Like many of you, a love of gadgets is what I have instead of a soul. Within a few strides of this spot I can put my hands on an iPad, an iPhone, an Android phone, a Samsung Series 9 Ultrabook, a Kindle, two desktop PCs, and four video game consoles. And while there isn't a single game I want to play for any of the new game systems, I'll wind up buying one or both of them just because I can't stop buying things.
So when I say that 2013 was the year consumer tech completely ran out of ideas, I'm not coming at this like a Luddite or cheapskate, grumping about how nobody needs this plastic Chinese crap because in my day we wrote comedy with nothing more than a frightened squid taped to a sharp stick. I'm saying I want the Next Big Thing, and I want it now, to fill this emptiness inside me.
But 2013 was bad news for people like me, because ...
(You might think the West has come a long way since the Dark Ages, but did you know the rest of the world came a long way during "the Dark Ages"? Get The De-Textbook and de-bullshit your historical lore.)
#5. Apple Appears to Have Stopped Innovating
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Here's the ad for Apple's newest product, the iPad Air, showing off its one selling point:
Yep, it's thinner than the old iPad -- thin enough to hide behind a pencil, in fact! And thank God for that, because the sheer thickness of the previous iPad models made me want to shit myself with rage. It was a whopping 8.8 millimeters thick, while the iPad Air is only 7.5 millimeters. Several members of our team own the old iPad models, and time and time again we sent out assignments and time and time again got the reply, "I'm sorry, David, my iPad is simply too thick for that task."
In case you can't tell, I'm being sarcastic! If this 1.3 millimeter decrease in thickness motivates you to buy an iPad that you previously had no use for, you almost certainly have some kind of mental illness! My point is that the first iPad hit the market in 2010, and as far as I can tell, that was Apple's last game-changer. And we're overdue for one -- it showed up three years after the iPhone appeared in 2007. Was Siri supposed to be their Next Big Thing? Because I've literally never seen someone use Siri in public -- my wife stopped using it the moment she realized that telling it to "Call me Rock God" would result only in the phone telling you that there is no "Merock Godd" in your contact list for it to call:
"But I use Siri all the time!" some of you are already saying in an email that will never reach me because you're trying to send it using Siri. Whatever -- the point is that Apple's sales are flattening out, as they've started relying on releasing their devices in more markets rather than inventing the next wondrous gadget that the world didn't know it desperately wanted until they unveiled it. You'd better have something in the works for 2014. Trust me, you won't like it if we stop buying gadgets and start to appreciate the simple things in life. Not unless you figure out how to charge 800 bucks for the simple joy of a child's smile.
#4. 3D TV Failed, and Television Makers Are Lost as to What's Next
I admit: I pooh-poohed the idea of high-def TV back when it was new, but the day we had one delivered to Wong Manor seven years or so ago was a big deal -- the widescreen aspect ratio alone made us feel like we'd moved up in the world. Then a few years later when we replaced that LCD TV with a brand new Sony LED, it was ... not such a big deal. The jump from 720p to 1080p (I don't know what those numbers mean!) was not visible to my old man eyes, beyond the fact that it looked a little ... cleaner, I guess? Maybe? Like somebody had just given my old TV a good scrubbing? Oh, and it made some movies look like soap operas. The point is, it wasn't the "HOLY SHIT I CAN SEE THE PORES ON LAURENCE FISHBURNE'S FACE!" revelation that HD was. It wasn't the Next Big Thing.
No, that was supposed to be 3D TV. But by 2013, it had come and gone -- they've all but abandoned the technology after realizing that they violated Rule #1 of consumer entertainment:
People Don't Want to Have to Wear a Dorky Thing on Their Head.
"Oh, yeah, this is much better. I will have the most powerful neck in the universe!"
Sure, we'll wear 3D glasses for the duration of a movie in a theater (although even that is turning out to be a passing fad) -- there, we're all together in a dark room, where no one can see us. But nobody wants to wear this uncomfortable, dorky looking shit while sitting at home, or in a social setting. This is why virtual reality died in the 1990s and never came back -- we don't want to be immersed in a wondrous world of fantasy if it means having to wear a goddamned nerd helmet while members of the opposite sex might be watching. Or members of the same sex, or anyone. Remember this rule, by the way -- it's going to come up again.
So this year, TV makers started really pushing 4K televisions -- a kind of super high-def format that they hope will be the Next Big Thing instead of 3D. It has billions more pixels (probably?) and creates a scene so lifelike, you can't distinguish it from reality (note: This is also how they sold me HD a decade ago). Here's an ad showing how the technology will make stupid people think they're going to die:
So, three quick problems with that:
A) Not all of my channels are even in HD yet -- on AT&T U-verse, I'm still getting some channels (like IFC) in standard def only -- they're still not finished upgrading on the back end.
