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The best and worst of tech: smartphones, self-driving cars, and more

The best and worst of tech: smartphones, self-driving cars, and more

Tech companies want us to believe that their products tell a story of progress. Fast phone! Better cameras! Brighter screen! Yet despite all the improvements, there are parts of the technology that have had flaws over the years.

Text messaging technology, which created what many call the “green vs. blue bubble” disparity, has made texting between Apple and Android phones a lousy experience for almost as long as smartphones have existed. New inventions like self-driving cars and cryptocurrencies are hurting people.

To its credit, there were some improvements last year that were a big win for consumers. We now have a common power cable to charge many of our gadgets. So-called foldable smartphones that open and close like a book now have consumer-friendly software. Companies have also made advances in wireless phone service technology, making the process of changing phone plans much simpler for people and saving a lot of money.

As the new year begins, let's take a look at the technology that needs improvement this year and consider the solutions we may find in 2023.

“Who is the green bubble?” This has become a common question inside group texts, among smartphone users. When iPhone users send texts to other iPhones, the messages appear in blue and can take advantage of special benefits like fun emojis and animations. But when texts are sent between iPhone users and Android users, the bubble turns green, many features are broken, and the quality of photos and videos degrades.

The technological incompatibility between smartphones has created a deep sociological divide. According to education experts, in schools, people with iPhones often make fun of children with Android phones and exclude them from activities. And some adults using dating apps consider messages sent through green bubbles to be a “red flag” for a potential suitor's financial instability because some Android phones cost less than the iPhone.

Later this year, a large portion of these texting problems will be fixed. Apple said it planned to adopt Rich Communications Services, a modern texting standard that Google and Android phone makers use for messaging. Text messages sent between iPhone and Android will remain green, but videos and images will load in higher resolution, and features like location sharing and read receipts will also work inside texts. But it remains to be seen whether this will be enough to end the bubble war.

The rise and fall of self-driving car company Cruise is a cautionary tale for Silicon Valley's methodology of placing innovation above all else, including public safety. In October, a few months after California regulators gave Cruise and Waymo permission to operate fully paid driverless taxi services, a Cruise vehicle struck a San Francisco pedestrian and threw the victim 20 feet. Dragged.

Shortly afterward, regulators ordered Cruise, a subsidiary of General Motors, to shut down its robotaxi service. The company cut its workforce by 25 percent and chief executive Kyle Vogt resigned.

Hopefully 2024 will be a better year for autonomous driving technology. Waymo, the driverless car company spun off from Google, continues testing its services with less controversy. Waymo cars are still not as efficient as a competent driver – in my experience, they can have difficulty finding pickup zones, make sudden stops, and take inefficient routes – but then again, many human drivers can be just as annoying.

For the average person experimenting with cryptocurrencies, the premise of the technology has been questionable from the beginning: You buy virtual currency through a decentralized system of computers, similar to how Wikipedia is run by a decentralized network of authors. This, in theory, provides privacy and gives consumers more control over their money than a traditional bank.

The spectacular implosion of the FTX cryptocurrency exchange underlined the serious risks of storing money in a decentralized financial service. When FTX declared bankruptcy in 2022, those who held stakes there lost their money, although they could still recover some amounts in the bankruptcy process. FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried was convicted in November of seven counts of fraud and conspiracy, including stealing $10 billion from clients to finance political contributions, venture capital investments and lavish purchases including a five-bedroom penthouse in the Bahamas. Was involved. ,

Apart from the inherent risks of handing over cash to an unregulated and relatively unknown group, there is still no strong use case for cryptocurrencies for the average person. Although there are plenty of things to buy with crypto, the transaction process, including using third-party crypto wallet apps, can be more complex and time-consuming than making traditional payments with a credit card or bank service. The one remains.

Everyone is familiar with this scenario: You're on the road and you thought you packed charging cables for your phone, laptop, and earbuds. But you realize that there is only one string left at home, so you have to go to the drug store to buy another one. This annoying situation was made worse by companies (namely Apple) that designed their products to work with proprietary chargers.

Thanks to the new European mandate requiring all portable devices to use one common charger, we're now one step closer to the dream of carrying just one charger for all our devices. Last year, new iPhones no longer shipped with the Lightning port that Apple had been using for more than a decade. Instead, they shipped with USB-C, the oval-shaped charging port that's commonly used by many laptops, Android phones, and audio accessories. what a relief.

For the past four years, smartphone makers like Samsung and Motorola have been promoting smartphones that can expand or reduce their screen size when folded or unfolded. The devices received little praise because they were cumbersome to use, their software was gimmicky – and, at about $2,000, they were more than twice the cost of conventional handsets.

Last year, Google released the Pixel Fold, a foldable phone that fixed many problems and provided a clear answer to why this category should exist. When unfolded, it transforms into a tablet which makes reading emails, watching videos and reading comic books more enjoyable than a normal phone screen. When folded, it becomes a regular smartphone which is not too heavy inside the pocket. In my testing, its camera was also excellent and its battery life was also long.

The remaining issue is price. At $1,800, the Pixel Fold may be out of reach for most people. But the maturity of the technology offers an exciting glimpse of what's to come for smartphones and screens in general.

When it started arriving on smartphones about six years ago, eSIM technology, the digital equivalent of a SIM card carrying your phone number, was hard to recommend. For example, the technology was intended to simplify the process of activating a new phone line when you're taking a smartphone abroad and connecting to a foreign network. But in the early days, eSIMs were a mixed bag. Some plans failed to activate, and others charged exorbitant rates for small amounts of cellular data.

In 2023, eSIM technology reached the highest point. There are now dozens of trusted mobile network operators offering fast, reliable wireless services at much lower costs than traditional carriers. The steps to activate eSIM have also become simpler now.

All of this leads to benefits that can help you save thousands of dollars over a few years on wireless service. For one, when traveling abroad, you can easily use an eSIM to activate a phone plan and pay a few dollars for a generous bucket of cellular data (for example, eSIM app Airalo's US$4.50 for one gigabyte of data in Italy).

For home wireless service, if you subscribe to AT&T, T-Mobile or Verizon, you can use an eSIM to use with cheap phone plans offered by discount carriers like Visible, Consumer Cellular and Mint Mobile. can cost as little as $25 per month – and take a break Once you've found a satisfactory phone plan, contact your major carrier.

https://static01.nyt.com/images/2024/01/11/business/05TECHFIX/05TECHFIX-facebookJumbo.jpg

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