Consumer Tech is the New Religion

I’m certainly not the first to declare it, but consumer technology is the new religion of the 21st century. With all due respect to your spiritual faith (or lack thereof), middle class consumers are quickly becoming technology zealots. Daily, we worship at the altar of social media and mobile devices.

Our prayers for the blessings of bigger displays, expanded storage, and thinner designs are picked up by wi-fi and Bluetooth as they’re synced with Heaven—up in the iCloud. We speak in tongues, hoping that our new car’s GPS system features voice recognition. If we lose our way, our guardian angels, Siri and Cortana, reveal the path to enlightenment.

church of apple

We ask for forgiveness for having neglected our children by spending too much time on Facebook or posting a nasty comment on Tumblr. We pray that we’ll be blessed with better lighting for our next Instagram photo of an especially good tuna sandwich, or maybe a stranger’s puppy.

Our churches are Apple’s iTunes, Google’s Play, and Amazon’s Prime media streaming and download services, including their holy app stores. To discourage dissenters from leaving the flock, our Bibles are often unreadable at a different church. Netflix and Pandora are two major exceptions, translating their scripture into every language under the sun.

There seem to be more religious wars within modern consumer tech than there are within religion itself. Richard Dawkins and Rick Warren have nothing on Larry Page and Tim Cook. What began as the “PC vs. Mac” platform war in the 1980s, punctuated by Betamax versus VHS, has evolved into Xbox versus Playstation, Android versus iOS, and Tesla Motors versus Toyota. Samsung, Sony, Google, Microsoft, and Apple take shots at each other on a regular basis. It’s Hatfield against McCoy—only this time they’re armed with touchscreen tablets and password-protected internet routers.

Sometimes these religious wars are monotheistic, like Apple’s closed ecosystem that offers both hardware and software from a single vendor. Other companies ask us to worship many gods, like the availability of Microsoft’s Windows and Google’s Android from a number of hardware manufacturers. Often, the battles are less proprietary and more philosophical, such as hydrogen-powered cars versus battery electric vehicles (kind of like Greek Mythology).

girls-on-their-phone

Some in the academic community agree. In 2010, ABC News reported that Heidi Campbell, a communications professor at Texas A&M University, co-wrote a paper “exploring the religious myths and metaphors surrounding Apple.” “[The company] could offer a religious-like experience. It could basically perform the same role in people’s lives that being part of a religious community could,” she wrote.

The vitriol and defensiveness in many factions of these religious schisms can become shockingly brazen and abusive, as if someone took the Lord’s name in vain—or peed in your Cheerios. The utterance of “Apple sucks” or “electric cars are stupid” is bad enough; the response is typically worse. Members of the choir routinely compete for “Most likely to have not graduated middle school.”

But we’ve considered only the religions themselves, not the priests at the pulpit. PC versus Mac, was, of course, Bill Gates versus Steve Jobs. Electric cars versus the established Luddites of Detroit is obviously Elon Musk versus…well, the established Luddites of Detroit (this one is a true David and Goliath metaphor). In terms of building their congregations, it could even be argued that Rupert Murdoch and Mark Zuckerberg are running competing megachurches.

“Steve Jobs, one of the most powerful people of our day, has offered a secular ‘gospel’ to our culture,” wrote evangelical Christian author Sean McDowell when Jobs stepped down as Apple’s CEO for health reasons in 2011. Even Christianity Today in January of 2011, in an article entitled “The Gospel of Steve Jobs,” wrote, “The Apple CEO was able to articulate a perfectly secular form of hope.”

“The Apple CEO was able to articulate a perfectly secular form of hope.”

The adoration bestowed upon the top executives of modern technology companies is like that of Southern Baptist parishioners during the rapture. We worship at the feet of charismatic pontiffs like Elon Musk, Sheryl Sandberg, and Richard Branson. They’re our silicon saviors, and the only thing that shakes our faith in them is a dead battery or too many casserole recipes in our newsfeed.

android-fanboy

When it comes to mobile gadgets and streaming media, some of us even worship two gods—like a household with one Catholic and one Jewish parent that recognizes both Christmas and Hanukkah. These odd and overly open-minded people may sport both an iPhone from Apple and a Nexus 7 tablet from Google. Maybe they have a Galaxy S5 smartphone and an iPad. Hasn’t anyone told them that this is, basically, against the rules?

In the end, the best digital dogma is the one that suits your lifestyle, budget, and personal beliefs. Or the one with the coolest logo. But it’s your money going into the offering plate; worship with the company or platform of your choice.

And what about the sinners? You know, the gluttonous people at the airport who hog two outlets to recharge their devices, or the rude fanboys who leave flippantly disparaging comments on your carefully articulated posts? Well, there’s a special place in hell for them. A place where there’s a complete lack of extended warranties and app updates, where the only stores are Circuit City and RadioShack, and where they’re given only a PalmPilot PDA and a CalicoVision game console.

For eternity.

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Curt Robbins


Curt Robbins is author of the following books from Amazon Kindle:

You can follow him on Twitter at @CurtARobbins, read his auto-related articles on CarNewsCafe, check out his Apple-themed articles on Apple Daily Report, and read his AV-related blog posts at rAVe Publications. You can also view his photos on Flickr.

