Year-End Followup

30Dec14

As 2014 come to a close, people tend to look back and reflect on the year that was. For those who blog about technology, it’s a good time to take stock of the predictions and punditry unleashed on the world to see how much of it was on the mark and what turned out to be little more than rumor-mongering, false conclusions, and general numbskullery.

Herewith are some thoughts on my older posts and the way things turned out.

Aereo

Remember them? Aereo was thought to be a serious threat to television broadcasters and cable TV providers right up to the point where they lost their case in the United State Supreme Court. Personally, I thought their argument had merit (as did the lower courts), and that if they had positioned their company as a “hardware rental” service rather than a streaming video distributor, they might have done better in their final battle. I still feel that their methodology didn’t violate copyright and was a perfectly logical (and clever) workaround. The High Court basically categorized Aereo as a cable TV company. Afterwards, though, when Aereo tried to be treated as a cable company (and obtain redistribution rights from broadcasters as guaranteed by law with proper fees, etc.), they were rebuffed once again.

So now Aereo is legally a cable company but not one that can actually become a cable company, achieving the networks’ goal of erasing Aereo from the television landscape and firing a strong shot across the bow of anyone else contemplating such tactics. My prediction: Network television will at some point be streamed on the internet, and the companies doing it will be the networks themselves.

Apple Television Set

Almost two years ago, I predicted that there would be no Apple television set, a mythic beast that is predicted on a yearly basis by other tech writers. So far, we haven’t seen one, and I still don’t see it coming. It remains to be seen what Apple will do to keep its Apple TV streaming media box competitive with the likes of Roku, Amazon’s Fire TV, and Google’s Chromecast devices, not to mention that almost all Blue-Ray players and gaming consoles can also deliver streaming video.

In the music field, Apple was far ahead of competitors with its powerful combination of iPod and iTunes. With television, the playing field is much more level, and I doubt that Apple will be able to achieve that sort of dominance without drastically changing the user experience involved in setting up and using streaming TV (more on this below).

Microsoft Surface

Microsoft is now on version 3 of its flagship tablet computer, and they seem to have finally gotten it right. Reviews of the Surface Pro 3 have been largely positive, and Microsoft’s advertising has finally gotten around to actually pointing out what the device can do for customers, going so far as to point out the differences between it and the Apple MacBook Air. Good for them, I say—it’s about time that somebody produces a PC computing device that can actually withstand comparison to an Apple product. Since none of Microsoft’s OEM “partners” seems willing to produce such a device, (continuing their low price above all strategy), I applaud Microsoft for their tenacity. I use a MacBook Pro and iPad all the time, but if my employer offered the Surface Pro 3 instead of the functional-but-uninspired HP laptops they offer, I’d have one in a minute.

Microsoft Office and Mobile Computing

A while back, I predicted that if Microsoft offered a version of their Office productivity suite for Apple’s iPad, they would effectively concede the mobile computing market to Apple.

Well, pigs have flown, hell has frozen over, and Microsoft Office can now be had on IOS and Android devices.

Capitulation? I don’t think so. Much has changed at Microsoft since I wrote that particular post. In August, 2013, when Steve Ballmer announced that he would be stepping down from his position as Microsoft CEO, there was a flurry of speculation about who would succeed him. For many pundits, the likely candidate was Stephen Elop, who had just been re-employed by Microsoft after his tenure at Nokia. My thinking at that time was that it would be a bad idea to turn over the company to Elop, who had essentially gutted Nokia, preparing it for acquisition (on the cheap) by Microsoft. Other pundits claimed that Elop was essentially jumping from one “burning platform” to another.

The CEO job eventually went to Satya Nadella, former chief of Microsoft’s Cloud and Enterprise division, a move that signals new directions and priorities for the software giant. Nadella seems to understand that mobile computing is indeed where future growth lies, but that more than anything else, mobile computing is about being connected to services and infrastructures collectively referred to as “the cloud.” To this end, he is working to make Microsoft into the dominant provider of these services, rivaled only by Amazon. The move to:

  • Platform as a Service (PaaS)
  • Software as a Service (SaaS)
  • Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)
  • Cloud storage, backup and synchronization
  • Online database and web serviceOnline conferencing, collaboration, communication, calendaring

is likely a more accurate description of the “post-PC” world than simply fretting about mobile devices and the platforms they run on. Nadella seems to have adopted this mindset, enabling Microsoft’s services and cloud platforms to run on anything, anywhere. Maybe the dinosaur can dance after all.

Dumping Cable TV

Nearly two years ago, I wrote about how I ditched cable TV and went internet-only for my television viewing. While listening to my friends complain about their rising cable TV bills, I continue to do so with no regrets. There are some caveats, though:

I. The process of subscribing to online video services and setting up devices such as the Roku or Apple TV are still too convoluted for folks who aren’t “tech savvy.” The person attempting to “cut the cable” needs to be willing to fiddle with network passwords, device ID numbers, and the process of registering their systems on various websites to achieve the functionality desired. If Apple is looking for a true television breakthrough, making this process easy and intuitive is where they could really shake things up.

II. Going “cable-free” doesn’t mean getting free television. I was surprised to read an article recently where the author made the assertion that cable-cutters are essentially freeloaders unwilling to pay for anything.

I wish. Here’s a monthly breakdown of what I pay for my “free” television:

  • Midcontinent Communications (internet service): $50.16
  • Netflix (premium plan with 3-disc option): $25.63
  • Amazon Prime (needed to access Amazon’s “free” video content): $8.25
  • Acorn TV (streaming service for lots of British TV): $4.99

That’s $89.03 in fixed monthly costs. I could drop the “three-DVD” option from my Netflix account to save $15.00 a month but would miss out on lots of documentaries and older movies that are only available on DVD.

But the spending doesn’t stop there. Soon, two shows that I enjoy, Justified and The Americans, will start their new seasons on cable’s FX channel. To see these shows without waiting a year, I’ll be paying $3.00 per episode per week, either through Amazon or iTunes. This will add another $24 per month to my fixed costs, bringing the total to within ten dollars of what I was paying for my cable TV plan before dumping it.

Of course, if I went back to cable TV, I’d still keep my Netflix and Amazon Prime accounts anyway, so my overall TV expenditure would likely be in the $150-$175 range by the time all the costs were counted. In any case, the question a user should ask before taking the plunge is, “What’s this free television going to cost me?” For some people, staying with cable or satellite TV could be the better move.

Not for me, though. My viewing preferences for things such as documentaries, British television, and old movies, (including silent classics) simply aren’t served by network or cable TV. And since I never really wanted to watch that fool who tried to get eaten alive by an anaconda, cable TV doesn’t have a lot to offer me.

The Year Ahead

So, I’ve had some hits and some misses over the past year or so. In the tech world, things move fast. Today’s rising tech star can be tomorrow’s corporate roadkill. Old dogs (I’m talking about you, Microsoft) can learn new tricks. Some technologies seem to be forever “just around the corner.” And, in case you’re wondering, that fool didn’t get eaten by the anaconda on cable TV.

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