Weekly output: iPhone rumors, remote controls, Kindle Fire, the Cricket iPhone, cable boxes, IE 8, Google alternatives

All three pieces that were on an editor’s screen a week ago went online this week. See how falsely productive I look now? This week’s list includes a new site, CNNMoney. (I enjoy how my freelance situation gives me enough spare time to try to chase down new business and write for different sites and audiences.)

5/29/2012: The Next-iPhone Season Draws Near, So Read Wisely, Discovery News

As you may have read here a year ago, I think obsessing over next-iPhone rumors can be a colossal waste of time, but that doesn’t mean I can’t provide some advice about which of this year’s crop could be true and which seem transparently ridiculous. Just don’t make me write that post every week!

5/30/2012: Your Next Remote May Already Be In Your Pocket, CEA Digital Dialogue

After seeing some interesting experiments in using smartphone and tablet apps to replace remote controls at the Cable Show–which, in turn, followed some similar demos at CES–I thought it was a good time to assess this overdue experimentation in replacing the remote and warn about how it might go awry.

5/31/2012: Rethinking the Kindle Fire, six months later, CNNMoney

Back in January, I had a great conversation with an editor at CNNMoney about the lack of follow-up in tech reviews: If car magazines and sites can set aside the time to write long-term evaluations of cars, why can’t tech sites do the same for gadgets? This six-months-later look at Amazon’s Kindle Fire is the result of that chat. Please compare it to my initial writeup for Discovery–and let me know what other tech products might deserve their own extended eval.

5/31/2012: The ‘Next iPhone’ We Didn’t See Coming, Discovery News

The week’s surprise was seeing Cricket Wireless, the prepaid carrier I reviewed back in 2009 and hadn’t encountered since getting a demo of its Muve music service last spring, get the iPhone. Even more surprising: Learning that Cricket’s version of the iPhone 4S will be unlocked for international use–and then seeing that highly-relevant fact go unmentioned in other stories.

6/3/2012: Off the Grid, Still In the Box: where’s Cable TV headed?, Boing Boing

My Cable Show coverage wrapped up with my second post at Boing Boing, in which I recap some surprisingly positive developments in user interfaces and energy efficiency–and a less-enthralling lack of progress in opening up this market to outside vendors. Having enjoyed the conversation with BB readers in February, my next move after posting this will be to catch up on the feedback I missed earlier today.

6/3/2012: How long should you hang on to IE8?, USA Today

A reader asked if it was okay to keep using Internet Explorer 8 instead of IE 9; as you might expect, I don’t think that’s a great idea. (To answer the “what if you’re still on XP?” replies I’ve already received: That’s not a great idea either. That OS is well past its sell-by date, and I can’t stand to use it myself anymore.) After I endorse Google’s Chrome as a good IE alternative, I explain how to set Chrome to use non-Google search engines as its default.

Last week, I also learned from my site stats here that ABC News’ tech site syndicates these columns. So if the orange highlight atop USAT’s tech section bothers you, maybe the blue-green header at ABC will be more to your liking.

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A cord cutter visits the Cable Show

I spent the first half of this week at a place I wasn’t sure I’d be welcome–the Cable Show, the annual convention put on by the National Cable & Telecommunications Association. After my wife and I canceled our Dish Network TV service back in October of 2009 and realized we could live without pay TV, I’ve repeatedly suggested that other TV subscribers weigh that option.

ImageFortunately, no bouncer tossed me out of the convention center in Boston (disclosure: one reason I attended was the chance to stay with my brother and catch up with his family), and I learned a few things about the market I’ve been avoiding since 2009.

(Yes, even though one of my clients is cable giant Discovery Communications. The irony is duly noted.)

One was that there is an enormous amount of stuff to watch on TV if you’re willing to pay for it–as JetBlue reminded on my way to and from Boston. Another was that the cable industry has recognized that the cable box is not exactly everybody’s  favorite gadget and is working to streamline its interface and reduce its power consumption. (My wrap-up of that awaits an editor’s attention; my photos of the show are up.)

But I also got a reminder that in some fundamental ways, the cable industry thinks it’s doing fine–NCTA president Michael Powell said in his opening keynote that “this industry has never been content to rest on aging business models”–and doesn’t need a fundamental change of course.

I don’t recall hearing the words “à la carte” spoken at any point, nor did I run into any serious discussions about the lesser step of offering subscribers a wider choice of channel bundles. “AllVid”–a nebulous proposal by the Federal Communications Commission for a unified standard for subscription-TV reception that might open the market for tuning and reception hardware–only came up when I asked an FCC staffer about it after a panel on regulatory issues had failed to mention the topic.

And you can continue to forget about paying for real-time online access to shows without the conventional cable subscription required by such Web-viewing options as HBO Go. The industry sees that and other cable-subscription-first “TV Everywhere” offerings as customer-retention moves, not ways to draw in new viewers.

And as for cord-cutting–a topic that drew me to Boston a year ago, when I led a panel about the topic at Free Press’s media-reform conference–the cable industry doesn’t seem to think it’s a serious issue. Chief executives and lower-ranking staffers all repeated that it’s not losing any viewers it would want to keep. For example, during Tuesday’s opening session, Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes said a predicted wave of cord cutting “didn’t happen” except for “economically challenged customers… many of who didn’t even have boadband at home.”

I thought about standing up, waving my hand and shouting “dude, I’m right here!” But I did not.

I might have also said then that my brother and his wife cut the cord last summer (while retaining a Comcast Internet connection). After day one of the show, I went home to my brother’s house and watched a few episodes of NBC’s Community on his paid-for Hulu Plus subscription. After day two, we caught an episode of HBO’s Game Of Thrones that he obtained… somehow.