31. December 2011
Here at Technologizer, our primary beat is obvious: It’s what’s new and what’s next in personal technology. But we have a rewarding secondary topic, too. It’s what’s old–sometimes very old–in tech.
Throughout the year, we look at personal-technology products of the past, sometimes on major anniversaries and sometimes just because we feel like it. Many of these articles are among the most popular ones we publish.
I’m still looking for the idea stylus for my iPad–I like to draw, and it’s way easier with a pen than it is with a finger. At the moment, I’m using Adonit’s Jot and mostly liking it, although I’m still not sure whether it’s possible to build a truly great stylus that works with an iPad. (I want one with a feel exactly like that of a good hard, pointy pencil.)
Serenity Caldwell of Macworld has spent way more time with digital styluses than I have. Maybe more time than anyone has. Here’s her amazingly exhaustive review. (The Jot scores quite well.)
In the wake of bad press, angry customers, and government concern, Verizon decides not to charge a $2 fee for one-time online payments after all. My gut reaction on Twitter:
When Verizon says it won't charge $2 for online payments, it's saying it'll get $2 out of you in some less obvious manner. Some victory.
— Harry McCracken (@harrymccracken) December 30, 2011
Or will it? As Hickey notes, Nintendo already offers app repositories through the Wii Shop and DSi Shop. The difference with the Wii U is that it’ll offer a wider variety of apps, beyond games and basic utilities.
But breadth of apps is not the best metric for a real app store, unless your definition is simply “a place to buy apps.” The way I see it, a true app store goes further by opening its doors to any developer. Whether there’s an approval process (a la iOS) or not (a la Android) doesn’t matter. What’s important is that anyone who knows how to code can contribute, so that the app selection grows in unexpected ways. You won’t find any great app stores that don’t allow this kind of outside development.
From Hickey’s report, I can’t tell whether Nintendo will open its app store to all developers, and I have my doubts. Game consoles are notoriously closed off to all but a select group of publishers. Microsoft’s Xbox 360 is the only system that comes close to allowing outside development, through Xbox Live Indie Games, and even those apps are relegated to the darkest corners of the Xbox Marketplace.
So while I don’t doubt that the Wii U will have a wider selection of apps than Nintendo’s other systems–Hickey mentions MLB.TV and social networks as possibilities–I’m skeptical that Nintendo will let any developer run wild with the Wii U’s crazy multi-screen technology. But I hope to be proven wrong.
Americans, as Winston Churchill famously pointed out, can be counted on to do the right thing–after exhausting all other possibilities. It’s the same deal with tech companies. The wonders they bring us are many, varied, and never-ending, but they’ve always been accompanied by an equally rich assortment of misadventures and wrongheaded ideas. The successes and failures feed off each other, propelling the entire industry forward in herky-jerky, unpredictable fashion.
It may just be me, but I can’t remember many years as peculiar as 2o11 turned out to be for this business. Even demonstrably gifted and sensible people like Netflix’s Reed Hastings seemed to fall victim to a fever that made them do strange, ill-advised things. I hope that 2012 is a tad less weird, but 2011 has been fascinating to cover, and never, ever boring.
In hallowed Technologizer tradition, it’s time to recap the year in dumb. Celebrities, corporate intrigue, sex, violence–they’re all here. Gird yourself, people: Things are about to get really stupid.
29. December 2011
Starting next month, Verizon Wireless is going to nickel-and-dime people who make one-time electronic payments–forty nickels or twenty dimes, to be exact:
Verizon Wireless today confirmed to Phone Scoop via email that it plans to institute a new $2 charge for customers who make single bill payments online or by telephone. The change goes into effect starting January 15. Verizon said that the fee will be waived in a number of circumstances, including: electronic checks sent through My Verizon Online, My Verizon Mobile, or via telephone; autopay enrollees who pay using credit/debit/ATM cards or electronic checks; payments made through customer home-banking services; credit/debit/ATM card or electronic check payments made at in-store kiosks; Verizon Wireless gift cards or Verizon Wireless device rebate cards to pay a bill in-store, online or by telephone; or a standard paper check or money order mailed directly to Verizon Wireless with a monthly invoice/bill. The telephone and online single payment fee will be disclosed up-front and throughout the transaction so that customers know it will be levied at the time of payment.
Many of the sites reporting on this are assuming that Verizon is charging extra for an option that actually costs it less money to provide. I’d love to know the exact math: How much does it cost the company in total when it sends you a paper bill which you then mail back to it? How much when you pay by credit card and it needs to pay a processing fee to Visa, Mastercard, Discover, or Amex? Does the $2 merely cover Verizon’s costs, as it seems to say, or is it padding its bottom line?
Here’s a Verizon page that gives the bad news and details the various options for avoiding the fee.
29. December 2011
The great thing about the Apple rumors published at Taiwanese component-news site DigiTimes is that you never know what you’re going to get. Sometimes it has scoops that really are scoops. Other times–many times–its rumors are strictly fictional. You can neither trust it nor ignore it.
Today, DigiTimes has a story I know I like, whether or not it amounts to anything. The site says that a source tells it that Apple is going to release two new iPads in January, with super-high-res screens. But the part of the rumor that’s entertaining is that DigiTimes’ source says that Apple will announce its new tablets at Macworld/iWorld–the conference formerly known as Macworld Expo –which is being held starting on January 26th in San Francisco.
28. December 2011
Apparently nobody really knows whether Google+ is dead or not. One day, we’re told its a “ghost town,” the next day somebody claims Google+ is here to stay. And back and forth and back and forth it goes…
Enter the latest installment in this argument: Google+ will surpass 400 million users by 2012. This comes from an independent analysis by Paul Allen, founder of Ancestry.com and the self-appointed “unofficial statistician” of the service. He says that growth of the service has really accelerated in recent weeks. This growth rate would put it not far behind Facebook in second place, with about half the users of its bigger competitor.
Mind you its taken Facebook seven years to get to that number. Google+ will get to about half that in just 18 months. That’s some growth! What’s driving this? It could be the popularity of Android. It’s easy to register for Google+ from Android devices, and cool features like automatic syncing of pictures with the service may be a draw.
28. December 2011
Back in the 1990s, I really, really wanted a Sony Trinitron TV. Couldn’t afford one. So I bought a cheap Sharp TV, and felt deprived.
These days, as the Atlantic’s Derek Thompson explains, all HDTVs are remarkably inexpensive, and getting more so every week. And it’s increasingly hard for any particular brand to stick out from the pack:
This makes televisions different from, say, a tablet. You can compare the iPad and the BlackBerry Playbook across many factors: screen quality, screen size, speed, connection, touch responsiveness, and app store. The iPad is really, really different from the BlackBerry PlayBook. A Sony 40-inch flatscreen TV is really, really similar to a Panasonic. This makes it difficult to build what analysts call “brand premium.” You might pay extra for an Apple product because you have a clear sense of what Apple offers above and beyond other similarly-priced products. Televisions don’t have the same differentiation. As a result, TV prices tend to converge more than other electronics. Given the behavior of consumers, and the efficiency gains of manufacturers, the direction of that convergence is down.
This is an enormous headache for TV makers–and a nightmare, really, for a company like Sony, which is used to being able to command a stiff price premium. Overall, though, it’s great news for TV buyers.