We've gotten complacent with many of our technological needs, simply putting up with what we have available now, even if it's horribly dated.
In some cases, it's because we're content with what we have, ignoring the thought that something better may actually be within our reach. In other cases, it's because we have no other choice but to get bent over the table by huge corporations who simply want our money and couldn't care less about innovation or forward progress if it means less profits.
MaximumPC decided to take a step back to observe some of the more lacking technologies in desperate need for reform, replacement or upgrade:
13. Business Cards
Trading business cards is a bit of a tradition, as is the practice of comparing them amongst colleagues, but it's a tradition that should be put to rest. Instead of handing out business cards, it's much simpler for both parties to distribute digital contact cards, with e-mails or via web links.
Those willing to embrace the future may even want to consider the various smartphone solutions available. Smartphone apps like Bump let you trade contact information instantaneously, and you can include a lot more info than could fit on a traditional business card. NFC chips also hold a lot of potential when it comes to revolutionizing social business interaction.
12. Mail Tracking Services
Mail services have seen a lot over the years, going from horse drawn buggies to overnight flights, but people are still rarely satisfied with the quality of the service. One of the greatest improvements as of late is the package tracking systems most couriers provide, but it could still use some work.
Parcel services have their delivery routes planned out in immense detail. They know precisely how long it will take to get your package from one sorting station to the next, but somehow their ETAs are rarely spot on. Sometimes the package arrives sooner than expected (which, to be fair, certainly isn't always a bad thing), other times it arrives considerably later. It's understandable that there may be some margin of error when calculating the ETA of a package at the beginning of transit, but as it approaches its delivery destination, that margin should be reduced. It would be nice if the tracking systems would update ETAs like this accordingly.
It would also be nice if parcel services could be consistent about how they deliver things. In some cases, they deem it acceptable to leave your package at your door (Sometimes even late in the evening. Without knocking. And you open the door in the morning to find a dew covered package with expensive electronics in it that was sitting out all night! Or maybe that was just us.). Other times they leave a note, asking you to pick up the package at their warehouse, but when you show up, they tell you it has been sent out for a second delivery attempt. Is it so hard to include some of these details on the tracking page so that we know what to expect?
11. Fax Machines
In office environments, there are very few products that are more wasteful than a fax machine. Faxing a document generally entails printing the document in the first place, just to have it scanned, sent over an antiquated analog line, and then printed again at its destination. To make matters worse, the document is often thrown away immediately after.
Just about all of this can be accomplished without ever taking the document out of its digital form through the use of E-mail or web services. Most cloud storage services even provide advanced backup solutions so that there's no need to print out multiple copies just to be stuffed into some folder buried somewhere.
Who uses fax machines anymore? Answer: the government. Any time you have a document that you need turn into the government quickly, such as to avoid a tax audit or jury duty, you have to fax it. The only thing extending the life of fax machines now is the fact that in order to send someone a fax, you need a fax machine (though some web based fax services do exist). An ideal solution would be new fax machines that are capable of interpreting e-mail attachments as well as faxes to act as a stepping stone in phasing out the aging technology.
Landlines. They just ain't what they used to be. Whenever calling on a landline, the odds of reaching the intended person are pretty low, since they could easily be away, in the next room. Or the bathroom, or a movie...Cell phones provide us with an instant gratification that the landline never could. So now that we're firmly entrenched in our always available cell phone mode, what are our landlines providing us with? Sure, a landline will still work if the power goes out, but so will a cell phone.
To make the landlines' case worse, many are built on ancient wiring with some only capable of data transmissions around 14kbps. Considering that nearly everyone owns a cell phone these days, there is a great opportunity to repurpose the archaic landline network and refresh it with fiber optic connections right down to a residential level, and ideally starting with those on the oldest (read slowest) of lines. Even though it's a costly endeavor to upgrade the entire country's infrastructure, companies like Verizon have already started its undertaking, though the rollout will take some time and is focused primarily on metropolitan areas. It's time everyone got to join the digital era.
