Sunday, March 25, 2012

When New Technology Isn't Always the Best Solution


I've been wanting to write this for quite a while, and I think now is the perfect time.  Despite the fact that I make my living off of "technology," I am becoming more and more depressed by a mindset that looks down on anything remotely considered "old technology," advocating that it should be thrown out and replaced with new and more updated technology.  In other words, just because something is old, technology advocates (which will remain nameless) are continually deeming it worthless or complete junk.  This frustrates me.  There is still a place for equipment considered "old technology" because the new stuff simply doesn't always accomplish what the older stuff did.  My picture above speaks volumes: New Coke vs. Classic Coke.  What was the result?  Classic Coke just worked.  New isn't always better.  Older technology isn't promoted because it makes very little "new money" for the manufacturers.  Of course I will offer plenty of examples below to support my point.  I hope you will find that the comparisons make sense.  This has come from many situations where new technology simply didn't live up to the old.  We are bombarded with the following opinions and situations:
  • I recently heard a technology radio show where the host told the listeners to avoid buying a laptop or netbook for their young kids.  "They don't want that.  They want an iPad."  The host also told them to avoid buying a digital camera, digital camcorder and stand-alone GPS.  Why?  Because a smartphone will do all of those things just as well.  But does it?
  • A popular recent PC magazine article offered that today's smartphone is a replacement for a GPS, camcorder, digital camera and MP3 player.  But is it a good replacement?
  • I've heard online publications telling everyone to give up their old DLP or Plasma TVs in favor of a new 3D LED TV.  There is no mention of the drawbacks to doing something drastic like this.  The picture is better; therefore, what could possibly go wrong? 

  • Of course with the onslaught of tablets, no one (it seems) needs a notebook computer anymore, and perish the thought of a tired old workhorse desktop computer.  Those are only for non-techie people and senior citizens, right? 
  • And, of course there are those who tell everyone to throw away their DVDs because all of the movies of the world will be streaming online. 
  • CDs?  What are those?  All of the world's music is on iTunes, right?  Throw away your CDs because every car has an audio jack or a built-in digital audio player, and you will easily be able to find every song in your CD collection online.  Just put it all on a hard drive or upload it to the Cloud.  Then it will always be there.
I could go on and on, but I think you get my point.  Maybe it's because I'm beginning to feel old and the technology I grew up with is going bye-bye.  Maybe it's because I'm one of those guys who has to support and teach the non-techie people how to use each new gadget.  I get them using a particular method or device, and a new one comes along to replace it.  But, trust me.  I'm not worried about the work.  It's more than that.  It's the fickleness of today's electronics consumer.  Let's just slow down a bit.

It seems that if it's not the latest thing, then it's not the cool thing and, therefore, it's just no good.  Right now that "cool thing" would be just about anything made by Apple.  If you don't have an iPhone, a MacBook Pro (even a standard MacBook is passe now), or an iPad, you are considered an outsider who is completely out-of-touch with the rest of the world. This article is not a slam on the Apple product users or Apple itself.  It's just my frustration with the narrow-mindedness of today's cutting-edge tech mindset, that nothing else is worth having if it's not the latest toy.


The Comparisons:


TVs:

I recently tried to help a friend hook up his new Vizio LED 3D 46-inch HDTV.  The picture would be outstanding if only he could get everything hooked up properly.  The problem was that he didn't have any HDMI cables.  Those weren't provided in the box.  No one told him about this.  He also has a Nintendo Wii.  That is not an HD device.  It doesn't seem to work well on a brand-new TV with only Component and HDMI jacks.  His particular TV did not come with the yellow RCA jack or even an S-Video jack for any older analog device that he may have, such as a digital camera, non-Blu-Ray DVD player, or other gadget made prior to 2010.  

The result: he had to go to the nearest big-box store (since time was of the essence) and buy two HDMI cables (which Best Buy charges $50 a piece for) as well as a Blu-Ray player ($150).  Not being a tech geek, he had no idea of this added expense.  I only found out that he'd bought the TV after-the-fact, but by then it was too late.  Why did he buy the TV?  Because he was tired of being ridiculed by his friends who had bigger and better TVs than his 36-inch DLP. 


MP3 Players:

I still maintain that the iPod Touch is not the best MP3 player out there.  But, if you have a non-Apple-branded MP3 player, you are in the minority and you will have to deal with people asking you, "Why didn't you just buy an iPod Touch?"

That brings me to older music media, namely CDs.  What if you have a car that doesn't have an audio input jack?  CDs can come in handy.  What if your favorite music is still not found on iTunes?  What if your PC can easily record audio with the free application like Audacity and allow you to burn a CD of just about anything taken with a microphone, but your MP3 player won't?  Then I guess old technology just works better, doesn't it?  


