Prediction: Apple will make monitors again, and the base will be a wireless iPhone charger

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If you’ve ever spent time in front of an Apple Thunderbolt display, then you probably know how tempting it is to rest your phone on the stand. And if you’re paying attention to iPhone rumors, then you know that the next iPhone will likely support wireless (inductive) charging. So why wouldn’t Apple capitalize on their customers’ habits by making a new 5K monitor with wireless charging built into the base?

I know the rumor is that Apple is out of the monitor business, but I don’t buy it. First of all, I can’t imagine Apple being content with allowing customers to spend all day every day staring at a logo that isn’t an Apple. And second, as evidenced by LG’s recent technical problems with their 5K monitors, I also can’t imagine Apple permanently handing over such an important part of the customer experience to third parties who might not execute as well as Apple.

I strongly believe that Apple’s partnership with LG is a stopgap measure — a way to cobble together a reasonable but temporary 5K solution to support the launch of the new MacBook Pro. But once the new iPhones are ready to be announced, I think we will discover that Apple has been working on both brand new 5K monitors, and brand new iMacs, in tandem.

Apple’s new 5K monitors won’t necessarily be about directly generating huge profits for the company. Rather, they will be about contributing to the Apple ecosystem — or to borrow a metaphor from Amazon, adding energy to the Apple flywheel. Just like iPhone customers can augment their overall Apple experience by wearing an Apple Watch, and just like Apple Watches can augment the Mac experience by unlocking computers, and just like Continuity augments the experience of using an iPhone and a Mac together, customers will be able to augment both their MacBook and their iPhone experiences by using a single USB Type-C cable to connect a beautiful, extremely bright, wide-color 5K monitor, and to wirelessly charge their new iPhones at the same time.

When trying to peer into Apple’s future from the outside, it’s important to note that they are in the business of inventing the future. That doesn’t mean inventing disparate devices; it means inventing constellations of devices, and connecting all those dots through seamless, wireless services. When Apple removed the headphone jack from the iPhone 7, they didn’t leave it up to third parties to provide bluetooth audio solutions. They did it themselves with both AirPods and with new Beats products to make sure it was done right (they even augmented bluetooth technology with their own W1 chip). And now that Apple has removed almost all the ports from their MacBooks, I can’t imagine they’re going to leave it entirely up to third parties to build out the USB Type-C ecosystem. When it comes to the experiences that really matter (like your Mac’s primary visual interface), Apple will take it upon themselves to do it right.

While I have your attention, I’ll make a few other bold, unsubstantiated predictions:

  • Other Apple peripherals (mouse, trackpad, keyboard, standalone Touch Bar) will eventually be wirelessly charged, as well.
  • You’ll be able to charge the Apple Watch (along with your peripherals) on your monitor stand.
  • And the big one: the next iPhone won’t be called the iPhone 8. I think Apple is going to reset the version number by calling the next new phone they release the Apple Phone.

Review of Google WiFi

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About 2,800 square feet over three floors. Usually around 25 devices connected at any given time. Only one wifi router which can’t be moved due to where the cable enters the house.

This is clearly a job for Google Wifi.

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In addition to eradicating humanity, Skynet must keep dozens of my devices reliably connected to the internet.

I switched from an Apple AirPort Extreme to a Google OnHub router about a year and a half ago, and while I didn’t like it very much at first, a steady cadence of software upgrades improved it to the point where I was glad I switched. When Google Wifi came out late last year, and I found out that I could use mesh networking to extend the range of my OnHub, I pre-ordered a three-pack right away.

Mesh networking is relatively simple in theory, but in practice, robust mesh networks are complex. Mesh networks obviate the need to have multiple wifi routers with hardwired connections throughout your home or office. Instead, routers create individual, overlapping zones of coverage capable of relaying network traffic through their peers back to a single hardwired connection. Devices connect to whichever node has the best signal and/or the least amount of congestion, and then traffic is routed through the mesh, to your primary wifi point (the one with the actual connection to the internet), and then back again to the device — entirely seamlessly. Not only can mesh networks dramatically extend the range of your network without requiring you to run additional cables (all they need is power), but they are also extremely durable and robust since the network can route around any problematic nodes which may be temporary unavailable due to software updates or malfunctions.

