A few weeks ago, I came across an article on Yahoo titled “7 Gadgets That Won’t Be Around In 2020.” I work in IT and keep up with the latest trends in tech. But I am curiously old-school when it comes to some technologies. I wrote a great rebuttal to a similar article back in March about which gadgets a person should get rid of. So here I go again, rebutting the assertion that the following items are obsolete. I present the point of view of someone who understands wants versus needs, has an eye for value, and can get years of service from my equipment through gentle use.
- Standalone GPS Systems. I’ll focus on portable automotive GPS receivers. You can move them from car to car and they are relatively inexpensive. You can get a Garmin with lifetime map updates and traffic service for less than $150 now. Map updates are critical, and the lifetime map updates are available quarterly. Supposedly, people are moving to navigation systems on their smartphones. But here’s the thing. You’re looking at spending up to $200 for the smartphone. Then there’s the $70/month service plan. The smartphone screen might be 3.5″ in diameter. My Garmin has a 5″ screen, and has a one-time cost of $150. The larger screen makes it easier to enter info and easier to see the maps. Yes, it is an extra device to carry, but I firmly believe in using the best tool for a job. What about built-in navigation systems? Car dealers often screw you for map updates that usually come on DVDs. The map updates on my Garmin don’t cost me anything. I should mention that other manufacturers offer lifetime maps. But I hate TomToms. They are harder to use. Another reason why a cellphone navigation system stinks is the draw on the battery, and the potential for phone calls and text messages interrupting the navigation. Also, cellphones only cache maps immediately around you. If you go out of cellular data range, you don’t have maps. I understand that some navigation apps are now caching maps for an entire route, in case you do end up losing data service. But I don’t trust the mapping app. On a standalone GPS receiver, I know I have the whole country or the whole continent already loaded on the device. I don’t see standalone GPS receivers disappearing in nine years, especially not handheld outdoor units. Not all of us can afford smartphones. Also, you look like a moron using a smartphone to navigate while geocaching in the woods. I’d like to see a smartphone survive a drop onto a rocky creek bed followed by water immersion.
- E-Readers. OK, I won’t mind if e-readers disappear in a few years. I think they are dumb. Yes, it is cool that you can carry hundreds of books and magazines on one device. That is convenient. But e-books aren’t much cheaper than printed books. Also, sharing is still being figured out. I can literally hand a book to a friend. Can’t be much easier than that. No DRM to deal with, no synching. My local library now has e-books available for checkout. That does make e-readers more appealing. But it is so easy to check out any printed book in the library’s collection. The e-book collection is surely much smaller than the printed book collection. I can toss a book on the table or a sofa without it breaking. I wouldn’t take that risk with an e-reader. Liquids can make a printed book messy, but otherwise still legible. Liquids could ruin an e-book. And if I manage to lose or ruin a printed book, I’m out $10-20 in most cases. If I lose or ruin an e-reader, I’m out at least $100. E-readers also don’t provide me the sense of satisfaction I get when I see a thin group of pages remaining in a book. When the back of the book is thinner than the front, I know I have made good progress reading. A progress bar or page counter on an e-reader wouldn’t be as satisfying. Also, printed books don’t need to be charged and can be read forever. Who knows if your Nook or Kindle will be running 50 years from now, and who knows if those e-book file formats will be readable on the devices of the future. To me, e-readers are a solution to a problem that never existed for me. I don’t need to carry hundreds of books and magazines with me at one time. It’s pretty easy to fit a couple of books and a half-dozen magazines into a bag.
- Feature phones. I carry a Samsung Stride flip phone. Free with a two-year contract. I average about 5 minutes of phone calls a month and don’t send or receive text messages. Sometimes I will go a month without using any minutes. I don’t make a lot of money. I have no problem dropping $200 on a cellphone. What would kill me is the $70 for the monthly service plan. I have better things to do with my money than spend over $840 a year on a phone. With the economy in the crapper, there are other people who can’t afford a smartphone and data plan either. I don’t need a smartphone. I don’t need unlimited texting or 200 texts or any texts. I don’t need to be able to go online while at the grocery store. For a lot of people, a dumbphone is all we need. Unless smartphones and their plans become more affordable (ha!), all we will be able to afford are dumbphones. There will always be basic phones for people who can’t afford fancy phones or don’t want the complexity of smartphones. Unless the greedy cellular companies decide to squeeze us poor people, eliminating cheap flip phones and basic plans and forcing us into more expensive plans and smartphones. I do have a work-issued BlackBerry. While convenient, I would never buy one for myself. Not worth the $800-something a year.
