The Note 5 Backwards-Stylus ‘Design Flaw’ Hubbub is Really Stupid [Updated with Me Being Wrong]

* * * UPDATE: I have largely reversed my position on this due to new evidence. So consider this post an archive of my being wrong, or at least, insufficiently informed.
From the Note 5 manual.

Apparently, some folks have decided to 1) purchase a Samsung Galaxy Note 5, 2) Stick the S Pen stylus in backward, getting it utterly stuck, and 3) Blame Samsung.

What?

It sucks, no doubt, to have your new phone suddenly broken due to something that seems so innocuous.

But come on. You have to wonder, why in the name of sweet flappy jeebus would you want to stick your S Pen in backwards? For one thing, this particular version of the S Pen features a clicky spring-loaded nub on the end of it, which is specifically constructed to eject the stylus from its compartment. This ejector would not function if inserted backward into the phone, so by doing so, you’ve already negated (nay, violated) the whole concept of the S Pen’s design. And there is literally no reason to stick the stylus in backwards. Even if you did so accidentally, when you go to push it in and your thumb or finger feels a point instead of a flat, springy surface, that ought to be a clue that you’re about to commit an error, and so reverse course.

So, fine, I’ll grant that accidents happen. A kid could get ahold of the device and mess with it, or a person who doesn’t know any better might just find the whole “what would happen if” concept irresistible. Sure, Samsung says in the instruction manual not to ever put the pen in backward, but whatever, nobody reads those. It would absolutely been better if Samsung had made sure this kind of thing couldn’t happen by accident, and would have added value to the product.

But do we hold the manufacturers of USB devices responsible if someone tries to jam a plug into a port upside-down, damaging the connectors? If I shoved a floppy disc into a drive backward, and screwed everything up, would that be the manufacturers’ fault? In either case, would we demand a recall of these products? Of course not.

Look, Samsung is a big, rich company, and they can certainly afford to replace some devices or rejigger their design, I don’t feel bad for them or worry about them. Puh-leez. But I have to give an even bigger “puh-leez” (maybe a few more e’s, like, “puh-leeeeeeeze”) to the idea that this is some unforgivable design flaw on Samsung’s part, that they somehow blew it because a few people couldn’t help but “see what happened” if they did something obviously wrong to their expensive, delicate hardware made of super-precise, miniaturized mechanical parts. It’s an $800 piece of technology, folks. Treat it like one.

And for full disclosure: I got a Note 5, it’s amazing, and I have not been tempted to stick the S Pen in backward. Ever.

Update: Andrew Martonik sees the real design flaw.

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People Are Discovering that Reading on Their Phones Doesn’t Suck

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The publishing industry has noticed that a lot of us are reading on our phones. Not just BuzzFeed listicles and Facebook statuses, but real, wordy books. Many years ago I thought it was quite the novelty that I had managed to read all of Frankenstein on my iPhone 3G, and didn’t hate doing so. Today, I read almost all my books on my phone.

This is to the exclusion of tablets and e-readers, and very intentionally so. A while ago it dawned on me that owning three remarkably similar (and expensive) devices that all performed widely overlapping tasks seemed decadent and redundant. At the same time, I had become enthralled by phablets, a.k.a. big screen phones. With quad-HD displays boasting over 500 pixels per inch, and phone screens not too different in size from a mass market paperback, the phablet easily replaced my iPad and my Kindle for book reading.

I’m not alone! In a piece in the Wall Street JournalJennifer Maloney reports:

In a Nielsen survey of 2,000 people this past December, about 54% of e-book buyers said they used smartphones to read their books at least some of the time. That’s up from 24% in 2012, according to a separate study commissioned by Nielsen.

And tablet and e-reader use is down as well. And it’s not just phablet people, even normals with their smaller iPhones 6 are reading full-length books on their phones. (Maloney says that both iPhones 6 are “sharper” than previous models, but that’s not correct, as only the iPhone 6 Plus has a higher resolution.)