I’ve had Google Wifi set up for a couple of weeks now, and I’d say that I’m generally happy with the results — though with some qualifications. Here are my overall thoughts so far:

Setup was relatively easy, but surprisingly time-consuming. The first thing you do is install the Google WiFi app on your phone (I used a Google Pixel XL), and then you follow a set of simple instructions which generally involve connecting a Google Wifi device to power (reversible USB Type-C!), scanning a QR code on the bottom, and waiting. And then waiting some more. And then, while you’re at it, doing a little waiting.

google_wifi_animation

Setting up Google Wifi means plenty of waiting. But also plenty of cool animations to mesmerize you in the process.

If the process goes smoothly, your patience is rewarded with a fairly painlessly upgraded network. However, the process rarely went smoothly for me. There were software updates, unexplained errors, and worst of all, ambiguous results. (I was told setup didn’t complete properly, yet the device seemed to be functioning. What do I do? Leave it alone and hope for the best? Perform a factory reset and start again? No way to know.)

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When setting up Google Wifi, be prepared for a few bumps along the path toward Wifi Utopia.

Not counting the time it took me to run out to Best Buy so I could replace a surge protector I discovered was blown, it took about an hour from the time I opened the three-pack of Google Wifi devices to the time I had every corner of my home awash in a beautiful overlapping patchwork of 2.4 and 5GHz spectrum. Not too bad.

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A healthy mesh network, powered by Google Wifi. The primary node — in my case, an OnHub — is not pictured in this view.

If the story ended there, my review would have been as glowing as the Google Wifi’s Cylon-like LED diagnostic strip. But sadly, the tale continues.

We have very reliable power where I live, but during a recent and particularly energetic thunderstorm, it flickered a few times. Every device in my house is plugged into a high-quality surge protector and/or a UPS so nothing was damaged, but none of my Google Wifi devices came back up properly. Both my modem and my OnHub wifi router recovered just fine, but all my Google Wifi nodes were pulsating red.

To make a very long story short, using the Google Wifi app to restart them fixed two of the three, but the third — the one closest to the network drop — wouldn’t reconnect. And then, after a factory reset, I kept being told that it couldn’t connect to my network because it was out of range of my primary wifi point (it was not). Acting purely out of instinct, I factory reset all three devices, and re-added them again one-by-one (the one closest to the primary router first). After a great deal of waiting and a few more unexplained errors (mostly failed tests), all three devices were back online, and my mesh network was restored to its former glory.

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Happy and healthy once again.

For a network that is supposed to be highly durable, I was pretty disappointed that I had to spend about an hour and a half trying to bring it back up after a fairly routine power flicker. And while I feel the quality of my network justifies the time I put into it, I can’t imagine how someone without early-adopter patience would have handled both the initial setup process, and then having to set everything up again a week later. (Actually, I can imagine it, and it looks a lot like several frustrating hours on the phone with support.)

In other words, Google Wifi currently meets my expectations and standards, but it does not pass the “parents” test. (If you buy this for your parents, or recommend they buy it for themselves, be prepared to provide plenty of tech support.)

If you have clear wifi-hypoxic zones in your home, and if you have the patience to deal with a system that clearly still has some bugs to work out, then I definitely recommend that you give Google Wifi a try. I consider $299 (for a three-pack) a reasonable price to pay for sophisticated networking equipment that solves a very real problem without having to run any additional cables throughout your home.

But unless you have a very clear need for something like Google Wifi, I would recommend waiting. Consumer-grade mesh networking is still relatively new, and while $299 isn’t bad ($129 for a single device), as with most new technology, the longer you wait, the cheaper it becomes — but more importantly, the less of your precious time it will demand.

