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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").

 
Under normal circumstances, I wouldn't use this space to simply describe a new product, in this case two new products — the new Buffalo AirStation WZR-D1800H ($179.99) 802.11ac router and its sibling, the WLI-H4-D1300 wireless media bridge (also $179.99), which went on sale last week. But I'll make an exception for these two products, the first commercially available Wi-Fi 802.11ac gear. Aka "gigabit Wi-Fi," these and other pending 802.11ac gear promises to deliver Wi-Fi transmitted content at between 1.3 and 1.75 Gbps, around twice as fast as today's fastest 802.11n routers. Why the exception? Because these products portend a momentous change in our wireless communications lives. I'll explain this hyperbolic pronouncement — and what a "wireless media bridge" is — after the jump.
 
Since way before the iPhone was a gleam in Steve Jobs's eye, back when the Motorola RAZR was the mobile phone du jour, financial institutions, mobile handset makers and carriers have dreamed of turning your cellphone into a mobile wallet, to use your smartphone the same way you use a credit or debit card. Finally, this year we may finally reach this near field communication (NFC) nirvana, of simply waving our smartphone over a retail payment terminal instead of a credit or debit card to pay for our copiously consumed commodities. There's only one problem. Using your smartphone as a credit or debit card replacement may be more trouble than it's worth.
 
New Orleans, LA - Hurtling down the highway in excess of 55 mph is a tricky business — controlling the temp, futzing with the radio, talking, texting, sipping a drink or chomping on a sandwich, checking the GPS, selecting what music to play from your iPod or smartphone — and, oh yeah, watching the road. Monster wants to eliminate at least one of these driving distractions — controlling your music.
 
New Orleans, LA — There are Bluetooth stereo earbuds, such as a favorite of mine, the Plantronics BackBeat Go. Then, there are noise canceling headphones, which I'm not a big fan of — earbuds that fit securely cancel ambient noise and have no need for a battery to run. But, since Bluetooth stereo earbuds require batteries to begin with, why not combine the wireless connectivity and noise canceling?
 
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.

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