- Low-end digital cameras. OK, I will kind of agree with this. We’re already seeing these cameras diminish in popularity. Cellphone cameras are still pretty crappy, but they are getting better. Meanwhile, compact point-and-shoot cameras like the Canon PowerShot A-series have plateaued. You can only add so many features and megapixels. As someone who takes photos as a hobby, I care more about image quality, manual controls, macro capability, and zooming than most. But for a lot of people, a cellphone camera may be just as good as a compact Canon, Nikon, or Kodak. Why spend $125 on a compact camera that isn’t much better than the best cellphone cameras? It’s just an extra thing to carry. Optical zoom is something that cameras can rub in the face of cellphone cameras. Digital zooming results in crappy images on cellphones and cameras. But a point-and-shoot can get you 3-4X optical zoom. Is it worth carrying an extra device? I do carry a little Canon PowerShot SD1100 with me everywhere because I can’t afford a phone with a good camera, and I know that I have to use a real camera if I want to get a quality image. I anticipate the $100 compact point-and-shoots becoming harder to find. DSLRs will be around for a long time, because of the premium capabilities. I also expect superzoom point-and-shoot cameras to be around, like my trusty old Canon PowerShot S5. Superzoom cameras give people 10-20X zoom capability without spending over $1,000 on a camera body and lenses. But they do cost well more than the basic point-and-shoots. The middle range of the digital camera market will go away. You’ll have real basic cheapo digital cameras, then cellphone cameras in the mid-range, then superzooms and DSLRs at the higher end for people who are more serious photographers.
- DVD players. I just bought a DVD player two weeks ago. I checked out a DVD from the library and my PlayStation 2 couldn’t play the scratched disc without skipping and freezing. I had a $25 cheapo DVD player about two years ago, but it was recalled because of a supposed fire risk. I took it to the store and got my money back. I didn’t get a replacement until I bought the Sony pictured above. Shows how often I watch DVDs. My PlayStation is real picky about DVD quality, and I found that only a standalone DVD player is capable of reading the library’s scratched discs. Blu-ray players may end up replacing regular DVD players, but for those of us without HDTVs, there is no reason to spend the extra cash on a Blu-ray player. The cheapest Blu-ray players at Walmart are about $70. My Sony cost $34. An acquaintance suggested I replace my PS2 with an Xbox 360. I explained that I don’t have an HDTV, and I don’t play games very often, so the cost of an Xbox 360 wasn’t justifiable. One guy in the article I am rebutting says digital delivery should replace DVDs. Sorry bub. Not gonna happen until every household in the country has access to at least 3Mb internet service. Some places don’t have such bandwidth, and where it is available, we all can’t afford it. I pay $28/month to AT&T for 1.5Mb DSL. That’s the fastest they offer in my neighborhood. I could pay Comcast $48/month for 12Mb service, but I would be nearly doubling my Internet expenses. That’s an extra $240 a year. That’s nearly five months’ worth of gas for my car.
- Recordable CDs and DVDs. Flash drives are often on sale for $1/GB. There’s no excuse for someone not to have a flash drive for toting data between computers. However, I don’t think flash drives are cheap enough yet to just give away to a room full of people. Suppose you have to provide data and documents to a seminar you are teaching. The stuff takes up 330MB of space. It fits on a CD easily, and the CD only costs a few cents. If you were to use a flash drive, good luck finding a 1GB flash drive these days. The smallest I see are 2GB or 4GB now. And they cost more than a few cents, usually around $6. Nobody is going to spend $6/head to give out some course materials. Cheaper to burn CDs. Or you could post your data and documents online or on a network drive for people to download to their own flash drive. DVDs hold 4.7GB of data. Again, a DVD costs less than $6. Flash drives won’t replace DVDs for content distribution quite yet. CDs and DVDs are a cheap and easy way to distribute content to a lot of people. They are also a little more secure than a flash drive. I don’t think anyone will accidentally re-write a DVD, but it is quite easy to accidentally delete or write over data on a flash drive. Until everyone has networked storage or a web server for hosting files, we’ll still need CDs, DVDs, and flash drives.
- Video game consoles. I’m not sure about this. I hardly play games on my PlayStation 2 anymore. It’s not because it isn’t a capable machine or lacks good games. Its graphics look good and there are plenty of good games. I simply don’t have time for games anymore and would rather do other things. I’d rather browse the internet, read, or watch TV. I do play games periodically on my desktop computer. It’s pretty powerful; I built it to handle the most demanding productivity software and some moderate gaming for years to come. I like to play SimCity 4 and Microsoft Flight Simulator X. The game controller for consoles is a two-edged sword. It makes it easy to interact with the game, but it also limits the way you can interact. A computer offers a mouse and keyboard to make it easier to do stuff. But unless you have a joystick, it’s hard to maneuver your race car, airplane, or military commando. I think game consoles will stick around for at least one more generation of console. The PlayStation 3 is halfway through its life cycle. I read that consoles usually have a 10-year life cycle, so I expect consoles to be common for another 15 years. People want to have a big screen to play their games on. It’s easy to hook up an Xbox or PlayStation to a big screen TV. While a person could connect a computer to a big TV for gaming, most people don’t. I have a 21.5″ monitor. That’s plenty big for me. But I suspect a serious gamer would rather play on their 40″ TV.
So these are my thoughts about seven gadgets that supposedly will be gone by 2020. I am thriftier than most people, and I make less money than most people, so keep that in mind. I am more likely to cling to technologies that work and don’t cost much. I did buy an expensive SSD drive and 12GB of fast RAM for my computer, but this is a computer I plan on using for at least five years. It is a justifiable expense. Buying a Blu-ray player or smartphone would be a waste of my money because I have no need for either technology.
Tech writers need to keep in mind that not everyone can afford the latest in technology, nor do we need the latest in technology. Also, older proven technologies shouldn’t be pronounced dead or ridiculed just because they aren’t the latest and greatest. The folks who live on the the bleeding edge of technology are often the most vocal and influential people in media. But for every one of those people, there are 90 others who do just fine with the old tech they have been using for years.