Stories by Author

Stewart Wolpin

Stewart Wolpin has been writing about consumer electronics for more than 30 years and has attended more than 40 CESs (there used to be a summer show in Chicago). He is a judge for the Consumer Electronics Association Hall of Fame and writes the bios of the electees. He also has written on small stakes poker ("The Rules of Neighborhood Poker") and baseball ("Bums No More: The Championship Season of the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers").

 
HDTV-based video telephony has always been a holy grail of sorts. It's such a natural milieu for video chatting — big screen to get a broad view of the whole fam damily and all that. But no TV-based video telephony system has been taken off, for one reason: You always had to buy two gadgets to attach to your HDTV to video telephonate, one for you and one for whomever you wanted to video telephonate with. What we want is to video telephonate as we do on our laptops and desktop PCs, with anyone anytime, regardless of the HDTV we own and regardless of the video telephony gadget we have connected to it (if any). Several recent developments — and a future trend too long in the unveiling — may expand this limited HDTV video telephony landscape and jump-start our (I believe) latent desire to WANT to video telephonate via our HDTVs.
 
Anyone who works in an office these days has likely run into this: your beloved smartphone won't sync with your employer's secure email client. As a result, sometimes companies make you carry a separate phone just for business. LG wants to make it so that you already are carrying that separate phone, just a button press away.
 
Barnes & Noble thinks you'll spend $50 more to buy its new Nook Tablet rather than Amazon's Fire, both of which go on sale sometime next week. Apparently B&N also believes the original Nook Color is equal to the Amazon Fire now that both are priced at $199. I think Barnes & Noble has lost its mind. Does B&N realize that for us to choose the Tablet over the Fire it had to either blow us away product-wise (it didn't), at least match Amazon Fire's price (it didn't), or come up with a completely different value proposition (it didn't)? Instead, Barnes & Noble figures to fight Fire with, literally, flash. Allow me to douse Tablet's not so flaming advantage.
 
Like the prize inside a Crackerjacks or kids' cereal box, Siri, Apple's voice-controlled digital assistant, is the raison d'être for buying an iPhone 4S, especially if you already own a 4. A cult of personality has already arisen around Siri. Numerous bloggers have cited her snappy answers to stupid questions, such as "What are you wearing?" "Where can I hide a body?" "Open the pod bay doors," "Will you marry me?" "What are you wearing?" etc. But I hope you aren't thinking of buying an 4S just to get a really fancy Magic 8 Ball. Siri does a lot more than wittily answer esoteric questions. She could represent the first true user interface paradigm shift since the iPhone and its capacitive touchscreen, and perhaps since the Mac and the Graphical User Interface 27 years ago. And like any paradigm shift, Siri will change how you behave, and introduce a whole new set of social rules of engagement.
 
Today has been proclaimed Black Turtleneck Friday as an homage to Steve Jobs, timed to coincide with today's launch of the iPhone 4S. I've washed my black turtleneck and am wearing it as I test the 4S. Silly, perhaps, but it's my way, our way, a way, to acknowledge our appreciation and respect. I'm not the only one who feels we've lost a singular presence in our world. Jobs' visage graces the covers of nearly every major national periodical — Time, Newsweek, Bloomberg Business Week, Fortune, The Economist, The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, even People, somewhat ironic considered how guarded Jobs was about his personal life. I can't remember the last time a non-politician or non-performer garnered such widespread regard from the news and business press. But the world has a short attention span. Jobs is venerated today, but fickle history will be the final judge of Jobs' memory.
 
Editor's Note: With respect to Steve Jobs, we'd like to be clear that this post was written before his death. The criticism here would not change, but there are no parallels between Stewart's take on the iPhone 4S and what's happened. As I mentioned I might be when last I bloviated about the new, then-pending iPhone: Disa-POINT-ed. I've GOT an iPhone 4. I don't WANT another iPhone 4. I've waited patiently for 18 months, a third longer than necessary, just to be told I can get ANOTHER iPhone 4? Seriously, a 3.5-inch screen? That's practically a peep hole compared to today's Android phones, which all seem to have 4-inch screens, and the Galaxy S II models from Sprint and upcoming from T-Mobile have 4.52-inch screens — that's more than an inch larger than iPhone 4S's suddenly dwarfish display. And you're trying to tell me I won't be able to tell the difference between 3G 14.4 Mbps EV-DO or HSPA and HSPA+, LTE or WiMAX? Really? Sure, and Charley Parker and Kenny G? Both saxophonists, no difference. And we're supposed to seduced by Siri? She looks and sounds clever, but all I can think about is Skynet, and I get the sense I'll feel and look as silly talking to my iPhone as Scotty did in Star Trek IV talking to a Mac through the mouse. "Computer?" Now, if Siri had Majel Barrett's voice… All I can say is, horse pettuties. Okay, all I can say that is printable. So is there anything good about the iPhone 4S? Yeah, a couple of things.
 
Ali v. Frazier? Federer v. Nadal? Yanks v. Red Sox? None of these epic sporting confrontations can compete with the upcoming struggle between Apple and Amazon. As you may know, Amazon announced its long-rumored, long-awaited, long-delayed Android Kindle tablet/e-reader, the Kindle Fire, which will go on sale November 15. Next week, Apple will announce it's long-rumored, long-awaited, long-delayed iPhone 5, likely to go on sale around October 13 or 14. Of course, this battle of behemoths isn't between the Fire and the iPhone, but between the Fire and the iPad. Or at least that's how many in both the tech and media in general present it. But Kindle Fire v. iPad will not be the titanic struggle folks think it will be. Fire will claim a far different victim.

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