Switchback: Talking Tech (June 27)

Jun 27, 2014

The Switch team talked about gadgets, tech and tech policy in their weekly chat. The Switch team took questions about the gadgets you have, the ones you want and the ones that aren't even out yet, as well as how the biggest tech stories affect you.

To kick off, let's take a moment to note: today is Andrea's birthday! 

We would have baked a cake, but she's our resident baker. And without her expertise...well...

But, for real: Happy birthday to Andrea!


Bwahahahahahha -- thanks guys :)

I was the one who wrote in last week about the Nexus phones. Google I/O didn't mention any new Nexuses, but also didn't mention Android Silver. So,do you all think we'll see a new Nexus phone this fall?

Yeah, I'm sorry about that. But given recent comments from Dave Burke, Google's head of the Nexus line, it does sound like they're targeting a phone for fall. 

Burke has also essentially confirmed "Android Silver" is a real thing as well, so it looks like we'll be seeing a lot of interesting Google phones this fall. 

What happened to the fun candy/dessert names for Android OSes? I was looking forward to my Android Mr. Goodbar.

Gooood question. They only gave a peek at the next Android, "L," so we can live in hope that a lollipop/licorice/ Lemonhead/lingonberry tart is in the works. 

Mr. Goodbar is a good one, but should that have been "G" release instead of Gingerbread? Or should we hope that it's coming for "M"?

Google released KitKat in September, along with the Nexus 5; smartphone releases tend to make the most sense in the fall when they can build hype into the holidays, so we'll probably see an official release then.

There has been a lot of sound and fury around the potential negative effects of the Aereo decision on cloud computing. I understand the basic idea is that presenting someone else's data strored on the vendor's cloud servers could now be a public performance. I don't see how that isn't something you could contract around in a EULA or similar. Can you walk me through the argument in some more detail?

What's really preventing us from getting a better grasp of the issue is that the Court never really said what it was about Aereo that made its technology a public performance -- just that it looked on the surface so similar to cable that it should be treated the same. This the "quacks like a duck" argument you may have read about already. 

The drawback to that argument is that the justices never had to confront the technical distinctions between Aereo and cable; they explicitly said they didn't need to worry about the "behind-the-scenes" stuff that makes the company tick. 

Aereo defenders would object and say that no, actually the the technical distinction is vitally important. But because the Court avoided addressing that, we're left with kind of an ambiguous situation. 

Just a note:  Andrea's, like, doing some reporting or something.   So she'll join us when she can.

Sorry guys! I'm sort of back now!

Forget pairing a watch with my smartphone: when will my watch replace my smartphone?

If that happened, would we essentially be moving back in time to a smartphone-less age? I think that's fascinating.

You did your top five things to watch headed into Google I/O, but what were your takeaways? I'm not sure that I want Google in every part of my life...

Well, if I had to do one takeaway, it would be that exactly. Google wants to be everywhere you are -- in your car, in your living room and actually on your body. 

If I had to do four other takeaways, they would be this: Google's taking a little more control of Android, finally, with its style guide and whatnot; the platform wars are about to get way more heated; Google+ got no mention in the keynote, which indicates it's either on the ropes or in the throes of a major pivot; and, finally, companies are definitely treating developers conferences like dev conferences again rather than stages for product announcements. 

Re: smartwatches

Do you really want to only use your smartwatch, though? I mean, there are a few things that have to be fixed first, like how you're going to put a big enough battery to power everything you want from a smartphone on your wrist. 

But I will say that, as a person who has used Samsung's Galaxy Gear, that I wasn't super happy taking calls from my wrist. I'd still need at least a headset.

I have two questions on this. 1) Is Germany overreacting? and 2) Will they really be any better off with any alternative telecom company? Aren't all of those companies tarred with the same brush?

1. I think it depends on whose standard you're using. Europeans (and Germans particularly) are arguably more privacy-conscious than Americans. Are they overreacting compared to the way we'd react? Overreacting compared to the way they'd react if all this Snowden stuff weren't already floating around? Or overreacting above and beyond even that?

My gut feeling is that a lot of this may be political -- another way for Europe to indicate its ongoing displeasure. 

2. I'm afraid I don't really know enough to say.

I just got tired of using the "starter" version of Word, and decided to just buy it. SO, I get thru the whole buying process, making an account with Microsoft, and before I click "buy", see a notice that I am basically 'renting' the software for a year, then will be charged whatever they feel like charging for the next year?! I cancelled, feel like an idiot, and wonder if this is the new way of doing things?? Is this the new normal?? Thanks

Well, don't feel like an idiot. But yeah, that is kinda how software seems like it's going to work now.

Adobe started it, Microsoft followed and, when you look at it from the company's points of view, it's an easy way to get pretty stable revenue. 