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It’s 2015: Stop Your Whining

Remember the old days, when you would struggle with Windows 95 or Windows 2000 to get it to properly load, say, a printer driver? Remember the love/hate relationship you had with Redmond’s Richest (Microsoft)? This schizophrenic emotional state was elicited by the relative convenience afforded by use of the Windows graphical user interface paired with the frustration of abundant software bugs and things like plug-n-play that certainly plugged, but often didn’t play.

windows 95 logoUse of Microsoft’s products and services, specifically its operating system and the applications found in MS Office, was a double-edged sword. On one side was convenience, speed, and user-friendly operation. On the other was buggy software, cumbersome tech support, and almost daily frustration—typically resulting in language befitting a drunken sailor.

Welcome to 2015. We’re officially 15 percent of the way into the 21st century. No longer do we marvel over smartphones and digital cameras. No longer do we say “Wow, that 42-inch flat panel sure is amazing.” No longer do we dream of a future of electric cars, smartwatches, thin touchscreen tablets, and free global video conferencing.

We’re home, Toto. All that cool stuff is here. And much of it is either free or very cheap.

After all, who could have imagined free video conferencing (using services like FaceTime and Skype)? When I was a kid, I recall my CPA wannabe grandmother always cutting short long-distance phone calls because of the expense and metered billing rate. We now conduct high-definition video conferences—of any length and with folks around the world—for free and on a regular basis.

But our technical schizophrenia remains. Spurred by relentless online ads and spotty wi-fi, our frustration seemingly won’t abate. Yet, we love the Google search engine and the magic of Twitter. But isn’t my laptop too hot? Why won’t it rip this CD? It did it last week. And why can’t I remember the password for my secret email account?

When thinking recently about our fickle use of technology, I realized something: Google has replaced Microsoft as our evil bipolar technological stepmother. The Silicon Valley giant, whose name has become synonymous with looking up stuff on the internet, is something that we think we can’t live without—but that we also curse on a regular basis. I’d hate for someone to steal or damage my Chromecast media streaming dongles. Yet, I want to throw them across the room when they drop the Pandora stream for the fifth time in two hours.

google_logoAlyce Lomax at The Motley Fool, way back in 2006, described Google as a “Jack of all trades, master of none.” In my blog post Apple vs. Google: Where Focus Meets Buckshot from September 2014, I pointed out how Google loves to experiment with a variety of products and services. From “smart” contact lenses to self-driving cars to huge balloons intended to bring internet access to undeveloped nations (and, with it, ads from the company’s search engine and other services), Google has its hand in a very wide range of products.

It’s almost as if the iconic Silicon Valley company doesn’t trust its ability to succeed in any one area. Maybe it’s so keenly aware of the fierce competition and incredible challenges of the technology that it gets involved in dozens of product areas with the hope that a few will actually pan out.

But everything is relative. Our love/hate relationship with Microsoft from yesteryear was based on the pervasive nature of the company’s operating system and software. Windows was everywhere. Very few people used Macs back then (hell, there wasn’t even a version of Microsoft Office for the Mac, so you can barely blame them). It was all MS Word and Excel and Windows XP. All of which sported some pretty serious bugs. We felt trapped.

Today it’s a bit different. I was recently frustrated when using Google’s URL shortening service for links within tweets. I found that, somehow, I had violated Google’s terms of service and it invalidated one of my URLs, giving my tweet, going out to hundreds of thousands of users, a dead link. Fine, I thought, and switched back to Bitly. Frustrated by the amount of paid links at the top of the results page for Google’s search engine, I switched to Duck Duck Go. Not happy with my sluggish, stuttering Nexus 7 tablet running Google’s Android mobile OS, I switched back to an iPad from Apple.

The difference today is that there’s options. Back in the day, those frustrated by Microsoft Word or PowerPoint had few alternatives, none of which were ubiquitous enough to make the switch feel practical or intelligent. But if you’re fed up with your Nexus tablet or your Android-powered smartphone gets wonky, there’s ready alternatives from companies like Apple, Microsoft, and Blackberry.

Unlike Microsoft’s stranglehold on us back in the 1990s, Google can no longer hold us captive.

So welcome to 2015 and the age of tech options. Don’t like the ad-laced Google search engine? Switch to Bing or Duck Duck Go. Don’t like the Goo.gl URL shortener? Use Bitly or TinyURL. Getting frustrated by your Android-powered smartphone or tablet? Give Apple or Nokia a try. Don’t like Google Maps? Try AOL’s MapQuest or Apple Maps. Don’t like Gmail? Try Outlook or Yahoo (or the messaging built into Facebook or LinkedIn). Not digging Google+? Try Facebook (ok, every human already did that…sorry).

But stop your whining and don’t feel trapped. Because there’s plenty of alternatives to the products and services you’re currently using.

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Curt Robbins


Curt Robbins is author of the following books from Amazon Kindle:

You can follow him on Twitter at @CurtARobbins, read his AV-related blog posts at rAVe Publications, and view his photos on Flickr.