Update (3/27/2017): My experience with customer support, and all connection issues finally resolved.

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Everything there is to know about texting from the desktop (and why it’s so much easier on iOS than Android)

pc_messaging_640It’s happened to all of us. While sitting in front of our ultra-powerful, multi-thousand-dollar laptops, we’ve reached for our phones to send or read a text.

Think about that for a second: instead of applying the veritable supercomputers in front of us to the task of transmitting a few bits-worth of emoji — machines, incidentally, with obscene connectivity, full keyboards, mice/trackpads, and excellent spell checking — we’ve opted instead to pick up a phone, biometrically unlock it, open a messaging app, and risk autocorrect humiliation while laboriously tapping out a dispatch with less efficiency than a nineteenth-century telegraph operator. Then: lock phone, set down, complete approximately twenty additional seconds of work, and repeat.

For some of us desktop texters, such onerous workflows are a thing of the past — anecdotes to be passed down to our children and grandchildren in futile attempts to make them appreciate the extravagance of modern life. But for others, the loathsome cycle is seemingly unbreakable.

If you bask in the privilege of texting from both your desktop and your phone interchangeably, chances are you are an iOS and Mac user who has discovered the brilliance of Apple’s Continuity. Or you’ve allowed yourself to be subjugated by a more closed and proprietary messaging platform like Facebook Messenger. A few of you might even be Android users who cling to the false hope of Google Voice, or who have sworn lifelong allegiance to Nexus devices for the privilege of testing Project Fi.

What follows are all the ways I know of to text from both your desktop and your phone, along with the pros and cons of each approach. If you are already intimately familiar with the problem and you’re just here for a solution, skip ahead to the “Apple Messages” section and go from there. But if terms like “text” and “iMessage” sound to you like distinctions without differences, you might want to start with the glossary below.

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The 2015 Moto G: Why the “worst” smartphone I own is also the best

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As I write this, I am surrounded by phones. I could justify it by saying that I’m a software developer, or a science fiction author, or some of them are from work, but the reality is that I have a phone fetish. I switch between iOS and Android devices on a regular basis purely for the novelty of it, and as part of an ongoing experiment to see if and how the most recent mobile innovations fit into my life. With several phones charged up, configured, and ready to use at any given time, I find it endlessly fascinating to see which one I’m compelled to reach for every day, and which end up neglected or sold.

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Logitech MX Master Review

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Despite multi-touch screens, voice interaction, and science fiction’s promise of gestural operating environments, the primary ways we interact with computers are still through the firmly established keyboard and mouse. I’ve tested dozens of keyboards to finally find a couple I can claim to truly love, but the same level of passion has always eluded me when it came to mice. So when Logitech boldly proclaimed that they revolutionized the nearly fifty-year-old peripheral with the MX Master, I was in.

Let’s start with some highlights:

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A Watch Enthusiast’s Review of the Samsung Gear Live with Android Wear

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Update (12/10/2014): I’ve tried several more Android Wear devices, and both the hardware and the software is getting better. Android Wear has fixed some of the issues I complain about below, and the LG G Watch R and Sony Smartwatch 3 are actually pretty decent devices. (Most people like the Moto 360, but I think a round display should really be round.) All smart watches are still a very long way from being actual watches (as opposed to devices strapped to your wrist), but I’m glad to see how quickly the industry is iterating.

Most of the reviews I’ve seen of the new Android Wear smartwatches have been from device early adopters as opposed to true watch enthusiasts, so I figured I’d provide the perspective of someone who is decidedly both. I’ve always been a gadget fanatic (I keep the latest iPhone and best Android devices on me at all times—as of today, that’s the 5s and the HTC One M8), and as the founder of Watch Report (which I started in 2005, and finally sold last year), I’ve owned and/or reviewed hundreds of watches from Casio to Rolex. Additionally, over the years, I’ve kept a very close eye on the category of smartwatches from MSN Spot watches like the Tissot Hight-T (the best of its long-extinct class), to the Abacus Wrist PDA (never remotely practical, but undeniably fun), to more modern interpretations like the Pebble.