There obvious concern is that deep reading will now be lost to the universe of notifications our phones provide:

With all their ringing, dinging and buzzing, smartphones are designed to alert and distract users, notes Naomi S. Baron, a professor of linguistics at American University and author of “Words Onscreen: The Fate of Reading in a Digital World.” Even when a phone’s alerts are turned off, your brain is still primed for disruption when you pick it up, she said. That could make a phone worse for reading than an e-reader.

But “could” is not the same as “will.” Sentient people have to decide for themselves what they are going to prioritize. During a busy day, one might grab snippets of reading, but leave their notifications fully armed, because life does go on. But at night, say, the pings can be disabled, the display backlight can be dimmed, and you have a wholly different reading experience.

And of course there’s still dead-tree books, which I’m trying to read more of in order to go easier on my eyes at night before bed. The biggest problem with them, of course, is that they don’t sync. The book I read in a codex format is stuck inside those leaves, and I can’t dig into it at will from my phone wherever I am. Thus, some books become relegated to the bedside table, and that’s more or less fine.

Because there are plenty of books waiting for me on that big phone. The very device I wrote this post on!

Forget the Ones and Sixes, Show Me the Sevens and E’s

New flagship Android phones are being announced at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, right now. There’s the new HTC One M9, which is a nice evolution of the One line, which is fine (but apparently now playing catchup camera-wise after two generations of a noble and failed experiment with “ultrapixels”). The Samsung Galaxy S6 is also coming any moment, with an all- or mostly-metal build and one version with the “Edge” side screens. That’s a yawn for me.
Here’s what does interest me (and it’s two very different things).

Screen Shot 2015-03-01 at 11.15.29 AMHuawei’s MediaPad X2: A high-quality, high-resolution mega-phablet/mini-tablet. A device with a 7-inch display and telephony functionality, the sheer size of which makes it debatable whether it’s a phone or a tablet. I’m comfortable calling it a phablet, which is a word I’ve embraced. Anyway, a giant-ass screen with lots of horsepower, a great display, and checking all the connectivity boxes, that’s a compelling product to me as a phablet convert. My current device is a Galaxy Note 4 (5.7 inches), which is great, but I still lust after larger-screened devices such as the Nexus 6 (5.9 inches, which just gets too hot for me to be comfortable with), the Xperia Z Ultra (6.4 inches), and Huawei’s own Ascend Mate 7 (6 inches).

The image on the right is my current phone next to the MediaPad, via GSM Arena. Swoon. Is a 7-inch phone even sane? I don’t know, but I’d like to try being that crazy.

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Cheap, quality phones: Just before MWC, Motorola announced the Moto E (in about the most adorable way possible), which is a small-ish, good-looking, medium-resolution phone with more or less stock Android 5.0, and it starts at just $130 off-contract. That’s amazing. The Moto G, which is a very fine mid-range device, is only $180. Meanwhile, you have OnePlus’s current device, which is a full-fledged flagship powerhouse, starting at $300 off-contract. At MWC, I’m already seeing a lot of phones get introduced with good specs and low prices.

I subscribe very much to the idea that non-tech enthusiasts should not be using low-end tech, because low-end tech usually means more frustration and more additional work. That’s why Apple is usually so perfect for technophobes and normal humans, because their angle has always been to make the experience as frustration-free as possible (which is obviously at some risk of late). A couple of years ago, there was no way I could, in good conscience, recommend to anyone on a budget to buy a budget Android device. They were cheap-feeling, slow, and confusing.

No more. A relative of mine is ready to get a new phone, having used an iPhone 4S for years, and while she’ll likely go for the iPhone 6, I would have little qualms about recommending instead that she just grab a Moto G, get contract-free, and at the same time feel less anxious and precious about her device. Off-contract, iPhone 6 starts at $650, versus the G’s $180, which is about equal to AppleCare plus a deductible for a replacement if something happened to the iPhone 6. The Moto G as a phone costs as much as the insurance to replace a broken iPhone 6.

I like this trend. I like that people who aren’t as precious as I am about devices can now get a fully-capable, well-made device and not have to get stuck in a contract or shell out gobs of money. And that cheaper device is now actually pleasant to use, thanks to the advancement of the technologies involved, and to Android Lollipop.