9. Television Remotes
How many remotes do you have for your TV/entertainment center? I have three: one for my TV, one for my cable box, and one for my DVD player; and even though both my cable and TV remotes are programmable universal remotes, neither works perfectly with all three receivers.
With today's internet connected TVs and the digital service cable providers use, we should be able to use our smartphones and computers to control our TVs. We can already manage our DVR remotely. Is adding the ability to change the channel or volume really that difficult? This would also give us an easier time finding our favorite shows with advanced search features as well as open up the potential to view trailers, extended series and episode information.
8. Car Radios
When you consider the quality of your standard radio station, it becomes painfully clear that radio is in desperate need of an upgrade. Static is a constant nuisance, audio quality is subpar, and there's constant interference from stations on neighboring frequencies.
HD radio is a decent attempt at improvement, bringing near CD-quality audio; however, a lack of HD radio stations resulted in a lack of demand for HD radio tuners, which cyclically led to a lack of new HD radio stations. Satellite radio has been significantly more successful than HD radio, but it still suffers from quality issues when traveling through tunnels, in parking garages, or amongst tall buildings. It also has relatively pricey subscription fees.
What we could really get behind are internet based radios working off of mobile broadband services already blanketing most of the world. Such connections could also be used for backseat video entertainment, instant traffic conditions and GPS directions.
7. Indoor Climate Control and Home Automation
Air conditioning is a wonderful invention, but even advanced thermostats don't do a very good job managing it. When you're all snuggled up in bed, you really don't need to keep your house at a balmy 70 degrees, but at the same time, you don't want to wake up to a chilly 55. The same goes for when you're at work; there's no need to blast the A/C to keep a crisp 67 degrees, but you don't want to come home to a sauna. Thermostats have timers for such things, but that doesn't quite cover your days off, occasional house guests, or vacations.
It's time our homes became more network integrated. The thermostat should have access to our daily schedule; know what time our alarm clocks are set for, and give us a nice web based interface to tweak settings as we please. The same should go for things like the water heater, lights, washing machines, and security. I want a house as smart as Tony Stark's JARVIS, and I want it now.
When it comes to basic maths, calculators don't need to be all that fancy, and at this point, anyone with a cell phone has no need for a standalone calculator. Now, graphing calculators are an entirely different story.
The TI-83 is one of the most common graphing calculators out there, but in tech years, it's as old as dirt. Fifteen years old, to be exact, the TI-83 has actually been discontinued since 2004. Though the TI-89 Titanium has taken its place, even that model is pushing 7 now. There's a whole world of new functionality calculators can take on, like wireless connectivity, COLOR displays, physics simulation, and gaming. Not to mention useful, educational applications.
One of the biggest limitations to advanced calculator design is exam acceptance restrictions. An iPod Touch with a few of the right apps would make a nearly ideal calculator, but good luck using that on an SAT exam. Fortunately, Texas Instruments seems to be on the right track with its TI-Nspire CX series. It's still nowhere near as powerful as a smartphone, but because it uses modular accessories for things like wireless connectivity and data recording in lab environments, it's allowed on nearly all standardized tests. The TI-Nspire CX is definitely a step in the right direction, and the sooner it hits the market, the better.
Printer technology has seen steady improvements over the years, but it has never hit upon anything truly revolutionary. All we get are faster print speeds and maybe some extra color quality. The biggest innovation in the printer world as of recently was the integration of wireless networking.
It's time that printers got smarter. I'm tired of trying to find the right drivers to install my Wi-Fi printer onhe w my 64-bit computer without installing all of the bloatware included in the driver setup file. I'm tired of having to transfer documents from my phone to my computer just to print them. I want a printer knows what a .doc or .pdf is and can render and print it all on its own. I want to be able to access my printer's print queue from any network attached device, drag and drop, and start printing.
While I'm at it, why do we have to rely on open source projects like RepRap to get affordable 3D printers. Here's a hint to all of the big printer manufacturers out there: there's a huge market of people who want a simple sub-$300 3D printer.
