Stories by Author

Stewart Wolpin

writer

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").

 
All of you reading this who own a smartphone, raise your hand. Hmm, yeah, that's what I thought — DVICE readers are heeled, as they used to say in the old west. You who didn't raise your hands, you stupid phone owners — no, I mean the phones are stupid, not you — after all, if there are smart phones, there must be stupid phones, right? Okay — how about smart-challenged phones. In all events, those of you with not-smart-phones are now an endangered minority. According to Pew Research, 53 percent of Americans say they now own a smartphone. To me, owning a stupid phone here in the second decade of 21st century is akin to someone in the 1950s insisting on mounting a horse to satisfy their primary transportation. So why haven't you joined the modern era and gotten yourself a smartphone? And why aren't all you smartphone owners (you can put your hands down now) making like smartphone-toting St. Pauls and proselytizing among the non-smartphone believers?
 
At what point will we be able to casually chat with our gadgets like the crew of the USS Enterprise does with its computer on Star Trek, or like Dave Bowman and Frank Poole do in 2001 before HAL went violently bonkers? We're taking baby steps toward normalized machine-human relations with Apple's Siri, Ford's Sync, the ivee clock radio, Samsung's voice-controlled HDTVs and IBM's "Jeopardy"-champion Watson. Perhaps a further step will be taken by the long-rumored Siri-controlled Apple HDTV later this year. But we're still a long way from considering colloquies with our appliances as normal as bar codes, Wi-Fi and touchscreens. The question is, just how long of a way? And just how conversational do we want our gadgets to become before paranoiac imaginings of malevolent self-awareness develop?
 
Have you seen the lines at the box office? It's an avalanche! It's a torrent! It's the biggest hit on Broadway! Wait, that was "Springtime for Hitler." I meant to describe the third annual avalanche and torrent at Apple stores — and Verizon, AT&T, Wal-Mart, Best Buy and other retailers — that started selling the new iPad 3 this morning. (Yeah, I know — "iPad 3" verboten. Tough nuggies, that's what it is and that's what I'm calling it.) The question is, should you join the avalanche, stick with your current iPad or — heavens forbid! — remain tablet-less? Not surprisingly, I have some thoughts on these various usage case scenarios upon actually handling and seeing the iPad 3.
 
What were the brains at Apple thinking by not giving the "new iPad" a name? Are we just supposed to call it "the new iPad" now? That's how Apple's Web site refers to it — with a lowercase "n" in "new," so it's not even a name name. It's pretentious is what it is. But beyond pretension, calling it "the new iPad" is like referring to a new Canon camera as "the new Canon camera," or a new Cadillac as "the new Cadillac" or a new pair of Christian Louboutin shoes as "the new FABULOUS Christian Louboutin shoes." Can you be vaguer? You are aware there are more than one iPad model, right? Apparently not.
 
Straddling the border of north central Virginia and southeastern West Virginia is a 13,000-square-mile mountainous region known as the United States National Radio Quiet Zone. To protect the clutch of radio telescopes located within its borders from radio interference, the federal government highly regulates wireless technology, which means no cellphones and few Wi-Fi hotspots. Sleepy towns within this quiet zone might soon be invaded by folks trying to escape the onslaught of wireless technologies. You see, not only are cellphones suspected (emphasis on suspected) of causing cancer, but some scientists are now claiming Wi-Fi should be seen as a health hazard. But there are equally vociferous scientists who say all these Wi-Fi Chicken Littles are foolish fowl. So, is Wi-Fi harmful to you? This is an imponderable on the level of asking if animals have souls, or why we park in a driveway but drive on a parkway, or Coke or Pepsi. Of course, I have all the answers.
 
Robert Moses, a man who never learned how to drive, ironically was the greatest road builder in history. From the early 1930s to 1968, Moses built nearly every major highway in and around New York City and Long Island, and all the bridges and tunnels attached thereto (and lots of other stuff). Moses also may have invented the traffic jam. To everyone's shock, a Moses highway designed to alleviate traffic would suddenly fill with it, forcing him to build more highways, which in turn got filled with traffic, forcing him to build more highways, which then got filled with more traffic… I bring up Mr. Moses and his crowded highway exploits because of a recent post week on CNN Money, "Sorry, America: Your Wireless Airways Are Full." Welcome to the spectrum crunch reporting party, mainstream media. It seems Moses' self-perpetuating highway expansion cycle is repeating itself on our cellular network highways. Each time our smartphones and tablets become more powerful, we pull more content through the 3G and 4G spectrum, encouraging smartphone makers to make more powerful smartphones, encouraging us we pull more content through the 3G and 4G spectrum… Cellular spectrum is finite. We're filling it like a closet with junk — or a new road everyone wants to drive on. But a solution is coming: Wi-Fi to the rescue!
 
A funny thing happened at Toy Fair this week. Not funny as in funny toys or funny games, but funny as in a sudden but fundamental shift in how we will play from now on. Toy giants such as Hasbro and Mattel, middling companies trying to find profitable new niches and new companies all are creating a new type of product — apps (some Android, most Apple iOS) combined to interact with some sort of physical real-life objects to create a new virtual play experience. For instance, Hasbro has its Lazer Tag blaster, into which you clip an iPhone or iPod to create a heads-up display. Mattel has Hot Wheels designed to roll over a course right on top of an iPad screen. WowWee's AppGear games include ZombieBurbz, little collectable figurines that are set on a table and "seen" in the virtual iPad game. These new app-based toys relates to the on-going controversy about conditions in Apple's Chinese factories, including the pending iPad 3. As part of the conversation, many critics are asking why, with Apple's enormous profits, isn't the company bringing these manufacturing jobs back to the U.S. What's not being discussed is all the perhaps millions of jobs Apple already has produced for the U.S. economy.

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