The Tablet Reconsidered: A High Bar for the Middle Space

Image credit: Blunt on Flickr.
The tablet computer as we know it is about to turn 5 years old. Yes, tablet computers in some for or another existed before then, but on January 27, 2010, Steve Jobs introduced the iPad, which truly formed the basis for what we currently understand a tablet to be. Whatever we considered a tablet computer to be before then no longer counted. The iPad line itself is now in its sixth generation of iterations. So now that we’ve had tablets for half a decade, what can we fairly say about their impact and their role in our digital lives? Have they lived up to their promise, and do they continue to justify their existence as a product category unto themselves?

Yesterday, I wrote about how I was considering abandoning the iPad, despite my iPad evangelism of the recent past. As delighted by iPads as I have been, I’ve lately found them to be less useful and less necessary, as other products, namely smartphones and laptops, encroach on their territory.

I thought it might help to go back to the beginning, to the iPad introduction where Steve Jobs laid out the case for Apple’s decision to make the iPad to begin with. (As a side note, man, does going back to those old videos make me miss Steve.) As was his wont, Steve made some pretty bold claims about what role the iPad should play, and how it excelled in comparison to other devices, and all before anyone outside of Apple, Inc. had ever even used one.

“All of us use laptops and smartphones now,” he said, and asked, “Is there room for a third category of device in the middle?” He posed this question obviously as a fan of smartphones and laptops, being the guy who makes iPhones and MacBooks.

“The bar is pretty high,” he said, and he was right. In order to justify their existence, “those devices [in the middle] are going to have to be far better at doing some key tasks.” Among those tasks were:

  • Browsing the Web (which he said was a “tall order”)
  • Doing email
  • Viewing and sharing photos
  • Watching video
  • Enjoying music
  • Playing games
  • Reading ebooks

This product would have to be not just adequate at these tasks, but superior to laptops and phones. “Otherwise it has no reason for being,” Steve declared.

It’s interesting to note how definitive this position is. Steve wasn’t saying that the iPad was merely going to be a nice or novel way to do some computing tasks and consume some media, but that it would be better at all of those things than even the very products Apple made at the time.

And for the time of its introduction, and for some time after, it was hard to argue with him. Consider the state of things at the time, even in the best case. The iPhone 3GS, then the most current phone, had a 3.5“ screen – unthinkably small by today’s standards. On the flip side, the smallest laptop screen Apple produced was that of the 13” MacBooks. The MacBook Air as we know it (with the tapered design and all-solid-state storage) didn’t yet exist. MacBooks weighed just under 5 lbs. and their batteries lasted a handful of hours at best. So we have a situation in 2010 in which mobile screens are tiny, and laptops are relatively heavy, short-lived on battery, relatively slow with traditional hard disks, and often hot. The iPhone was super-personal, but limited in functionality in comparison to a MacBook. The MacBook was super-powerful, but too much of a “machine” to feel personal or “fun.”

And for the sake of this discussion, let’s grant Steve’s position at the time that netbooks “aren’t good at anything” and dismiss them as viable options.*

Coming into this environment, the iPad is very compelling. It’s personal, in that you hold it in your hands, sitting back in a chair or what have you, and manipulate the content with your fingers. “It is the best browsing experience you’ve ever had,” Steve said, and repeated variations on “Holding the Internet in your hands; it’s an incredible experience.” And it was! It was also relatively powerful, powerful enough anyway. You could take care of email, and get real work done if needed. “It’s a dream to type on,” said Steve, which I think is arguable at best, but I’ve found it to be a better typing experience than most, I think. Perhaps due to my wee little hands.

He made other claims. He said it was superior for watching TV and movies, which I think was and still is true today.

He said it was the best way to enjoy music, which I think was and is still untrue. There’s no beating a pocketable device for being the central repository of one’s audio content. The iPad is arguably not even superior to a MacBook for music, as a MacBook can sit at a desk attached to a good sound system, where it’s easy to assemble playlists and do other fiddly things with one’s collection. An iPad simply has sub-par speakers and a big screen going to waste on album art. So, sorry, Steve.