Ebook Domination: When, Not If

Recently, I blogged about the inevitable dominance of all-electric vehicles over their gas-guzzling siblings. The conclusion was that saving the earth, sci-fi-level tech, and even Porsche-like performance will have little or nothing to do with the intrusion of electric powered vehicles into American garages. Instead, the primary motivator for middle class consumers will be lower cost and greater convenience.

ebook on ipad

An almost identical dynamic is occurring in the world of books. Amazon, the world’s largest book seller, announced way back in May 2011 that its sales of ebooks had exceeded those of traditional physical books (paperback and hardcover combined). Then, in January 2013, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos reported that his company’s ebook sales had jumped 70% from 2011 to 2012, while also pointing out how this compared to paper books:

“Our physical book sales experienced the lowest December growth rate in our 17 years as a book seller, up just 5%.”

In 2008, ebooks were so new that they were outsold by audio books and dismissed by many industry veterans—authors and publishing houses alike—as not even ranking within the relatively elitist world of publishing. Amanda Barbara, writing for Forbes in April 2014, said “Buying trends indicate the e-book industry is immature. After all, statistics show that more than 60 percent of readers still prefer print.” According to Aaron Pressman, writing for The Exchange, “Dig a little deeper and you’ll see that…ebook sales rose from $68 million to $3 billion [between 2008 and 2012], what’s technically known as a gazillion percent increase,” adding, “Absent ebooks, total print book sales did shrink about 8%.”

According to the latest stats, industry-wide ebooks sales topped $3 billion again in 2013—with a considerable percentage of legitimate sales not being reported (due to the archaic data gathering of the publishing industry). BookStats, a joint project between the Association of American Publishers and the Book Industry Study Group, reported that the number of ebooks sold between 2012 and 2013 rose by more than 10%, to 513 million.

The installed base of e-readers and tablets, like the iPad (Apple has sold more than 225 million as of October 2014), has finally grown large enough to allow ebooks to sell not only more units than their paper siblings, but is the logical precursor of greater industry revenue in the not-so-distant future. Although, granted, this increase might not be concentrated among a few behemoth old school publishers; it’s called the democratization of publishing for a reason. And the French weren’t able to invent democracy without axing a few heads (already, the legacy publishing business is consolidating).

3d1Yes, per-unit profits will be down, driven primarily by very low prices for titles downloaded to consumer mobile gadgets. But given how Americans enjoy low-cost impulse purchases—like fast food and crap not on their shopping list at Target or Walmart—the number of ebooks available for under $5 will motivate those twitchy fingers hovering over Buy buttons, resulting in record-setting numbers of books sold. It will just so happen that the vast majority of them will be inexpensive (i.e. $1-3) ebooks.

In 2010, when the Apple iPad was introduced, only 5% of Americans owned an e-reader and 4% possessed a tablet. Today, 32% own an e-reader and 42% tout a tablet. According to a Pew Research Center poll, the percentage of people reading books in digital form jumped from 16% to 28% from 2011 to 2014.

It’s not surprising that ebook sales are increasing due to the rapidly growing installed base of e-readers and tablets. It would be easy to assume that this is coming mostly at the expense of pricier hardback books. However, according to a May 2013 New York Times article, “Mass-market paperbacks, the smaller format of paperback popular in airports and grocery stores, also decreased in sales.” Also, one must remember that all of these statistics exclude sales of ebooks not featuring an ISBN, like many from unknown independent authors and even some from prominent scribes, like JA Konrath.

When the digital version of a book is $3-5 and the hardback is $15-30, consumers will allow their wallets to make the decision for them. What? I can get three, five, or even ten ebooks for the price of a single hardback? Granted, paperbacks are more affordable and the biggest sellers among physical books, but they still suffer from material costs, warehousing, shipping, and the dreaded returns system that the publishing industry continues to so primitively embrace.

Moving atoms is a bitch; shifting electronics is cheaper and easier (and more convenient for customers). Average ebook prices will only continue to decrease, with even legacy publishers beginning to see the light of a 21st century economy driven so strongly by digital media, mobile e-commerce, and lower prices for digital commodities, like songs and ebooks. (Yes, shocked ebook authors, you’re creating what is rapidly becoming a commodity, whether you like it or not.)

American middle class consumers want value. Whether we spend a little or a lot, it’s what we get in return that matters. We’re a society of convenience. But what if the most convenient route is also the least expensive, as is the case with ebooks? Anyone betting against ebooks—and any publisher not taking the digital domain seriously—is beginning to look increasingly bound for the dinosaur boneyard. You can almost instantly download and begin reading an ebook, which is likely markedly less expensive than its paper sibling. The convenience of having dozens and possibly hundreds of books on a single mobile device like an iPad, Kindle Paperwhite, or even a smartphone is certainly enticing—and objectively superior to physical books, especially for students and those with mobile lifestyles.

Like with electric cars, it’s simply price + convenience that will drive ebooks to dominance over ink on dead trees. This will be true even among readers who prefer paper to digital (I have only respect; there’s tons of them). Most of us are on a budget. Getting three or four ebooks for the price of a single paperback will motivate even digital naysayers and Luddites to embrace this new format, pushing it to clear market dominance.