SmartPhones:


Forget about the fact that Android phones are pretty darn good, and that the Droid and other variations stack up quite well.  You will be frowned upon by anyone who has an iPhone.  Forget the fact that you might be able to do things that those with an iPhone can't do.  It's just that an iPhone is made by Apple, so you're supposed to play along.  And if you have a flip "feature phone" which is text-driven with a smaller screen and not graphics-intensive, you will simply be laughed at.  Your battery will last far longer than theirs, but you will be laughed at.  It's a sad fact, but it's true

What about taking quality digital pictures on a smartphone that require a zoom?  What about in-action photos?  What about the hard drive space of a good MP3 player?  What about the quality of a nice digital camcorder or the screen size and familiarity of a GPS such as the Garmin Nuvi?  Sure, a smartphone does some of the same things that these other devices do, but it doesn't do any of them as well as the stand-alone device.  We will still have to wait quite a while for that.  In the meantime, I'm taking great digital pictures, recording wonderful high-quality video, storing gigs and gigs of music while others are struggling on their cell phones to snap lower-quality photos, videos and do the things that would otherwise be done much better outside of the phone.


While I'm at it, I might as well challenge the iPhone's lack of a good PIM: Personal Information Manager.  True, there is a (painfully lacking) built-in Contacts app, a (painfully lacking) built-in Calendar app, and a (painfully lacking) built-in Notes app. But each of these is a stand-alone app.  Nothing compares to the wonderful Pocket Informant app that I use on my Windows-based HTC Touch Pro2.  If I ever switch to an iPhone or even an Android phone, I just don't see a comparable all-in-one PIM app out there.  If there is one, please...please tell me what it is.  It continues to hold me back from buying a new phone. 


Tablets:


Tablets are sexy.  No doubt.  Kids as well as adults are becoming so in-tuned to the touch-screen phenomenon that they will walk up to a laptop or desktop computer and try to touch the screen, wondering why it doesn't respond.  It's too bad that you need an app just to use the features of many flash-based Web sites and do what you could more easily do on a PC or laptop.  And who in their right mind wants to abandon their 20+inch monitor for a 9-inch monitor to do everyday tasks?  Have you ever tried maintaining a thorough spreadsheet on your iPad?  It's not fun.  Spreadsheets in the cloud, particularly on a touch-screen device, are a difficult endeavor.


Seemingly simple things like file management, printing, using Flash features of a given web site, pulling files off of a CD/DVD or USB Flash Drive are all headaches on an iPad.  Don't get me wrong.  I love browsing the Web on my iPad and reading PDFs, but when it comes to audio editing, video editing, photo editing, watching a cinematic film, and quickly storing files, I feel dead in the water with an iPad.  All of these tasks are far easier on a laptop, desktop or even a netbook.  Anyone who disagrees simply hasn't been through the struggles.


GPS:


I like the fact that some phones come with a GPS app of some sort.  Good ones require an extra fee.  Is it worth it?  I have yet to find anything that stacks up with my Garmin Nuvi.  It has a larger screen than any smartphone.  It speaks the directions loudly (much more loudly than any smartphone I've heard), and most of the features are just more advanced than those found on navigation apps for smartphones.  Call me crazy, but when I'm driving, the last thing I want to do is use my phone to navigate streets.  How about you?  

Portable Media


I am a true movie and music collector.  Those of us who are over 30 tend to be the old-school die-hard collectors.  We tend to be rather obsessive about our collections.  Let's just say that I have hundreds of films on DVD and thousands of tracks on CD and MP3.  Some of today's tech advocates will tell you to rip all of your music from CD to MP3.  OK.  I actually did that with the bulk of my collection.  It's good for backup, although not necessarily a cloud backup.  Guess how long it takes to back up thousands of songs to the Cloud?   A long time!  I have an older car with no jack for an MP3 player.  I tried the wireless receiver plugged into my MP3 player.  I then go to a station low on the dial, such as 88.1, but that seldom works because more and more stations are broadcasting on that band.  So you know what I do?   I pull out my CDs, put them into my 6-disc changer and I'm all set.  So much for the MP3 method.


As mentioned, I am a DVD collector.  I won't even go into how much money it will cost to get Blu-Ray replacements for my traditional DVDs.  It cost enough to replace the VHS versions of those same films.  Still, it seems that a vast majority of techies out there are advocating that I just turn to online streaming and forget about the old technology known as DVD media.  But guess what?  Streaming movies are just that: movies.  What if you're a true film buff who likes extra features like director commentary, making-of featurettes, behind-the-scenes, cast interviews, BD-Live, and other additional content found only on the discs?  I guess you are simply out of luck.  I actually heard someone say that "no one cares about that stuff anyway."  Anyone want to help me argue that point?  Some of us do care.  


Summary:


Here is what it has come to.  The world of tech consumers are a fickle bunch.  Sometimes the newest technology is simply not the best solution for all of today's tasks.  Classic Coke was better than New Coke.  I may have to come to grips with the fact that I am a power-user who likes to tinker and take his time to accomplish a task, trapped in a world where everything is fast-paced and quick-touch devices, quick-watch media and quick-fix solutions are the majority's demand.

Are you someone who prefers to have everything one-stop at your fingertips instead of preferring a device that accomplishes a task better and more thoroughly, but which might require some extra effort?  The need-for-speed and the least-amount-of-effort seems to win out in the long run with today's technology.  An iPad is a good example.  It requires almost no learning curve, does a lot, and is a very intimate device that can be taken anywhere (except maybe a restaurant).  It is quite limited though, just like every other device listed above.  Everything has its limitations.  Ease of use and speed are important, as well as the sexiness of a device.  But, ultimately, that which best meets your needs is the best technology, and you should never feel guilty for using it. 


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