Weekly output: UHD + HDR, Apple TV, Apple news, iPhone Upgrade Program, Nextbit Robin

PORTLAND–I’ve just spent two mind- and heart-expanding days at the XOXO festival here. I don’t know if it was quite as inspirational as two years ago, but I still think the things I’ve heard and seen from the speakers and other attendees will be leaving little ripples in my life for some time to come.

In other news, it’s going to be so great to come home tomorrow.

9/7/2015: Are 4K Televisions Finally Ready for Primetime?, Yahoo Tech

I wrote one last post from IFA Friday evening that didn’t get posted until Monday. My own answer to that headline is “not yet”–at least not until the wider color and brightness of “HDR” isn’t confined to expensive, reference-line UHD TVs. I also want to see a next-gen HD/UHD broadcast standard supported in affordable sets.

Yahoo Tech Apple TV post9/8/2015: Can Apple Save Apple TV?, Yahoo Tech

Since this ran, Apple has announced that the new Apple TV’s remote will feature volume buttons ( It’s weird when Apple does something I ask it to do!) and Plex has said it’s working to bring its app to the new model.

9/9/2015: Apple’s news, WTOP

I had a quick chat from the CTIA pressroom with WTOP’s anchors about the new iPhones, iPads and Apple TV.

9/12/2015: Can Apple’s iPhone upgrade deal work for you?, USA Today

My editors and I had originally thought of using this week’s column slot for a look at the fading fortunes of CTIA’s event, but they asked me to explain Apple’s new iPhone-upgrade program (so instead you read about this trade show’s travails here). Note the presence of a T-Mobile publicist in the comments; I invited him to leave that comment after he asked if we could revise the piece to note that that carrier’s trade-in option.

9/12/2015: Nextbit’s Android Phone Puts Its Faith—and Your Data—in the Cloud, Yahoo Tech

I had a demo of this upcoming Android phone Wednesday evening in Vegas and wrote it up over the course of Thursday. I doubt I’ll buy it myself–I’m going to need a new phone sooner than next year–but they’ve got an interesting concept and design.

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CTIA ROI: Did I need to go Vegas for this?

LAS VEGAS–My stay here only ran about 38 hours, but even if my itinerary hadn’t gotten upended by flight delays Tuesday I would have only spent 42 hours here. That was by design: I didn’t choose to go to CTIA’s Super Mobility Week until I’d already committed to going to Portland for the XOXO conference.

CTIA logoThat way, I didn’t risk much on the news value of an event that hasn’t exactly padded out Vegas taxi lines the last two years–selling one story should cover my additional travel costs.

But even by those low standards, the show organized by this D.C. trade group underperformed. The floor was a vast expanse of peripheral players hawking cables, cases, chargers or the industrial hardware that keep our phones online, from cell towers to backup generators to drones to inspect cell towers.

Among companies most wireless customers might know well, only Verizon, Samsung, AT&T and Tracfone had a notable presence on the floor. None committed any real news. (A Tracfone staffer said that prepaid carrier didn’t have any publicists around when I stopped by. PR tip: Not helpful!)

The opening keynote Wednesday featured appearances by Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales and Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler, but neither yielded enough material for a story for my usual outlets. If you missed my tweeting Wednesday morning: Wales is helping to launch the U.S. branch of a U.K. wireless reseller called The People’s Operator that lets you direct some of your spend to charity, and Wheeler said he’s confident that next March’s auction of some broadcast-TV spectrum to wireless carriers will succeed and that the FCC’s net-neutrality rules won’t stop wireless carriers from investing in their networks.

And then I spent the next two hours watching Apple’s event. This is the second year in a row that Apple has elected to introduce a round of new products on the opening day of what’s supposedly the wireless industry’s leading domestic event. The people at CTIA must be so pleased by that.

Many tech journalists were in San Francisco for Apple’s event. Others sat out CTIA because they’d gone to IFA the week before and didn’t want to deal with that much travel.

I’m not writing this to trash-talk CTIA’s efforts, although their decision to stage this show right after the electronics extravaganza in Berlin now looks a huge unforced error. Wireless is one of the most interesting and important parts of the tech business today, and you’d think it needs and could easily support an annual gathering like any other industry’s.

But one that’s marked by an absence of news and exhibitors, which happens only a day or two after a larger event that involves 9,000 miles of travel, and which takes place in a city that’s not quite my favorite place to go, is not something I need on my travel budget again. Sorry, CTIA.

Weekly output: vacation mode for phones, whither unlimited-data plans

The next few weeks will involve a lot of airplanes, starting tomorrow when I fly to Berlin for my fourth annual trip to the IFA electronics show there. I’m back on the 6th, then depart two days later for the CTIA wireless-industry gathering in Las Vegas. That will be a brief stay, as I move on to Portland on the 10th for the XOXO conference. A week and a half later, I’m off to L.A. for the Online News Association conference.

At least this travel schedule isn’t as insane as last September’s (when, for example, less than 24 hours separated the IFA and CTIA trips). But still: Conference organizers, maybe you could find other months to host your events?

