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The undercurrents of the future. A publication from Medium about technology and people.


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Letter From the Editor

A great device can still be a pain to repair

Earlier this month, movers dropped and shattered my television. It was less than a year old and, it turns out, completely unsalvageable.

The original manufacturer, LG, shrugged: Accidental damage understandably isn’t covered under warranty. The company’s customer service agent connected me to a number of local repair shops, none of which were able to fix the screen. Displays are by far the most expensive part of a television, and I soon learned that a replacement for my particular LG would cost about $1,117, not including any shipping or labor costs. I had bought the TV brand new for $1,300.


Why I miss Crazy Frog

Before the iPhone, Venmo, or Spotify, there were ringtones. You might remember them fondly as those lo-fidelity sounds we used to communicate our highly refined music tastes every time someone called our cell. But ringtones were so much more than that. A billion-dollar industry silenced seemingly overnight, ringtones laid the foundations of modern mobile consumer technology and set the stage for the app store and mobile commerce as we know it today. And they are proof that even silly-seeming products can have an impact long after their memory fades away.

The rise of the ringtone

The first mobile phone call was not made by a…


Zoom’s DTEN ME is a $600 tablet designed specifically for video conferencing

As Covid-19 continues to keep offices shuttered around the world, businesses are scrambling to adjust to the “new normal,” with many employees stuck working from home. Now, tech companies are jumping at the opportunity to sell gadgets that facilitate an extended work-from-home reality.

Last week, Zoom debuted a new category of dedicated video calling devices under Zoom for Home branding. The first home device, the DTEN ME, costs $599, and is an oversized 27-inch tablet with three video cameras, eight high-definition microphones, and easy access to Zoom calls when they’re scheduled.

Unlike traditional meeting-room hardware, like Google’s Meet devices, which…


Without repairable gadgets, device convergence won’t save the planet.

Loyal readers of Microprocessing may remember that, about a month ago, I bought an AlphaSmart Neo 2, a 2000s-era word processor with a small, six-line LCD screen. It does nothing but type. Though my experiment so far has been a successful one (the amount I am writing on this thing… folks, the difference is incredible), I feel a little bit guilty for relying on wasteful consumerism to help me get the job done.

Before I bought the Neo 2 I already had two devices — a laptop and a smartphone — that could have not only assisted me in writing…


Thinner isn’t always better for computers

Webcams have been around for more than three decades, but as the cameras in our phones have become near-perfect, the ones in our laptops seem stuck in time: They’re mostly terrible and don’t seem to be getting any better.

Granted, I never paid much attention to the camera in my work-issued 2019 MacBook Pro until the pandemic forced me into hours of video calls, staring at a mirror image of my face in grainy, dark, potato quality all day long. After the first few weeks, the terrible quality started driving me crazy.

Like many tech workers on Twitter, I scrambled…


The company solved the chicken-or-egg problem that haunts its rivals

At Apple’s annual developer conference on Monday, the company made a bombshell announcement: The Mac is switching to Apple-designed ARM processors, with plans to drop Intel for good.

The transition to what the company is calling “Apple Silicon” will provide a huge array of benefits to future devices and frees Apple from depending on Intel’s chipsets for its hardware, which has dictated how and when it could update MacBooks in the past. Apple expects the first devices powered by its own processors will arrive later this year.

ARM-based processors offer increased performance while being more power-efficient and generating less heat…

The surprising definitions present serious challenges for repairability

For the past eight years, I’ve been working mainly on a late 2012 iMac. I’m no Luddite, but the computer has held up well over the years, and I’ve never felt the need to replace it. Recently, though, my iMac developed its first serious tic: The fan has started to power on loudly every time the computer goes to sleep. While the computer is long past warranty, I decided to call up Apple to see if the company could offer any help. When I did, I learned my iMac is considered “vintage” and was told Apple won’t touch it.


People are more interested than ever in repair and reuse

Last month, a Minnesota company called Tech Discounts received an email from a man in California. He had been trying to purchase 100 Chromebooks to donate to a nonprofit, but because of supply chain disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic, he hadn’t been able to find a seller. He had initially hoped to buy the computers new, but when he learned about Tech Discounts, an electronics refurbisher based in St. Paul, on an online forum, he decided to give the company a try. …

Entire industries, including consumer electronics, may be disrupted

Technology has made us dependent on an alphabet soup of rare minerals sourced from the far corners of the planet. But there’s no guarantee that we’ll always have reliable supplies of these crucial resources. Now, scientists with the United States Geological Survey have identified a shortlist of 23 minerals that pose the greatest “supply risk” to U.S. manufacturers — minerals that, if unavailable, could upend entire industries, including consumer electronics, and set back efforts to combat the climate crisis.

The study, published Friday in the journal Science Advances, shows the surprising variety of metals American industries have a tenuous supply…

Apple left the door to the smart home wide open, and Google is ready to walk on in

A few years ago, Apple’s hardware lineup was unrivaled: It was the only company creating an array of related, deeply integrated devices that worked with each other to make your life easier. Everything Apple made “just worked” with all of the company’s other products — no fussing or setup required.

Now it looks like Google is poised to become the company that “just works.”

At a press event yesterday, Google unveiled a slew of Pixel- and Nest-branded devices, including a new Wi-Fi router, smart speakers and displays, and headphones. …

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