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Another Attempt at Tablets

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I’ve owned a lot of tablets. I’ve had iPads and Android devices, tablets with seven and ten inch screens, and devices with WiFi and LTE radios. I’ve probably had at least a dozen different tablets spanning almost every possible configuration, but there’s one thing all of them had in common: none of them were able to hold my interest.

No matter how hard I try—and how much I love the idea of tablets—I just don’t have any use for them. I put up with the limitations of my phone because it’s always with me and always connected, and I put up with the bulk of my laptop because it’s powerful enough for just about everything I need a computer to do. But tablets, for me, sit in this awkward space in-between where they’re too limited to be all that useful (at least for the things I do most often) and too big to be easily portable.

Refusing to give up, however, I’ve developed a new theory: maybe I’m simply not using tablets correctly. If I find them too big to replace my phone, that means I’m not trying to use them for anything beyond what my phone can already do. And if I find them too limited to replace my laptop, that means I’m trying to do things that are better left to a fully capable computer. Perhaps what I should be doing are only those things that a tablet can do better than any other device.

To test my theory, I bought a brand new iPad Air, but rather than resorting it with an image from one of my many former iPads, I’m only going to install apps that are better on tablets than on any other device. That means no email, no calendar, no office applications, and no social networking. No Evernote, no weather apps, no navigation, and no restaurant finders. Basically, anything that I can do more conveniently on my phone or more fluidly on my laptop, I simply won’t even attempt on my new tablet.

In an attempt to make my iPad more useful, I’m going to intentionally limit it.

Admittedly, this approach probably won’t leave as many applications as I’d like. Even four years after the launch of the iPad, I think we’re still a long ways away from really figuring out and implementing the best multi-touch surface experiences. But I’ll start with apps for drawing, watching video, and reading (books, magazines, and news), and maybe a game or two. Maybe I’ll try Garage Band, or another music synthesis application. I’ll probably give a lot of different apps a try, but the moment I start feeling more frustrated by the limitations of the device than empowered by its unique capabilities, I’ll uninstall it and move on.

Let me know if you have ideas for apps I should try. It should be very interesting to see, after a month or two, which are left.

Create Your Own Private Phone Line Free of NSA Wiretaps

personal_phone_lineThe other day, my good friend Mike Chambers mentioned that he was planning on building a closed-circuit phone system as a toy for his kids. Since my kids already think his pancakes and popcorn are better than mine, I decided to beat him to it. It turns out that creating a simple closed-circuit system is extremely easy, and can be done for just a few dollars in parts (especially if you already have a couple old disused phones lying around).

As I was wiring the whole thing up, it occurred to me that building your own private phone line would be an effective (if slightly inelegant) way to ensure that your point-to-point electronic voice communication wasn’t being intercepted by the NSA. You’d probably want something more robust than a few 9 volt batteries, a resistor, and some electrical tape, but it wouldn’t take much more work or money to build something fairly serviceable for a small number of endpoints in relatively close geographic proximity.

I’m certainly not one to advocate using a system like this to break the law, but I am a proponent of civil liberties, and I do feel strongly that citizens of all nations have a right to communicate freely without being spied on by their own governments. The gradual erosion of American civil liberties is a major theme of my new novel Kingmaker which has recently become much more realistic than even I anticipated.

Review of Google Glass

wearing_google_glassThere are plenty of reviews and op-eds out there on Google Glass by now — even plenty from people who have never even worn them — so I’ll make this succinct, and try to cover observations that I haven’t seen elsewhere.

In general, I really like Google Glass. Once you get used to wearing it — once you’ve found a workflow that makes sense for you, and once you’ve come to rely on some of the functionality Google Glass provides — you don’t like being without it. You even become gradually more willing to endure the ogling, inquisitions, and the embarrassment that inevitably comes of wearing them outside the house.