Yahoo Tech vacation-mode post8/25/2015: The One Feature Every Smartphone Needs: Vacation Mode, Yahoo Tech

I wrote this essay, sadly enough, while on vacation. But I did leave time that day for a nap! Of course, half the comments were along the lines of “just turn off your phone.” Thanks, dude, that’s a really practical bit of advice.

8/30/2015: New math hurts case for old unlimited data plans, USA Today

Speaking of comments, something weird happened with them on this post tonight–the previous 16 comments, including some replies of my own, vanished, and now there’s just one. (It’s from a guy who says his phone is his only Internet device, and he therefore burns through 40 gigabytes of data. I am pained thinking of spending that much time online on any phone.) I’m not sure what happened. Never mind–I was reading a syndicated copy of the story on the site of the St. Louis TV station KSDK but completely ignored the different header atop the story. Duh.

Weekly output: mobile device management, XOXO, iOS 7 visual effects, Android permissions

After a week out of town, I have seriously enjoyed waking up in my own bed and cooking my own meals.

9/24/2013: Mobile Device Management, IDG Enterprise

My sideline as an occasional Twitter-chat host led me to this discussion of ways to secure large numbers of smartphones and tablets–a business-focused topic with more than a little relevance to the consumer.

DisCo XOXO post9/26/2013: There’s More Than One Way To Do It, And Other XOXO Lessons On Indie Creativity, Disruptive Competition Project

This recap of the XOXO conference was written from about the same perspective as July’s  DisCo post about developments of online journalism: You’re better off judging the health of a market by its compatibility with middle-class business models than by how many superstars it spawns.

9/27/2013: How to adjust visual effects in iOS 7, USA Today

I set aside another column idea to write about user complaints about the sometimes shifty visual effects in iOS 7. The tip part of the column, about one way to decide if an Android developer is being upfront with you, came out of a discussion I had at the Privacy Identity Innovation conference two weeks ago.

The week’s Sulia topics ranged from the official debut of a CableCard bill that I’d previewed for Ars Technica in August, surprising sales figures for Chromebooks, RealNetworks’ re-emergnce with an interesting cloud-based video service that may suffer from being saddled with the RealPlayer name, how many people pay for ad-free versions of mobile apps, and a time when paying with a credit card entailed more hassle than paying with my phone’s NFC wireless might have been.

A love letter to XOXO

PORTLAND–If you write for a living, hope and fear are part of the deal. Hope, because you believe your ability to make words appear on a screen in a pleasing sequence will lead other people to give you money. Fear, because you worry that other people will realize you are not all that good at that work, and that other writers can do it for less anyway.

XOXO badgeI spent three days here last weekend at XOXO, a conference staged to lend hope to independent creativity. That was a fairly abstract concept to me three years ago; I was approaching my 17th year at the same employer and had (fraying) ambitions of retiring there.

Then other things happened, I didn’t get another job as I’d expected, and after two and a half years of freelancing full time, my indie existence no longer feels like a fluke.

But it can still feel lonely. So it was tremendously empowering to commune with smart, talented, hard-working people who had taken a similar course, then see some of them testify about it. I kept finding myself nodding vigorously at things I could have said, or wished somebody would have told me a couple of years ago.

Co-organizer Andy Baio opened the event with an introduction that was part release notes explaining how he and co-conspirator Andy McMillan had designed XOXO to function unlike the average corporate conference, part pep talk for those assembled. “It’s about making new things and putting them out in the world,” he said. “That takes a unique kind of bravery.”

Cartoonist Erika Moen evocatively recalled her own I-think-I’ve-gotten-somewhere moment: “I’m self-employed. I’m creating. I’m in love. I’m happy.” In my notes, those sentences are set off with one all-caps prefix: THIS.

Musician Jack Conte provided a succinct description of the basic business problem for any freelancer–or, for that matter, any newspaper: “You have to make good stuff and convert it into money.”

One of my favorite talks came from musician Jonathan Coulton (longtime readers may recall his guest spot on my Post podcast, the audio of which has apparently gone down the bit bucket). He spoke bluntly about his moments of self-doubt–“there are times when I say to myself, I wonder if I have ever done anything that’s really good?”–but also showed a cheery defiance of standard-issue career advice.

“Don’t let anybody tell you that there’s A Thing you have to do to make this work,” he said before a slide reading “Be a Snuggie,” “You’re doing it right,” and “Fuck ’em.” Instead: “Here is the only metric you need to care about…. Is what you’re doing making you more happy or less happy?”

And Cabel Sasser, co-founder of the Mac software firm Panic, Inc., gave a wonderfully human recounting–who among us has not sometimes thought, “I needed to file a bug report on myself”?–about what it meant to keep his company independent.

What if it fails spectacularly after he’d passed up a lucrative exit? What if it slowly sputters out? I liked his answer: “You won’t know the end until it ends, so let’s fill the middle with as many amazing plot twists as we can.”

