Weekly outpot: cheaper hearing aids, Mark Vena podcast, Google vs. Roku, Amazon satellites, FTC broadband-privacy report, blockchain domains

This afternoon featured the longest bike ride I’ve done in, I think, five years. Observations: It’s good to know that I’m not too old and busted to clock 35 miles and change, Reston Town Center has grown up and out a bit since 2016, and the nap you have after a longer ride followed by dinner you cooked yourself is the nap of the righteous.

10/20/2021: The Feds Are (Finally) About to Make Hearing Aids Cheaper, Easier to Buy, PCMag

I wrote up the overdue release of regulations to allow over-the-counter sales of hearing aids, using this piece to recount the long, strange trip this policy shift has taken through the Obama, Trump and Biden administrations.

10/20/2021: S01 E14 – SmartTechCheck Podcast, Mark Vena

This week’s episode of my industry-analyst pal’s podcast (also on video) had me and fellow tech-journalist guests John Quain and Stewart Wolpin discussing Apple’s product-launch event Monday. We agreed that the $4.99/month Voice Plan for Apple Music was a weird bit of product segmentation, and that people who don’t edit video for a living can ignore Apple’s high-end MacBook Pro models.

Screenshot of the story as seen in Safari for macOS10/21/2021: Google Says It Will Pull YouTube App From Roku on Dec. 9, PCMag

This became a longer-than-usual post for PCMag when Roku offered to show me their receipts of Google’s demands that it revise its search features to benefit YouTube–including a Sept. 2019 e-mail in which a Google executive called adding a special shelf of YouTube results to Roku’s standard search interface “a must.” I’m still waiting to see how Google will explain how that message squares with its past statements that it’s “never” asked for special search privileges on Roku’s media players.

10/21/2021: Satellites, Fast Company

This non-bylined item, part of the “Amazon Unpacked: A-Z” cover story of Fast Company’s November issue, popped up Thursday.

10/22/2021: FTC: Here’s How Much of a Snoop Your ISP or Wireless Carrier Can Be, PCMag

My third post for PCMag walked readers through a lengthy report the Federal Trade Commission released Thursday about the tracking habits at six major Internet providers–in which I also took care to remind readers of how fast Republicans in Congress worked to squelch pending broadband-privacy rules from the Federal Communications Commission in early 2017, even before the FCC could undo the net-neutrality regulatory foundation of those rules.

10/23/2021: The blockchain is making domain names more private—for good or bad, Fast Company

The Microsoft digital-defense report that I covered briefly for PCMag two weeks ago got me curious about domains stored on various blockchains instead of hosted at traditional registries–which the report called “the next big threat.” So I made some inquiries of my own and came to a somewhat different conclusion than Microsoft’s researchers.

Weekly output: talking tech with Mark Vena, laptops, Controlled Digital Lending

Researching the second item in this week’s roundup reminded me at length of how much I miss going to large tech trade shows like CES and IFA to assess new gadgets in person. Seeing a new laptop, tablet, smartphone or any other device in a canned online presentation is a weak substitute for a hands-on inspection, and I look forward to the time when I can resume that part of my work.

3/23/2021: SmartTechCheck Podcast (3-23-21), Mark Vena

I’ve now been on my industry-analyst pal’s podcast enough times with the same two fellow tech journalists–Stewart Wolpin and John Quain–that Mark decided to make us regulars. This week, we discussed a topics ranging from the new federal subsidies for educational broadband to the Apple event that was supposed to happen this week, and we also ventured a few predictions. In addition to the audio above, you can watch the video version in the YouTube embed below.

3/25/2021: Laptops, U.S. News & World Report

This project followed the lines of the password-managers guide I helped write over the winter: After editors picked a set of contenders to cover, based on a reading of third-party reviews, I wrote profiles of each of them. (As in, you should not read the rankings here as my own judgment.) In this guide, I covered Apple’s Macbook Air M1 and MacBook Pro 16-inch; Asus’s Chromebook Flip, ROG Zephyrus G14, VivoBook S15, and Asus ZenBook 13; Dell’s XPS 13 and XPS 15 9500; Google’s Pixelbook Go; HP’s Elite Dragonfly, Envy x360 13-inch, and Spectre x360 13-inch; Lenovo’s Chromebook Duet and ThinkPad X1 Carbon; and Microsoft’s Surface Pro 7. My contributions here also included a piece on what to consider when shopping for a laptop and a Chromebook-basics explainer.

