier shown on top under the old design. Last week, the Mountain View, California-based Google reported second-quarter earnings that fell short of analyst estimates mainly due to slowness in desktop search and a fall in ad prices. With over 90% of its revenues coming from advertisements, getting people to click on them is crucial for Google. 

Over the past few quarters, companies like Facebook and Google have been trying to improve their mobile advertising revenues as more users access web services on smartphones. On Wednesday, rival internet firm Facebook said mobile ads generated 41% of its revenue last quarter, up from 14% from last year. 

Internet privacy experts said the decision to place advertisements that are disguised as emails is a “sneaky way of getting more users to click on ads” as Google tries to mitigate the effects of slowing ad sales on desktops. “Users would often mistake these advertisements for actual emails. 

May be that’s the cost of using a free product ,” said Sunil Abraham, executive director of Bangalore-based research firm Center for Internet and Society. “Previously, ads used to look like ads. Of late, Google has been trying to mix ads with content and that’s where the privacy angle comes into play,” he added. 

A Google spokesman said these ads aren’t exactly the same as emails because they don’t take up inbox storage. “The new ads act like the old normal inbox ads. When people click the ads, they will either be directed to an advertiser’s landing page or the ad will expand within Gmail,” the company said in an emailed response.

MEA launches app that promises to end your passport woes – Source The Economic Times

Have an android or iOS platforms phone? Then tracking your passport application will be just a matter of pushing some buttons with Ministry of External Affairs today launching a mobile application. 

In the next couple of months, people will be able to even apply for passport through their phone. 

For the first time in the world, a country’s Foreign Ministry has been able to integrate and consolidate its entire digital presence in one’s hand, thanks to ‘MEA India’ app. 

The MEA envisages the application be a “one-stop shop” for you. 

From getting updates from all the 124 Indian missions in the world, to getting information for consular access in case you are abroad, to booking yourself for the Kailash Manasarovar Yatra, everything is now available on your fingertips. 

“It’s a one stop shop to give you all you need to know,” said outgoing Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai after inaugurating the app at an event here. He retires July 31. 

And in what could be a record of sort, the mobile application project was completed in just a little under six months. 

The MEA is the first government department to have a mobile app for smartphone users. 

It will provide details of all citizen-centric services of the MEA like passport, visa for those travelling to India and Haj related details among others. 

“We were a little reticent when we started this process about six months ago… and it is over in little less than six months,” Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said. 

The main people behind the creation are two young techies from Silver Touch Technologies -Prakash Srivastava and Sarla Meghnani – and young IFS officer Vishnu Vardhan Reddy besides Akbaruddin and Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai. 

Besides providing a vast information on India’s foreign policies and activities, one can even take part in quiz and win Rs 1000 e-vouchers for buying books.

Microsoft’s struggle to make things simple for consumers – Source The Economic Times

In March 2006, a parody video asked, “What if Microsoft made the iPod?” The clip began with an image of the real packaging for an iPod, that familiar white box with a single picture of the music player. Then, bit by bit, it added what would happen if Microsoft got involved. 

By the end of three minutes, the dainty music player had been renamed the iPod Pro 2005 XP Human Ear Professional Edition With Subscription, and the stark box was sullied with stickers and jargon promoting almost every technical feature on the device. A design inspired by modernist architecture (think the Guggenheim Museum) was turned into a gaudy billboard (think a trinket store in Times Square). 

In recent years, Microsoft has been trying to shed its reputation for trumpeting features over simplicity, but old habits are proving hard to break. Yes, Microsoft has released products like the Xbox and Windows Phone 7 that were intuitive to consumers and marketed with a fair amount of finesse. But far too often, the company has tried to create products for the modern consumer with a mindset from the information technology back room. 

And there are consequences for this disconnect beyond satirical videos. Microsoft said this month that it was taking a $900 million write-down for unsold inventory of the Surface RT tablet, which went on sale less than a year ago. 

Just thinking about the Microsoft Surface tablets is a head-scratcher. The company offered two products, the Surface RT and the Surface Pro. One came with a pen. They both had USB ports,microSDXC card slots, HD video ports, flip-back stands, different screen resolutions and two types of Windows software. 

If all that confused you, you are not alone. While the technologically savvy most likely lapped up those features, average consumers did not. 

“Windows is a hammer, and everything looks like a nail” to Microsoft, said Ryan Block, a former editor at Engadget and a co-founder of Gdgt, a gadget website. “You can look at the Surface, which is the best example; they created this totally blown-out tablet based around Windows and Windows-like experiences that didn’t translate” for most people. 

Microsoft enthusiasts and some pundits came to the company’s defense last week, saying that the Surface had failed because the iPad hit the market years earlier and had too much of a head start. 

Maybe. But I have a different theory: the Surface failed because Microsoft confused consumers who didn’t want to think about RT or Pro or what version of Windows their new gadget would run. 

“The people in Redmond have a fundamental misunderstanding of what users are looking for, which is not speeds and feeds,” said J.P. Gownder, a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research. (Microsoft is based in Redmond, Wash.) 