The other part of XOXO that lit up my brain was the other people I was able to meet there. Baio and McMillan’s attempts to limit the audience to people who made things, their  exhortations to say hi to whoever’s next to you, and the inevitable random conversations while waiting in line at the food trucks outside the Yale Union building all made this one of the more welcoming spaces I’ve occupied.

Many Internet-famous individuals are jerks, but I did not meet any jerks at XOXO. I was particularly delighted to meet people I hadn’t seen in months or years, or had only known as usernames in Twitter, e-mail addresses in my inbox or a remote voice on the same radio show. You know who you are; hope to see you again soon.

Weekly output: digital privacy, smart-home privacy, NetNames piracy study, mobile privacy, privacy lessons, wireless broadband, broadband map

PORTLAND–I’ve wrapped up three educational, inspirational and sometimes deeply moving days at the XOXO conference here. I’ll have more to write about that later on.

9/17/2013: Digital Privacy, IDG Enterprise

This week’s Twitter chat focused on workplace privacy, which got us into some fundamental trust issues between employers and their employees.

PII 2013 home page

9/17/2013: Home Smart Home: Living with Connected Devices, Privacy Identity Innovation

I moderated a panel at this conference in Seattle about the privacy risks of webcams, connected appliances, and home-automation systems with SmartThings co-founder Jeff Hagins, Forbes writer Kashmir Hill, Life360 Chris Hulls, and Gartner research director Angela McIntyre. Despite the dreaded post-lunch time slot, I didn’t observe anybody in the audience nodding off. I’ll add a link to video of this if/when it’s available. 10/19/2013: Watch our discussion on PII’s site.

9/18/2013: NetNames Piracy Study Yields Same Lesson As Old: Legal Options Shrink Infringement’s Share, Disruptive Competition Project

I unpacked a study financed by NBC Universal that reported a growing problem with copyright infringement online–except the actual numbers in the full report did not quite make that case. This post may remind longtime readers of something I wrote for the Post two years ago.

9/18/2013: Developing Better Mobile Privacy Notices, Privacy Identity Innovation

My second PII panel featured Mark Blafkin, executive director of the Innovators Network; Justin Brookman, who directs the Center for Democracy and Technology’s consumer-privacy project; and Dona Fraser, vice president of the Entertainment Software Ratings Board’s Privacy Certified program. There is a certain art to managing an onstage discussion; this time, it seemed to go really well. I’m not quite sure how I was that “on,” but it felt great. 10/31/2013: Video is up, so I’ve changed the link accordingly.

9/20/2013: Ways to Pivot Privacy From Pain to Something That Might Pay, Disruptive Competition Project

I wrote up this recap of PII’s discussions and how they caused me to look at some issues I’ve covered many times before–for instance, privacy policies–from a slightly different perspective. The opportunity to learn continues to be a pleasure of this line of work.

9/22/2013: Cut the cord for home broadband? Not so fast, USA Today

A reader’s query about broadband options in Naples, Fla., gave me the chance to make some broader observations about the state of broadband access and competition in the United States–and to share a tip about a database and map of Internet-access options maintained by the Federal Communications Commission.

On Sulia, I shared my first impressions of iOS 7 after several frustrating hours of unsuccessful download attempts, was once again somewhat puzzled by Apple’s choice of which news outlets got early access to new iPhones, and posted a round of updates from XOXO: why Marco Arment is bullish on podcasts, a site that makes it rewarding for fans to support artists they like, Chris Anderson’s sales pitch for agricultural drones and more.

Update, 9/29: Added a link to the Twitter chat I forgot to include in my haste to get this written before I missed too much of XOXO’s closing party.

Sorry, no iPhone review this week

PORTLAND–This may not be the kind of thing I should admit in public, but I am, uh, not reviewing the iPhone 5s or even the 5c for anybody. Things just didn’t work out: One client felt the new models would be covered to death everywhere else, another was holding out hope that Apple would loan a review unit to one of their staff writers, and then I ran out of time to conjure up other options in a week loaded with two conferences in two states.

PDX Apple Store iPhone sign

So that’s how my ambitions of repeating last year’s strategy–where I bought an iPhone 5 and wrote up my findings for two sites before returning it two weeks later–did not pan out. (Fellow tech journalists: Buying and then returning review hardware can be a wonderfully liberating workaround for slow or unresponsive PR departments. Try it sometime!)

I can’t say that I minded not having to run over to some PDX-area AT&T, Verizon, Sprint or T-Mobile store yesterday morning–and possibly find them already out of stock of the 5s–or wait hours at the Apple Store downtown. Even at 9:30 this morning, there was a line waiting outside that shop.

And it’s been pleasant to be able to focus on the XOXO conference here instead of mentally unplugging from it to crank out a review or two.

But beyond the feeling that I’m committing a tech-journalism foul by not holding forth on a new iPhone, I’m personally curious about the 5s. I want to see how the Touch ID fingerprint sensor works, and if the camera represents that big of an improvement over the iPhone 5 camera’s output. Fortunately, a friend on Facebook already made the mistake of bragging about how great Touch ID has been on his new iPhone. He’ll be hearing from me not long after I return to D.C.