Just as there are still candles (even though most of us use light bulbs powered by electricity), there will always be paper books. But they will get relatively expensive. As the installed base of mobile devices grows, the public sightings of physical books will eventually become rare. In the publishing industry, it will be lower per-unit cost—not gee-whiz technology—that will drive this migration from analog to digital.

In other words, don’t tell yourself that you prefer old school paper books, because you won’t decide to adopt ebooks: Your wallet will.

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Curt Robbins


Curt Robbins is author of the following books from Amazon Kindle:

You can follow him on Twitter at @CurtARobbins, read his AV-related blog posts at rAVe Publications, and view his photos on Flickr.

Apple vs. Google: Where Focus Meets Buckshot

Apple’s success can be directly attributed to its intense focus on enticing design, superior build quality, and an overall excellent user experience. Yes, there’s the highly manipulated and hyperbole-laden product release press events. But despite all criticisms, few can deny that Apple’s products are either the best or among the very best available.

Unlike Google, Motorola, Samsung, LG, HTC, and many other Android-fueled smartphone manufacturers, Apple puts its considerable R&D and channel partner weight behind only two models—the last generation iPhone 5C and 5S and the current 6 and 6 Plus.

Only Two

Likewise, in tablets, Apple offers only two, the iPad Mini and the full-size Air. Desktop computers? Only three models: Mac Mini, iMac, and the brawny Mac Pro. Laptops? MacBook Air and the venerable MacBook Pro, two of the most popular computers in the world. Regardless of the number of products it its stable, Apple’s intense focus on the user experience and overall quality of its gadgets is an inspiration to the CEOs of both small startups and multinational corporations alike.

One thing Apple doesn’t do, however, is moon shots. That’s the territory of Google and, more specifically, co-founder and 30x billionaire Sergey Brin. Google’s daredevil and left-leaning computer scientist “directs special projects,” according to Google’s official Management Team webpage. He’s also been described as an “enlightenment man” by The Economist.

apple vs google for twitterThe products of Brin’s efforts? Self-driving cars (legal to “drive” in California and Nevada), Google’s Project Loon, an internet delivery mechanism intended to help previously unserved regions of the world via what’s basically a high-altitude weather balloon, and the infamous and celebrity-endorsed Google Glass smart glasses (the owners of which, when wearing them in public, are said to be glassholes by the gadget’s critics).

Lab Experiments

I’d argue that Google Glass and Project Loon are really just lab experiments with an abundance of media exposure and good PR. This is despite the fact that Glass is now available for anyone to purchase. But at $1,500, it’s an expensive experiment in wearables on the part of customers, the pursuit of which defies the practical disposable income of most middle class consumers. The self-driving cars, however, are truly impressive. They do more than provide gee-whiz technology to a burgeoning generation of millennials who are less concerned with driving than the status of their social media lives. They disrupt—and in a big way.

As impressive as Google’s self-driving cars are, two of Google’s three major moon shots are currently unavailable to even the most well-heeled consumers. Apple’s products, meanwhile, can be purchased anywhere, including Walmart, Amazon, and Best Buy. Contrasting the two companies, in many ways, is truly comparing apples and oranges. Another difference between these tech titans is Google’s offering of affordable ultra-high-speed residential internet service in the form of Google Fiber. Unfortunately, this service is in only Austin, Kansas City, and Provo. Thus it, too, is basically unavailable to nearly all consumers.

apple logo for blogBut what about the largest, most important product category: Smartphones? The playing field was recently leveled when Apple released the significantly enlarged 4.7-inch iPhone 6 and it’s big brother, the 5.5-inch Plus variant (the first iPhone to sport a true 1080 display). While it could previously be argued that Apple had great hardware that wasn’t satisfying consumers’ desire for larger screens—driven primarily by our insatiable desire to consume video from YouTube, Netflix, and Facebook—this is no longer a pertinent argument.

Now that Apple has upped the ante by competing on size, it’s hard to knock advising consumers to simply purchase an iPhone and get on with their lives. In reality, Apple is actually offering three smartphone display sizes because it’s still selling the 4-inch iPhone 5 models. For those who prefer a smaller, more pocketable form factor, 2013’s iPhone 5S is an excellent choice, especially for those wanting the photo and video capturing capabilities of the iPhone 6 and the majority of its processing power. Those criticizing Apple’s prices as being prohibitively high need to wake up and smell the coffee; the iPhone 5C, the award-winning smartphone with a reputation for capturing excellent photos and superlative video, is available from nearly all carriers for free (subsidized on a two-year contract). If you can live with the smaller screen, last year’s 5C is the value leader, costing you nothing out-of-pocket.

Goodbye Bloatware

There’s also the fact, in no way insignificant, that Apple’s products completely lack bloatware and, in the interface department, are skin-free. While manufacturers like HTC, LG, and Samsung continue to tweak and augment their respective versions of Google’s Android mobile OS, Apple’s iOS is free of any carrier-loaded software “enhancements.”

