Weekly output: iPhone 12 (x3), Pippa Malmgren, sustainable online commerce, Fig O’Reilly, Apple vs. Telegram

In case you hadn’t heard, Apple announced a new set of iPhones this week.

10/13/2020: iPhone 12, Al Jazeera

The Arabic-language channel had me on to discuss the key features of this new lineup, starting with 5G. I felt sorry for the translator–the differences between millimeter-wave, low-band and mid-band 5G are confusing enough to native speakers of English.

10/14/2020: On Apple iPhone 12, it’s a battle of the 5G bands among AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, USA Today

I’m still puzzled by all the airtime Verizon got at Apple’s event, because its millimeter-wave 5G service increasingly looks like an epic disappointment. T-Mobile’s mid-band makes a better case for 5G–if you’re in one of the markets with the superior 5G flavor that T-Mobile has yet to highlight on its own coverage maps.

10/14/2020: Fireside: Friends or Foes? The impact of AI & Robotics on the Modern Workforce, Dublin Tech Summit Virtual

The first of three pre-recorded talks I did for this online conference had me interviewing science advisor and roboticist Pippa Malmgren about the future of drones–on Earth and across the solar system.

10/14/2020: Panel Discussion: Shopping for Sustainability, Dublin Tech Summit Virtual

My second DTS panel–but the last one I recorded–had me quizzing Etsy sustainability director Chelsea Mozen and Zalando product head Mike Mulligan about how these two online platforms are working to make their operations and their supply chains carbon neutral. We stuck around afterwards in the conference’s chat forum to answer audience questions.

10/14/2020: Fireside: Reach for the Stars, Dublin Tech Summit Virtual

As I noted in opening my talk with Fionnghuala (Fig for short) O’Reilly, who among things helps make NASA’s Space Apps challenge happen, the two of us share a few things in common: We both went to college in D.C., hold Irish passports, have pronunciation-defying names and know the joy of experiencing space launches.

10/15/2020: Apple To Telegram: Delete Posts Exposing The Belarus Dictatorship’s Enforcers, Forbes

I had meant to write this post last week, but held off on it to get some input from outside experts. Fortunately, nothing changed with the underlying story of Apple making the bizarre decision to tell the developer of a social app to delete individual posts allegedly doxing people propping up the dictatorship of Alexander Lukashenko in Belarus.

10/17/2020: SmartTechCheck Podcast (10-16-20), Mark Vena

I returned to the podcast Vena hosts for his employer Moor Insights & Strategy to talk about the pros and cons of Apple’s iPhone 12 lineup with fellow tech journalists Stewart Wolpin and John Quain.

Weekly output: social-media misinformation, Comcast voice remote vulnerability, Cambridge Analytica, T-Mobile 5G, phone plans

I had at least one work event on my calendar each workday of this week, which has not happened in quite some time. Since CES, to be exact.

10/6/2020: Social-media misinformation, Al Jazeera

The Arabic-language network had me on for half an hour to talk, once again, about governments staging misinformation campaigns on Twitter and other social networks. 

10/7/2020: Hackers could have used Comcast’s XR11 voice remote to spy on homes, Fast Company

The security firm Guardicore figured out how to load malware onto a widely-used Comcast remote control that would turn its voice input into a remote eavesdropping tool–and then Comcast promptly responded to their disclosure and fixed the flaws that made this possible. 

10/8/2020: The Real Problem Wasn’t Cambridge Analytica, But The Data Brokers That Outlived It, Forbes

An online talk by David Carroll, the New York professor who went to court in the U.K. to try to force Cambridge Analytica to disclose what data it had collected about him, gave me an opportunity to revisit everybody’s least favorite political consultancy.

10/9/2020: T-Mobile’s 5G sales pitch continues to miss on mid-band , Fierce Wireless

T-Mobile staged a bit of a dog-and-pony show for journalists about its wireless ambitions that had some entertaining moments but left some big questions about its 5G strategy unanswered. 

10/9/2020: The Best Cell Phone Plans, Wirecutter

I updated this guide to cover slight changes to the “unlimited” plans at Verizon, Mint Mobile’s new “unlimited” plan, Cricket’s addition of a 5G plan, the Verizon prepaid brand Visible, and a set of simpler plans at TracFone.

Weekly output: 5G frequency farming, delivery robots, Blacklight privacy assessment of Forbes, pay-TV apps

My major non-work accomplishment this week: voting. The ballot I filled out Monday represented my earliest ever vote in a presidential election. And my easiest choice ever.

9/21/2020: Faster 5G is on its way, and here’s how we’ll get it, Fast Company

This explainer about the Federal Communications Commission’s efforts to free up more mid-band 5G spectrum kicked off a useful Twitter conversation about phone compatibility when PCMag’s Sascha Segan questioned the willingness of the carriers to certify existing phones to use on these upcoming 5G bands.

9/22/2020: Contactless delivery robots may soon hit a sidewalk near you, Fast Company

Writing this piece allowed me to circle back to some of the same experts I’d consulted for two earlier features on smart cities for the Urban Land Institute’s magazine.