For consumers, I agree that this sucks. I mean, sure, you can get access to updated features more quickly, and you don't have to buy a whole new version of a software suite to get one feature. But it does mean, overall, that you're spending more on programs if you have to use them regularly. And I don't know about you, but I don't have a ton of extra money lying around for more subscriptions.

It seems to me the justices put in a lot of protections for cloud services in their opinions. Do you guys believe fear of this decision effecting services like Dropbox is warranted?

Could it theoretically happen? Sure. But practically, I think content companies would be loath to go up against the cloud industry; it's such a popular and growing part of the economy that a lawsuit against Dropbox might do more harm than good.

The Court didn't do much to protect cloud services, by the way, beyond simply asserting that they didn't expect the decision to affect them.

Inspector Gadget style. I dunno, to me the smartphone watch feels like a step backwards - I guess because that was always what was predicted in old movies for how technology would work in the future. I want someone to think of something more creative, not just build the thing they had drilled into their subconscious way back when. (although, seriously, when's my holodeck coming?)


I do think the smartwatch is a waypoint onto something else. (I feel the same about Glass.) But I agree that it feels...shoe-phoney. 

And +1000 on the holodeck. 

Any clues as to whether Aereo is up for negotiating with content providers to continue with an adapted business model?

As Brian pointed out, things are looking pretty dim for Aereo. Even Barry Diller, who was a major backer of the company seemed pretty down on the company's prospects. "We did try," he told CNBC, "but it's over now."  

Aereo CEO Chet Kanojia is a little more optimistic, although doesn't seem to have many specifics on the company's next steps. "We are disappointed in the outcome, but our work is not done," he said in a statement. "We will continue to fight for our consumers and fight to create innovative technologies that have a meaningful and positive impact on our world."

But the real issue is that the company may not be able to turn a profit if it has to pay retransmission fees, and I'm not sure that's something they're in a position to overcome at the moment. 

Even if the negotiations do take place, it won't change the fact that Aereo will have to pay retransmission fees -- a cost that the company isn't prepared to handle. According to the FCC, retransmission fees have surged 8,600 percent (!!) in the last seven years.

It's not clear to me how Aereo changes its business model to accommodate retrans without also becoming an entirely different business altogether.

I dunno. Not a tech question. But everyone seems to have World Cup fever! I don't understand what the heck is happening, but even I got caught up yesterday. You guys into it?

YUP. (And non-tech questions are perfectly fine!)

If you need (yet another) way to get excited, I hear the FIFA video games can be a huge time suck...

Speaking of FIFA, I've been toying with the notion of getting a console. Switch readers, do you guys have suggestions or recommendations?

Besides the expected changes in sizing, what changes are widely anticipated in the release of the new iPhone?

Sizing is certainly dominating the conversation. But apart from all the pretty iOS 8 features that Apple announced, the major thought is that it's going be generally faster, and possibly will have a mega-memory option. 

BGR's Chris Smith says that it will be an "iPad-like" 128GB, which means you can watch more video on those supposedly bigger screens.

Yeah, we encourage non-tech questions!

Yeah, like... ask Andrea what she got (or still wants) for her birthday!

I'm going to go ahead and answer the birthday present question no one actually asked here: So far I have received a chocolate muffin from Hayley, plane tickets to visit my family (from my parents -- who are the absolute, very best), planters for my rooftop vegetable garden from my grandparents, and a bonsai tree from my boyfriend -- which we plan on taking with us on the two week vacation that starts in roughly five hours!

Any reactions to this recent news item?: http://nhpr.org/post/ntsb-too-much-technology-too-little-training-caused-asiana-crash

You've touched on the tension here between automation and manual technology. I'm not sure where you fall on this, exactly, but to take a ground-based analogy, it's almost a certainty that automation in vehicles would do more to save lives than putting more humans behind the wheel. The fact that plane crashes are statistically so rare anyway is more (albeit circumstantial) evidence for the reliability of automated systems. 

On the whole, I don't know that we have much to worry about when it comes to "too much" technology on planes.

Should I actually trade in my MacBook Air for a Surface Pro 3?

Big question! 

If you're referring specifically to the trade-in program, I wouldn't recommend it.  They'll give you up to $650 for certain models...chances are that it won't be worth your while. 

Basically, the only reason I would trade in an MBA for a Surface Pro 3 is if I really hated OSX and wanted a touchscreen. That's not a knock on Microsoft or even on Windows 8, which actually makes some sense on the Surface Pro 3. I'm just saying that people tend to stay in the tech universe they're in, and especially with all the iPhone/Mac integration coming in iOS 8, you'd really have to be committing to a full-on loyalty switch here.

I got Andrea a chocolate muffin for her birthday. I assume she's gotten things that are way more impressive than that.

