All Technologizer posts by Harry McCracken

Harry McCracken is the editor of Technologizer, which he founded in 2008. He's written about technology for Slate, Family Circle, USA Today, and other publications, and has appeared on the BBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, NBC, the History Channel, and many other media outlets. He was also the editor in chief of PCWorld for four years. Follow him on Twitter as @harrymccracken.

Since I first saw and used Windows 8 last year, I’ve been wondering if Microsoft might end up tweaking it a bit to make it less of a shock to the system of all those Windows users out there–a sizable percentage of whom haven’t even given up Windows XP yet. But nope: According to Tom Warren of the Verge, the company has decided to do away with Windows’ most famous feature, its Start button.

Posted by Harry at 8:06 am

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Samsung’s Super Bowl commercial for the Galaxy Note, directed by a Farrelly brother, is like a fancier, less entertaining parody of its earlier Apple fan-bashing spots:

While the first ads featured the Galaxy S II phone, a direct competitor of the iPhone 4S, this one is for the Galaxy Note. With its huge screen and pen, it’s both an anti-iPhone and one of the most distinctive phones on the market. So the gag feels a little muffled, and the Note doesn’t get enough explanation.

I’m still curious how the Galaxy Note will do–it strikes me as neat, but a niche. But the fact that Samsung plowed money into a Super Bowl spot presumably means that it thinks the phone can be a mainstream hit.

Posted by Harry at 7:37 am

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Over at Read Write Web, Dan Frommer says that Netflix is OK with Hollywood taking actions that hurt Netflix’s DVD rental business–it wants DVD renting to go away, too:

The future of Netflix is 100% based on its ability to grow into the best streaming video entertainment service. Renting discs is very profitable for Netflix, but it’s the past. That’s why it went as far as to try separating its DVD business last year as “Qwikster,” and that’s why it’s letting studios make DVD rentals less attractive with windows and queue restrictions.

With last year’s Qwikster fiasco, we saw that Netflix is so anxious to exit DVD rentals that it hurts its judgment. It’s never healthy for a company to be in a business it dislikes. I wonder if Netflix has considered just ditching rentals–sooner, not later–rather than hoping that consumers are the ones who do the ditching?

Posted by Harry at 7:48 am

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The Curse of “Don’t Be Evil”

By Harry McCracken  |  Posted at 1:01 pm on Thursday, February 2, 2012

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So it’s official: By merging its various privacy policies into one master policy that permits it to intermingle the things it knows about you, Google has become evil. Or at least that’s the stance of Gizmodo’s Mat Honan, who isn’t alonein his furor:

Honan’s declaration of evil is a riff on Google’s famous unofficial motto, “Don’t be evil,” which was apparently proposed by staffers Paul Buchheit and Amit Patel at a 2001 meeting. Google continues to saying that not being evil is one of its core principles to this day. So the fact that Honan and others are saying that the company has finally crossed an ethical line into evilhood is a unique, sad moment in Google history.

Except…

People have been accusing Google of being evil–or at least wondering whether it has become so–for almost as long as Google has been claiming that it isn’t evil. I can’t lay my hands on any examples from 2001 or 2002, but it became a hot topic in 2003 and has never let up.
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Over at TIME.com, I reviewed Sony’s Personal 3D Viewer, which lets you strap two tiny OLED screens to your head for 3D movie watching and game playing. It’s an unusual gizmo, and at $800, it isn’t cheap. But I liked the 3D effect way more than almost anything else I’ve seen.

Posted by Harry at 8:34 am

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Foodspotting: It’s Not Just for Food Photographers Anymore

By Harry McCracken  |  Posted at 8:13 am on Thursday, February 2, 2012

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Until now, I’ve thought of Foodspotting mostly as an iPhone app which my wife uses to share photos of her meal when we dine out. She loves it. So do enough other people that a million pictures have been uploaded since the app’s launch, making it feel a bit like an Instagram that’s entirely devoted to things you can eat..

But there’s probably a limit to how many folks there are in the world who want to obsessively photograph food. So the new version of Foodspotting that launched this week is designed to broaden the app’s appeal. The photo sharing’s still there–but it feels more like one feature in an app whose primary purpose is to let large numbers of people find and see the best dishes at local restaurants before they place an order.

