One New Slingbox Caters to the Masses, the Other to High-End Users

Slingbox M1

Slingbox M1

When it debuted back in 2005, the original Slingbox–which let you pipe your TV signal at home over the Internet to a distant computer or smartphone–helped invent the whole idea that you might be able to watch your favorite programs anywhere. After being bought by satellite-TV hardware company EchoStar, however, Slingbox went a long time without changing much–until two new models showed up in the fall of 2012.

Now Slingbox is changing again. The two new models–the Slingbox M1 and SlingTV–are close relatives of the low-end and high-end models from 2012, the Slingbox 350 and Slingbox 500, respectively. But the M1 aims to be even more of a mass-market gadget than the 350, and SlingTV adds more features to the already-fancy 500.

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At Comcast, You’re Not Just a Valued Customer–You’re Also an Indentured Servant

My friends Ryan Block and Veronica Belmont decided to cancel their Comcast service and switch to Astound, a smaller cable company available here in the Bay Area. So they called Comcast–and talked to a rep whose job was clearly not to help them cancel but to prevent them from canceling.

Here’s audio of part of the conversation. If you’ve ever had to deal with a recalcitrant rep at a giant pseudo-monopoly, it’ll leave you speechless, but not surprised. (Ryan shares more details here.)

My blood boils just listening to this, but all through it, Ryan is remarkably calm. It’s all reminiscent of a famous 2006 encounter with AOL support which was remarkably similar, except that the customer was less serenely polite than Ryan.

Anyone want to make any guesses about how often encounters like this happen? Or whether they’ll be more or less common if Comcast’s merger with Time Warner Cable goes through?

As Dan Gillmor said on Twitter…


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The Unbelievably Epic Quest to Restore Your Faith in Humanity

...or, barring that, to at least get you to click on a headline.

Restore Your Faith

First a disclaimer: I never lost my own personal faith in humanity, and therefore don’t need to have it restored. Generally speaking, it bumps along at about the same cautiously optimistic level, regardless of what I’ve recently read online.

I am, however, fascinated by the fact that so many articles published over the last couple of years have introduced themselves to prospective readers by declaring their power to restore lost faith in humanity.

Whether a site is offering up a tale about kids returning a lost iPhone or an ad for life insurance from Thailand or drawings of superheroes punching Hitler, it’s not the least bit startling when it declares that the item in question will restore your faith in humanity. Without trying very hard, I’ve collected dozens of examples at a Pinterest board, which–just to encourage people to click–I’m calling “This Pinterest Board Will Restore Your Faith in Humanity.”

Pinterest

Journalists, of course, have always written headlines which attempt to yank you by the lapels and shove you into their work, as Annalee Newitz of io9 points out in her recent history of clickbait. (She begins it in 1888, and rightly considers yellow journalism to have been an early instance of the form.) But the potential upside of that instinct grew far more powerful just a few years ago, when social networks such as Facebook and Twitter became major sources of traffic to online content sites.

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Satya Nadella’s Microsoft Vision is Strikingly Different From Steve Ballmer’s Microsoft Vision

The era of devices and services gives way to mobile-and-cloud productivity
Satya Nadella announces Office for the iPad at an event in San Francisco on March 27, 2014

Satya Nadella announces Office for the iPad at an event in San Francisco on March 27, 2014

At 6am this morning, Microsoft’s new CEO, Satya Nadella, sent his colleagues a long memo spelling out his vision for the company. He was thoughtful enough to post it on Microsoft.com for the rest of us to read, too.

The memo contains no shockers: Instead, it spells out things Nadella has already said, only at greater, more ambitious length. But I am struck by this bit near the top:

Microsoft was founded on the belief that technology creates opportunities for people and organizations to express and achieve their dreams by putting a PC on every desk and in every home.

More recently, we have described ourselves as a “devices and services” company. While the devices and services description was helpful in starting our transformation, we now need to hone in on our unique strategy.

At our core, Microsoft is the productivity and platform company for the mobile-first and cloud-first world. We will reinvent productivity to empower every person and every organization on the planet to do more and achieve more.

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Google’s Android Wear Smartwatch Software: An Interesting, Unfinished Idea

Even if you like this concept, waiting makes sense
Samsung's Gear Live smartwatch

Samsung’s Gear Live smartwatch

Some product categories are easy to review. Smartphones? Until something comes along which redefines them as radically as the first iPhone did in 2007, it’s pretty obvious how to judge them, because there’s a general consensus on what sort of capabilities such a gadget should have.

Not so, however, with smartwatches.

Sure, scads of tiny computers you wear on your wrist have been released over the past couple of years, but the industry is still thrashing out what’s important: what features a smartwatch should have, what technologies it should use, what tradeoffs it should make involving size, weight, and battery life.