He said it was the best way to read e-books, granting that the Apple was “standing on [Amazon’s] shoulders” to do the Kindle one better. I think that claim was a wash at the time, as the iPad did not yet sport a high-res/Retina display, and text on the E-ink Kindles was much nicer to read. Today, it’s also a tough call. The glowing, high-resolution displays of the Kindles Paperwhite and Voyage are wonderful for reading, but a Retina iPad mini is in many ways just as nice, and there’s no way a Kindle can best the iPad at ease of use in user interface. So I don’t think this match-up has been sufficiently settled.

One claim I think we can say is settled is the idea that the iPad boasts “the best interface we’ve ever seen” for productivity apps, which at the time were the first iOS iWork apps. Maybe they were the best interface for tablet productivity apps, but that bar was so low that it was probably underground. But then as now, despite the many strides Apple and developers have made in the productivity space, the iPad still can’t come close to matching the laptop. I considered for novelty’s sake writing this piece on my iPad, but I couldn’t bare the thought of doing longform writing, editing, and formatting on it. So here I am on my MacBook Pro.

That said, I decided to do my writing at the local Starbucks (my “satellite office”), and since I hadn’t charged my Mac in a while, I had to make sure I brought my AC cable and found a seat near an electrical outlet. With the iPad, there would have been a much better chance that I wouldn’t have even had to think about whether the battery would last.

It’s not 2010 anymore, of course. In five short years, the landscape has changed enormously. iPads have evolved and improved to be almost unbelievably thin and powerful, and now come in two distinct screen sizes.

Other manufacturers, who once rushed out laughable “competitors” to the iPad now make all manner of quality hardware, from the inexpensive-but-dead-simple Amazon Fires, the svelte and slick Nexus 7 and nVidia Shield, to the high-end, ultra-high-resolution Samsung Galaxy Tab S line. The biggest problem faced by these devices is the simple fact that the Android software ecosystem is still pretty lame for tablet-optimized apps, and that often these manufacturers make overly-complicated interfaces in order to squeeze in unnecessary “features.” (Not the case for Amazon or Google/Nexus of course.) iPads remain almost indisputably superior, but they are no longer the only good choice, and the gap narrows more and more all the time.

But the real challenge to the iPad and to tablets generally is that the space in the middle that Steve Jobs talked about in 2010 has shrunk. A lot.

Let’s look at laptops. Again, in 2010, good laptops (meaning MacBooks) were 5-pound hunks of metal that needed power and heat dissipation and had slow spinning-disk hard drives. Today, MacBooks are light, svelte, have incredible battery life (with MacBook Airs well outlasting iPads), and game-changingly fast solid state drives for storage. Even MacBook Pros are lighter, thinner, and longer-lasting than ever before, coming close to the iPad in battery life. A full-size iPad has a 9.7-inch screen, but one can also buy a MacBook Air with an 11-inch display with a similar footprint, and if you match storage capacities between devices, the prices are only about $100 apart.

If I need to run out to, say, Starbucks and want to get some work done, is it really more convenient to bring an iPad than a MacBook Air? The MacBook will have a far-better keyboard, and have vastly superior functionality for things like working with multiple apps in multiple windows, and text editing and formatting (and simple things like copying and pasting).

But what if you’re hitting the coffee shop in order to kick back and relax, browse the web and read a book? Well, the iPad is great for that, and if you need to do some work, it can be done reliably. So is that the trump card for the iPad? As I’ve written many times before, the iPad for me is a “choose-to-use” device, the thing you reach for when the work you have to do is done, which usually happens on a PC or a phone. And in this scenario, sure, the iPad absolutely beats the laptop.

Of course we now have to look at the state of the smartphone. In 2010, phones were mostly small. The iPhone 5 with its 4-inch display was more than two years away, and even that is considered small by today’s standards, and the current new line of iPhones’ smallest screen size is 4.7 inches (though the 5S and 5C are still being sold as new by Apple).