The new Foodspotting lets you browse popular dishes at nearby restaurants, or pull up a “picture menu” of a specific eatery. Lists of picks from media outlets such as Zagat’s and New York magazine supplement the recommendations from Foodspotting users. And there’s a section of Specials–which consisted of 50% discounts at several restaurants when I checked–which is the start of Foodspotting’s strategy for making money.

With its new emphasis on finding places to go and stuff to eat, Foodspotting feels a bit more like a competitor to traditional sources of restaurant reviews such as Yelp. But the similarities don’t run deep. Foodspotting still focuses on pictures and thumbs-up ratings, not full-blown critiques. And there’s no way to steer other users away from disappointing dishes by giving anything a thumbs down.

Judging from my experience so far, Foodspotting also doesn’t have a Yelplike critical mass of content practically everywhere. At the moment, I’m in Newton Corner, Massachusetts–not exactly a hotbed of fine dining–and only see a few photos from a few restaurants. Yelp, however, has dozens of nearby establishments that have dozens of reviews apiece. (Back home in food-centric San Francisco, Foodspotting is a much richer resource.)

Of course, one of the goals of the new version is to ramp up more quickly. If it works, the app, which was already lots of fun, will be even more fun, and much more useful.

Foodspotting is available for iPhone, Android, Windows Phone, and BlackBerry; the iPhone and Android editions are the first two to become available in this updated version.



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Bobbie Johnson of GigaOM has a good piece on John Browett, Apple’s new Apple Store guy:

Immediate reaction to the news was intriguing, because it was split down the middle. On one side were those who read Browett’s credentials and the PR puffs. To them, it looks as if Apple has just hired a man who has succeeded at most things he’s tried, and spent the last five years steering a large retail business with more than 1,200 stores through a difficult period for the economy.

On the other hand, for those who know Dixons as it exists in the real world, the reaction was somewhat different: the most common refrain I saw was “Has Tim Cook ever been in a Dixons store?”.

Posted by Harry at 11:38 am

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The Apple Store’s New Chief Already Runs an Electronics Retailer. Is That Good or Bad?

By Harry McCracken  |  Posted at 7:24 am on Tuesday, January 31, 2012

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Ron Johnson, the Apple retail chief who helped turn the Apple Store into a juggernaut, announced last June that he was leaving to become CEO of JC Penney. He departed Apple as of November 1st. And now he’s been replaced: Apple has announced that John Browett is its new senior vice president of retail operations.

Since 2007, Browett has been CEO of Dixons Retail, a large electronics merchant in the UK that owns two chains, Currys and PC World. It’s sort of both the Best Buy and the CompUSA of its territory.

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I had lots of fun recording an episode of the Mac Power Users podcast with cohosts David Sparks and Katie Floyd. The topic was near and dear to my heart: It’s about using the iPad as a laptop replacement.

Posted by Harry at 2:13 pm

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As ZDNet’s Mary Jo Foley reports, Microsoft has announced that it’s begun a technical preview of Office 15, the next version of its suite. That means that work is progressing on the product, and it doesn’t seem unreasonable to guess that the company hopes to have it out this year. But the news doesn’t bring any official details whatsoever:

Microsoft officials are not commenting on the features in any part of Office 15; on the planned release-to-manufacturing (RTM) or general availability date; or on whether the technical preview will include a version of Office that will work on Windows 8 on ARM. (I asked about all of these.) Update: Also, for those asking, we also have no idea on platform-support specifics — such as whether this preview also encompasses the rumored Office for iPad; and whether it includes a separate non-touch-centric Office 15 update for those not using tablets/touch-enabled laptops.

I hope that Microsoft is working on an ambitious touch-centric version of Office for Windows 8. It would be odd if it wasn’t. But I’m not sure what the implications will be–is it even possible to create a touch version of Excel that will please a spreadsheet jockey?–and look forward to hearing what Microsoft has to say when it’s ready to talk.

Posted by Harry at 12:57 pm

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Nomad Brush: Making iPad Painting More Painterly

By Harry McCracken  |  Posted at 1:20 am on Monday, January 30, 2012

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When I attended Macworld|iWorld last Thursday and Friday, the show floor was bustling with attendees. And in terms of bustle-per-square-foot, the busiest booth I saw probably belonged to Nomad Brush, which makes brushes that can be used for digital painting on the iPad and other tablets. The company provided me with one for review.