“Speeds and feeds” is an old trade magazine term for the technical specifications of a new PC. Fifteen years ago, that a computer was a little bit faster or had more memory than the last version was a very big deal. The string of numbers and jargon on the side of a computer’s box was a sort of runic code that made sense to IT managers or tech-savvy relatives coerced into helping the less sophisticated. It told them what to buy. 

That is just not the case anymore. Consumers demand something that is easy to understand, and they got that in products like the iPad. 

There is one flaw in the theory that Microsoft’s tablet did not catch on because the iPad was already popular: Microsoft was late to the game, but it was hardly late to the idea. The company helped popularize the term “tablet PC” when Bill Gates introduced one in 2000 at the annual Comdex computer show in Las Vegas. 

But it was Apple, a decade later, that figured out how to simplify the tablet and sell it to mainstream customers. 

Microsoft says one of the reasons the company does offer all these features – and feels the need to explain its gigahertz and gigabytes – is that it has to market its products to small businesses and IT professionals, and they still obsess over bigger, better, faster.

Apple China supplier imposes overtime, hires minors: Group – Source The Economic Times

Three Chinese factories making Apple products impose excessive overtime and employ minors, a US-based advocacy group said on Monday, renewing scrutiny of labour practices by the US tech giant’s suppliers.

The iPhone and iPad maker has faced pressure to better oversee often-poor manufacturing conditions in China since 13 workers for one of its suppliers committed suicide in 2010. 

US-based China Labor Watch said in a report that three plants run by Pegatron Group violated standards set by Apple. 

Apple’s website says that these include no underage labour, overtime to be voluntary, and a maximum 60-hour workweek. 

China Labor Watch said the 70,000 employees at the three Pegatron sites averaged 66, 67 and 69 hours per week, and that “many workers” were under 18, some of them interns from vocational schools. 

Overtime was mandatory during busy periods, it said, adding that employees at one site who refused to work extra hours once would lose the chance to do so for the rest of the month. 

The report also described crowded dormitory rooms housing up to 12 people, insufficient fire escape routes and fines for behaviour such as “failing to tuck in one’s chair after eating” and “absence from unpaid meetings”. 

It also said managers screened out job applicants who were pregnant or older than 35, and rushed through safety training. 

Apple said in a statement it had audited Pegatron facilities 15 times since 2007 and found last month that their workweek averaged 46 hours. 

It said it had acted on previous complaints raised by China Labor Watch and would “immediately” investigate claims in the latest report “that are new to us”. 

“We are proud of the work we do with our suppliers to uncover problems and improve conditions for workers,” it said. 

“Apple is committed to providing safe and fair working conditions throughout our supply chain.” 

China Labor Watch said it sent undercover investigators to the three factories and conducted nearly 200 worker interviews between March and July this year. 

Pegatron Group, a Taiwanese company, could not immediately be reached for comment.

Software experts attack cars, to release code as hackers meet – Source The Economic Times

Car hacking is not a new field, but its secrets have long been closely guarded. That is about to change, thanks to two well-known computer software hackers who got bored finding bugs in software from Microsoft and Apple. 

Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek say they will publish detailed blueprints of techniques for attacking critical systems in the Toyota Prius and Ford Escape in a 100-page white paper, following several months of research they conducted with a grant from the US government. 

The two “white hats” – hackers who try to uncover software vulnerabilities before criminals can exploit them – will also release the software they built for hacking the cars at the Def Con hacking convention in Las Vegas this week. 

They said they devised ways to force a Toyota Prius to brake suddenly at 80 miles an hour (128 kph), jerk its steering wheel, or accelerate the engine. They also say they can disable the brakes of a Ford Escape traveling at very slow speeds, so that the car keeps moving no matter how hard the driver presses the pedal. 

“Imagine what would happen if you were near a crowd,” said Valasek, director of security intelligence at consulting firm IOActive, known for finding bugs in Microsoft Corp’s Windows software. 

But it is not as scary as it may sound at first blush. 

They were sitting inside the cars using laptops connected directly to the vehicles’ computer networks when they did their work. So they will not be providing information on how to hack remotely into a car network, which is what would typically be needed to launch a real-world attack. 

The two say they hope the data they publish will encourage other white-hat hackers to uncover more security flaws in autos so they can be fixed. 

“I trust the eyes of 100 security researchers more than the eyes that are in Ford and Toyota,” said Miller, a Twitter security engineer known for his research on hacking Apple Inc’s App Store. 

Toyota Motor Corp spokesman John Hanson said the company was reviewing the work. He said the carmaker had invested heavily in electronic security, but that bugs remained – as they do in cars of other manufacturers. 

“It’s entirely possible to do,” Hanson said, referring to the newly exposed hacks. “Absolutely we take it seriously.” 

Ford Motor Co spokesman Craig Daitch said the company takes seriously the electronic security of its vehicles. He said the fact that Miller’s and Valasek’s hacking methods required them to be inside the vehicle they were trying to manipulate mitigated the risk. 

“This particular attack was not performed remotely over the air, but as a highly aggressive direct physical manipulation of one vehicle over an elongated period of time, which would not be a risk to customers and any mass level,” Daitch said.