Dan's Take

The Great Device Trade-Off

'New and Improved' Often Isn't.

We've seen a slew of recent product announcements that have been presented as offering something better than previous generations of the same product. When reviewed in detail, however, something different emerges. While some features of the product may have been pushed forward, other capabilities have retreated, making the newer product less capable than before. Here are a few recent examples.

Let's start with Apple.

iPhone 7
When the iPhone 7 family of mobile phones was announced, Apple pointed to the fact that the devices were thinner, faster and more capable as a way to promote its newest products. Other features the company touted were water resistance and better cameras. To make the devices thinner, Apple removed the 3.5 mm headphone jack and substituted a dongle that allows a hardwired headset to be used, and the familiar capability to pair with a Bluetooth headset. Critics have pointed out that this means owners would be required to carry around the dongle, an accessory that is easily lost.

MacBook
Apple recently launched 12-inch, 13-inch and 15-inch MacBook laptop computers. They offer improved processor performance, offers more memory , a faster processor and are thinner than previous models. These new systems include a "touch ID" panel that makes it possible for users to log in using their fingerprint. The company decided to include a 3.5 mm headphone jack.

The company also changed the configurations of these machines, and provided four Thunderbolt ports, which are also compatible with the USB-C standards. This means that those owning USB 3 device will be forced to use dongles.

Samsung
Samsung's recent mobile phones have offered greater memory, faster processors and updated releases of the Android operating system. All the new devices no longer offered removable batteries; Samsung pointed out that the goals were to make the devices thinner and water resistant. The company also removed the capability for users to deploy SD Cards to provide extended storage.

The company learned the hard way -- e.g., lower sales of its Note 5 devices -- that SD Cards were clearly a user must-have.

Google
Google has been pushing to simplify its user interface and make its smartphone operating system easier to use. I've recently learned that also means removing users' ability to do simple things like format the date or select different language variants (the software automatically decides how the date will appear based upon the device location. This means that those wishing to see the date formatted as DD-MMM-YY in the U.S. are out of luck.)

As a long-time Mac user, I'm not interested in devices that require me to purchase a dongle to make use of my USB disks, thumb drives and so on. Since I use the 3.5 mm headphone jack to connect my mobile phone to my automobile's sound system, and also to use the phone as a media player while flying from place to place, I'm not interested in a device that requires me to carry a dongle. The use of Bluetooth, of course, is out of the question when flying.

It's not at all clear to me that thinner devices are worth the loss of capability the vendors are imposing. It appears that the only input a typical individual has is to skip device generations that impose unwanted restrictions.

Dan's Take: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
Recently, an unwanted security patch was pushed down to my Samsung Note 4 hours before I was headed out of town for a business trip. This update caused the phone to consume battery power at an unbelievable rate. The device would consume power faster than even Samsung's adaptive fast charger could supply, making the device unusable in the real world.

Verizon's telephone support couldn't help, and I was told that because the phone was outside of its warranty period, that I'd have to purchase a new phone. Since I carry a great deal of data on an SD Card, my only choices of replacement device were Samsung S7, S7 Edge or the LG V20. All of the available choices sported Google's Android 6.0.1. None of the devices would allow me to set the date format. And all of them were stuffed with unwanted bloatware (thanks Verizon).

I held my nose and selected one of the available phones, reloaded and configured all my software, connected the phone to all four mail servers I use, and configured the desktops so I could use all of the apps without hunting for them.

I see this as a regression, rather than moving the industry forward. What do you think?

About the Author

Daniel Kusnetzky, a reformed software engineer and product manager, founded Kusnetzky Group LLC in 2006. He's literally written the book on virtualization and often comments on cloud computing, mobility and systems software. He has been a business unit manager at a hardware company and head of corporate marketing and strategy at a software company.

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