postheadericon Tech Talk: Tech Reform Thy Self!


When asked to contribute to this special edition on "reform", I was initially perplexed. The term reform and hi-tech does not readily appear to go together. After all, technology is something that moves forward, regardless of the values and morals some would like to attach to new innovations.

However, there are a few exceptions: bioresearch and military research are two areas where reform may be in order, depending on which side of the political spectrum you sit.  As a left-leaning citizen as well as a technologist, I oppose the idea of using animals or embryos in the advancement of technology. I also oppose research into weapons of mass destruction, but in both animal- and human- unfriendly technology, I have little control, and very little to say in the matter.

In the area of consumer technology, I have lots to say and even more power to "do." And one of the most irritating aspects of new consumer tech rollouts these days has to do with how little of this rollout actually "rolls," and how much of the rollout is actually delayed to maximize the bucks for the manufacturer. Call me a communist if you must, but I feel it's just wrong for companies to "hold back" when it comes to giving us the features we want in the new devices that we purchase, repeatedly, over and over again for the same basic device.

For example, take the rollout of the new iPhone 4S, which added the Apple A5 chip to the new phone. This new chip allowed Apple to add the very fine personal assistant Siri, making a hands-free phone a common reality (assuming you speak with an American accent). Now, the iPad2 also uses that same chip, so one would assume that a free software update would give you a talking tablet, no? Wrong. To get a talking tablet, you will have to wait and then shell out for a new iPad (perhaps they will call it the iPad3) that has this software update included.

Considering that all these devices cost more than most of us earn in several months of hard labor, purchasing a new device for a new feature seems like robbery to me. Yet this is the model that tech companies have been using since the dawn of the light bulb.

Here is another example: take the megapixel fiasco. New digital cameras were sold on a calculated rollout based on the number of megapixels the cam could capture...year one – 2 meg, year two – 4 meg, year two point five – 6 meg, and so on, until if one wanted to keep up, one would have about 6 cameras in the closet before reaching the current limit in pixel capturing (somewhere around 15 megapixels).

Absolutely ridiculous, or just good marketing?

But expecting anything different from manufactures is perhaps an unrealistic exercise in naiveté. After all, they have huge crowds willingly lining up outside of shops days before a new feature is released, in whatever new model of device is being hawked. Apple reins in this regard, with swarms lining up for every rehashed product offered since the very first model of iPod. But Sony and all the other big boys also have dedicated masses hanging over every release offered, so Apple is not alone in this practice.

So I am being ridiculous in hoping that big companies would give us little people a break once in a while, i.e. just give us the best you got, all in one shot, and not metered out so that new purchases are constantly required?

I do remember a day when the research cycle was longer than the manufacturing cycle, meaning a lot of work went into an innovation, and then a short time went into selling the innovation in a package that was replaced by the next innovation. But tech's dirty little secret in this century, is that research cycles are much shorter than the manufacturing cycles, and for each innovation there is 1.1, 1.2, and 1.x, with each designed to make so much money that one could swim in it.

The net effect is that those with the money to spend, have the latest and greatest, and those without, shop on eBay for the discarded older models. All the while landfills overflow with obsolete computer boards and plastic cases filled with outdated devices.

So, I guess I could make the green argument, but actually all I want is products that last and perform at their best from the onset, and I wish tech companies would reform thy selves in the interests of the consumers they serve- and stop making us all pay through the nose for every new thing.

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Jiggy Gaton
lives in Kathmandu and is an aging technologist - has been since the days of Woodstock - so in the words of Roland The Gunslinger "he is from a world now gone by." However, Jigs is extremely up-to-date on all things tech and is also available for hire.
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