Tuesday, January 17, 2012


Nerd phone stack at dinner
Photo Credit: Kate Hartman (http://www.flickr.com/photos/katehartman)
This morning, I was perusing my Twitter feed and saw that Stephen Fry had tweeted a link to a Yahoo News story about a new phenomenon called the Phone Stack Game. The premise is that when you go out to dinner with friends, everyone puts their phone in the middle of the table (in a stack, one presumes) and the first one who gives in to the temptation of checking email or text messages or perhaps even taking a phone call (do people still actually call each other?) picks up the tab for dinner. This apparently makes the dinner more “civilized.”

While this is fine as trends go—and I’m all for people turning off their phones at dinner and other social gatherings, such as symphony concerts—I can’t help but feel that there is still a significant portion of the population who have it in for the poor old mobile phone.

Not that I am such a huge fan of the things (heck, I’m still using an ancient Sony-Ericsson slider phone), but let’s face it, they’re here to stay, and I think eventually our social norms will evolve so that they will be more accepted. This is already old news among young people. They don’t seem to have any qualms about checking their phones and socializing at the same time. Indeed, for teens, the two appear to be one and the same thing. So I think anyone younger than 20 would probably view the Phone Stack Game as rather quaint.

To me the bigger problem is the “loud talking” phenomenon. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. Whether in restaurants, on airplanes, or in quiet places like museums—in fact, just about anywhere—loud talkers are incredibly annoying. They cheerfully blather away at 110 decibels, oblivious to the rattling window panes and bloodied eardrums they leave in their wakes. In fact, the only thing worse than a loud talker is a loud talker on the phone, and this is where I think the mobile phone gets a much worse rap than it deserves. 

I’m not sure why this is, but it seems to be a universal human phenomenon that when we are speaking to someone who is not in the room with us, whether it’s on the phone or on Skype, we tend to speak louder. Perhaps because the other person is not right next to us, we feel on some subconscious level that it’s as though they were in the next room, and hence we need to raise our voice to be heard. 

So forget the Phone Stack Game, here’s one bit of cell-phone etiquette that I wish were more common: When you’re on the phone, just speak normally! There’s no need to shout; the other party will hear you just fine, and you’ll avoid so many dirty looks. In exchange, I’d let you use your phone at the dinner table and not make you pick up the tab.

Monday, January 09, 2012

The mythical Apple Television -- doomed to failure? Of course it is.

Even though Apple hasn’t attended the Consumer Electronics Show for years, it always seems to capture a lot of the show’s buzz, either by holding an event of its own around the same time, as it often did when it was involved with the Macworld exhibition, or, more recently, courtesy of the ever-churning Apple rumour mill. 

This year is no different. With Steve Jobs’ revelation in Walter Isaacson’s biography that he had “cracked it,” in reference to making an easy-to-use TV, CES is (or apparently will be) abuzz over when Apple will release its long-rumoured television.

Count me among those who think Apple will eventually release a television, but I don't think it will be this year; my gut tells me we’ll have to wait until 2013. I think it will simply take that long for Apple to work the (sometimes serious) kinks out of iCloud and Siri. 

That said, I have a bone to pick with the many pundits I hear, especially on the various tech podcasts I listen to, saying that an Apple-branded television is a ridiculous idea. Their arguments go along the lines that since Apple is a high-margin company, their TVs will be over-priced and doomed to fail because people traditionally don’t buy new TVs at the same rate they buy new computers or phones. Who would spend thousands and thousands of dollars on a new TV, knowing that it will be obsolete in a few years? The answer to this rhetorical question is, of course, no one. Hence the “doomed to failure” part. Every time I hear this, it sets my teeth on edge.

Apple has never entered a market only to compete on the existing playing field. With the iMac, iPod, iPhone, and iPad, it either totally disrupted the market or, in the case of the iPad, conjured it out of thin air. With so many precedents in its history, why do all these pundits think Apple would just make an over-priced TV to compete with Samsung, Toshiba and Sony. 

I haven’t the foggiest idea what the Apple TV will be like, but if Steve Jobs and Apple "cracked it," I’d be willing to bet that a) it’s drop-dead gorgeous, b) it won’t be as expensive as everyone is expecting (remember the gasps of surprise when Steve introduced the iPad starting at $499), and c) it will be a game changer. 

Somehow, I doubt many of the “pundits” will be willing to take my bet.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

iPod nano 6th Gen

Wow. Has it really been over two years since I posted here? I suppose it’s time for an update. In fact it’s quite likely that updates will be forthcoming somewhat more regularly, since I plan to blog more frequently this year as part of my “Resolution 2012” project. So watch this space (if you dare). 

Back in the early days of this blog, I talked about my purchase of a red iPod nano 2nd Gen. At the time, I thought it was one of the most lickable pieces of technology I’d ever owned. Apple is so good at making the old hardware look dated, but looking back objectively, the 1st Gen nano, especially the black model, was even more beautiful—classic in its beauty. I bought one for my wife back in the day, and while it was soon relegated to a drawer, I’ve always admired its sheer elegance. Five years ago, iPods were still somewhat of a luxury item, and that 1st Gen nano had luxury written all over it.

So I was a little sad when Apple recalled those 1st Gen nanos because of a battery issue. But I dutifully sent it back, hoping that Apple would fix it and send back the same model, but not really thinking they would. As expected, when the package came in the mail a few weeks ago, my wife’s beautiful 1st Gen nano was nowhere to be found. In its place was a new 6th Gen iPod—beautiful in its way, but not at all the same thing.

But hey, it’s smaller than the old iPod, and it has four times the capacity and a nifty touch screen. Cool as that is, though, I wasn’t sure what to do with it. Both my wife and I have iPod touches now, mine a 64 GB model, so space was not an issue. I certainly didn’t want to relegate a brand new iPod to the junk drawer, so I decided on a whim to try it out as my workout iPod. 

I’ve recently taken to listening to podcasts again while running or walking, so I just synced it to my podcast folder in iTunes and off I went. Almost immediately I noticed some advantages of the nano over the iTouch. First, you can set the sleep/wake button to act as a play/pause button when you double-click it (the double-click can also be set to skip to the next track if you so prefer). Just that one thing—a hardware play/pause button—makes it a better workout device than the Touch. Also, because it’s wearable, I’ve taken to using it around the house (that hardware play/pause button still comes in handy), where I was previously using bluetooth headphones with my Touch. The hardware volume buttons on the nano are also nicer, it seems to me, than the ones on the Touch. The nano’s weight is also an advantage. While the Touch isn’t exactly heavy, if you happen to drop it while wearing wired earbuds, you’ll experience—as I have done on several occasions—the nasty sensation of having them ripped out of your ears as the whole unit falls to the floor. With the nano, if for any reason it slips out of your hands, it’s light enough that it simply dangles there from your ears. No harm done. 

So I must say that though I’m a little sad that my wife’s old nano is gone, I’m quite pleased that we have been upgraded after four years. This new nano has actually become my iPod of choice for around the house. The only drawback is that it doesn’t have bluetooth, but I’d be willing to make a small wager that that feature will be part of the 7th Gen nano. 

Good on you Apple. Even though the nano is probably not a huge money earner for the company compared with the iPhone or even the iPod Touch, it’s still a great little device. If you’re looking for a workout iPod, I highly recommend it.