Category Archives: Tech

Not Your Parents’ iPhone

English: The logo for Apple Computer, now Appl...

English: The logo for Apple Computer, now Apple Inc.. The design of the logo started in 1977 designed by Rob Janoff with the rainbow color theme used until 1999 when Apple stopped using the rainbow color theme and used a few different color themes for the same design. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For months, commentators have pointed out that platforms like Instagram, Vine, and Youtube are overtaking Facebook among teen users (ok, in fairness, Facebook owns Instagram, so do we count it towards or against the mothership?). It’s worth pointing out the social media platforms attracting the attention of today’s teens are primarily photo- or video-driven, because Apple’s new iPhone announcement yesterday subtly pitches its product to the teen market. Phil Schiller spent nine minutes discussing the iSight camera during Apple’s keynote; that’s a little more than 10% of the total address’ 85-minute duration and one of only three features highlighted, behind the new 64-bit A7 processor and Touch ID. Safe to say that Apple bets the camera, and its handful of new features, in the new handset platform will get a real workout.

As they come from the new iOS 7 operating system, most of these new camera features should apply to both the iPhone 5s and the iPhone 5c, Apple’s eagerly awaited, less expensive model. It is both plastic and colorful, exactly what your parents have been waiting for in a new iPhone, yes? No. They want the new gold 5s, which leaves the iPhone 5c squarely marketed to today’s teens, who are tired of having the same old black or white phone as their folks. But, what about emerging markets? Retailing at $549 and $649 for off-contract 16g and 32g capacities, respectively, these are not the cheap iPhones your pundits were looking for. Less expensive, yes, with an on-contract price in the US of $99, which means, along with the steel frame reinforcing the structure, Dad will be much more likely to pull the trigger on this iPhone for the kids.

Despite all those great camera features and colors, Apple held a few tricks up its sleeve to keep the iPhone 5s in front of teens  —  remember that 64-bit processor noted as a key feature at Apple’s presentation? Phil Schiller invited the creators of award-winning iOS game platform Infinity Blade to come up and demo the new edition of their game. With 2x the processor speed and 2x the graphics performance, the iPhone 5s makes new gaming features possible to studios and designers. Safe to say that Apple hopes for more than Angry Birds this time around and bottom dollar says they bet the kiddos follow the games.

Finally, that 64-bit A7 processor also makes possible new camera functions, like 120 fps slo-mo mode. Coupled with the inclusion of iMovie, slo-mo mode makes the iPhone 5s a Youtube/Vine star-maker. Twerking and ball-pit antics abound  —  wait’ll the kids can do it in super. slow. mo. without even leaving their phones. Then, there’s Burst Mode, where keeping your finger on the shutter button results in 10 shots per second; have you seen what Google+ is doing to multi-shots with its auto-awesome feature (another lurch towards the teen market)? There’s auto-stabilization, where the iPhone shoots several shots and combines them, resulting in the sharpest possible picture (particularly good for action shots like the skateboarding and BMX freestyling highlighted during the keynote and neither of which your dad will be doing).

So, while you may think the new gold iPhone 5s is strictly for the Jersey-Shore-cum-Williamsburg-Brooklyn set, think again. Apple is banking the kids will ditch their Android handsets (because rooting is so 2010) and line up for the iPhone once again. Or, maybe not, as only the iPhone 5c can be pre-ordered starting on September 13. Then, again, this is not your parents’ iPhone.

Slate-Type Devices

Once, in graduate school, I argued with a professor regarding books and technology. He had taken the line that, one day, we would all read books on computers, possibly some sort of slate-type device, which we would carry around with us. I thought his pronouncement preposterous. Cell phones still a luxury for most, pagers took up the ubiquitous spot on everyone’s belt, hooking us all into the security of the now nearly-extinct landline, and I could not imagine this slate-type device he described, nor could I imagine sitting at the gargantuan desktop computer in my apartment and reading off the cold, grey screen, which could not venture with me to the park, or even down the hall, for that matter.

Then, a book’s physicality held as much responsibility for the impact of its text as the mere words on a page. I romanticized books as companions, fetishized the sandpaper feel of the pages in a dime-store paperback bought on-the-cheap in a second-hand bookstore. I loved the the dry, dusty musk of those old stores, of libraries, despite the havoc they wreaked on my allergies and sinuses. I lamented the problems faced by independent bookstores as they fought off the constrictor embrace of the Big Box stores  —  Borders, Barnes & Noble, the eponymous Books-a-million. The books, the physical objects themselves, stood for these things  —  a noble fight against the corporatization of our souls and the enshrining of independent thought in a world bent on making even its citizens homogenous commodities.

Ironically, nearly twenty years later, I myself have proven that professor right. I bought my wife one of these slate-type devices. E-readers having been around for awhile, I still insisted on the primacy of the printed word. However, my wife’s slate-type device fascinated me. She’d sit on the couch and surf the web while we watched TV. She’d use it to chat with friends on Facebook. It would prop itself up in the kitchen displaying whatever recipe she used that evening. Whenever I could, I stole it from her, sneaking so many moments of tablet time, it quickly became apparent that one device would not be enough for our household. So, on my birthday, she presented me with one of my own.