In addition, updates to Apple’s mobile operating system are available immediately to its entire installed base of devices (including its tablets), whereas Android updates are provided by Google to phone manufacturers, which must then apply their own modifications, typically releasing them months later—or not at all (carriers are under no obligation to provide Android updates to their subscribers).

tim-cookFinally, one can’t help but analyze the situation from a business perspective. As Apple CEO Tim Cook recently pointed out (and ad-free social network Ello emphasizes), with Google and its free services, you’re the product. You and the data regarding your online preferences and behavior are the product sold by Google to advertisers (just like how Facebook operates). With Apple, including all of its services, you’re the customer. Apple in no way remarkets or sells the data regarding its customers to advertisers or third parties.

In the end, the mature stance is understanding that Apple and Google each possess distinct and contrasting strengths and weaknesses. Google takes a buckshot approach to its products and services, spreading its resources among a weird variety of both practical and, seemingly, impractical projects—which may or may not become available to consumers (there’s a reason Alyce Lomax at The Motley Fool called Google a “Jack of all trades, master of none”).

Apple, thinking different, focuses on the few painstakingly positioned models in each of its product categories, ensuring industry-leading quality, reliability, and customer satisfaction while sweating the details for each new product cycle.

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Curt Robbins


Curt Robbins is author of the following books from Amazon Kindle:

You can follow him on Twitter at @CurtRobbins, read his AV-related blog posts at rAVe Publications, and view his photos on Flickr.

Back to Apple

Everyone loves to take sides in the religious war between mobile platforms. Like trying to walk away from a Spanish soap opera, it’s a drama from which millions of fanboys on both sides of the fence seemingly can’t disengage. “Mine is great, yours sucks” is the tone we so often hear. Platform preachers and mobile zealots love to tout the superiorities of their particular corporate religion. Like Republican versus Democrat or Christian versus atheist, you’re either one of us or you’re one of them.

My first tablet was an iPad. It was a great experience. But when my daughter began stealing the device to use high-end drawing apps like Procreate with an increasing frequency, I figured I’d kill two birds with one stone and simply purchase a new tablet for myself, relinquishing the iPad for my artist-in-residence 14-year-old. I was curious about Android and the hype surrounding the then-anticipated Nexus 7 tablet with the Kit Kat operating system, scheduled for release in August 2013. So I watched the product announcement online, got excited, and purchased one on Amazon.

Objectively, of course, the stock version of Google’s Android OS installed on the Nexus 7 was superior to Apple’s iOS in some ways, but couldn’t live up to it in others. We all have different sensitivities, so which is “better” overall is truly a matter of personal opinion. However, because of those subjective sensitivities, there is a right tablet for you. And, as I’ve learned, there’s definitely a right tablet for me.

apple logo for blogThe proof was delivered by a single app: Flipboard. This tremendously popular news aggregator boasts more than 90 million users. As its name implies, Flipboard provides a tiled layout, with each square on your screen representing a different media source of your choice. Because my 2013 Nexus 7 tablet featured the latest generation software and hardware, I anticipated even better graphics performance than I was getting from my older iPad. Or at least equal. This was a logical assumption, right?

Flipboard, delivered via the Android app on the Nexus 7, seemed half-baked. The tile pages stuttered and briefly froze as I swiped through them when checking my media sources. The pages typically never moved smoothly from one side of my tablet to the other. It was as if the GPU (graphics processing unit) had narcolepsy, falling asleep briefly at the times I needed it most. After the smooth Flipboard performance on the iPad, the Nexus 7 delivered a herky jerky user experience that was the mental equivalent of nails on a chalkboard. It was as if the iPad was a graceful ballerina, while the Nexus 7 was a drunken frat boy.

Then, after only 10 months of use, the Nexus 7 died. One morning I awoke to the colored balls of the Google startup logo spinning incessantly. Three attempts later, the unit continued to refuse to boot up. I was forced to call Google’s tech support. After identifying that the problem wasn’t with its operating system, Google forwarded me to Asus tech support. Asus arranged an in-warranty return of the device for repair or replacement. I was now going to be out-of-pocket with a device that was an important part of my daily workflow. Doing business with Google and Asus was becoming a pain.

In the meantime, I began using the iPad again (my daughter won’t be “liking” this blog post, trust me). Despite being older generation hardware, Flipboard’s pages turned smoothly and elegantly. The stutters and moments of micro-hesitation exhibited by the Nexus 7 were nowhere to be found. It took only a couple of days for me to realize that I really wasn’t looking forward to the return of the Nexus 7. I had been spoiled by Apple and it’s buttery smooth graphics processing. It was as if I had driven the fast and silent Tesla Model S and, in migrating to the Nexus 7, was being forced to downgrade to a loud, slow Chevy.

ipadLater, I happened to be in a Verizon store in my community and, while waiting for a customer service rep, was playing with some of the display devices. I approached an iPad Mini. Low and behold, it just happened to have Flipboard installed. I began swiping on the screen, noting the perfectly smooth action of the pages as they turned under my finger. I began swiping faster, trying to force the Mini to stutter or somehow show weakness in its processing and display of the highly graphical, ever-changing tiled pages. But alas, I couldn’t. The Mini running Flipboard was perfect in its graphics prowess. Stuttering Porky Pig had left the building.

