Weekly output: Huawei’s IFA pitch, broadband buildout, Verizon One Unlimited for iPhone, iPhone 12 and 13 discounts, pay-TV warnings, Super Bowl ads, Mark Vena podcast

A week after I got back from Berlin, I finished my Flickr album of photos from the event, plus another one of Berlin scenery. That comes just in time for me to get back on a plane to Europe: Monday night, I fly to Copenhagen for the TechBBQ conference, at which I’ll be one of the judges at a startup pitching session.

9/5/2022: Huawei exec generates reality distortion field in IFA keynote, Light Reading

The head of Huawei’s Western European consumer business gave some answers in this onstage Q&A that seemed not just detached from reality but delusional.

9/6/2022: NTIA Head: At First, New Broadband Maps Are ‘Not Going to Be as Good’ as We Want, PCMag

While the federal government will soon have much more accurate maps of broadband availability, it apparently won’t use them to distribute broadband-buildout subsidies until localites get a chance to challenge perceived inaccuracies.

9/7/2022: ‘One Unlimited for iPhone’ Is Verizon’s Sixth Unlimited-Data Phone Plan, PCMag

The lede here wrote itself: “Verizon now needs both hands to count all its unlimited-data smartphone plans.”

Screenshot of story as seen in USA Today's iPad app, with the lead art being an Apple-provided photo showing five iPhone 14 handsets in different colors.9/7/2022: Why now’s a great time to grab an iPhone 12 or 13 at a discount after iPhone 14 launch, USA Today

This explainer of the potential appeal of the newly-discounted iPhone 12 and 13 got a quick update after AT&T clarified that only the new iPhone 14 would be supported on the 3.45 GHz 5G spectrum it’s now deploying (which is not the same as its C-band 5G but also significant to its network plans).

9/8/2022: MoffettNathanson raises red flags about cord cutting, Fierce Video

On another day when I was filling in at my trade-pub client, I wrote up a research report warning media firms and pay-TV providers that cord cutting and advertising revenue each stood to get a good deal worse, while sports-rights deals would probably get even more expensive.

9/8/2022: Fox says Super Bowl spots are going, going, almost gone, Fierce Video

And speaking of sports-rights deals and advertising revenue, Fox Sports says it’s sold almost all of the spots for the next Super Bowl.

9/9/2022: S02 E35 – SmartTechCheck Podcast, Mark Vena

I rejoined this industry-analyst host and my fellow tech journalists John Quain and Stewart Wolpin to discuss IFA (Vena and Quain also covered it in Berlin) and Apple’s product-launch event Wednesday. One point I made about the latter: While Apple’s satellite-SOS feature looks fascinating, Apple requiring a subscription after the first two years raises a risk that somebody will set out for a wilderness hike with an iPhone that just turned two years old, then realize they can’t use that feature to summon help.

Weekly output: SLS explained, skepticism for Warner Bros. Discovery, wireless carrier cell-site location data retention, security-patch severity, Twitter opens Circle feature, Samsung’s 8K pitch at IFA, electronic eccentricities at IFA

This week’s trip to Berlin and back to cover the IFA trade show (reminder, with the event organizers covering most of my travel costs) finally allowed me to experience Berlin Brandenburg Airport as a passenger instead of as a zombie-airport tourist. I can’t say I miss Tegel Airport’s weird system of having separate security screenings at every gate.

Fast Company SLS explainer8/29/2022: NASA’s Space Launch System—whenever it comes—will mark the end of an era for U.S. spaceflight, Fast Company

This post needed a quick rewrite before posting to cover Monday’s scrub of the planned Artemis I launch of the SLS. After a second scrub Saturday, this headline remains current. And it appears that I have a renewed opportunity to see this giant rocket fly in person

8/29/2022: Bloomberg Intelligence raises flags about Warner Bros. Discovery, Fierce Video

I wrote this post during last week’s flurry of filling in at my trade-pub client, but it didn’t get published until Monday.

8/29/2022: Here’s How Long Your Wireless Carrier Holds on to Your Location Data, PCMag

I wrote this from a lounge at Dulles Airport before my departure for Berlin, but it helped that I’ve covered this topic before.

8/31/2022: Security patches for your iPhone come all the time. But should you be told which are important?, USA Today

This isn’t the first time a column for USAT started with a tech-support query from a relative.

9/1/2022: Twitter opens Circle to all users, Al Jazeera

The Arabic-language news channel asked if I could cover Twitter’s introduction of this new audience-selection tool. It’s an interesting topic (in part because Twitter has basically reinvented the Circles feature of Google+), but doing this TV hit from IFA required me to find a quiet spot with bandwidth. I found that spot in the landscaped Sommergarten in the middle of the Berlin Messe.