Those who criticize the form factor, battery life, etc. need to keep in mind that the Explorer Edition of Google Glass is a prototype. It’s designed to introduce the concept of wearing a computer on your face, and to help developers, content creators, and consumers learn about wearable computing. Limitations aside (and there are plenty), I think the concept that Google Glass introduces is solid. I don’t know how successful the first consumer version of Glass will be, but I now believe that there are real benefits to accessing information almost effortlessly, and I think the world is probably very close to being ready for the next wave of personal and portable technology beyond the mobile phone.

Some specific thoughts and observations (in no particular order):

  • Navigation is probably my favorite feature. In fact, it might be what made me realize that wearable computing had to become a reality. Glass’s implementation isn’t perfect (it drains the battery quickly and there are still plenty of bugs), but being able to simply glance up and see turn-by-directions in the corner of your vision is extremely effective.
  • The camera button should deactivate when you remove Glass from your face. The camera button is on the top and the USB port is on the bottom which means when you turn Glass over to charge it or to connect it to your computer, you frequently take unintentional upside down pictures (which subsequently get uploaded to Google+). Because of where I usually charge Glass, many of these pictures end up being of my crotch. The photos aren’t actually posted publicly, but you still have to go into your photo stream and clean it up from time to time (and if someone is looking over your shoulder, you might have some uncomfortable explaining to do).
  • Kids absolutely love Glass. I frequently give new technology to my children — or do my best to get feedback from teenagers — since kids usually approach new concepts without the preconceptions of adults. While I had friends who were quick to laugh at and dismiss Google Glass, my experience is that kids think the concept is amazing, and aren’t remotely ashamed or embarrassed to wear them. My older daughter wore Glass for an entire afternoon at an art festival and got significant use out of them. When she wore them out to dinner the other night, our waitress confessed that she couldn’t wait to get a pair herself. If you think that Glass is too nerdy to be successful, consider early perceptions around things like personal computers in general, mobile phones, and Bluetooth headsets. Even wristwatches were once widely thought to be a threat to masculinity. It wasn’t until soldiers started strapping their pocket watches to their wrists because it was much more practical than having to remove them from a pocket that wristwatches started to gain acceptance beyond frivolous feminine accessories.
  • While kids love Glass, the thirty degree activation feature does not work well for them. You can activate Glass by tilting your head up thirty degrees so that you don’t have to reach up and touch the touchpad. It turns out that kids are almost always looking up at roughly thirty degrees which means Glass is constantly activating. I find that when I wear Glass, it activates more frequently than I would like, as well (despite the fact that I’m six feet tall). For instance, they activate during movies, and during the all-important motion of drinking a beer. Rather than lifting your heard thirty degrees to activate Glass, I think a more useful gesture would be to look up with just your eyes — something we do less frequently and that is more deliberate than just lifting your head.
  • One of the most frequent criticisms I’ve read about Glass is that you still need your phone. (I’ve heard this about the latest generation of smart watches, as well.) I have no idea where this complaint comes from. I don’t think the goal of wearable computing — whether it be on your face or your wrist — should be to replace other technologies, just like I don’t think phones or tablets replace personal computers. Technology more frequently adds and augments rather than displaces or replaces. The goal of wearable computing is to create new opportunities and interactions rather than render older ones obsolete. Sometimes new technologies are so obviously superior that the old ones are rapidly abandoned, but it’s more common for us to add additional devices and capabilities to our lives — at least during an initial period of transition.
  • I’m probably stating the obvious here, but future versions of glass will need to be water resistant. Once you get used to having Glass, you don’t want to take them off just because the forecast calls for showers.
  • Glass has a built-in guest mode which is a brilliant idea. Like your phone, Glass becomes a very personal device which you will likely be reluctant to share with everyone who asks to take a peek — especially because it’s so easy to post content publicly. Glass also takes some getting used to so you probably don’t want your friends and family familiarizing themselves with the interaction models while connected to your Google+, Facebook, and Twitter accounts.
  • The one big complaint I have about Glass is the viral messaging that gets appended to texts and emails. All messages have the text “Sent through Glass” appended to them, and as far as I can tell, there’s nothing you can do about it. If Glass were free, I wouldn’t complain. But at $1,500 (actually, well over $1,600 with tax), I don’t feel like I should be forced to do viral marketing on Google’s behalf. The ironic thing is that given the option, I would probably still append some kind of a message as I do on my other devices in order to provide some context for brevity, auto-correct errors, etc. However, I really hate not being given the option to at the very least customize the message.