3/27/2021: The Paper-To-Pixels Workaround Activists Want To Use To Keep Libraries Online, Forbes

“CDL” isn’t just shorthand for a commercial driver’s license; it’s also an abbreviation for Controlled Digital Lending, a framework for libraries to digitize printed books they own and then loan out those ebook copies on a one-for-one basis.  

My Apple problem

I spent a little time checking out Apple’s new MacBook Pro today, and from my cursory inspection in an Apple Store I can confirm that it’s a very nice computer. It’s also an $1,800-and-up computer, and I am not an $1,800-and-up shopper in this category of hardware.

macbook-air-touchbar-closeupI’m more of a $1,000-ish guy, and Apple doesn’t seem to want such a small sum of money. At that price, the company has nothing new to offer–the MacBook Air saw its last update 621 days ago. But Apple continues to price that model as if it were new.

(I’m not counting the single-port MacBook, because a computer that makes me choose between recharging itself and recharging my phone will never work for CES.)

While Apple neglects the more-affordable end of its laptop lineup, Windows vendors have been doing some interesting work. Many Windows laptops include not just touchscreens but the ability to fold up the laptop into a tablet for easy economy-class use.

And some Windows laptops also include Windows Hello biometric login–like the TouchID authentication on the MacBook Pro, except you don’t have to pay $1,800 for it.

All this means that my next laptop is far more likely to be something like a Lenovo Yoga 910 or an HP Spectre x360 than a Mac. That feels weird–I’ve been buying Macs as a primary computer for over two decades--but to ignore what’s happening on the other side of the fence would make me less a shopper than a supplicant.

The other weird thing is, what I think I’d miss most from the Mac is a feature that’s seen little attention from Apple over the past few years: Services. That little menu you see in each app and when you right-click items in the Finder saves me an enormous amount of time each occasion it provides a two-click word count or image resizing. If only Apple would know this exists…

Meanwhile, Windows 10 suffers the embarrassing defect of not allowing separate time zones in its calendar app. Microsoft, too, shows no signs of being aware that this problem exists.

So if I get a Windows machine, how much will I regret it? If I get another MacBook Air, how much of a chump will I feel like for throwing even more money in Apple’s direction?

 

Weekly output: Windows 10 Creators Update, Apple’s decaying desktop line, IoT security, Google Pixel procurement

This week featured new-product events from Apple and Microsoft–and Redmond impressed me more than Cupertino, which I guess represents yet another way that 2016 has been a bizarre year. Also bizarre: It’s now been more than five weeks since I last flew anywhere for work, but that streak ends Saturday when I start my trip to Lisbon for Web Summit.

Screengrab of Yahoo post about Win 10 Creators Update10/26/2016: The Windows 10 Creators Update could streamline your friendships, Yahoo Finance

I balanced out my tentative praise for an upcoming Windows 10 feature that should help elevate conversations with friends with some complaints about lingering Win 10 flaws. One I could have added to this list but did not: the way you can find yourself staring at dialogs dating to Win 95 if you click or tap deep enough into Win 10’s UI.

(Note that this screengrab shows a Yahoo post at a Google address, an issue with Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages format that I noted last week.)

10/27/2016: Apple once again ignores a big market, Yahoo Finance

Crazy thing here: I wrote a harsh post about Apple’s neglect of the desktop computer, and none of the first 20 comments include any form of “how much did Microsoft pay you to write that?” I’m also irked by the increasingly pricey state of the Mac laptop, but that’s going to have to wait for another post.

10/28/2016: Hackers are taking over your smart devices, here’s how we can stop them, Yahoo Finance

My latest post on the mess that is Internet-of-Things security benefited from informative chats with an Underwriters Laboratories engineer and a Federal Trade Commission commissioner.

10/30/2016: Google Pixel’s ‘Only on Verizon’ pitch isn’t what it seems, USA Today

The misleadingly Verizon-centric marketing for Google’s new smartphones has bugged me for a few weeks, but T-Mobile’s rollout of a marketing campaign that also glossed over some issues gave me a convenient news peg.