The Difference Between “Right” and “Right for Me”

I’ve been a multi-device user for a long time. In high school, I used an iPod, a flip phone, and the shared family desktop computer.

The purpose for each device was fairly clear. If I wanted to tell a friend I was coming over, my device choice was clear. I wasn’t going to go to my computer and send an email (although MSN messenger could have been a viable option, assuming we were both online). Odds were, I would grab my cell phone and either sends text or i my friend to let them know I was on my way.

If I wanted to listen to music, I had more options. I could use the computer and iTunes to listen to music (assuming I was at home and sitting at the computer), I could pop in earbuds and listen to music on my iPod, or I could go “old school” and listen to the radio or CDs. In reality, the most complicated device decision I had to make was where and how I wanted to listen to music.

Through college, the same was more or less true. My iPod was still my default music playing device, although I had a laptop that untethered me slightly from my high school days. I was still using a “basic” phone – just calls, texting and a camera. There was very rarely a question about what “the right device” was, if I had a paper to write, I wasn’t doing it on an LG Rumor or a Motorola ROKR.

Then, things changed.

When Apple launched the iPhone, it began to blur some of those lines, though. Now the iPhone could be used in place of an iPod or an email device. It became more about what devices was situationally more convenient. iPod sales began to slow as more and more smartphones offered an integrated music player and easy music library management.

In 2010 the iPad was announced and it found its way into the multi-device lifestyle of many people. The iPhone was powerful enough for small tasks, the iPad was better for long-form reading and writing, and the Mac (or any computer) was the place to do more detailed, power-intensive work.

Fast forward just a few short years, and we got iPhones with larger displays. This enabled “bigger” work to be done on an iPhone. Not only could you email or text or browse the web and social media on an iPhone – you could edit photos, audio, or video. You could create and edit spreadsheets and presentations. With a few choice apps, you could create, edit, and deploy code or remotely administer a server. It wasn’t an ideal experience in some cases, but it was sufficient in a pinch.

At the same time, the iPad was getting better. More apps took advantage of the power and even the bigger screen. Third-party accessory makers started creating fancy stands, cases, and keyboards. Then the iPad got iOS 9. Now the iPad could do two things at once. It was more capable than an iPhone, but not quite a traditional computer.

iOS 9 became the start of a tipping point in the tech journalism industry. The iPad could do enough computer stuff to get work done. Apps like Workflow helped to fill in some gaps and allow for better inter-application communication. The iPad was still generally viewed as inferior – a second class citizen in the computer world – but (contrary to sales numbers) it was growing.

Then the iPad Pro happened, and not long after, iOS 11. Now, the iPad could do 3 things at a time. You could quickly drag data between apps. Pairing apps was easier. The files app allowed for easy document access (mostly). The line between iPad and Computer was beginning to blur with iOS 9. Now the line is gone.1 Left behind is personal preference.

Now that there are multiple devices, all capable of performing the same task, the idea of a distinct device for a specific thing is fading. The right device is either the one you have available, or the one that offers the experience you prefer. There isn’t a “right device for a job”. There is a “right device for a job for you”. Whether it’s an app you like better on iOS, or a process that you are personally more efficient at doing on a computer, it’s no longer about what is correct, it’s about what is comfortable.

The iPod was just a music player. The Motorola RAZR was just a phone and texting device. Devices aren’t so simple anymore. They are a multi-tool of computing. The iPhone is a pocket sized computer, and nobody seems to push back on that. Why are we still arguing about whether or not the iPad is computer?

It does computer things. The interface may be different, but the same is true of macOS vs Windows. Instead of fighting about whether you can do real work on an iPad, maybe we should be asking ourselves the more important question – What’s a computer?2

Interface: 62. It Could Be Really Cool

http://interface.fm/62

CES 2018 was a all about hyping the future, but Razer’s Project Linda concept has Andrew skeptical about the practicality of phones as computers. Meanwhile, Ian explains the iPad, but different… which is still basically an iPad, and Chase starts 2018 by listening more.

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The Misguided Gift Guide

We’ve all seen it before… “10 best gifts for the (fill in the blank) in your life” or “Top Christmas gifts under (insert amount here)”.

They’re tempting to look at, especially if you’re struggling to find the right gift for someone special. The trouble is, many of these lists are motivated by a desire for profit – either to the publication or the author. These posts are full of affiliate links and monetized products, and don’t represent “the best” or true, high quality gifts. So much so, in fact, that some publications will even sell you on a truly terrible product just to make a quick buck.

The Backstory

In my “spare time,” I write for a pair of Apple news and review sites – Mactrast.com and iDropNews.com. Most of the coverage and reporting on these sites is totally fine. Covering news in the Apple and larger tech space is a pretty safe game. Often times, these sites will feature reviews of products, apps, or services – several of which (especially for MacTrast), I have personally written.

For apps or services, reviewers are often given a promo code for a free copy of the app or a free license to use the service in full. In turn, we are able to write about the full experience, as if we were experiencing it like a paying customer. Products are very similar. We get a free product, and then use it like normal, and report back our findings.

