Surveying the tech landscape
This is the second iteration of posts where we take a look at emerging stories across the technology landscape and add our perspective. We’ll do this on a regular basis, perhaps once a month.
As always, we’d love to hear your thoughts, so please use our commenting tool to weigh in.
Ultra HD TV
The march of technology goes on. Sometimes, it seems like a solution in search of a problem.
If you’re considering buying a new flat-panel TV, and you’ve been to Best Buy or some other big box retailer to comparison shop, you’ve probably seen Ultra-HD, or 4K, sets. The 4K refers to pixel resolution—3840×2160 pixels—about four times that of today’s predominant HD standard (1920 x 1080 pixels). To put it simply, 4K TVs offer a lot more image detail. Go here for a side-by-side comparison.
The question is should you buy one? Aside from the fact that 4K sets cost about 400% of what you’d pay for an equivalent HD set, the answer is probably no. Unless you are a gamer who loves first-person shooters, the extra pixels aren’t going to do you much good.
Today’s 4K sets are still mostly LCD technology, and suffer from the same deficiencies as 1080P LCDs. But perhaps even more importantly, the vast majority of content is 1080P at best, and will be for years to come.
Also, in contrast to LCD, the technology that shows the most promise for eliminating the downsides of LCD technology is OLED, which today is prohibitively expensive for most of us.
Until those things change, we can think of better ways to part with our hard-earned cash.
Are the mobile price wars going to save you money?
And speaking of hard-earned cash, maybe you’ve noticed that T-Mobile has been shaking up the cellular phone industry lately, eliminating contracts, and even paying you to switch to its network. AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint have all responded, offering seemingly lower-priced options and dispensing with contracts.
Unfortunately, it’s apparently all a smokescreen. No matter which provider you opt for, they are still going to extract their pound of flesh. In fact, mobile plans continue to go up. Caveat emptor!
Is it time for some Popcorn?
Speaking of extracting pounds of flesh, in past posts, we’ve bemoaned how tightly Hollywood is holding on to their content, and the exorbitant rates their partners charge. We’ve argued that movie and television content is becoming commoditized, like music, and that consumers are rebelling against the status quo, cutting the cord and looking for better deals.
How does free sound? A new open source web service, Popcorn Time, has emerged, letting users stream first-run movies through the Internet. The software searches torrent sites to locate movies, and then downloads them to the user’s PC.
Of course, this is all patently illegal, and no doubt the entertainment establishment will fight Popcorn Time—and its users—tooth and nail. However, the fact that users even consider such services demonstrates, for the millionth time, that there is a market out there for easily accessible on-demand content.
Hollywood would do better to listen to, rather than fight, its customers. Otherwise, like Wack-a-Mole, software like Popcorn Time is going to continue popping up.
Everything you can do…
Is Samsung listening to its customers, when it seemingly copies Apple’s every move? Samsung recently launched Milk, a music streaming service for users of the Galaxy line of smartphones and tablets. So is Milk simply an iTunes wannabe, or does it have something new to offer? Samsung describes Milk as “fresh and organic” and offers it as a no-cost ad-free service for its customers.
Apple launches CarPlay
We have been loving our Bluetooth-enabled car stereo for a few years now. Turn on the stereo, and it automatically links to our iPhones and plays music from our iTunes playlist, iTunes Radio, Pandora, or whatever we were last listening to.
Apparently, Apple has been working closely with the car industry to bring iPhone integration to a new level, and has commitments from virtually all the major automobile manufacturers. With the launch of CarPlay, Apple wants to offer much of its vaunted iPhone user experience to drivers, offering Siri hands-free voice control, phone calls, music, text messages, and maps with turn-by-turn navigation. Sign me up!
Take a better selfie
At the Oscars this year, Ellen DeGeneres made the selfie a household term, and nearly took down Twitter in doing so. Of course, people have been making selfies since the advent of cameras, and certainly smartphones have brought this mode of self-expression to the masses.
If you are interested in elevating the selfie to an art form, you might want to check out the Hisy Bluetooth remote for your iPhone (not yet available for Android). Hold the phone in one hand as you normally would, and the coin-size Hisy device in the other, pose and click. At $25, this fun little device is almost an impulse buy.
But don’t stop there. You might want to apply some beautifying effects to your selfie (or any photo). An app named Brushstroke ($2.99 from the App Store) enables you to do just that.
Synchronization is the cloud’s killer app
You might think “the cloud” is some arcane technology with little practical use for the average person, or even if the cloud could be useful, it’s probably expensive and difficult to set up.
Well, that depends. Certainly there are quite complex use cases that are enabled by the cloud, and you can find companies offering a wide range of cloud-enabled applications and services.
A really useful way to think about the cloud is having your applications and data available to you from anywhere—well at least anywhere you have access to the Internet.
We use Apple’s iCloud because it is easy to set up, and, for the most part, just works. If we add a contact on the iPhone, it’s saved in the cloud, then synchronized to all of our devices. The same is true of e-mail, photos, bookmarks, browser tabs, reading lists, digital books and magazines, and documents created with iTools applications (Pages, Numbers, and Keynote).
These capabilities can be achieved with other platforms, as well. Google, for example, has a very good set of web-enabled applications, and Microsoft is offering some improvements in this area, as well.
But when you own the whole widget, as does Apple, you control every aspect of the workflow. For iCloud users, synchronization is the killer app.
More Android malware
Google maintains the Android operating system, and offers it free to any mobile handset manufacturer. This has enabled Android to capture the number one position in worldwide market share. Reportedly, Android is the operating system on nearly 70% of the world’s handsets.
Google is a firm believer in open source software, so does not do much in the way of regulating how manufacturers use and modify Android.
Perhaps the biggest downside of this is manufacturers do not keep up with the latest Android versions and security fixes. This makes Android the largest target for viruses, Trojans, and other malware.
A recent report from AppleInsider describes RAT malware, an easy to use new “Remote Administration Tool malware package for Android that [purchasers can use] to infect users, steal their photos and text messages, secretly capture audio or video, record their calls, download their web browser history and steal their email, Facebook and VPN account information.
If you’re an Android user, we recommend working with your mobile network provider to install the latest Android release, and keep your OS up to date. But be forewarned that network providers are well behind the curve in providing OS updates, and their recommended solution often is to sell you a new phone. Demand better.
TED Talks—This is your brain…ON
What if you could regularly hear some of the world’s brightest minds speak on topics of interest across a wide range of subject matter? You can, thanks to the Sapling Foundation, a non-profit organization that founded TED, a global set of conferences whose slogan is “ideas worth spreading.” The annual conference began in 1990, in Monterey, California, and over 1700 TED talks are available online at www.ted.com.
There are even mobile apps for TED available on iOS and Android, so if you are looking for something to watch and listen to that is mind-expanding, thought-provoking, inspiring, humorous, and restores your faith in humanity, this is the place.
And did I say it’s free?