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Big phones are now the norm in the Android space, and Android commands the largest chunk of smartphone market share. Anything under 5 inches is now considered “compact” or “mini” in Android-world. The most highly-regarded Android phones of the last couple of years, the 2014 Moto X, the HTC Ones M7 and M8 the Samsung Galaxies S4 and S5, and the Nexus 5, are all over 5-inches. (The 2013 Moto X was 4.7 inches, and it was regarded as adorably small.)

[Note: As I write at this moment, my battery on my MacBook is at 18% and I need to dig out my cable and plug into the wall. So there’s that.]

Image credit: 彭家杰

And this doesn’t even get into the world of phablets, loosely characterized by having displays of 5.5 inches or more. Even Apple now produces a phablet in the iPhone 6 Plus (5.5“), and its fans are zealous ones, and the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 (5.7”) is nearly universally adored, both for their large, high-resolution displays, and for one other big benefit: They obviate the need for tablets for many people. In particular, I hear anecdotal tales of people forgetting about their iPad minis, and I include myself in that. And then of course there’s the Nexus 6 at 5.96 inches.

With my excellent new LG G3 (5.5″) my iPad mini 2, at 7.9 inches, was rendered almost entirely redundant. I sold it, and assumed that I’d still require a tablet in my life, and certainly I’d still want some iOS device, so I got a used iPad Air. But I found I still wasn’t using it much, despite the fact that it remains superior in some ways to the phone and the laptop. But maybe not in enough ways.

Last year I wrote in defense of the iPad as a writing device, comparing it to smartphones as cameras, adapting the adage that the best camera is the one you have with you. The iPad was there, and sufficiently capable to make it a great device to write with right now when the thought strikes. It is with you, isn’t it?

But my iPad stopped being with me all the time, and if I have to seek it out to write, I might as well seek out the better writing device, my MacBook.

What about the other areas in which Steve Jobs said the iPad was superior? Web browsing stands out, certainly, as there really is nothing like having an entire web page in your hands, one that you control with your fingertips. But it’s not so much better than doing the same thing with a large phone. It’s better, but not enough that it means I’m going to stop what I’m doing and seek out my iPad.

Book reading? Nope, the phablet is better. Ultra-light, a large enough screen comparable to a mass market paperback, and ultra-high-resolution, crisp text. The iPad is a great e-reader, but the large phone with a high-res screen is perhaps the best one, maybe even better than the best Kindle.

Games? I’ll give this one to the iPad, certainly, at least for the games I like. Scrabble, Monument Valley, Robot Unicorn Attack 2, Tiny Wings, Bejeweled Blitz, Crossy Road – these games are much better on the larger display of an iPad. Other games it’s more of a wash, like Threes.

For me, as an evangelical enthusiast of gadgets like these, there is an element of sentimentality attached to the iPad and tablets. Though I didn’t even own one until the iPad 3 in 2012, they entrenched themselves into my psyche very quickly (and I suspect of millions of others as well). Whereas in 2007, almost nobody even had a smartphone, out of nowhere we’ve reached a place where it seems like a middle-class person in an economically advanced country is “supposed” to have a PC, a phone, and a tablet. (Kudos to Apple’s marketing for convincing us of this, whether or not it’s true.) I still love my iPad; it’s a beautiful, powerful, fun device. I have a genuine affection for it, and for the brand (again, a bow to Apple marketing). To disavow the use of an iPad, to even consider it, well, feels like a kind of apostasy. Like I’m going to disappoint someone or some higher power. (Stop glaring at me like that.)

Having an Android phone, I would also miss being in both conversations, as it were, because with no iPad, I have no iOS device. It also throws out all the time and money invested in that software ecosystem. But this is my personal issue, not a facet of the broader discussion. My personal decision is not yet made, and these things are always fluid, particularly for me. A change of mind a few weeks after any decision could mean more buying, selling, and trading to reconfigure my setup once again. I’m lucky that such a thing is even feasible, with a little work. And it’s fun.