Sometimes you get a product that great, and the review is very positive because of that great experience. Sometimes, a product gets a negative review because it sucks. But it is up to the journalist/writer/reviewer to have the integrity to call it like it is. If a very expensive product is bad, it doesn’t deserve a good rating because it was given to the reviewer for free. It deserves a bad rating because it is a bad product.

The harder part, for me at least, is writing about something conceptually. It sounds great on paper, but I’ve never used it. This is the type of coverage I offer for many Kickstarter products. My writing is based purely on the pitch, not the final product (unless, on a rare occasion, I get a pre-release version).

When it comes to gift guides, however, sometimes the desire to sell a product outweighs the actual quality of a product. Instead of testing a product or service, and giving it a qualitative review (★☆☆☆☆ bad, ★★★☆☆ good, ★★★★★ great), some sites will simply compile a list of products that benefit them and disregard the actual quality.

Misguided Recommendations

Recently, at iDropNews, I was offered the opportunity to write some of these aforementioned gift guides, under 1 condition: In a list of 10 products, 5 were to be from Amazon, and 5 were to be from the iDropNews Stack Social store. This was done explicitly to monetize the products being recommended. No other sources could be used.

This posed a problem as I was compiling the “10 Gifts for iPhone” list, and my clear choice for the number 1 gift was AirPods. Amazon doesn’t sell the AirPods… Neither does Stack Social. When I asked about including something available elsewhere, I was told “No – stick to items available on Amazon or the iDrop Store” and “If you’d like to add an eleventy item to the list that’s a non-Affiliate item, be my guest.”

Because the retailers that DO sell them couldn’t be monetized, I was supposed to ignore them as an excellent gift idea. I eventually opted to suggest the Beats X, based on their holiday price drop, the W1 chip, and the overall less controversial design – although I maintain that the AirPods are the superior holiday gift.

You won’t believe what happened next! (…or maybe you would)

Shortly after my iPhone gift guide was published, another post appeared on the site, recommending products at a range of prices. On that list was the Stack Social knockoff of AirPods – ones I had personally reviewed just weeks before.

Here’s a summary of my ★★☆☆☆ review:

There are a lot of great Bluetooth earbuds on the market, and the AirPods are certainly a pricy option, but if the HBQ i7S earbuds are the alternative, I’d get the real deal. If you can get past the sound quality, the overall size of the earbuds and the charging case may still be a major turn off.

Truly, nobody should buy these things – they’re bad.

Reading the “Best Tech Gifts for Every Budget” guide, however, the implication is that they are good – desirable, even. At the time of posting, the gift guide stated that they “…are pretty reminiscent of Apple AirPods – they’re just a little better (in our humble opinion).” 1 That lead me to the question – have they every tried these? Or are these “recommended” for another reason?

What isn’t disclosed in this post is that this particular gift guide is solely compiled of products in the Stack Social store, and the entire list is aimed at making money for the site.

I don’t hold it against the site for trying to make money. Everybody has to keep the lights on, and writers deserve to be paid for the time and effort they spend writing. It’s hard to keep things running when there’s no money to power the machine. 2

I appreciate the small bit I get paid for writing on iDropNews – but if I have a choice between being honest to consumers that come to the site looking for good recommendations and making an extra few bucks selling shitty Chinese knockoff products, I’m going to side with honesty and integrity every time.

Being diligent as a consumer

The internet is full of opinions. Some are good, some are bad, some are subjectively perfect, and some are blatantly wrong. Trusting others on the internet to provide their opinion – especially when considering what product to buy or where to put your hard earned money – is a tough game for consumers. The motivations of those opinions is hard to understand, and wading through bullshit makes the true intent less clear.

In my opinion as a consumer, any product recommendation that doesn’t show evidence of actual use should be taken as a sales pitch. It’s up to you (or I), as readers, to be critical thinkers and do our due diligence to make educated decisions. While it’s easy to get wrapped up in the holiday season and just grab whatever discount headphones (or whatever product) somebody is pitching on the internet, sometimes it’s good to remember that you get what you pay for.

As far as my journalistic endeavors go, I’m done with gift guides. I’ll stick to writing news, reviews, and opinions. I’m not in the business of lying to people, and I prefer to take time to formulate an opinion and back it up with personal preference and experience.

Oh, and let me fully disclose this here – if you see a link to Amazon or iTunes on this site, it’s probably an affiliate link. It doesn’t cost you anything extra, and it’s simply a way for me to keep the site up. But I will strive to always provide context – if a product, app, or service is good, the review will reflect that accordingly. If something sucks, I’ll call that out, too.

Interface: 61. A Missing Feature

http://interface.fm/61

Chase is unhappy with how iOS 11 has changed some previously expected behaviors. Now his wifi might be on, or might be off, or might just not be connected right now. Ian makes assumptions about how people probably don’t know how to use their iPhone. Andrew thinks it all makes sense, but he’s a power user… 🤷‍♂️

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Interface: 60. I Still Have No Idea How This Works

http://interface.fm/60

Blockchain, Cryptocurrency, Bitcoin, Ethereum… it all sounds like stuff out of a 90’s Sci-Fi movie, but it’s a real thing, and it has the potential to change the way computing, finance, and identification are done in the future. Special guest Glenn Kunzler (@TheGlennja) joins Ian to discuss the ways this next wave of technology is (potentially) shaping the future.

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