Like it or not, Apple’s tight integration of hardware and software—combined with the adoration and efforts of so many of its third-party software developers (like Flipboard)—results in the best user experience available. Period.

I’m sure this stance seems trivial to many. It’s just a few chokes, locks, and stutters, after all. While I fully respect the admiration that Android fanboys and users have toward their devices, I, personally, am returning to Apple for my tablet fix. It’s not only the smooth operation of Flipboard and similar apps that is beckoning to me. It’s also the mere fact that the iPad, having logged many more hours and tons more abuse (under the hands of my teenagers) than my Nexus 7, has never died. My wife has an even older second generation iPad. Again, no headaches, no problems; just a smooth user experience in any app. Yet after a significantly shorter period of use (not even a year)—and being babied and never dropped—the Google/Asus Nexus 7 croaked.

Before lashing out in the comments, realize that I’m not a blatant fanboy of either platform. It’s why I have open-mindedly tried both. But the proof is in the pudding. Yes, Apple is more expensive. But now I have a strong, “been there, done that” understanding of what that extra money delivers in terms of value, reliability, and overall user experience. Regardless of price point or specific features, Apple’s smartphones and tablets are now the assumed standard in my home.

Anybody want to buy a slightly used Nexus 7 tablet?

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Curt Robbins

[Also see my related blog posts Apple vs. Google: Where Focus Meets Buckshot, Need a Computer? Think Apple, and Apple: The Myth of Too Expensive.]


Curt Robbins is author of the following books from Amazon Kindle:

You can follow him on Twitter at @CurtRobbins, read his AV-related blog posts at rAVe Publications, and view his photos on Flickr.

Auto Industry: Slow on Tech Innovation

It’s the time of year in America when our kids are back in school and the auto industry has released next year’s models, so let’s talk about consumer tech in cars. It’s nice that even some entry-level automobiles feature cool tech like Bluetooth, backup cameras (mandatory in all cars sold in the United States by 2018), and in-built wireless technologies like 4G. But why do I always get the feeling that the auto industry is continually dragging its heels, always playing catch up with mobile devices and all the wireless tech with which we’re surrounded on a daily basis?

With consumers habituated to fast upgrade cycles for items like smartphones and personal computers, why is the auto industry so bloody slow when it comes to jumping on the same bandwagon? Just like the consumer electronics industry, car companies release new models every year, so they certainly have the opportunity.

tesla model s replacement for blogI can almost understand a conspiracy theorist who might insist that auto manufacturers are colluding in their seeming refusal to embrace new tech and interoperability between our mobile devices and their products. Yes, there was Microsoft Sync in Ford’s automobiles (RIP) and Apple has introduced CarPlay, which began rolling out in a few 2014 models (and works only with Apple’s products; this isn’t an industry standard). But this still feels more like a push from tech titans like Apple and Microsoft than true innovation from the auto industry itself. Simply connecting to our existing mobile devices is part of the equation, but where’s the “gee whiz” stuff?

Where is the Angry Birds or Snapchat of automobiles?

Yes, I do like “new” technologies like LED taillights, adaptive cruise control, and computer-controlled suspension systems. But we’re talking innovation here. While uber-cool, these are tech that have been around for a long time. In fact, it’s a sign of how slow the automobile industry is not only to innovate, but simply to roll out existing technologies based on past innovations. While LED lights are finally beginning to trickle down to even entry-level cars, nice tricks like laser-based adaptive cruise control and sci-fi-inspired head-up displays are still the territory of luxury vehicles.

We expect a culture of affordable innovation from companies like Google, Apple, and Samsung. It’s the foundation of their existence. But the fact that they have to push their tech on the auto industry is sad. Yes, really cool technology is expensive and auto manufacturers don’t want to reduce their already sometimes razor-thin profit margins. I get it. But we also know that truly innovative tech becomes considerably less expensive as more consumers jump on the bandwagon. Any manufacturer that decides to roll out a given technology (LED taillights, for example) across it’s entire catalog will experience such per-unit price discounts that the cost of this tech should not be its primary concern. What should be? Beating the competition by satisfying the tech lust of middle class consumers. But if recession-strapped Americans gobbling up $600 iPads at unheard of rates isn’t enough to convince auto execs of this, what is?

Where are the advanced sound systems that use basic acoustic science to drown out road noise and vastly improve our listening experience? Where is the uttered “down window” that prevents me from taking my hands off the wheel? Just the fact that so many cars manufactured today lack auto-on headlamps is enough to make you cry. Unfortunately, auto industry executives just don’t seem to get it. At least not when it comes to innovations that satisfy consumer demand and recognize dominant social trends.

It’s nice to know that if you were frozen in a cryogenic chamber 35 years ago and awoke today, you could capably drive a 2014 or 2015 model car. Yes, we need standardization. But when I jump in a friend’s sedan and we cruise down the road and I can’t even tell who manufactured the vehicle without looking at its badging, I think we have a problem.

nissan leaf for linkedinWith the distinct exception of Toyota’s Prius hybrid, Nissan’s all-electric LEAF, and anything from Tesla, cars seem to totally lack differentiation. Sometimes it feels like they’re all manufactured by one huge World Car Corp. and they simply offer a wide range of shapes, sizes, luxury levels, and prices. This is especially painful given the price of automobiles. Really, Buick and Kia, the best you can do is Bluetooth, LED lights, and a crappy, difficult-to-navigate touch screen on the dashboard?