Like her, I spent the first few weeks surfing the web, or, ensconced on the deck within easy reach of our home’s wifi, I watched documentaries on Netflix. Then, I discovered reading on this device. I realized how many books I could store in it, my entire catalog with me at any time if I wished, but it took me awhile to revel in its true capabilities. Like my wife and I pausing a particular episode of Castle to research a guest star on IMDb, I could look up words, passages, or even characters of a particular book while reading. It possessed an internal dictionary, thesaurus, even web browser, with built-in options to search either Wikipedia or Google. Suddenly, I could see how many books one could dispense of while using such a device. I could even annotate passages, highlighted in one of many colors, and, with a little web magic, export those notes to Evernote for later use. Then, I remembered my undergraduate years and how just a few classes’ worth of English major paraphernalia could weigh one down.

I won’t lay claim to the title of Futurist; let’s just say I’m convinced. Too much the Romantic, I love pouring over pictures of the past, imagining the lives of people frozen in time crossing cobblestone or unpaved streets in the small towns and cities of my experience. However, I find no less interest, joy, and fascination in reading historical fiction, like Caleb Carr’s The Alienist, off my slate-type device than I do from the printed page itself. Maybe I’m realizing the ultimate irony, re-living the past through a device hard to imagine within my own lifetime. Or, maybe I’m experiencing one of those Phillip K. Dick moments, where all of this information is right at my fingertips. Maybe the two are one and the same, and, sometimes, that scares me just a little bit.

Facebook: Aggregator not Aggravator

People readily share what they do not like about Facebook. The arbitrary changes to the privacy policy, the arbitrary changes to the newsfeed display, the arbitrary nature of the whole thing: Is this where I share recipes, pictures of my gourmet dinner, or do I just share everyone’s favorite E-card of the week? And, where are the cute cat videos? I demand more cute cat videos!

Ultimately, we all readily share the data that makes up Us. While everyone seems to worry about what Facebook does with all of the information we feed it, we scurry about, trying to keep as much of that information on Facebook held as privately as possible. Facebook, meanwhile, fights the dichotomy of our need to shared experience and our need to keep privatizing data by constantly shifting underfoot, giving us the option to make this post Public, or share it with Friends or Friends except Acquaintances, or the ever-so-lonely-on-a-social-networking-site Only Me. All the while, Facebook’s real move has taken place under our noses.

Facebook came to prominence with the ubiquitous “Like” button. Other social networking sites let us share our personalities, our likes and fascinations. However, what allowed Facebook to grow over the top of these other sites was something very simple — the ability to share with others the direct experience of our enjoyment, the web articles, the recipes (with pics), and the cute cat videos. It’s a rare person who doesn’t want to talk about him or herself. The “Like” button gave us the ability to do that without saying a word. And, it was everywhere, setting up Facebook for dominance in the fledgling world of Social Media and making it a force in the coming of the World Wide Web 2.0, where Social changed the nature of how information disseminated amongst users.

In short, Facebook took as much control of our information, our “Likes”, our photos, as it could, adding new features to counter those of other platforms — “Check-in” versus FourSquare, the out-right purchase of Instagram. Because, in the world of monetizing Social, the information you control or to which you have access takes precedence over all other considerations. Through the use of powerful algorithms, these bits of information provide the groundwork for the ads that Facebook and other social sites use as the basis of their capital. However, Facebook fought a losing battle, despite its preeminence; too many niche start-ups discovered too many divergent ways for people to share data, much as Facebook supplanted other social networking sites with the “Like” button.

To my memory, it started with Spotify. The depth of artists in its streaming music service, and integration with iTunes (the world’s largest music vendor), made it a natural to unseat Spotify and Last FM, to some degree. Then, subtly, it integrated with Facebook. With the “Like” button conspicuous in its absence, music played on Spotify automatically posts to Facebook profiles. Such convenience! Almost as quickly, another change took place — the integration of the Facebook login API. By the time I got to Spotify, logging in through my Facebook account remained the only method of joining.

Now, the ubiquitous “Like” button, still extant, next to all of the other social sharing buttons — Twitter, Pinterest, WordPress, etc. — has been supplanted in social media by the Facebook login API. Not necessarily an “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” approach, Facebook simply allowed its dominance in the market do the work for it. Other platforms took the opportunity to deepen their integration with Facebook as a means of extending their own user bases.

Facebook, meanwhile, comes out the big winner here. In the social media world, Facebook figured out a way to convince the other platforms that, instead of being out to beat them, it was out to help them. And, in so doing, it’s collected more of our data than we originally may have wished. When we join a new social media platform, the Facebook login API represents such an easy way to cut-out the red tape of re-entering all of our demographic information yet again. The genius of Facebook’s new role is exactly that — through convenience, it has become the hub of our online lives, and it won the battle without firing a shot.

Or, to take the metaphor a little more seriously, after the battle and a brief period of armistice, as Facebook realized the tenuousness of remaining on top, it simply found a way to be elected Benevolent Dictator by its competitors.

Smooth move, Zuckerberg. Smooth move. All your base are now belong to Facebook.