9/2/2022: Samsung Shows Off a Video Unicorn at IFA: A TV Series in 8K, PCMag

The dismal 8K sales stats I reference in the closing paragraphs are really something, and I’m saying that as a longtime skeptic of the 8K value proposition.

9/3/2022: Ovens with eyes, a chameleon of a fridge, and other electronic eccentricities at IFA, Fierce Electronics

I wrote this recap of IFA oddities–a staple of my coverage of the show over the last 10 years–for this sibling publication of Fierce Video.

New transit adventures in Berlin

BERLIN

The IFA tech trade show is not like CES in many ways, but transportation tops the list. Unlike the gadget gathering that’s owned my January schedule since 1998, Europe’s biggest electronics event takes place in a city with an immensely more advanced and useful transit network.

I thought I’d figured out Berlin’s expanse of U-Bahn, S-Bahn, tram, bus and regional rail lines fairly well, but this week here has taught me a couple of new tricks.

Photo shows a €9 ticket held in front of an arriving S-Bahn train at the Hackescher Markt station.

My first update came from taking advantage of Germany’s move to ease the pain of inflation, the €9 universal transit ticket it introduced in June. While I only had two days to capitalize on that promotion, buying one at a ticket-vending machine at Berlin Brandenburg Airport Tuesday still dramatically cut my trip costs over those last two days of August.

I enjoyed being reacquainted with the things I like about taking trains in Berlin. The rail system reaches almost everywhere (the now-shuttered Tegel Airport being a notable exception), trains come so often that waiting more than 10 minutes (as I had to do on the U5 Tuesday) comes as a shock instead of the usual, and the fare system prices every trip the same regardless of which exact service you take.

Thursday morning, I bought a 24-hour ticket at a ticket-vending machine. But then I screwed up by not getting a second one earlier than Friday evening, when crowds of IFA attendees lined up at the Messe Süd station’s TVMs. Only then did I think of downloading Deutsche Bahn’s app and using that to buy a ticket and avoid the unlikely embarrassment of having a fare inspector bust me for riding without paying.

Installing this app took only a minute or so, thanks to T-Mobile now offering full-speed roaming in the 11 countries in which its corporate parent Deutsche Telekom provides wireless service. Setting up an account and buying a 24-hour ticket took longer, thanks to the app demanding an account registration that included my street address and then not letting me select a credit card stored in Google Pay. But by the time I was three stops out of Messe Sud–the barrier-free, proof-of-payment regime let me board without paying upfront–I had my ticket.

And I’d learned that DB’s app cuts passengers a tiny break on fares, with a 24-hour ticket in Berlin’s A and B zones costing €8.80 instead of the TVM cost of €9.20. That makes DB Navigator a download I don’t mind having added to my small collection of transit payment apps—a set that now includes software for Austin and Las Vegas, but somehow not the city I’ve called home for more than three decades.

All vaxxed up and nowhere to go (especially for work)

Thursday was my V-day: two weeks elapsed since my second dose of the Moderna coronavirus vaccine, and therefore cleared for takeoff into a normal life. But I still feel like I’m on the runway, if not still on the taxiway waiting for my clearance.

I’m blaming work. I had thought it would be nice to celebrate this milestone Friday by having a drink at an actual bar indoors, but I had deadlines to meet that kept me at the keyboard until almost dinnertime. One reason why I still had fingers at the keyboard that late: I spent part of Friday afternoon volunteering at a vaccination clinic, which was arguably a better way to mark the occasion anyway. I did at least wear only one cloth mask instead of doubling up as I had before.

Photo shows my COVID-19 vaccination card atop my new passport and a route map from United Airlines' Hemispheres magazine.

(Another difference between now and my first volunteer shift in early April: Positive test rates have plummeted to well under 2% in Arlington and D.C.)

Work also factors into this in-between feeling, because it’s become so obvious that business gatherings will be a trailing indicator of America’s victory over this disease. As I type this, my also-fully-vaccinated neighbors are having people over on their back deck and that seems completely normal, but I have no idea when the first (non-pandemic-denying) think tank, trade association, PR firm or other corporate outpost around here will dare to host an in-person briefing, luncheon or reception.

The forecast is also fuzzy for in-person conferences. Wednesday, the management of the IFA trade show announced that they had to cancel this year’s edition of that electronics event in Berlin. I had thought they had good odds of pulling it off, considering how fast Germany is getting vaccine doses into arms. But IFA is a global show, and many of the countries that would be sending companies there remain far behind in vaccinations.