Voice navigation and head-up displays are probably the most promising uses of new-tech we’ve seen in a while. Both improve driver attention where it matters: At the road. And both are way-cool and enticing features. But while many of us actually have Bluetooth or backup cameras in our vehicles, how many can control the music or air conditioning in our cars with our voice?

Exactly.

This is probably one of my lousiest blog posts in terms of educating readers or making a good point (like me, chances are you’re simply angrier now). I’m basically just whining. But at $20,000 to $60,000, the value proposition for tech in cars is among the lowest of any consumer purchase. Considering how much we spend on personal transportation, I think we’re all entitled to a bit of whining—whether you drive a Toyota Yaris or a BMW M5.

I sincerely love that Google, Ford, and Volvo are doing some incredible things with advanced perimeter sensing, collision avoidance, and automated parking in their quest for better safety and, eventually, fully autonomous vehicles. Self-driving cars make for great headlines in the media. But while we salivate over this future tech, the cars actually sitting in our driveways aren’t that much different from models from ten or even fifteen years ago—and none of us would use a cell phone or computer from 15 years ago, would we?

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Curt Robbins

[See also Time for Tesla and Electric Car Adoption: Not Why You Think.]


Curt Robbins is author of the following books from Amazon Kindle:

You can follow him on Twitter at @CurtRobbins, read his AV-related blog posts at rAVe Publications, and view his photos on Flickr.

Tweetin’ ‘Bout My Generation

I have two teenage daughters, one in high school, the other a year from entering. Both have been raised with a digital gadget of some type in their hands. At first, they were made by Leapfrog and Mattel and focused on education and dexterity. Later, the children’s mobile device of choice was from Nintendo and delivered gaming and entertainment (“backseat babysitters”). They then moved onto Apple devices, primarily the iPod Touch and borrowed or hand-me-down iPads. And, you know what they say: Once you go app, you’ll never go back.

I stop and think about how they, the pinnacle millennials (born in 1999 and 2001), view technology differently from their parents’ generation. Both they and their parents are gadget-toting online addicts with active social media accounts. The similarities in our perceptions of technology and how we use it far outweigh the differences. But those differences are interesting and worthy of further exploration.

riley for framing 2For people of my generation—middle aged geezers too young to have seen The Who at Woodstock, but too old to have fond childhood memories of Gameboy or Hello Kitty—consumer technology still has a decidedly sci-fi feel to it. We indulge frequently in mobile device tapping and social media because it’s simply so amazing to us. We still have the “gee whiz” afterglow. But our kids don’t hold that same amazement—just like how my generation wasn’t amazed by color TV or electric windows in cars when we were teens. To them, these broadband-connected touchscreen gadgets are the norm. They have almost no memories of not living with one on a day-to-day basis.

Another interesting thing I’ve noted is how it is my generation, the middle-aged dorks, who lust most for the latest technology and better whatever. My daughters are more focused on what flows through their devices, not the devices themselves. They suck down Tumblr and Instagram and YouTube using “computers” and home theater equipment with screens ranging in size from 3.5 inches to 60 inches (afforded by cool wireless streaming tech like Apple’s AirPlay and Google’s Chromecast).

When I asked my thirteen-year-old if she would prefer a new iPad Mini or a new iPod Touch, she seemed disinterested in both—like she simply didn’t need to upgrade because everything she wanted was there on her late-generation Touch. When pressed, which device did she choose? The less expensive, not-as-nice Touch. Why? Because it’s more mobile. Her back pocket is the litmus test. The iPad Mini she considers too big. The Touch (or iPhone), for her, is the perfect size. Sometimes even the youngest generations embrace the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality. (For more consideration of smartphone display sizes, see my blog post Smartphone Display Size: Two Perspectives.)

My older daughter, a year or so ago, broke the screen on her iPod Touch. It looked really bad; I couldn’t have used the device for even a day. But she somehow managed with it for several months. To my generation, tech gadgets—especially the best and latest examples—are very much status symbols (just like a sports car, Rolex watch, or expensive dress). And to have a cracked windshield on your BMW would be a shame. Unacceptable even. But to my daughters, all of their friends have either iPod Touches, iPhones, or Android tablets or smartphones. These slick devices aren’t really status symbols to these kids; in their world, everyone is using BMW-grade mobile devices. What matters much more to millennials (at least mine) is the health and vitality of their internet-based social lives, even if they are mostly consuming the communications of others, not necessarily tossing out media themselves.

I’m kind of the opposite. I’d love the latest greatest smartphone or tablet every year. If money grew on trees, I’d always upgrade. It only keeps getting better. But to my daughters, the millennials, the social media that flows through those devices is the real focus. The manner in which they get there—the hardware device in their hands—isn’t nearly as important.