No two models reflect the same vision. And if you’re not yet convinced that the world needs smartwatches at all, you’re not alone.

With new smartwatches based on Google’s Android Wear software, however, the vision is pretty clear. Android Wear is all about rolling notifications from smartphone apps and features from Google’s excellent Google Now information service into a form which you can check without fumbling for your smartphone. (Google says that typical Android phone owners check their phones 125 times a day.)

The concept makes sense to me–not as an epoch-shifting gadget in the tradition of the PC, smartphone, and tablet, but at least as a worthy phone accessory for busy geeks. Judging from my time with it so far, though, the reality doesn’t yet live up to its potential.

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This Just In: Apple Hiring a Swiss Watch Salesman Has Nothing to Do With the iWatch’s Country of Origin

Swiss watchWhen I read reports on unannounced Apple products, I often come away confused–but I don’t think it’s because I’m a numbskull.

Case in point: CNBNC has a story up by Jenny Cosgrave reporting that Apple has hired an unnamed sales director from Swiss watchmaker TAG Heuer as it gets ready to roll out the wearable gizmo which Cosgrave, and most everybody else, is calling the iWatch.

(Update: 9toMac’s Mark Gurman reports that the TAG salesguy in question is Patrick Pruniaux, VP of sales and marketing.)

Fine. Interesting scoop. But here’s the part where I get confused:

Apple’s plans to hire Swiss watch experts are an attempt to market its product as “Swiss made”, which senior luxury goods analyst at Bernstein, Mario Ortelli, said is a label that is synonymous with quality when it comes to watches.

Um, hiring a sales director from a Swiss company doesn’t mean your watch is Swiss made. Actually, hiring an infinite number of employees of Swiss watch companies wouldn’t let you make that claim. Unless those employees stay in Switzerland and, you know, make your device. I can’t imagine why anyone would believe otherwise.

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Hey, I’m Joining Fast Company!

A few words about what's next for me and this site

Fast CompanyJust over a month ago, I resigned from my job at TIME and rebooted this website. I wrote at the time that I didn’t expect to do Technologizer full-time indefinitely–which was another way of saying that I was looking for my next big opportunity as a technology journalist.

I’m happy to say I’ve found it: On July 21, I will join Fast Company as technology editor.

Why Fast Company? Well, I’ve been a fan since its first issue appeared almost two decades ago. But what I’m excited about is its future.

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This New Google Project Proves Humans Are Better at Animation Than Computers Are

Sorry, Android L, Android Wear, and Android Auto: This may be the best thing which got announced at I/O.

I had a good time attending Google I/O, but I somehow missed out on the premiere at the conference of something which means a lot to me: Duet, a new short film by Disney veteran Glen Keane, one of the finest animators of the past forty years.

Fortunately, I just caught up with it on YouTube:

The movie is part of Google’s “Spotlight Stories” project, and will be available in an interactive mobile version for Android phones later this year. But the thing which makes it interesting and moving isn’t the technology: It’s the fact that it consists of a series of drawings by a human being who happens to be a master draftsman, rather than the digital stop-motion puppetry that is computer animation.

Keane may have used more modern tools than his counterparts at Disney did in the 1930s and 1940s, but the basics of his craft haven’t changed at all.

There’s lots of computer animation I like, and some I just love–but the medium has a long way to go until it can match the charm, grace, and emotional depth of something like this. How said it would be if traditional animation–which is clearly an endangered artform–ever goes away altogether.


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10 Observations About Google’s I/O Keynote

One of many giant Androids towering over the human attendees at Google I/O at San Francisco's Moscone Center

One of many giant Androids towering over the human attendees at Google I/O at San Francisco’s Moscone Center

If you’re looking for a good straightforward recap of the news which Google made during its I/O keynote on Wednesday morning, stop reading this post. Instead, head over to Mat Honan’s fine summary over at Wired. And then, if you’re still interested in the topic, come back here for my initial musings.

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Amazon’s Fire Phone is One Tough Phone to Figure Out

Things that are different have a tendency to confuse people
Jeff Bezos brandishes Amazon's Fire Phone at a media event in Seattle on June 18, 2014

Jeff Bezos brandishes the Fire Phone at Amazon’s media event in Seattle on June 18, 2014

Week before last, Jeff Bezos sent journalists who had been invited to the company’s media event a copy of his favorite childhood book: Leonard Kessler’s Mr. Pine’s Purple House. Mr. Pine painted his home purple so it would stand out from his neighbors’ houses; Bezos included a note alluding to the world “being a better place when things are a bit different.”

As expected, the news at the media event was the launch of Amazon’s first smartphone, the Fire Phone. In multiple ways, it is indeed a purple house–a phone which strives to carve off a distinct niche for itself rather than match what Apple and makers of Android phones are doing.

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