Apple shakeup, smart speakers, wireless chargers
Bob's Tech Talk
January 1, 2021
Q. Why should Windows users care about Apple’s new M1 computers?
A. When Apple revealed the first iPhone in 2007, there were people who thought the demo must have been fake. Engineers with knowledge of how cell phones work simply could not accept the idea that any company, let alone a company that had never built a cellphone before, could pack so much power into such a tiny device.
We all know what happened next. Within a decade Nokia and Blackberry all but disappeared, replaced by iPhone and Android. History is likely to repeat itself in the “traditional” personal computer market. Performance gains that seemed unbelievable at first now seem inevitable, and no corner of the personal computer market will escape disruption.
After more than 30 years of writing about computers, I have never seen a one-time performance leap as big as this one. Apple has replaced its least expensive Macs with new models built around custom Apple-designed chips that deliver more than twice the performance and battery life.
As a result, the slowest, least expensive Macs are nearly as fast as top-of-the-line hardware that costs many thousands of dollars, with battery life that cannot be found elsewhere at any price. The new MacBook Air has 18-hour battery life and is one of the fastest Macs ever made. And like the original iPhone, this is the starting line.
There are more new models ahead. Performance gains this big will affect every corner of the computer world. Competitors will have to respond, either with better products or lower prices. Even if you are not a Mac user, the aftershocks are going to deliver benefits to everyone who uses laptop and desktop computers.
Q. How should I decide between an Amazon Echo and an Apple HomePod?
A. The Echo and HomePod, along with Google’s Nest lineup, make up a new category of devices known as smart speakers. This product category is only a few years old, but lower costs and better sound quality means these devices are quickly moving into the mainstream.
Think of smart speakers as an accessory for your smartphone. They are more like little computers rather than speakers. Many models require a smartphone to configure. You also need a Wi-Fi network in your home. Because smart speakers are dependent on the hardware and subscription services you already use, choose the speaker to extend your current setup.
If you are an Amazon Prime customer, start with an Echo. If you use Android, Google Nest or Amazon Echo is a good option. If you use an iPhone, start with a HomePod Mini.
Also consider how you intend to use a smart speaker. As a way to stream music? Not all the models work with all the streaming services. To control other smart home devices? Again, these devices tend to only work with a subset of other devices, so cross-check for compatibility with Alexa (Echo), Google Assistant (Nest), or Siri HomeKit (HomePod).
It is still early days for these devices. They require patience to set up, and they are not interchangeable. Plus, they raise security concerns. Despite these issues, I expect smart speakers will grow in popularity next year.
Q. What are the pros and cons of using a wireless charger with your smartphone?
A. There are two kinds of phone chargers, the traditional wired design and newer wireless chargers. A wireless charger still requires an adapter and a wire. The wireless part refers to the phone, which recharges when it is placed atop a charging pad.
Some people find this setup convenient, but it has some drawbacks. Wireless chargers are slower. Sometimes a lot slower. And worse, it is too easy to misalign the phone on its charging pad so that it fails to recharge.
Eventually I suspect wireless might be the only option available. But until then, a traditional wired adapter is the fastest and most reliable way to keep your phone powered up.
Wander the Web
Here are my picks for worthwhile browsing this month:
Bake with Jack
This site contains links to over 150 free videos demonstrating how to bake bread at home. Useful for beginners and experienced bakers alike. http://www.bakewithjack.co.uk
Spy on everything from movie locations to military battlefields throughout the world using satellite imagery.
Santa’s Official Reindeer Live Feed
Spy on Santa’s reindeer as they play their favorite reindeer games, namely sleeping and eating. Check out some of the other free videos, like Santa reading bedtime stories. http://www.reindeercam.com
A tech enthusiast his entire life, Bob can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.