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.

Coverage I don’t miss writing: the iPhone-rumor story

If it’s Monday–or Tuesday or Wednesday or Thursday or Friday or a day on the weekend–it must be time for another round of rumor stories about the next iPhone. The latest claim: The iPhone 5, assuming Apple calls it that, will have a curved glass screen.

That report follows dozens of earlier items that have suggested the next smartphone to come out of Cupertino will feature a bigger screen, possibly spanning its entire front surface; will support the vaguely-named and potentially useful wireless technology called Near Field Communication (unless it won’t); will have an 8-megapixel camera; will run on the same A5 processor as the iPad 2, perhaps in a dual-core version; and will let users switch between the CDMA and GSM wireless standards.

When I was blogging for the Post, the iPhone-rumors post was a regular ingredient of my coverage. I had my reasons: Those posts usually drew a good stream of traffic, my editors consistently wanted them and I could have fun critiquing the implausibility of a particularly outlandish forecast.

But I don’t know that the aggregate of all these iPhone-rumor writeups yields a huge amount of useful data. Some of them should be obvious–of course, the next iPhone will have a better camera and a faster processor, and a bigger screen makes eminent sense too. Others, such as the claim that the iPhone 4’s successor will feature a slide-out keyboard, defy credibility. A third category struggle for relevance: Can somebody define for me the upgrade in usability provided by a curved glass screen? (Confession: I didn’t even notice the slightly concave “Contour Display” on the Nexus S when I reviewed that Android phone.)

I realize that Apple makes a lot of cool stuff, and that the prospect of a new iGadget is more exciting than the upcoming debut of this year’s 20th new Android phone. But at a certain point, hanging on the details of the next Apple release gets to be a waste of time. The breathless evolution of smartphone technology just about ensures that no matter how well you time your purchase, your new iPhone will start to feel antiquated by the time its two-year contract still has eight months left.

You would do better to think about what you’d like to see improved on the current iPhone. Setting aside problems created by Apple or the carriers selling the thing in the U.S.–such as Apple’s control-freak curation of the App Store or the permanently-locked SIM card slot of the AT&T iPhone–my own wish list mainly consists of software issues.

There’s the iPhone’s app-switching interface, which barely competes with Android’s and falls woefully short of the elegant multitasking UI in HP’s webOS. Its clumsy notifications interface–a dialog that pops in front of everything else and must be dismissed before you can resume what you were doing–is an embarrassment compared to what its competitors offer. Its practice of routing most computer-to-phone synchronization through iTunes looks obsolete in an increasingly wireless world. (Edit, 11:55 a.m. I can’t believe I forgot to mention how weak its Maps app looks next to what ships on even entry-level Android phones.)

I’ll bet that fixes for those flaws represent the iPhone upgrade most people want. And if Apple has been paying any attention to the competition, that’s the upgrade you, as an iPhone 4 owner, should get for free whenever Apple ships the next major revision to iOS. (Those of you with an iPhone 3GS may be out of luck, and iPhone 3G owners almost certainly are, to judge from the history of Apple’s major iOS upgrades.)

But that iOS update–iOS 5, presumably–will ship when Apple has it ready and not sooner. Look up all the rumor reports you want in the meantime, but treat them as the equivalent of celebrity gossip: something read more for entertainment than enlightenment.

Update, 10/4/2011, 11:40 p.m. Now that the real iPhone 4S has made its debut–without a curved screen, larger screen, full-surface screen, or NFC chip–you may enjoy reading an inventory of incorrect iPhone predictions from ReadWriteWeb’s John Paul Titlow and the snarkier debunking by Gawker’s Ryan Tate.