If you'd watched through the last episode of Silicon Valley, you'd know the answer. It's inappropriate for the chat though. (Also, did any of you stick with it? I was pretty disappointed with the ending)

I honestly didn't care for the first episode -- just not my style of humor, although I have plenty of friends who love it -- so alas, I have no opinion...

Seems to me they will aggravate a lot of potential users when said users realize they are being soaked! Once you start using the software, you are stuck. After that, it's a sellers game. Sheesh. Do Mac platforms do this too? Might switch allegiances!

Well, switching to Mac may not actually help you. The folks who are doing this are mostly people with suites of software (Adobe, Microsoft) and that's pretty platform agnostic.  And Apple has weird rules about having to approve the downloads of things that don't come from their own App Store. 

I wish I had a solution for you!

I still haven't watched Silicon Valley (I know, bad reporter, bad geek) because I don't have cable. If only there was some way for me to get those live broadcasts ala carte....

By the way, we missed a lot of you guys at last week's impromptu Switch meetup here in DC. We'll have to do some better planning next time.

How reliable are the rumors that the iPhone 6 will come with 4.7 and 5.5 inch screens? I use a Galaxy S3. I like the larger screen size, as I wear reading glasses. I can set the font size to Large, and still have a workable screen. But Android phones do not play well with my iMac desktop. Syncing calendars and contracts is difficult at best, and impossible most of the time. I assume an iPhone syncs well with Macs. I really, really, REALLY want a phone that syncs with my iMac AND that has a larger screen.

Well, rumors are rumors, and Apple is very tight-lipped. But the rumors are being backed up by analysts I trust and reporters that I trust, so if you made me answer I'd say, yes, we'll see some bigger sizes out of Apple. 

iPhones do sync well with Macs, and are about to get even more in-sync with a host of new features in the upcoming operating systems, so you'll be able to shoot documents and shared programs between screens.

My MIL's MacBook died and my better half has an Air that's a bit constricted in its storage space. So, we're thinking of handing off the Air and picking up one with a maxed on 512GB of space. That's the set-up, here's the question. Apple's got some good deals on refurbed Airs, but I'm reading rumors of a retina display air this fall. Given that the new Mac OS appears to be geared for high res displays, do you think it's worth it to wait?

I, personally, do think it's worth it to wait. The price for refurbished Airs probably isn't going to change drastically any time soon, so if you can wait I think it's worth doing. 

I'm less solid on when that retina MBA is coming out -- it's definitely logical (and I'd argue overdue.)

And shell out for plane tickets.

Where are you based? Maybe we can all converge somewhere in the middle of the country.... like Andrea's hometown in Kansas.

What has been your best birthday gift so far and why are you at work right now?

I am at work because I love my job and my co-workers... And it's my last day in the office before a two week vacation, so I have a lot of things to wrap up.

I'm very grateful for all of my birthday gifts, but I actually think the vacation (which is essentially a gift to myself) is probably my favorite. As much as I do love the Post, everyone needs a break every now and then. And my break is going to involve THIS: 

Anyone know where I'm headed?

It's not just software companies, publishers do this too. Libraries no longer "own" content, we rent it from publishers at an increasing cost every year.

Yup -- this is a concern I've heard from a number of librarians. I'll be writing about it one of these days. 

I recently ... acquired? ... HBOGo access. Love finally being able to watch their shows. Hate that that's what I've had to resort to. Hello, TV world. Please figure it out already.

By "resort to," you mean you bought a cable package, right? RIGHT?

Next thing you'll tell us you're sharing Netflix or Amazon Prime logins... WHICH IS SUPER UNETHICAL AND TOTALLY NOT THE BEST IDEA EVER. 

At least some services have actually added multiple logins/profiles to acknowledge that this is how people actually use those services.

For Office, try Open Office or Libre Office. It's free and does everything Office does.

Open source, baby. 

Excellent suggestion!

Five minutes left! Quick, what's something you've been dying to ask us?

Before you guys go: I just opened this in a new tab, and you should too.

Are you not devoting your full attention chat, Brian? I'm shocked. Shocked.

NEVER. Why would I do this? (Pro-tip y'all - this is an awesome way to spy on the weird things your friends are watching, ahem binge watching Ken Burn documentaries)

I, personally, am not ashamed of my Ken Burns binge-watching, or my Sherlock obsession thank you very much. Although, I sometimes worry that Matt will notice I watch a weird amount of Say Yes To The Dress. Like a super weird amount. 

For me it's Bridezillas. Watching that (manufactured) drama makes me feel so good about myself, as a person.

On that note. Thanks for another great chat, everyone! We won't be here next week. Because, freedom:

But we'll see you on July 11.

In This Chat
Brian Fung
Andrea Peterson
Hayley Tsukayama
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