WEB DESK: This past year brought lots of new products, services and features — including a few that improved everyday life.
For instance, a double tap of the home button on Samsung’s newest phones instantly launches the camera, so you’re less likely to miss that magical moment. TiVo has a smart way to skip commercials and speed up video playback so that you can watch TV shows and movies in half the time.
But there’s plenty more for tech companies to do. Here’s a wish list for 2016:
PICK AND CHOOSE ONLINE TELEVISION
In 2015, HBO and Showtime freed themselves from traditional television shackles. Both now offer app subscriptions directly to consumers _ with no cable or satellite TV service required.
It’s a start, but lots of worthy channels, including ESPN, remain locked up in packages filled with channels not everyone wants. Even though Dish’s Sling TV offers ESPN over the Internet _ Sony’s PlayStation Vue will also do so soon _ you can get it only as part of larger packages. I’d love to get AMC, ABC Family and Comedy Central as stand-alone subscriptions, for instance.
MANAGING YOUR SHOWS
With lots more online viewing options, we need better ways to keep track of what to watch and when shows expire from streaming services. I kept forgetting to watch that “Unauthorized Melrose Place Story” on Lifetime, and now it’s too late.
Streaming TV devices from Apple, Roku, Amazon and Nvidia let you search multiple services at once to see what’s available, but you don’t have any way to add shows to a universal queue. Instead, you have to go to Netflix to see your list of flagged shows on that service, HBO to see its list, and so on. It’s as if you needed separate video recorders for each channel. TiVo comes closest to offering a universal queue with its OnePass feature, but it has relatively few streaming TV apps.
ENOUGH WITH PASSWORDS
Passwords are difficult to manage, which is one reason so many are trivial to guess (“password12345,” anyone?) and so many people reuse the same weak passwords across multiple services.
Yahoo has an easier way to sign in to its services. Using Account Key, you confirm who you are through a text Yahoo sends to your phone.
Google is testing something similar. Other services tap the fingerprint ID technology found on iPhones and some high-end Android phones. A touch of the home button bypasses the password by confirming you’re the one holding the phone. We need more such mechanisms that offer both simplicity and security.
Companies are getting better at acknowledging their rivals. Microsoft, for instance, made its Office apps for iPhones, iPads and Android before tackling its own Windows phone system. Samsung smartwatches now work with non-Samsung phones, while Apple made its music service available on Android.
It’s a start. But animated photos taken with Apple’s new iPhones can be viewed only on other Apple devices. And streaming devices made by Apple, Google and Amazon typically won’t play video bought from each other, at least not without using a backdoor relay feature such as AirPlay. So if you have Amazon video, you’re stuck with Amazon’s device. Amazon even stopped selling Apple TV and Google’s Chromecast on its website.
GETTING AROUND WITH NO INTERNET
Google Maps for Android and iPhones now works without an Internet connection, so long as you download mapping data ahead of time. That’s helpful when you find yourself trying to leave a remote national park or an underground parking garage _ both areas where cellular service is spotty or non-existent. But the offline feature doesn’t work with walking or transit directions, so it’s not as useful for wilderness hikes or in many subway stations.
Speaking of maps, all services could do better at directing motorists to rental-car centers at airports. Typing in the three-letter airport code assumes you’re getting dropped off at the main terminals. The rental-car location might be miles away, perhaps off a different highway exit. It would be nice to see the rental-car location more prominent in map searches. Better yet, how about the closest gas station to refill your tank?
OOPS … I DROPPED IT AGAIN
Motorola may have cracked the problem of shattered phone screens. Its Droid Turbo 2 phone ditches glass for shatter-proof plastic. While the glass used in most leading phones is chemically strengthened, it will still crack if it hits a hard surface with enough force. In testing, the Turbo’s screen withstood normal drops, though plastic does make the device more prone to scratching.
Sure, there’s a trade-off, but it’s time to stop assuming that cracked screens are just something we have to learn to live with.