B) Most of my viewing is done via streaming, and none of that comes through in 1080p -- during high traffic periods, half the shows I watch on Netflix look like compressed YouTube videos shot with an iPhone. Again, the infrastructure on the back end isn't up to 1080p standards. But that leads us to the bigger problem ...
C) My home Internet connection comes with a 300GB bandwidth cap, and other ISPs have it set as low as 50GB. But streaming one 4K movie will cost you 40 motherporking GB of bandwidth -- and will take 10 hours to download for the average U.S. household.
Which really reopens the window for physical disk porn rentals.
And that's all to get a picture quality that, from normal viewing distances, looks exactly the same. The limitation is our own biology -- adding a buttload more pixels just doesn't change what the human eye can perceive from the sofa. So your investment is worthless unless you intend to sit 3 feet away from an 85-inch screen.
Don't get me wrong -- within a few years, every TV will have 4K capability. Sure, the vast majority of content you can watch on it will still not be 4K, since broadcasters are still paying for the HD equipment they just bought and bandwidth caps aren't going anywhere -- but the upgrade will happen. It just won't be anything to get excited about, and it certainly isn't giving me reason to chuck my two-year-old LED TV into the trash, no matter how much I love the sensation of peeling that plastic static film off a new set (and I do love it). Once again, 2013 found us compulsive gadget buyers just shrugging and saying, "What else you got?"
To which gadget makers said, "Wait, did you say you did or didn't like wearing bulky electronic shit on your body? Because ..."
#3. Wearable Gadgets Arrived, and They're as Ridiculous as You Thought
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Literally every single person reading this can remember the day they went in to have laser eye surgery, only to have the lady behind the counter patiently explain that it would not actually involve implanting lasers in their eyes. This is when most of us realized that a future in which technology augments our fragile human bodies still lies far beyond the horizon.
In the real world of 2013, the closest thing we have is a series of wearable gadgets that are grossly impractical, but make up for it by also making us look like dorks. Years ago, the sight of a Bluetooth earpiece became cultural shorthand for "douchebag," and yet the tech companies all seem to think consumers will, any moment now, embrace putting gadgetry right on their face or some other visible part of their body.
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"All suited up. Are you ready to experience MP3s like never before?!"
Like Google Glass, the Next Big Thing in smartphone technology that tantalized nerds with the promise of augmented reality (aka Terminator vision) and threatened the rest of us with a future full of drooling Glass zombies shuffling around, deeply engrossed in apps only they can see. The reality is these smart glasses have only a few hours of battery life, can only display a tiny, grainy image, often don't work if you already wear glasses, don't fold up for easy storage, and oh, by the way, are much less capable than even a cheap smartphone -- in other words, you still need to keep a phone in your pocket. So Glass adds to the amount of shit you have to carry around, and charge, and upgrade. You may recognize this multiplication and complication of consumer tech as the exact opposite of what technology has been trying to accomplish for the last 50 years or so.
Less intrusive, but even less useful, is Samsung's Galaxy Gear smart watch -- a "phone built into a wristwatch" gadget that pop culture has been promising us since Dick Tracy.
Hey, did you know that it doesn't let you just glance at it to check the time? Like any smartphone, the screen goes to sleep to save battery -- you have to hit a button to make it act like a watch. Otherwise it's an ugly, bulky $300 phone you wear on your wrist with a tiny little screen that, once again, can only be used if paired with an actual phone. So it does a series of jobs that your other gadgets already do, only much, much worse.
Meanwhile, any time you mention that video games seem to have run out of ideas, somebody invariably says "Just wait until Oculus Rift, dude!" referring to the high-def virtual reality goggles that have spawned thousands of YouTube videos of users losing their shit:
And I don't doubt that I'll have that exact same reaction ... for the first 10 minutes. But let me get this straight -- 3D TV failed because people didn't want to sit on their sofa wearing this:
But Oculus Rift is the future because those same people will want to sit for five or six hours wearing this:
I hate to break it to you, guys, but the world didn't reject VR because the graphics weren't good enough -- they were awesome for the time. It just didn't matter because humans don't want to wear a big dorky thing on their head. We're very particular about what we put on our heads; this is why hair care is such a huge industry and 35 states are in the process of passing anti-fedora legislation. Plus, the moment you cover your eyes with that thing at a party, what's the first thing that will happen to you? That's right -- some dude will come up behind the sofa and lay his dick on your shoulder. And everyone will laugh and laugh.
Hey, speaking of which ...