Wednesday, February 08, 2012

10 Devices To Ditch? Really?

The Minnesota Star Tribune has a clever article on "Time To Ditch These 10 Tech Devices." On the surface, it seems another one of those "Oh, let's marvel at the way we used to do things" article that media loves to use as a nostalgia point. Point of fact, I usually am the first person to argue that dedicated purpose devices are obsolete when you buy them: I have always consolidated around my handheld device as much as possible. However, this article irked me, as many of the conclusions it drew were wrong, and may of the reasons it cited were flat out bizarre. Allow me to walk through it with you.

  1. The Flip Cam. Agreed, this device is indeed obsolete, as smartphones have subsumed this. However, the simplicity and ease of use is ideal for kids, and given that you no longer need to be concerned with preserving the delicacy of the electronics, it's perfect for budding filmmakers. Extreme sports participants, with their obsession of filming their tricks, and their rough and ready lifestyle, would much rather have an essentially quasi-disposable device than ruin their smartphone. And parents, wouldn't you rather the kids don't smear the peanut butter and jelly on your iDevice, when you can hand them this instead? Conclusion: Agreed, but still some life.
  2. The Portable DVD Player. The assertion is good, but the logic is bizzare. The Star Tribune argues that the laptop is a perfect alternative. Really? Most laptops won't have anywhere near the battery life, and cost 6-8x the price. And the case where you need the portable DVD? Entertaining kids on long trips, often planes. Um, don't Mom and Dad need to actually use that laptop in those situations? And finally, let's point out the real flaw here: you can make an argument to kill the portable DVD player in favor of an iOS/Android device, loaded up with a ton of video to entertain the kids, as well as games. Used iPod Touches are roughly the same price range, and offer far more variety than the single purpose DVD player, and new content is just a few clicks away. Conclusion: Maybe, but certainly not for your cited reasons.
  3. Flash Drive. Not a bad choice, but it's hard to beat "SneakerNet" for speed and ease when transferring large data dumps. What's really needed is a business version of Dropbox, that you can share with clients without feeling like you are exposing your whole file structure. Of this list, I think Flash Drives can definitely be justified, but "clunky?" Hey, have you tried Windows Live Mesh? Even the name is clunky. Conclusion: Agreed.
  4. Car GPS. I have mixed feelings on this. On one hand, I agree wholeheartedly: I purchased a Dash Connected GPS for the reason it was upgradeable and always getting new features (thanks, RIM, for killing it). My iPhone does a great job on the GPS front (note to Star Tribune: what app are you using that gives you "significantly worse directions" on your iPhone than a dedicated GPS? Try Waze or Motion-X's GPS Drive), but there are several tradeoffs: when I get a call, there goes my GPS, forcing me to take my hands and eyes off the wheel and road to bring it back up; it sucks battery like nothing else, and it's not as full featured as many dedicated GPS units. In-car voice control, like Ford's use of Microsoft Sync, give a great argument that the problem is not the dedicated unit, but instead the right interface and the integration of devices. Conclusion: Agreed, but still some life.
  5. Small Digital Camera. This is a tough one to argue against, but I was struck by some footage of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney working a crowd the other day: as the candidate grew near to a given person, they, frantically worked their smartphone controls to bring up the camera app, only to have the candidate pass by without a picture. Microsoft made a good point of this in their ads for Windows Phone 7, but that's less than 1% of the market. Apple's recent iOS update allows you to use your Bluetooth device as a remote camera trigger for your iPhone; a good start. Conclusion: Agreed, but still some life.
  6. Fax Machine. I only wish! It astounds me that we still don't have mainstream digital signature technology for contracts and the like. Companies like RightSignature are trying hard, but we're not even close to getting rid of this 1970's behemoth until we do. Sure, we can use scanners and PDF attachments to e-mail, but that's above the heads of most of the folks who deal with these things daily. Conclusion: Nope.
  7. Netbooks. Um, no. See my previous post. Conclusion: Nope.
  8. CD Player. I can't argue with this one. My father, who just this year sent his first e-mail and got his first smartphone, was asking me how he could get his music on it. I described ripping CD's into MP3's and transferring via iTunes. He looked at me bemusedly, and asked "So, how do I fit the cassette tapes from my car into the computer?" CD's were a transition format to full digital; the analog generation will remain as such. Conclusion: Agreed.
  9. Voice Recorders. As a proud purveyor of such devices in the 1990's, I saw how hard we tried to get the world to adopt these...and failed. Those that needed them stuck doggedly to the mini cassette tapes from the 1970's; those that did not never adopted them. And now, in the rare case it's needed, there's an app for that. These will remain the tool of terrorists hiding in caves, desperately recording their analog podcasts. Conclusion: Agreed.
  10. PDA. Seriously? Why is this device on this list? The PDA has been dead for years now: the digital cognoscenti switched to smartphones as soon as the Treo hit the shelves, and PDA's have been long gone for a generation. Conclusion: Agreed, but bizarre to include here.
Other tech that could have been happily included:
  • The Desktop PC
  • Rear projection TV's
  • The VCR
  • The Zagat restaurant guide
  • The photo album
  • The Day-Timer
  • The all-in-one home stereo
On the horizon:
  • The printed book
  • Radio (as we know it today)
  • Newspapers (as we know them today)
  • OnStar
  • Video game consoles
  • Handheld video game devices
  • Traditional land line phones
  • DVD Players
Any you can think of? 

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