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Curt Robbins

[See also Social Media’s Anti-Socialization Myth.]


Curt Robbins is author of the following books from Amazon Kindle:

You can follow him on Twitter at @CurtRobbins, read his AV-related blog posts at rAVe Publications, and view his photos on Flickr.

The Efficiency of Flipboard

flipboard logoWhen I got my first iPad, the third iteration and first model sporting a high-resolution “Retina” display, there was an app I was really psyched to install: Flipboard. Flipboard is a highly customizable news aggregator, or “newsreading” app, that has become an indispensable part of my daily news gathering, reading, and social media consumption. This media aggregator can also be leveraged for targeted research (which I commonly do for my consumer tech books). Flipboard is the pinnacle “go to” app for tens of millions of mobile technology consumers. I’m obviously a big fan.

Flipboard is one of those great apps/media services that is not only super-easy to configure and use, but could even become a part of your obsessive daily regiment of screen tapping. With more than 100 million users, it’s one of the most popular news aggregators to land on a smartphone or tablet (you can now also access it from its website). You can connect your Twitter, Instagram, Google+, and Facebook feeds to the service, keeping you uber up-to-date and embracing the one-stop shopping philosophy and efficiency that top-shelf news aggregators so capably deliver.

Minimal, Attractive Ads

I don’t typically like advertising-supported apps, but Flipboard features professionally designed national ads sprinkled on just lightly enough that they never seem to get in the way. However, this volume will surely increase; Flipboard’s ad burden could become unacceptable, especially to overly sensitive fans of ad-free subscription pricing models (like me).

Now you know why Netflix is so popular; it’s not the semi-stale selection of movies, but rather the lack of commercials. It’s currently impossible to rid your Flipboard feed of ads. Unfortunately, paid subscriptions aren’t available. It would be nice if, in the future, the service offered both a free, ad-supported version and also a feature-enhanced, ad-free paid variety (like the Pandora music streaming service).

I rely on Flipboard to such a great extend that I began using one of the neater features of this service, its magazines. A “magazine” is basically just a collection of articles found via any Flipboard media source. Magazines are available to everyone on Flipboard. You simply tag an article for inclusion in one of your magazines (you can maintain several) and it instantaneously appears within its pages, or boards (thus the name of the company).

flipboard capture

Even nicer, there’s a few Flipboard extensions for the Chrome browser that allow you to add virtually any web-based article or content to a magazine (I use + Flip It; also check out Add to Flipboard). Simply click the Flipboard icon on the Chrome toolbar, choose the destination magazine, and viola! It’s there until you choose to remove it. This can be done from both the desktop and mobile devices, like your iPad.

Magazines Are Great

A Flipboard magazine can be updated as frequently—or infrequently—as the owner prefers. Magazines don’t cost anything to create or maintain and provide a wonderful service to the Flipboard community: Member-curated content. Articles found in magazines often touch on eccentric niche interests and major trending topics alike, providing a very filtered view of the millions of highly dynamic articles offered by Flipboard.

We get enough content curated by corporations; it’s a refreshing change to consume what a peer of mine, i.e. another member of Flipboard and probably just some middle class shlep like me, has collected. One of my Flipboard magazines, Middle Class Tech, is a collection of a few hundred articles from news sources like Ars TechnicaThe Atlantic, Transport Evolved, GigaOM, CarNewsCafeEngadget, Teslarati, and many others. It focuses on affordable technology that touches the lives of middle class consumers, especially early adopters and cord cutting nuclear families.

Check It Out

If you’re not familiar with Flipboard, but a user of mobile tech, I recommend checking it out. Then again, I’m a Netflix-addicted cord cutter who doesn’t watch the local newscast or read a newspaper (I want it all on my tablet or smartphone). Beyond the basic ability to choose the media outlets from which you want to receive articles, Flipboard’s magazines provide you with a look inside the hobbies, interests, and passions of fellow users of this service. This is the next generation of the RSS reader, and so slick you’ll never look back.

Flipboard_two_imgs

I even use Flipboard for article and book research. In fact, I’ve created six different Flipboard magazines for topics ranging from SpaceX to hydrogen fuel cell cars. It allows me to easily collect and archive articles about these topics so I can conveniently access them on any mobile device in the future—like when I’m writing a freelance article or developing a book related to those topics. You may find similar uses for magazines that you, or others, create.

Be Self-Centered

Typically, Flipboard  promotes its magazines as a way to act as a curator and make your collections available to others. Which is certainly true and the primary purpose. However, these magazines are so easy to create and maintain, you should seriously consider creating some soley for your own use. The fact that others can check them out is just icing on the cake.

Regardless of whether you latch onto Flipboard’s magazines as either a curator or consumer, I encourage you to check out this 21st century method for collecting up-to-the-minute news from dozens of media sources, including long-form articles and your social media accounts.

[This article was originally published on August 27, 2014 and updated on September 18, 2015.]

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Curt Robbins


Curt Robbins is author of the following books from Amazon Kindle:

You can follow him on Twitter at @CurtARobbins, read his automotive articles on CarNewsCafe, his AV-related posts at rAVe Publications, and view his photos on Flickr.