Ongoing tech problems can make you feel pranked

  • Article by: OMAR L. GALLAGA , Cox Newspapers
  • Updated: April 30, 2013 - 9:37 AM
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The Wii U is slow and clunky.

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Being an early adopter of technology and a writer on the subject can be a lot of fun. You get access to a lot of new gadgets and services before they go mainstream. You get to be on the front lines of exciting changes and trends.

But for every profound glimpse of the digital future you may get, factor in twice as many moments of frustration, anger and helplessness. If you think you’re annoyed by, say, your buggy smartphone or a tablet device that won’t work the way you want it to, imagine using it six months or a year ago, before a lot of the worst software bugs were fixed.

Early tech adopting often means that you find problems long before tech support has figured out what to do about them and before anyone’s had a chance to vent about it online and help you to feel less alone. It also makes you even more aware of ongoing tech problems that don’t appear to be getting fixed, no matter how long they persist.

I’d like to share a few tech problems that make me feel like I’m somehow being pranked by companies who should have better fixes for common aggravations.

 

Why is broadband still so expensive? I became a broadband Internet customer in the late ’90s and despite there being more ways to get high-speed access today (from wireless providers, for instance), I’m paying about $15 more a month than I did back when flannel shirts were all the rage for the same tier of service. Surfing speeds have gotten faster over time, but not enough to justify the continued high cost. Shouldn’t technology like this get more efficient and cheaper over time?

Rather than getting faster and less expensive like computers, Internet service is priced like gasoline: as if it’s a scarce, limited resource. Internet providers will tell you that keeping up the infrastructure to deal with our increasing demands for bandwidth is expensive to build out and that we should bundle more services (like TV channels and digital phones) to save money. That doesn’t make me feel much better about my monthly bill.

The Wii U is strangely slow. The latest high-profile video game console, launched in November, is meant to put the aging Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 systems to shame. The Nintendo game console includes an innovative controller that doubles as a small tablet. It’s the first from Nintendo to output high-definition graphics. It’s expensive by today’s standards, starting at $300. So why are its basic menus, the ones that allow you to change Internet settings or shop for downloadable games, so incredibly slow and clunky?

This is a brand-new piece of sexy hardware that in some ways runs slower than your oldest home appliance. Nintendo promises that an upcoming software fix will shave down some of the waiting, trimming delays to get to some menus from about 20 seconds to 8 seconds. But ask yourself this: When you exit an app on your smartphone, are you willing to wait 8 seconds to get back to the home screen?

DVR trimming would be nice. This one’s for the hard-core TV watchers. Why isn’t there a standard DVR feature that allows you to save a portion of a program and delete the rest? To save disk space, I may not want to keep a full high-def hour of “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon,” just a three-minute segment of a brilliant sketch or one song on “Austin City Limits” that I love. Am I the only person who keeps stuff on the DVR long-term, using it as semi-permanent storage for some TV gems?

• Books or ebooks: Why not both? If I buy a music CD, I can easily convert it to digital files to play on the go. If I buy a DVD or Blu-ray movie, there’s usually an option to pay more and get a digital copy that can transfer to a computer, tablet or phone. Why can’t I buy a new hardback book and pay a little extra to get an e-book version without paying full price again? Maybe I want to switch back and forth between print and screen as I get through a long book.

The idea has been tried, but it’s nowhere near standard in publishing. It should be.

Why doesn’t mobile data roll over? If I go over my data plan on a cellphone or iPad, wireless providers are more than happy to charge an extra $10 or more to keep the online party going. But if I go under the limit, using only a fraction of my allotted gigabytes? At the end of the month, that data disappears instantly, like a pizza in the newsroom.

Why can’t I bank some of that unused data for a future month when I may need it, donate it to a friend or get a discount based on what I didn’t use?

I asked Verizon about this in a Twitter exchange and the answer I got, unfortunately, was not very satisfying. It’s not an idea you can expect wireless companies to jump on anytime soon.

Backup cameras should be standard. And last, a much more serious problem doesn’t seem to be getting solved in a timely manner. Last year, it was expected that a federal rule would be put in place to make backup cameras standard in new vehicles starting in 2014. The law for this was approved in 2007, but the seemingly endless regulatory review process and the cost (which could be as much as $2.7 billion a year) has been cause for foot-dragging.

My car, which I bought in 2007, has a backup camera. I would never go back to owning a car that doesn’t have one equipped. About 228 deaths and 17,000 injuries are caused each year by backup accidents that a camera could help prevent. About 100 of those deaths involve children younger than 5.

It’s no-brainer technology, something much more necessary than on-screen car apps such as Pandora and Facebook that auto companies seem more obsessed with right now.

Do you have your own tech aggravations you’d like to share? Email them to us at ogallaga@statesman.com.

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