We look at the new year with apprehension. Here's why.
Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983


The times, they are a-changin'

December 30, 2012

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2012, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2012, The Post-Standard

Bob Dylan had it right. Your old road is rapidly aging.

To some of us, that's exciting news -- computers are getting so small and portable they're not even called computers any more; Internet connections can be 100 times faster, and TVs can tune in to the Internet to get programs cable companies refuse to offer.

But to those who are wary of change, this is a worrisome time. There's nothing quite as dead as the old way of doing something.

And so we look at the new year with apprehension. Here's why:

Exhibit No. 1: Tablets are replacing regular computers. Tech writers like to say the PC is dead, pushed into the grave by the iPad and its burgeoning competitors, Android tablets. Whatever life seems to be left in desktop PCs is being sucked out by tablets, and laptop computers are fading fast.

Should you be worried if you still want to buy a desktop computer or a new laptop? At this time, no; next year, maybe, and two years from now, definitely. Choices will be limited. Some companies that now make desktop and laptop computers will stop making some models or leave the market entirely. If you really need a desktop or laptop, choose a model in the next 12 months.

Exhibit No. 2: Portable music players -- iPods in particular -- have their heads in the sand. They'll be relics in a few years. Nobody will want a pocket-size thingie that only plays music. Smartphones -- cell phones that are actually small tablets that also work as phones -- have all but taken over the job of both pocket music players and pocket video players.

Should you be worried? Not at all. Smartphones can do so much more than old-fashioned wall phones or simple cell phones. With a smartphone, you'll still have a music player while also enjoying connections to just about every kind of Internet service.

And you always need a phone, so consider doing what 45 percent of Americans have already done: Cut your landline and use a smartphone for everything -- phone calls, messaging, GPS navigation, and so much more. You can get an Android smartphone and pay only $45 or so a month for unlimited calls, texts and data, from Walmart's StraightTalk service, with no contract.

Exhibit No. 3: Really fast Internet speeds are literally down the road -- in Kansas City, Kansas, where Google is selling hyper-speed connections to homes and businesses. Other areas of the country will follow. In case you think your FiOS or Road Runner extra-cost connection is fast, hold onto your keyboard: Google's fiber service is gigabit speed -- 100 times faster than standard broadband.

Should you be worried? Not at all. There's nothing new to learn. Hyper-speed service works just like your old-fashioned cable connection, except for the rocket-socket in your wall. Google says it will let us know if and when its service is available here. A bright side is Google fiber's guaranteed effect on Time Warner, Verizon and other broadband providers: They're sure to find that they, too, can provide faster speeds. Competition is a wonderful thing.

TVs won't need cable. An Internet connection gives you, at last, a choice of programs -- what's called an "a la carte" menu. You're able to choose "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives," for example, without paying for the entire Food Network.

Should you be worried? Maybe. You'll have to make more decisions, something couch potatoes like to avoid. But you'll save money, and that's always a good thing.

A personal note: As of Jan. 1, this column will have reached the milestone of 30 years of continual weekly reports and opinions, broken only once by a few weeks' absence during cancer surgery. (The surgeon took my laptop away.) It's been a blast, and I'm looking forward to 30 more.