Update (5/26/2013): After receiving a great deal of feedback and several questions, I decided to add a few additional points:

  • In my opinion, the camera is not the killer feature. Photos are difficult to compose with Glass, you can’t edit them like you can on a phone, and sharing is much more difficult and limited. (This final point could partially be addressed in software, but it still wouldn’t be as easy as a mobile phone.) The one advantage Glass has over a camera in a phone is that it is more available and accessible. However, that is also perhaps one of Glass’s biggest barriers to adoption. Having a camera constantly pointed at the world prompts all kinds of privacy concerns which bloggers, journalists, and even Congress will not tire of debating anytime soon. Like most things in life, technology is a tradeoff: You measure the good against the bad, and in the end, decide if something is a net gain or a net loss. At least right now, I believe that the camera in Glass is a net loss. The ability to take a picture a few seconds faster than you could with your phone is nice, but it’s probably not worth the accompanying privacy issues (it’s only a matter of time before Glass is banned from my gym, for instance), the additional bulk and weight of the device, and the fact that most pictures simply aren’t all that good. Having gained some experience with Glass now, if I had the option of buying a smaller, lighter, and less threatening version without a camera, I think I probably would.
  • Another issue that Glass has brought to the forefront is the matter of distraction. Distraction is no worse with Glass than any other device. Glass never displays notifications unexpectedly (with the exception of the display activating when you tilt your head up, but that can be disabled) and therefore it is no more distracting than a mobile phone. In fact, because you can glance at a map or a message even faster, I would argue that Glass is possibly less distracting than a phone. That is not to say Glass is distraction-free, however. Not even close. I don’t believe that technologies like heads-up displays or hands-free calls eliminate or even reduce distraction since the lack of attention is far more dangerous than the simple mechanics and logistics of interacting with a device. That said, when used responsibly, Glass should not be any more dangerous than your phone. (Note that I am not dismissing the dangers of phones — I’m just claiming that Glass is no worse.)
  • Related to distraction is the question of presence. I’ve noticed that a significant number of people are offended by Glass because they feel like it represents just one more device to come between people, to distract us from the current time and place, and to devalue human interaction. I’m undecided on this point. I personally choose to be discreet with my devices; unless I’m specifically monitoring something (usually work-related), I rarely pull out my phone in social situations, and I always give someone standing in front of me priority over whatever might be happening on my phone, watch, or Google Glass. That said, I don’t feel the need to impose my personal philosophies on others. I think it remains to be seen exactly what the repercussions are of integrating all these data streams into our consciousness. I know there are studies which are not optimistic, but devices like phones and Glass remind me a great deal of video games. When I was a kid, the conventional wisdom was that video games would “melt your brain” (and there are myriad studies that claim to back that up). I’m sure I’ve heard that phrase — or some variation thereof — dozens of times throughout my life. However, I’ve been gaming pretty consistently from the time I got my first hand-held LED football game, my first PC, and my first console (Intellivision), and I believe that video games have enriched my life in a number of ways. I believe that responsible and conscientious integration of technology into one’s life can be very positive and empowering. However, I also acknowledge that it can have detrimental effects on relationships and quality of life when not moderated. For the most part, I don’t find discussions of whether certain technologies are “good” or “bad” to be productive. I think it’s up to us individually to find where and how technology fits into our lives — to embrace it where it works, and reject or modify it where it does not. I see technology as a massive, never-ending human experiment, and we shouldn’t be afraid to try new things, and to make plenty of mistakes and adjustments along the way. And at least in instances where people’s lives are not at stake, I think we should be patient with those around us who are trying to figure it out for themselves.