9/23/2020: A Privacy Watchdog Built A Tool To Show How Sites Track You. Here’s What It Says About Us., Forbes

When the privacy-focused news site The Markup released a Web tool called Blacklight to inspect the tracking practices at news sites, I had to point it at the site where I do most of my writing about media issues these days. The results were not flattering for Forbes. As for this blog, Blacklight found 12 ad trackers and 23 third-party cookies just now but no other tracking–thanks in part to my removing Facebook widgets from here.

9/27/2020: Do you really need to rent a cable box? No, there’s an app for that, USA Today

I revisited an issue I’d last covered in 2017 and was pleased to find serious progress among major TV providers in providing apps that can take the place of rented boxes–especially Comcast, the biggest of them all.

Updated 9/28/2020 to fix a broken link.

Weekly output: Apple One, Apple’s September news, TikTok and WeChat ban, TikTok-Oracle deal

Having Apple news play such a large role in my work this week reminded me a little of older, perhaps simpler times. Having the Trump administration’s clumsy attempts to suppress TikTok and WeChat eat up much of the rest of the past several days made it clear that we live in different times.

9/15/2020: Apple As A Service: With Apple One, Life In Its Orbit Comes With A Monthly Price Tag, Forbes

My take on Apple’s venture into selling bundles of its services: By making iCloud backup the least-generous part of the two cheaper Apple One plans, Apple is putting the entertainment cart before the storage horse.

9/17/2020: SmartTechCheck Podcast (9-16-20), Mark Vena

I returned to the podcast of one of my tech-analyst friends to unpack Apple’s Tuesday announcements.

9/18/2020: Trump’s Partial TikTok And WeChat Ban Tip-Toes Into Chinese-Style Censorship, Forbes

In addition to letting me vent about the unhelpfulness of the Trump administration’s attempt to punish these two mobile apps, this post provided a useful demonstration of the limits of Twitter to promote a story. As in, having people with a combined follower total well into the hundreds of thousands tweet or retweet links to the post has yet to get its page-view total into four digits.

9/20/2020: What Trump’s TikTok deal means for privacy, Al Jazeera

I asked my interpreter upfront how you’d say “crony capitalism” in Arabic, and then the host only asked about what this deal would further protect the privacy of TikTok users. My answer: it doesn’t appear to do any such thing.

Weekly output: Coffee with a Journalist, free PBS streaming, Microsoft report on election meddling, Oracle buying TikTok

After returning to the skies Friday, Sunday saw me return to a part of a bike trail I’d neglected for shamefully long–the Washington & Old Dominion trail west of Arlington. I’m so glad I decided to bike for longer than usual today.

9/8/2020: Coffee with a Journalist: Rob Pegoraro, Fast Company, OnePitch

I recorded my conversation with host Beck Bamberger in mid-August for this PR-service firm’s podcast. Listen in and you’ll learn a few things about how I work, where ideas come from and what sort of PR pitches I find of interest, or at least not annoying.

9/8/2020: You Can Now (Probably) Stream Your Local PBS Station For Free, Forbes

I came to this story a few days late, but so did everybody else, thanks to the apparent absence of any PR effort by PBS on behalf of its introduction of free live streaming of its affiliates in almost 90 markets. I updated the post after publication to note PBS’s quick addition of support for Apple TV as well as its iOS, Android and Kindle Fire apps and to correct one error in the original writeup.

9/11/2020: Microsoft: Hackers from Russia, China and Iran targeted the presidential elections, Al Jazeera

The Arabic-language news network asked if I could comment on Thursday’s report from Microsoft finding continued attempts by Russia, China and Iran to meddle with the election. As you may be able to tell from the background, I recorded this in an airport–Columbus, the midpoint of Friday’s 9/11 observance. Without a tripod handy, I realized I could use the outside pocket on the old United Airlines amenity kit I use to stash cables and chargers to hold my phone steady.

9/13/2020: Oracle buying TikTok, Al Jazeera

AJ’s English-language news network had me on live Sunday night to talk about the unexpected outcome of the Trump administration’s campaign to force a sale of TikTok’s U.S. operations: Oracle will make that purchase, despite its lack of experience running consumer apps, much less a social network. I don’t see how that can rate as good news for any TikTok user.

Updated 9/16/2020 to add my Coffee with a Journalist appearance, which I’d forgotten to add mainly because it had been that long since I recorded my spot. 

Weekly output: a 5G reality check, sports network fees without sports

Yesterday afforded us the rare privilege of several hours spent in a different part of the greater Washington area–Harpers Ferry. That historic town at the confluence of the Potomac and the Shenandoah is as picturesque they say, and it’s close enough that I have zero excuse not to have visited it before. On the other hand, it’s good that after 30-plus years around here I’m still discovering new places.

9/4/2020: Two promising 5G trends: $200 5G phones and unlimited home broadband, Fast Company

My coverage of the scaled-back IFA tech show got an unexpected boost when Qualcomm offered Fast Company a chance to quiz their president Cristiano Amon about their announcements at that event. I enjoyed my conversation with the executive I’d met IRL at an IFA reception last year, and I also appreciated getting some realistic talk about which parts of the 5G formula actually look to be mass-market material on a global scale.

