It’s been a good year for gadgetry. Even though our toys are getting about as small as they can while still being useful to our giant, meaty hands, they just keep getting more powerful. Whatever can’t be packed into a pocket-sized gizmo is offloaded to The Cloud, that mythical place somewhere between the Internets and To Be Determined.
What have we seen really take off in 2011?
• Location-based apps: In January, I posited a future product called Haful Glasses, which immersed you in a social network with 3-D sunglasses and connected you with other users that were near you in the real world. Turns out there really are apps like that now — without the fancy glasses, anyway.
Grindr is described by its makers as “the largest all male location-based mobile network tool for Android, iPhone, iPod touch, iPad and BlackBerry.” Wikipedia calls it a “geosocial networking application.” Trying to remember the name of it, I Googled “gay hookup app.” The same company launched Blendr earlier this year, promoting it on its website with a popup asking, “Straight? Lesbian?” Hey, sometimes bluntness works.
Basically, either app runs on your smartphone and alerts you when someone matching your interests — and also using the app — is close by. This is a frigging revolution in dating, since you no longer have to approach a cute girl at the bookstore only to discover that she’s taken, a different orientation or exclusively into athletes. Hypothetically. Seriously, being married rocks, guys.
Other, more mundane location services can automatically show you a coupon for the store you’re in, plot a walking or public transit route to your destination, or let you broadcast every step you take to the world.
• Tablet explosion: No, not lithium-ion batteries catching on fire, thankfully, though that’s not been unheard of in the past. I mean the sudden proliferation of tablets and tablet operating systems. Sure, there was Apple’s iPad 2 leading the pack with a slimmer design and updated iOS. HP brought Palm’s webOS to its TouchPad for a brief six weeks before liquidating its whole stock, creating such a frenzy that there’s still talk of bringing it back. BlackBerry introduced the Playbook running QNX, supposedly the next generation of their phone software, but price drops haven’t been enough to move it off shelves.
Microsoft is a small player so far — at least compared to its dominance on the desktop — preferring to wait until Windows 8 is ready to really push into the tablet space. Android, meanwhile, is available in dozens of different flavors across dozens of hardware manufacturers, from brand names like Samsung and Toshiba to … let’s say “budget” companies like Craig and Coby.
• Cheap e-readers: Even Amazon and Barnes & Noble got into the small tablet game with their Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet, both featuring 7-inch screens and multimedia streaming built in. They’re tablets marketed as advanced e-readers for $200 and $250 respectively, but dedicated e-readers are even cheaper: finally, they’re under $100.
The bare-bones Kindle with Wi-Fi (but no touchscreen) starts at $79, while B&N’s Nook (which does have a touchscreen) is $99. They’re playing the old loss leader game: sell the platform without regard for profit and make it up with content sales. E-book prices are actually rising now that electronic ink displays are finally good enough and cheap enough that the general public wants them. Such is the danger of an industry consolidating behind just a couple big distributors. On the other hand, subsidized hardware and thousands of free, public domain classic books out there on the Internet for the taking? Win.
Always moving, always explosive, never cheap: twitter.com/CitizenjaQ.