Although I really love Google Glass, I don’t love it because it’s perfect, or because I think Google got it exactly right. I love Glass because it is an early attempt at practical wearable computing, and I think it proves that wearable computing is going to happen. Whether it happens now or in the future is hard to say. The world was not ready for digital books on a large scale until Amazon introduced the Kindle, or tablet computers until Apple introduced the iPad, so it’s hard to say whether Google is ahead of its time, or whether the Glass team is successfully creating the environment they need to drive mainstream adoption. Whether it happens now or in the near future, there’s little doubt in my mind that it will eventually happen.

Whenever I question whether a new technology will be successful, I think back to a conversation I had with a friend of mine after the original iPhone was introduced. By any definition, he was and still is an Apple fanboy, but he had no interested in the iPhone because it wasn’t very suitable to single-handed use. He was too focused on the drawbacks, and not focused enough on how the positives would outweigh the negatives. Today, he’s a big iPhone fan, and I’m sure couldn’t imagine his life — or probably even a single day, for that matter — without an iPhone in his pocket.

So to all the nonbelievers, get your jeering and finger pointing out of the way now because it may not be very long before you will be wearing something like Google Glass yourself.

AirPlay is Another Nail in Cable’s Coffin

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I had an interesting experience while sitting around with some friends Saturday night. The subject of awkward pregnancy photos came up (my sister-in-law is weeks away from giving birth), so we decided to bring up the pregnancy category of Awkward Family Photos for a few good laughs at other people’s expense. Having just installed Mountain Lion (OS X 10.8), I decided to use AirPlay from my 11″ MacBook Air (best laptop ever) to my Apple TV so everyone could see better. The conversation eventually turned to politics and TED talks as it so often does, so I threw up Nick Hanauer’s excellent and very controversial TED talk. Eventually control of the Apple TV was passed around the room via iPhones, iPads, and AirPlay, and in addition to playing a few hilarious rounds of Draw Something and laughing at hundreds of photos, we watched some Olympics highlights, Portal: No Escape, Lego Black Ops, the JK Wedding Entrance Dance (there was an uninitiated among us), and finally, one of Stephen Colbert’s many excellent interviews with Neil deGrasse Tyson. By that time, it was getting late, however we’d barely scratched the surface of our favorite videos, sites, games, photos, memes, etc. so I’m certain we’ll pick right back up where we left off next weekend.

There were three things that really struck me about the evening:

  1. All of the entertainment throughout the course of the night was entirely free. We did have to watch a few YouTube pre-roll ads, but they were quick and relatively tasteful.
  2. The evening was much more interactive than if we’d watched a movie or a few TV shows.
  3. The experience was extremely collaborative and inclusive as control of the Apple TV was passed around the room and everyone got to have their say in what we all experienced.

I’ve been a cord-cutter for a long time now which means we’re as likely to spend our evenings with our phones, laptops, and tablets as we are with our TV. In fact, since I do most of my gaming either on a PC or handheld device, I’ve frequently wondered if we still actually need a 52″ LCD taking up space in our living room. However last night was the best reason I’ve come up with in probably two years to keep my TV.

If you’re a cord-cutter, next time you have people over, ask them to come up with some of their favorite internet content and put together your own interactive and collaborative programming. I’ve never been so certain in my decision to cancel my cable service as I am now.

(Note that AirPlay is not the only technology for making this kind of thing work, but in my experience, it’s probably the most hassle-free. I have a Nexus Q which I hope to use more for this kind of thing in the future, and I’ve experimented with all kinds of streaming media solutions in the past. At least for now, Apple’s technology is probably the easiest to use, most robust, and — since so many people have iPhones, iPads, or Mac laptops — it’s more or less ubiquitous.)