9/6/2020: NBA, NHL, MLB fans sidelined: Will TV subscribers ever get money back after coronavirus shortened seasons?, USA Today

I wrote an update to the column I did in April that didn’t break an enormous amount of news–AT&T’s reply almost matched the one they provided then word-for-word. But I did get some more specific assurances from Comcast about when subscribers might get compensation for months of paying sports-network fees that have not brought anywhere near the usual quota of live sports.

Weekly output: password managers, exposure-notification apps, talking tech with Mark Vena

Six months ago, I expected to be busy tonight packing for the IFA tech trade show. But although that conference in Berlin is proceeding on a drastically-scaled-down basis, I’m not flying to Germany tomorrow because of the European Union’s ban on Americans traveling to the EU. Given how thoroughly we’ve botched this pandemic, I can’t blame them for imposing that restriction.

8/24/2020: Extra security or extra risk? Pros and cons of password managers, TechRepublic

I shared my experience with password managers–mainly LastPass and 1Password–with TechRepublic’s Veronica Combs for this overview of the advantages and disadvantages of these services.

8/25/2020: COVID-19 tracking apps, supported by Apple and Google, begin showing up in app stores, USA Today

Writing a lengthy report for O’Reilly about contact-tracing apps did not mean I could write this much shorter piece from memory and my existing notes. In addition to getting useful adoption data from Virginia’s Department of Public Health about its COVIDWISE app, I also reported that VDH plans to support a national key-server project from the Association of Public Health Laboratories that will let these state-developed apps relay and receive warnings of potential COVID-19 exposure across state lines.

8/28/2020: SmartTechCheck Podcast (8-28-20), Mark Vena

I talked about exposure-notification apps, the future of tech events like IFA, 5G wireless and Apple silicon with my analyst pal at Moor Insights & Strategy–another tech type who would have been packing for Berlin tonight but is instead grounded. You may notice a break in the recording about halfway through, when I had to get a glass of water so I could resume speaking normally. Note to self: Before sitting down to record a 45-minute podcast, make sure a glass of water is on the desk.

Weekly output: exposure notification apps, Saudi dissidents exposed by Twitter breach, social platforms and politicians

Facing yet another weekend with little to set itself apart from those before, I homebrewed a batch of beer Friday night. Those four hours of work mean I can spend another three hours bottling all this ale next weekend–but then I should have about five gallons of beer taking up space in the basement.

8/17/2020: Privacy Optimization Meets Pandemic Tracking, O’Reilly Media

The report on coronavirus-tracing apps that I filed in draft form in early July–the first assignment I’ve had since college to be budgeted in terms of pages instead of words or column inches–finally got published. You can download a free copy of this 19-page evaluation of the potential of mobile software built on the Apple/Google Exposure Notification API by providing a minimal level of employer-related data.

8/19/2020: Twitter breach led to arrests of Saudi dissidents, Al Jazeera

The Qatar-based news network had me on to discuss Ryan Gallagher’s report for Bloomberg about how a 2015 case of Saudi spies working at Twitter led to arrests of dissidents in Saudi Arabia. The point I made–which hopefully came through in the live overdubbing into Arabic–is that Twitter can’t allow completely anonymous use if it’s going to police fake accounts, so it needs to ensure that only well-vetted employees can see the personally identifying information of its users.

8/20/2020: We Think Social Platforms Censor Political Views. Because Politicians Want Us To., Forbes

President Trump served up a news peg for this writeup of a study from the Pew Research Center about perceptions of social platforms’ treatment of political speech, and not just by posting his usual complaints about the unfairness of Twitter. Instead, he essentially played footsie in a Wednesday-evening press conference with the QAnon conspiracy-theory cult that Twitter and Facebook now rightly consider harmful.

Weekly output: Facebook and politically-tied local news, smartphone plans

This week was a lot less hectic than the week before, and yet most of the items on my household to-do list remain undone.

8/13/2020: No, Facebook Isn’t Getting Political Clickbait Out Of Its News Tab, Forbes

I took a closer look at a new Facebook policy about political propaganda disguised as news and found two huge holes in it. I was pleasantly surprised to see the tech-news aggregator Techmeme give this post a shout-out, but a plug from that influential site doesn’t seem to have graced me with a lot of extra page views.

8/13/2020: The Best Cell Phone Plans, Wirecutter

This update to the smartphone-plans guide I’ve been maintaining since 2014 leads with the same two picks as before, but the Verizon plan we endorse as the best choice for most people is no longer limited to a single line, while T-Mobile’s advantage for high data use includes a big lead in usable 5G connectivity. (We thought about giving our best-for-most-people nod to an AT&T plan that offered more data but cost more, but “don’t buy more than you need” is a big Wirecutter principle.) This update also benefited from a more systematic process of ranking all of the services we considered in 11 different categories, from coverage to to cost to customer-satisfaction scores.