4. Laptop Cooling
The term "laptop" kind of suggests that it's mean to be used on your lap, yet a large majority of laptop models put their cooling intake vents on the bottom of the chassis. Whenever you try using your laptop on your lap, those vents become blocked and your laptop is no longer adequately cooled. This results in uncomfortable heating of your legs, and in some cases, overheating hardware and crashes. Asus is one of the few notebook manufacturers so far to have addressed the issue - at least in a few of their gaming series notebooks. These notebooks draw air down through the keyboard, which would obviously be clear any time the computer is in use. It keeps your hands ventilated too.
Another laptop cooling complaint is the location of the exhaust, often on the right side of the system, exactly where it's most comfortable to use your mouse. In the case of high-performance and gaming systems, the exhausted air can be quite hot, to the point that it's almost painful to leave your hand there. How about we just avoid all uncomfortable burning sensations altogther, alright? We can do better.
3. The Internal Combustion Engine
The internal combustion engine has been around for well over 100 years - when it comes to our automobiles, we've stuck with the same fundamental design since the Model T rolled off the assembly line.
While there's no denying that the combustion engine has seen some pretty massive improvements since Henry Ford's time, it's creating a dependence on non-renewable fuels and having adverse effects on our environment. Pollution in metropolitan areas is beginning to get out of hand, and don't get me started on the cost of filling up your gas tank.
Sadly, replacing the combustion engine isn't so easy. Attempts with battery powered electric cars have been made, but in the past have ultimately failed due to poor range and lengthy recharge times. Solar powered solutions have been considered as well, but any nighttime (or poor weather) traveling is met with the same drawbacks of traditional electric cars. So far, our best attempt at overcoming our gasoline dependence has been the Hybrid, but it's still using a traditional combustion engine.
It's time for a shift to the Hydrogen Fuel Cell electric car. Much like your gas guzzler, you can fill up any time your tank is low, except instead of gasoline, you use hydrogen. The car runs nearly silently, and has essentially no emissions at all (save for a bit of H20). Even better, hydrogen is simple and clean to produce. The only real deterrent right now is the lack of hydrogen filling stations - and heck, that can be taken care of.
2. Integrated Video Accelerators
When you think GPUs, you probably think either Nvidia or AMD (formerly ATI), but in fact 50% of GPUs sold in 2010 came from Intel, and they're all integrated chips. Now, nine times out of ten, your average end user won't need anything more than the bare minimum performance that Intel's current GMA video processors provide, just your standard HD video playback and web browsing, but what about that tenth time?
Where integrated GPUs often fail is gaming, and we're not talking high-end, all the bells and whistles, total eye candy gaming. Many modern titles don't support Intel's latest GMA solutions whatsoever, and those that do are hardly ever optimized enough to provide any sort of reasonably acceptable game play. As a result, many people who would play PC games simply don't because they don't have a system capable, and it's absolutely killing the PC gaming industry.
It's time for PC manufacturers to step up their game. The overall cost of adding a dedicated entry-level gaming GPU is nearly negligible. Just because people don't expect to be able to play PC games on their budget computers doesn't mean they don't want to. Why not give them a bit more than they expect? Some PC manufacturers, like Dell, have already slowly started to introduce dedicated GPUs as standard equipment for some models. It's a trend we'd like to see continue.
1. Current Generation Gaming Consoles
The Xbox 360 and PS3 are the two most powerful gaming consoles on the market today. In actuality, they really aren't much different from a computer. Both have a CPU, a GPU, some RAM, and a hard drive, just like a PC, yet most computers are replaced every three to five years with upgraded models. Despite being about five years old already, the PS3 and 360 both have a planned life-cycle extending through 2015.
These old systems are leading to stagnation in the gaming industry. Every year, people flock to buy the new Halo or Modern Warfare, but all we get is a bit of new game content; graphics overhauls are out of the question. PC games - and gamers - are suffering for it. In order to make games cross-platform compatible developers have to cater to the significantly weaker hardware in consoles. Epic Games has already produced a tech demo of its latest Unreal Engine 3 running on current generation PC hardware, pushing hard for next-gen consoles to get here faster.
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