The only input device that the iPad was designed to be used with is the human finger, and designing a decent iPad-compatible stylus is tricky–most of them have blunt, squishy tips that don’t feel like a pen point. But with a brush, being blunt and squishy actually works–and the nicely-made Nomad Brush feels like a real art instrument.

It doesn’t feel exactly like one: For one thing, real brushes, dipped in paint, have a fluid feel that you don’t get when you’re dragging a dry brush over a tablet. And while a real brush is the most gloriously pressure-sensitive input device of them all, this one, like standard styluses, isn’t pressure-sensitive. But in art programs like ArtRage, SketchBook Pro, and Brushes, using Nomad Brush feels much more painterly than working with a garden-variety stylus.

I tried the $39 Nomad Compose, a model with a long brush on one end and a stubbier one on the other. The company makes other models, including the Nomad Play, a stubby version designed for kids. If you paint. draw, or doodle on an iPad, check them out.



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DONKEY.BAS is Back!

By Harry McCracken  |  Posted at 9:27 am on Saturday, January 28, 2012

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I didn’t own an IBM PC or clone in the early days, so I missed out on the wonder of DONKEY.BAS, which came bundled with early versions of MS-DOS and was the first PC game. In fact, I don’t think I knew about it until I read Benj Edwards’ slideshow on operating-system games, which pointed out that it was cowritten by Bill Gates himself.

But now I can relive the magic for the first time, thanks to a new version of DONKEY.BAS for iOS. It’s 99 cents, is compatible with Game Center, and includes both iPhone and iPad versions. It seems to be a faithful rendition of the original, complete with blocky graphics and bloopy sound effects, and the same objective: Drive down road, avoid hitting donkeys. And it’s um, just as fun as it must have been back in 1981.

The new version is by Johnny Ixe; I’d love to think that’s a pseudonym for William H. Gates III. Probably not, though, so let’s hope that Microsoft doesn’t issue a takedown notice….



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OK, now this sounds nifty: Microsoft is experimenting with building its Kinect gesture-input system into notebook computers running Windows 8, says The Daily’s Matt Hickey:

 

A source at Microsoft has confirmed that the devices are indeed official prototypes of laptops featuring a Kinect sensor. In terms of functionality, there are hundreds of different ways that motion control could be leveraged in a portable. Gaming has the most obvious applications, but a Kinect-enabled laptop could also toggle between programs with the wave of a hand, or media controls could be tweaked with the wag of a finger. What’s more, motion-controlled portables could offer a new way for disabled individuals to interact with their devices.

Posted by Harry at 2:41 pm

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More About the Apple Cult (Even Though I Said It Was Time to Stop Talking About It)

By Harry McCracken  |  Posted at 1:16 am on Friday, January 27, 2012

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Over at TIME.com, my Technologizer column for this week is about the theory that people who buy Apple products act like cult members. As the theory would have it, they snap up Macs, iPhones, and iPads not because they’re good products, but because they’re mesmerized by Apple advertising and think that owning the company’s products makes them better human beings. Or something like that.

My take is that the theory was always silly–and that it’s particularly nonsensical in an age in which truly vast numbers of people are buying Apple products. The company’s customer base isn’t made up of like-minded fanatics; it consists of a large variety of people who buy Apple stuff for all sorts of reasons. But mostly, I hope and think, because they find it useful.

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Sounds like we AT&T is saying that the feds killing its T-Mobile acquisition is going to lead to an era of higher prices and more limitations for us AT&T customers.

Posted by Harry at 11:15 am

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The New York Times is publishing an outstanding series of articles by Charles Duhigg and David Barboza on working conditions at the Chinese factories where Apple’s products are built:

More troubling, the groups say, is some suppliers’ disregard for workers’ health. Two years ago, 137 workers at an Apple supplier in eastern China were injured after they were ordered to use a poisonous chemical to clean iPhonescreens. Within seven months last year, two explosions at iPad factories, including in Chengdu, killed four people and injured 77. Before those blasts, Apple had been alerted to hazardous conditions inside the Chengdu plant, according to a Chinese group that published that warning.

Apple (which declined to comment for the Times) is not the only company that has issues like this: Foxconn, its principal supplier, assembles 40 percent of the world’s consumer electronics, period. And Apple may be moving in the right direction when it comes to doing stuff about this and discussing the situation openly. But if you own Apple products or other gadgets made in China–and you do–you owe it to yourself to read the Times’ stories.

Posted by Harry at 7:53 am

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