People often ask me my opinions on various bits of technology they’re considering buying and 2011 has been a year of lots and lots of technology, so I thought I’d write up what technology has impacted me the most over the last 12 months.
Principally, I’ve noticed two trends evolving in the way I approach my personal and professional technology: services and simplicity.
I’m looking to greatly simplify how I’m doing things – gone are the days I don’t mind spending hours debugging or troubleshooting why media sharing won’t work for product x over port y when connecting via network connection z. I’m done with it. I’m a geek, yes…but a busy geek. Admittedly, I have a fairly complex network with 3 switches, LAN/WLAN/PowerLine distribution and close to 20 internet-connected devices in a 3-bedroom house…but once it is up, it should stay up with little to no tweaking.
For different reasons, two great examples of this movement to simplicity have been Sonos and the Kindle.
I am a recent convert to the Sonos system, a longtime fan but felt that the price just didn’t justify the experience — instead, I spent three years struggling with Logitech’s Squeezebox system. In theory, the Squeezeboxes were a great idea and often worked fine but just as often didn’t — they wouldn’t connect to the server, firmware updates failed or their performance was so sluggish it meant a quick 30-second job of selecting music turned into 15 minutes of rebooting devices, routers and servers in an attempt to just listen to music. (* I should caveat that I gave my old Squeezeboxes to a friend to add to his ever-growing collection and he swears by them.)
Buying an iPad finally spurred me into going down the Sonos route…and I couldn’t have been happier. Literally 15 minutes after bringing back the Sonos equipment, I had a 3-zone system setup, with iPad/PC controllers all installed and ready to go. Five months later, I’ve not had a single issue with performance or stability. You are paying a premium for simple technology…how things have changed!
The Kindle on the other hand is the perfect example of something doing one thing very, very well. I have been on the fence for years about the Kindle, mainly due to the DRM protection on the books rather than the technology itself. However, when a Kindle was bought for me recently, much of that “consumer-rights” thinking went out of the window as the Kindle actually acted as a catalyst to get me reading considerably more and for longer periods of time. I have an unusually complex reading workflow as I read predominantly non-fiction and the Kindle is perfectly suited to that. It makes the complex very simple once again by being brilliant at a set of simple tasks. Amazon’s back-end services extend and augment the Kindle beautifully too.
For example, I can save all my highlights into Evernote which is then synchronized with the cloud and all my devices…furthermore, each note has a hyperlink which automatically opens Kindle for PC and jumps to the relevant part of the book. Even better, I have Instapaper automatically mailing a customized newspaper for me everyday of articles that I have flagged from around the Internet on any of my devices (iPad, PCs, Windows Phone) to my Kindle for offline reading during my commute.
All of this is enabled through a steady movement toward services…
I don’t want to have to buy DVD/Blu-Rays constantly so I pay LOVEFiLM monthly for an all-you-can-watch package. I don’t want to have to buy every piece of music that piques my curiosity, so subscribed to Spotify Premium to listen to millions of tracks on my iPad, iPod, PCs, Sonos, Virgin TiVO and Windows Phone (and offline, if necessary).
Services enable me to consume what I want on a multitude of devices, something I just cannot achieve myself. LOVEFiLM lets me watch films on my Blu-Ray player, through a browser, on my iPad and soon through my Xbox 360…yes, you could do this yourself by ripping your DVDs and serving them through your home network but as someone who has done this for 200+ DVDs, it is not an experience I would wish on anyone or one I will continue to do. Then if we start to look at enabling the movies to be streamed no matter where you are in the world etc., and suddenly paying someone a monthly fee to enable this for you is a no-brainer for me.
You can see the market shifting toward this model increasingly — even for material you already physically own. Apple recently launched iCloud Match which will figure out what music you have in your personal library and allow you to access those same tracks from the cloud. Even nicer, most of the tracks in the Apple library are at 320kbps, much higher than the tracks that most people rip themselves.
Amazon’s foray into the market with the Kindle Fire opens up a world of very exciting possibilities for consumers. Imagine LOVEFiLM (recently bought by Amazon) allowing you to stream any film you’ve bought from Amazon in your past purchase history or accessing digital Kindle copies of books you’ve bought physically. Of course, this turns Amazon into a veritable digital Wal-Mart…but give me Bezos over the guys at Cupertino anyday! 🙂