At the end of the 2010 iPad event, Steve Jobs summed up what he had introduced as “Our most advanced technology in a magical and revolutionary device at an unbelievable price.” But now even price is no longer a marquee aspect of the iPad. At the time, people were shocked it wasn’t $1000. Today, very good tablets can be had for just over $100. iPads remain the best tablets, and really good ones (like the 16GB iPad mini 2) can be had for about $300, which is fair.

But with the encroachment of phones and laptops onto the iPad’s “middle space,” it’s hard to beat the price of zero dollars: No tablet at all.

– – –

Update: I have an addendum post that also takes into account something Steve Jobs didn’t: Comics and graphic novels.


* As my friend Tom Loughlin pointed out in the comments of my previous post, Chromebooks occupy an interesting position in all of this, as not-quite full power PCs, but not-quite tablets, but a kind of secondary or “spare” PC for portability, battery life, and kicking around on a budget. They don’t quite qualify for being part of this discussion per se, but one could for the most part transpose Chromebook for MacBook throughout this post, but I also understand that it could for many be seen as an iPad replacement.

2014’s Paradigm Shifts in Tech

Technology is all about change, and rapid change at that. But even with the pace of technological development being dizzyingly fast, there are still larger paradigms, grander assumptions and codes of conventional wisdom, that are more or less static. In 2014, though, a lot of those paradigms shifted, and many of our preconceptions and understandings were altered, enlightened, or totally overturned. Here’s a short list of some of those paradigm shifts in tech in 2014.

Microsoft the Scrappy Upstart

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In another age, Microsoft was the Borg, the unstoppable and loathed behemoth that destroyed all in its path. Then, sometime in the middle-to-late twenty-aughts, it became the ridiculous giant, releasing silly products, failing to even approach the hipness caché of its once-defeated rival Apple, and headed by a boorish clown prince. Zunes? Windows Vista? The Kin smartphone? Windows 8? “Scroogled”? Each risible in its own way.

And then Microsoft got a new boss, and Satya Nadella’s ascent immediately changed the public perception of the company, especially among the tech punditocracy. The products still weren’t fantastic (Windows 8.1, Surface Pro 3), but the company began to emphasize its role as a service provider, ubiquitous not in terms of desktop machines, but in terms of the various services through which all manner of machines and OSes did their work. Think OneNote, Office 360 on iPad and Android, Azure, and OneDrive. The tide had turned, and now as Google and Apple (and Facebook and Amazon) battled for supremacy, Microsoft would simply work with anyone.

To get a strong sense of the change in attitude toward Microsoft, listen to prime-Apple-blogger John Gruber’s interview of Microsoft beat reporter Ed Bott on The Talk Show early this year, recorded at a Microsoft conference, at which Gruber was featured as a marquee user of Microsoft services. Gruber and Bott were full of hope and admiration for the old Borg, which would have been unthinkable even five years ago. It is a new day indeed.

“I Was into Big Phones Before it Was Cool”

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When Samsung unveiled the Galaxy Note in 2011, it was ridiculed for being absurdly huge, as though anyone who bought one should be embarrassed about it. Today, the original Galaxy Note would be considered “medium sized” compared to today’s flagship phones, almost all of which have displays over 5 inches. Meanwhile, even larger phablets are objects of high desire and status, such as the Galaxy Note 4 and the iPhone 6 Plus. “Mini” phones (the 4.7-inch HTC One Mini, for example) are those with displays bigger than the biggest displays offered by Apple as recently as 2013, which topped out at 4 inches.

No longer silly, phablets are now considered high-productivity machines, the mark of a busy, engaged technophile, and are perceived to be eating well into the tablet market. (They’re still too big for me, but even I could be turned.) Big phones are now just phones.

Podcast Inception

At some point in 2014, it was decided that everyone in tech must have a podcast. If you worked for a tech site, you had a podcast (like me!). If you worked at a tech company, you had a podcast. If you’d just lost your tech job, your new tech job was to have a podcast. And on those podcasts, they woud have as guests and co-hosts who also had podcasts, because, of course, everyone had a podcast. On those podcasts, they would talk to their fellow podcasts hosts about podcasts, making podcasts, the future of podcasts, the monetization of podcasts, and podcast apps.

