Sunday, July 27, 2014

Who is this Thrifty Techie?

Perhaps I can be considered a rara avis by technology standards.  I relish technologies, but resist getting the latest and greatest.  I have consistently opted for lesser popular products which better met my needs.

Corel WordPerfect
When it comes to word processors, most people immediately think of Microsoft Word.  While I am certainly proficient at Word, my preference has been Corel WordPerfect since the show codes (alt-F3) option avoids many formatting quandaries that vex complex Word documents.  Moreover, since WordPerfect is the second rank in sales, so they seem to try harder at pricing. 

As for computers, I have almost always been a Microsoft user (but I got my start on “Trash-80s” and  I vaguely remember  CMS OS).  I have loaded a flavor of Linux on a desktop but I have not be inspired to play with it, since software tinkering is not a desired hobby of mine.

This technical preamble serves to stipulate that I have never owned an Apple product.  No Macs, no iPods, no iPhones and no iPads.  When I tried out the  Apple LISA  in the early 1980s, I was not totally enchanted by the GUI interface, yet I appreciate howsome may be swayed by having  having an easy to use screen.  I thrice tried installing iTunes on a PC but found that the software tried to take over the CPU so I uninstalled it. From a bottom line perspective, Apple products tend to cost much more than their counterparts because it is a vertically integrated company so they charge a premium for sleek designs “which just work". For iPods, Apple took over 70% of the market

For digital music players, I started with Rio but was quite happy using Creative Labs products.  What I appreciated about many of the Creative Lab designs was an ability to switch out lithium-ion batteries, which is a feature which Apple products consistently lack.  For the Zen Vision M mp3 player, I liked the added features, like a microphone and an FM tuner which the more expensive yet more popular iPods eschewed.  Even though my devices are still in good shape, Creative stopped supporting them, so it is challenging to conveniently transfer tracks to and from newer computers.  Since iTunes seemed more like malware to me on a PC, I was not hooked into the habit of purchasing from the iTunes Store.

I was somewhat of an early adopter to DVRs.  But instead of getting the TIVO subscription service, I had Replay TV (the DVR which Hollywood eventually sued into bankruptcy for its ability to skip commercials.   This was a great service until the satellite provider offered inexpensive DVRs as part of the package.  It is surprising that TIVO still exists as a subscription service today,
but it seems that they offer more sophisticated data mining of viewing habits and allow for automatic recording nowadays.

HDTV greatly interested me as a consumer.  But when it was first becoming commercially available, it was quite expensive and confusing.  So I opted to get trained and sell televisions as a side job for a couple of weeks to better understand the marketplace.  Most people either chose Plasmas or LCD TVs but I found that DLPs was more cost effective and had a better product for my situation.  It has given me a larger Big Screen TV at a lower initial cost. I am not distressed that Mitsubishi has gotten out of the DLP TV consumer market since it has served my purposes and simple servicing (lightbulb replacement) can be self-installed.

When I first got a smartphone, I chose the Palm because I liked the potential synergy between the Palm Pilot PDA and a cellphone.   The Palm Centro was a brick design but had a great tactile keyboard.  I was tempted to get a Palm Pre but I observed that people had problems with the sliding keyboard design. So I advanced onto Android phones.  Still I had high hopes for the WebOS, which looked like an elegant operating system.  So much so, HP paid $1.2 billionfor Palm, seemingly just to get WebOS.

When tablets first came out, they started at $600 which was way too much for a Thrifty Techie. So I was happy to get my HP Touchpad at 1/3 of the price.  HP tried pricing their WebOS tablet the same price-point as iPods so few sold.  After 10 weeks of stagnant sales, HP decided to withdraw from the tablet marketplace and had a fire sales.  Although logistics prevented me from buying a bottom of the barrel price, I was happy with what I paid.  I knew that the OS was stillborn, but believed that it had enough apps to be useful.  I termed that HP Touchpad tablet purchase as “turning into a torpedo”.  Three years later, I am happily using the tablet.  There are some challenges with not having new apps, but it still suits my purposes for quite a while.

I have  been a longtime ebook reader enthusiast.  I got in when the $300 price point was cut in half via refurbishments. At the time, Sony, Kobo (via Borders), the Nook (via Barnes and Noble) and Kindle (via Amazon) were the choices.   Aside from assessing the ebook hardware,  ebook reader purchasers must really also include what merchant from whom you want to be locked into buying.  I chose Amazon and never regretted it.  Their customer service, particularly for the Kindle, has been fantastic.  I have perhaps a thousand books but have only really purchased a score of them since Kindle readers often have promos available.    With the Kindle, some great features are constantly added yet some desirable features have been discontinued on certain models (switching batteries, adding external memory, unbridled Whispernet, text-to-speech) so upgrading is not always an easy choice.

It is interesting that several technology providers which I chose had brief market lives.  But with the rapidity of change in technology and the planned obsolescence, one should not plan that any particular technology to be forever viable, no matter how well kept it is.

What this techno retrospective has demonstrated is that this Thrifty Techie thinks outside of the box when choosing technology based upon his utility analysis.  This Thifty Techie is an inveterate bargain hunter but who knows that the lowest price is not always the best bargain.  By assessing features and pairing them with desired abilities, he can determine when it is better to hold onto a gadget or appreciate that one is sinking good money after bad on an item.  

May the help you discern what is the best choice for you.

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