(MWC Barcelona, the first tech event to succumb to the pandemic, is somehow still set to happen next month, albeit on a grossly exhibitor-deprived scale. I don’t know what the thinking is there.)

Conferences that take place in the U.S. and draw a mostly-American audience look more likely to happen as planned, which on my calendar would probably make the first such IRL event the Black Hat information-security conference. Subjecting oneself to the blast-furnace heat of Las Vegas in August is not most people’s idea of fun–but after a year and change of only experiencing events through a screen, I legit would enjoy it. Besides, it really is a dry heat there.

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: IFA, Pay TV 3.0, everything as a service, where to buy an iPhone 11, iOS needs a kids’ mode

If you’re going to have a bunch of long-in-the-works stories finally post, you could pick a worse time than the week you’re at a journalism conference. This coming week has me at a different event: the Competitive Carriers Association’s conference in Providence, where I’m moderating a panel discussion on 5G wireless in rural areas. (Yes, readers, the title of that panel is 100 percent my fault.)

9/9/2019: 3 ways tech has gone astray at Berlin electronics show, USA Today

USAT took a day or two to post this, for which I was grateful–that lag gave me time to remember to throw in a quote that I’d forgotten to include when I first filed this last Sunday morning before flying home from Berlin.

9/10/2019: What ‘Pay TV 3.0’ will mean for viewers and channels, FierceVideo

This story started with the panel I moderated at a conference this this trade pub hosted outside of Denver in May, hence the above long-in-the-works comment.

9/10/2019: “Everything as a service” is coming—but we’re not there quite yet, Ars Technica

Some of you saw this feature on cloud services briefly appear last week before it vanished without explanation. As Lee Hutchinson, senior tech editor at Ars, later explained in a comment, the story got posted early by mistake. Yes, that is apparently a thing that is possible.

Since the first instance of this story didn’t feature any ads from its sponsor HPE–Ars correctly did not tell me the sponsor’s identity until after I’d filed copy that didn’t mention that firm anyway–it looks like the problem was some mixup on the advertising end.

Anyway, about this lengthy post: Researching the finer points of cloud storage and management services had me leaning well over my skis, but the experience left me with some helpful new sources to consult the next time I’m writing about cloud security and privacy.

9/12/2019: Ordering iPhone 11? The one thing wireless carriers might not want you to know, USA Today

You sort of have read this story before, and you will probably keep reading this as long as most of the major carriers continue to lock phones sold on installment-payment plans.

9/12/2019: The one feature Apple should have added to iOS 13 and iPadOS, Yahoo Finance

My daughter gets credit as the assignment editor on this: Handing over an iPad for her limited allotment of screen time kept reminding me of how unhelpful iOS is in this scenario. I could have written this any time in the last few years, but the impending release of Apple’s iOS 13 and iPadOS–neither with a real kids’ mode–provided a news peg for this story.

Weekly output: Amazon Fire TV, Roku TV, social-media propaganda, IFA

I’m back from Berlin and my eighth IFA is in the books. I feel more wiped out than usual from jet lag, maybe because my five-hours-late departure Monday left no time for me to walk around the city Wednesday afternoon and get some sunshine into my head. I had better be recovered in three days, when I’ll be back on a plane for the Online News Association’s conference–this year in New Orleans, one of my favorite travel destinations.

If you need more gadget pictures in your life, there’s a slideshow of photos from this year’s IFA waiting after the jump.

9/5/2019: Amazon bids to spark new markets for Fire TV, FierceVideo

I wrote this from an Amazon event in Berlin Wednesday night, at which I had the advantage of being able to quiz a couple of analyst friends who had watched the same sales pitch.

9/7/2019: Roku expands Roku TV program to Europe, FierceVideo

Roku CEO Anthony Wood gave an uncommonly concise keynote at IFA Saturday morning–it ran only 24 minutes.

9/7/2019: Social-media marketing for Sudan’s military, Al Jazeera

I offered my perspective on a weird case of social-media propaganda via Skype from my hotel room.

9/8/2019: 2019 IFA Trade Show Recap with Rob Pegoraro, Moor Insights & Strategy Podcast

I shared my thoughts on this year’s IFA with Moor’s Mark Vena from a semi-quiet table at a restaurant in our hotel; I hope the background chatter from other guests isn’t too distracting.

Continue reading

Weekly output: IFA oddities, Windows laptop trends

PORTLAND–I’m nearing the end of one work trip, after which I’ll get to spend a whole 40 or so hours at home before heading out for a second. No, I’m not heading to the Bay Area for Apple’s new-iPhone event Wednesday (I haven’t gotten an invitation to one of those occasions since 2010, which is fine); I will instead spend that afternoon flying to Austin for the Online News Association’s conference.