I predict that sometime in the middle of 2015, there will be a Podcast Singularity which will swallow up all tech podcasts into an infinitely dense pundit which will consider how this will affect the podcast industry, and will be sponsored by Squarespace.

Amazon’s Weird Hardware

Amazon was on a roll. The Kindle had proven itself to be an excellent piece of hardware years ago, and solidified this position with the magnificent Paperwhite in 2012. In 2013, its Fire tablets had become genuinely high-quality devices that were well-suited to most of the things anyone would want a tablet for, with strong builds, good performance, and beautiful screens. It seemed like Amazon was a serious hardware company now.

Then it released the Fire Phone, and everyone got a queasy feeling in their stomachs. A half-baked, gimmicky device that was incredibly overpriced, it landed with a thud, and Amazon continues to slash its price to clear out its inventory. (People really like the Kindle Voyage, I should note, and the Fire TV has been much better received as a set-top box, though my own experience with the Fire TV Stick was very poor.)

And then they awkwardly previewed the Amazon Echo, the weird cylinder that caters to the dumb informational needs of a creepy family, and the head-scratching turned to scalp-scraping. Amazon’s status as a serious hardware maker was no longer a given.

The Revolution Will Not Be Tablet-Optimized

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The iPad was going to be the PC for everyone. Most people would not even bother with a computer with a monitor and a keyboard, they’d just get a tablet, and that’d be it. PCs would be for professionals in specific situations that required a lot of power and peripherals. For the rest of humanity, it would be tablets all the way down.

Of course, now we know that in 2014, tablet growth has slowed, and few people use their tablets as their primary computing device. Instead, they’re causual devices for reading, browsing, and watching video. Despite the niche cases heralded in Apple’s “Verse” ads, on the whole, tablets have become the kick-back magazines of the gadget world.

That’s fine! I’ve written before that iPads/tablets are “zen devices of choice,” the computer you use when you don’t have to be using a computer, unlike smartphones and PCs which are “required” for work and day-to-day business.

The shift this year is the realization that tablets are (probably) not going to take over the PC landscape, especially as phones get bigger, and laptops get cheaper and sleeker. Could there be any better argument against an iPad-as-PC-replacement than Apple’s own 11″ MacBook Air? Even Microsoft, which once positioned its Surface machines as iPad replacements now markets them as MacBook competitors. Why? Because tablets just don’t matter that much, they’re more for fun, and the Surface is for serious business.

Forcing the tablet to be a PC has proven so far to be awkward and hacky, and PCs themselves are better than ever. The iPad revolution may never be. Which, again, is fine, but in 2014, we realized it.

(And relatedly, e-readers aren’t dead!)

The Souring of Twitter

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Twitter hasn’t always made the best decisions, and sometimes even its staunchest defenders have had to wonder what the company really wants to make of its crucial service. But to my mind, in 2014 the overall feeling toward Twitter has tipped from reluctant embrace to general disapproval. It’s gotten worse on privacy, it’s been MIA or unhelpful in handling abuse and harassment, and it’s began to seriously monkey with what makes Twitter Twitter. And more and more, I read pieces about once-avid Twitterers saying just how miserable the torrent of negativity makes people feel. Once the underdog to Facebook that all those in the know called home, it now looks like a hapless, heartless, clueless company that has no idea how good of a thing it has.

You Have Died of Ethics in Games Journalism

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Tech has always been a boy’s club, but in 2014, a lot of the industry decided it shouldn’t be anymore. As more and more instances of harassment, abuse, sexism, and overt misogyny were exposed – in the wider tech industry and in gaming particularly – the more people stood up to declare the status quo unacceptable. A wider embrace of inclusiveness and encouragement of women in tech emerged, along with, of course, a counter-reaction of hatred and attacks from those who liked things as they were.

2014 forced the tech universe to confront some very, very ugly things about itself. But it will likely prove a net win, as more of us work to fix it than don’t.

(I have this shirt with the above image, and it’s here.)

