Thursday, January 8, 2015

The Dumbing Down of the Tech World - CES 2015

It's not just CES that's getting me down... the Tech World slide started with iPhone. The iPhone itself wasn't a problem, it was the first truly useful smartphone. But it made so much money, so fast, that everybody wanted to be Apple. In ways, it is a general problem with corporate culture -- nobody seems to want to make a good product at a reasonable profit anymore. No one wants to solve an actual problem unless there is an obscene amount of money to be made.

I've been increasingly alarmed at Google's Material Design effort. It's not a problem with the general concept (i.e. it looks fine, though it is missing many things you need in a full UI standard), but rather with its infantile over-emphasis of images and white space. Consider this screen shot from my Chromebook looking at Google+.  Really, is this the best they can do? If this is  a "responsive" web app, then the concept totally fails. The format is even worse for communication than Twitter. (Seriously, go look at a page of Tweets and and you'll see a lot more information per page.)

If I wrote
this post
all in
style you
would get
annoyed, right?

Compare the richness of information you had in Google Reader, with the current Google+. It's not that I'm saying there isn't a place for Twitter, Facebook, and G+, but it is a poor way to disseminate news and information. And Material Design was clearly to make a G+ kind of app... it seriously fails when you try to make a standard business app or a productivity tool. The TT-RSS Android app (a replacement for Google Reader) got significantly harder to use when it adopted Material Design.

You see similar things going on with each release of MacOS X. It gets less useful for productive work and more like the clearly consumptive iOS. And Windows 8 is the epitome of the wrong way to "improve" things.

Really, the whole concept of an app working on a phone and all platforms up through and including the desktop is just flat wrong. What you want to do in a phone app standing at a street corner, is often very different from what you want to do at a desktop. "Responsive Design" is a good idea when you're dealing with different phone and tablet sizes... but as quickly as that tablet starts being used in a different setting/mode than a phone, it falls apart.

The current trend with the mobile "first" push results in a dumbing down of desktop apps.

But this dumbing down isn't just at the software level... here's the latest hardware craze:

The article is about "sticks" that aid taking pictures of your self and, if you can believe it, pictures of your own butt (a "belfie"). Now, you might want to say that I'm being an old grump about a trivial fad. After all, these these sorts of silly things have been around for ages (remember Chia Pets, Sea Monkeys, Pet Rocks?). Well, if it were limited to the sorts of companies that make a quick buck off that kind of fad, I'd be much less concerned. However, consider this major effort by Intel at CES:

The computer in a jacket button does at least show how small it is, but really it was just showing how few ideas anyone has about what to actually do with wearables at this point. But the ridiculous part was the "wristband that transforms into a selfie-snapping flying camera drone". Even if you could make this work for an affordable price... it would be dangerous to bystanders. And imagine going to a popular tourist attraction and having thousands of these things flying around. The noise alone would be hideous. What on earth possessed Intel to use that for a demo?

And it's not like it is just Intel: Amazon Prime Air
On my rather short street (say 20 houses), there's probably 10 deliveries a day... imagine if those were all by drone... the noise alone would be enough to make one want to apply for a drone hunting license.

There is a serious lack of imagination in the tech world today. People running around saying silly things like using drones for selfies and package delivery, but missing important and obvious things, like lawns sprinklers that kick on when a dog tries to take a crap in your yard! :-)

But seriously... why are there not $50 WiFi "picture" frames that let me program them from my phone and computers?

Why is it hard for me to tie my weather station information to my lawn sprinklers?

Why are there not intercoms that tie in with smartphones and desktop computers?

Why do smartphones not have a way to get a push notification from my local network?

Why is there no pervasive local network service capability, like Apple's Bonjour, but integrated into all operating systems including mobile?

Why do I stream music and video from the cloud? Wouldn't a caching local server be much more reasonable and efficient? With 4K and 5K videos isn't this problem just going to get worse?

Why do things like Google/Microsoft services need to be in the "cloud" at all? Wouldn't it be much more efficient for people to have a $300 server in their house they normally access and Google services are really just a backup/syncing mechanism?

Other than for Google's advertising purposes, why is your service data stored unencrypted outside of your own personal devices?

Why does my HVAC system know how to heat and cool, but does not know how to bring in hot or cool air from outside the house if that's the proper thing to do?

Why can't I use my smartphone's NFC to open the garage door, or my front door?

Why does my car's door only open for a special dongle, why can't it use my cell phone?

Why does my car not know it's me and not my wife (and set things accordingly)?

Why is it so hard to play music from my phone to speakers on my desktop machine?

Why do Bluetooth speakers only work from one device at a time?

When I walk into my house, my Fitibit automatically finds a system and syncs. Why isn't that the norm for everything else?

In a world where 8 terabyte disk drives cost $260, why do I even have to think about backups? Why isn't there a standard whereby all my devices automatically find a backup server and do the right thing? Why doesn't that server backup itself (encrypted) to the cloud during times of little usage to provide offsite backups?

Why do all my clocks not all auto-sync and get Daylight Savings Time correct?

Why do I get "phone" calls through at least 4 different means?

Really, the mind boggles at the possibilities, and all Intel can come up with is jacket buttons of no real use and wrist-borne-selfie-drones?

The tech industry needs to quit chasing flying-car-esque dreams of questionable value and ad-mineable social twaddle. The focus needs to be on things that actually improve people's lives, resource efficiency and productivity.