Like XOXO here, ONA is an event that has me paying for the conference badge. In a few days, I will try to write why I think it sometimes worthwhile to put this kind of dent in my business model.

Yahoo Finance IFA-oddities post9/4/2018: The weirdest, most interesting, and most unavailable gadgets from IFA 2018, Yahoo Finance

This illustrated recap of the oddest hardware I saw at IFA, including a robot dog and a “Solar Cow,” ran a couple of days after my return from that gadget show in Berlin. This sort of listicle has become a staple of my tech-trade-show coverage, because the gadget industry doesn’t seem to be getting any less weird. And after I’ve filed a few thousand words from a faraway city, stringing together a post from 200-word chunks feels exponentially easier.

9/7/2018: Laptops get thinner, lighter, more secure – and, in one case, audio-hostile, USA Today

This overview of laptop-design trends seen at IFA–most of which I like, one of which I absolutely hate–took a few more days to appear online. I can’t say that any of these changes made me feel bad about my almost-year-old laptop… which is fine! Most people should not buy a new computer every year.

 

Weekly output: Facebook diet, 8K TV, social-media hearings

Another trip to Berlin for IFA is in the books, which means I’ve spent another year wondering when Berlin Brandenburg Airport–which was originally scheduled to open before my 2012 introduction to the show–will ever inaugurate scheduled commercial service.

8/28/2018: How to detox from Facebook, Yahoo Finance

I’d had the bones of this piece in mind since sometime after writing a similar how-to on reducing Google’s role in your life. I’m going to guess that most people didn’t install the Facebook Container extension for Firefox (although I am now running that on my Windows laptop), but I do hope that a good fraction of readers opted out of Facebook’s noisier mobile notifications.

Yahoo Finance IFA 8K post9/1/2018: Forget 4K TVs — 8K televisions are already here, Yahoo Finance

If it wasn’t obvious enough the last time I covered this topic: No, I really don’t think anybody should pay extra for 8K resolution, and if this entire format vanishes into consumer irrelevance as 3D TV did, I won’t be too sad. Meanwhile, I appreciated seeing Yahoo give this a little more publicity with a repost on Yahoo Sports.

9/2/2018: What to expect as Google, Facebook and Twitter face Capitol Hill lawmakers, Yahoo Finance

I wrote a curtain-raiser for Wednesday’s grillings of social-media executives in the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. Based on how prior House interrogations of tech execs have gone, my expectations for the latter hearing are exceedingly low.

How I inspect laptops at tech events

BERLIN–I’ve spent the last three days here at the IFA tech trade show poking and prodding at new laptops to see if they might be worth your money. That inspection has gotten more complicated in recent years, thanks to some new features I welcome and a few others I could do without.

The following are the traits I now look for after such obvious items as weight, screen size, if that screen is the rare Windows laptop display that doesn’t respond to touch, advertised battery life, storage, memory and overall apparent sturdiness.

Acer Swift 7 close-up

  • Screen resolution: On smaller screens, 4K resolution eats into battery life without making a meaningful difference in picture quality–from most viewing distances, you can’t even see the pixels on a 1080p laptop screen anyway.
  • USB-C charging: Now that I have a laptop and a phone that can both use the same charger, I never want to go back to needing a proprietary power cable for a computer. You shouldn’t either.
  • USB ports: Laptops that only include USB-C ports can be thinner than those with full-sized USB ports, but I’m willing to accept a little bulk to avoid having to pop in an adapter for older USB cables or peripherals.
  • Other expansion options: For people who still use standalone cameras, SD or microSD Card slots will ease data transfer. I also look for HDMI ports, which ease plugging the laptop into a TV. (Since my own laptop doesn’t have one of those: Anybody have a recommendation for a USB-C-to-HDMI cable?) And now that I’ve seen a laptop here without a headphone jack, I need to confirm that audio output’s presence too.
  • Backlit keyboard: Typing without one in a darkened hall is no fun. While I’m looking for that, I’ll also see if the trackpad is governed by Microsoft’s simple Precision Touchpad control or janky third-party software.
  • Webcam placement: Some laptops stash the webcam not at the top of the screen but below it, which leaves video callers stuck with an up-the-nostril perspective of the laptop user.
  • Windows Hello: Fingerprint-recognition sensors are cheap, while having to type in a password or PIN every time you log in imposes its own tax on your time. I’m not so doctrinaire about Windows Hello facial recognition if fingerprint recognition is there.

This list is a little involved, but on the upside I no longer have to worry about things like WiFi or serial ports. So now that you know what I fuss over when inspecting laptops at tech events like this, what else should I be looking for on each new computer?