Google’s Glass Jaw

In 2013, Google Glass was the future, the way all things tech would soon be. In 2014, no one wears them, a consumer version seems to remain a fuzzy concept, and even those who were breathlessly enthusiastic about it have felt their novelty wane. The tech punditocracy is now waking up from its Google Glass hangover, and they’re all a little embarrassed.

Now, of course, we’re all excited about watches. It remains to be seen what we feel like the next morning.

Trying to Be a Phablet Guy, with Little Hands

Is it time to jump on board the phablet bandwagon? I’ve never owned one of these large phones before, being cursed with wee mitts, but I’ve always been a little googly-eyed at the idea of a portable large-screen device. I was one of the few who, when the first Samsung Galaxy Note was unveiled, didn’t think it was ridiculous like many (most?) people did, but instead found it very tempting. It’s a few short years later, and now we have the iPhone 6 Plus and the Nexus 6, and something the size of the original Note is now considered medium-sized. The times are changing, and the benefits of a bigger screen are, for many, outweighing the ergonomic costs, but I still had yet to really get some time with one of these behemoths. I’d gotten to play with phablets a bit in carrier stores, but they’re always clapped in irons as it were, laden with bulky anti-theft locks, making their true usability entirely unknowable.

But this week I got to play for about a day with an elusive OnePlus One, the mysterious phone that usually requires an invite procured by someone else. I got to use it for about a day (don’t worry about how – no one was hurt), and I was very ready to be totally bowled over by my first substantial use of a phone that more or less qualifies as a phablet, having a 5.5-inch display.

And it is a lovely piece of hardware. The “sandstone” back is comfortable and reassuring in its grippiness, the display is big, bright, and sharp, and the overall design of the device is really a departure from the svelte, featureless black, gold, or grey slabs we’re used to. It has recognizable “segments” to its chassis, the display is in a way “mounted” to the body of the phone, and it looks and feels almost like a classy, retro-futuristic appliance. And I mean that as a high compliment.

The phone is also very fast and responsive (it’s also rather affordable if you’re in the market and can manage to get an “in” with them), and the Cyanogen build of Android that it runs is full of useful and subtle features that never get in the way of the core Android experience. It’s a magnificent device in almost every way.

Except it is too damn big. For me.

The OnePlus One is comparable in size to the iPhone 6 Plus, with a genuine heft, which is fine. And really, one gets a phone like this presuming that one-handed use will be extremely limited. You know you’ll mostly be using it two-handed, and you just accept it. But with the OnePlus One, with my little hands, I could do almost nothing with it one-handed, depsite all the help that CyanogenMod and the device provide with extra gestures and customizable buttons. Given its size and its weight, with one hand I was effectively limited to one of which ever lower quadrant of the display was closer to my thumb, depending on which hand I’m holding it in. I could barely use the keyboard, and mostly I could scroll, and that was about it. I didn’t need more than a day to realize this would never work long-term.

It was a little disappointing, to say the least, because I thought I’d really take to the whole phablet thing, and that I’d whittle down the number of devices I’d want to have in my life, with the phablet obviating the need for something like an iPad. But there’s something particular about having something that’s a phone. If it’s a phone, I simply have to be able to do at least a few core things with one hand (especially since I’m a parent and I’m often wrangling tetchy toddlers), such as type or access a search text field. Otherwise, it’s not a large phone, but a too-small tablet.

This is useful, because it means I can take the Nexus 6 off my Amazon wish list, and more or less write off devices in the 5.5-inch range. Even my Nexus 5, which I adore, is a touch too big for me, but not so big that I can’t manage. That ergonomic trade-off is worth it.

But I still pine for the paradox of a giant display on a tiny device. I’m already more or less ruined for the old 4-inch iPhone-size display, and I think I might even find a 4.7-inch screen, such as on a first generation Moto X, an Xperia Z3 Compact, or an iPhone 6, a bit too cramped. 5 inches seems now to be a good middle-ground between ease of use for my little hands and the blessings of extra screen space.

I wanted to be a phablet guy, though. Maybe when the kids move out.