New Year – New Gadgets – New Experiences

On my adventure trip I had brought many gadgets with me on the road and on the mountains – see also my pre-departure post ‘Got Gadgets?‘. My goal was to remain fairly well connected (email, skype, phone, etc.) throughout my trip and also to enrich my experience during and after the trip (via music, photos, GPS tracker etc.). This has resulted in a much richer and more instant documentation of the trip than would have been possible say 20 years ago.

I was rarely more than a few hours away from the nearest Internet connection, and using my iPhone for taking daily notes as well as my little Netbook for email and updating my Blog had become second nature for me. The technology worked well, as I expected. One less expected aspect was my capacity and interest to engage, which was often muted. I had thought I would use my Spanish learning apps, my games and puzzle apps, or listen to audiobooks along the way or when spending time in the tent such as on the mountains. However, when you exercise a lot all day, often experiencing physical discomfort (heat, hunger, fatigue, cold, etc.), then spend additional physical energy on basic necessities such as food and shelter, you simply don’t have much mental energy left at the end of the day. What I had left was often consumed by organizing the upcoming transport or expedition logistics or dealing with unexpected issues such as bike repairs.

After coming home from my big adventure I had the time over the last couple of months to immerse myself in education and entertainment. A bit of context here: My wife and I have a lot of electronic gadgets at home. We have a half dozen digital cameras, mostly small and versatile waterproof point-&-click’s for the road (Panasonic, Olympus), as well as our semi-professional Nikon D300S. 2 Flip Mino HD video-recorders and one somewhat older Sony Camcorder. Several TV monitors, including 2 more modern flat-screen models (Samsung, Sony). After buying an early Toshiba HD DVD player we needed to switch to a Samsung Blu-Ray player. We have each one of the 3 generations of Amazon Kindle book readers. There are several Bose entertainment systems, noise cancellation headphones as well as iPod docking units throughout our home and offices. Last I counted we had a total of 5 Apple iPhones and 4 iPods. I’m not counting the replaced RIM BlackBerries anymore. In September 2010 we bought our first Apple iPad, soon to be followed by another one – just waiting for the second generation model. We also tend to buy some more of these as gifts for our extended family, thus contributing our share to the economic recovery in the US. A few companies do get a lot of repeat business from us, certainly including Apple and Bose.
We enjoy watching a NetFlix movie every now and then, both streaming as well as traditional DVDs which come in the mail. This holiday season saw the addition of a Nintendo Wii game system, and we likely will upgrade my son’s Dell Windows PC shortly. To keep up with bandwidth performance, we recently upgraded to a new Motorola cable modem and Cisco wireless router. As you can see, no shortage of gadgets on the home entertainment front.

The inexorable digitization of content – ebooks, photos, movies, news, audiobooks, ecourses, podcasts – has a lot of promise. But it also requires new approaches to managing your own libraries. For example, my wife spent years building a fairly large personal audio-collection including more than 600 purchased CDs, importing and rating more than 7000 songs in iTunes. She likes to manage our NetFlix queue with the iPad app. We mutually share our ebook library of ~100 titles and manage it using the myKindle website. I accumulated a growing collection of several dozen audiobooks on iTunes, mostly during the time I commuted to work and discovered the in-car iPod delivery of audiobook content as very useful. We manage our tens of thousands of digital photos on the Apple iMac, using first iPhoto, then Aperture as powerful editing and management software. It now takes longer to import and tag the photos than to shoot them in the first place! We share many of those photos using Apple’s Mobile Me gallery as well as Google‘s Picasa. Oh, and let’s not forget the backup using Apple’s Time machine…

The convergence and on-demand availability of content enables new experiences. One recent purchase brought this to a new level: We bought the little Apple TV device. The little box was installed and connected to our TV in minutes. The small remote control is very simple to use and the online menus are very intuitive. It sure is nice to be able to search and instantly view movies from various sources now (iTunes, NetFlix, YouTube). Or stream one of the hundreds of music channels. But the real kicker is the seamless integration with our own libraries of music (iTunes) and photos (iPhoto/Aperture/MobileMe). Since we have so much content on those libraries already, it works great for us. We could do similar things before, by attaching an iPod or a camcorder to our TV. Now, thanks to the fast wireless network connectivity (802.11 n), we have access to all our personal music and photos at our (remote control’s) fingertips, from the comfort of our couch, without having to deal with computer keyboards or additional cables. When you see that slide-show of your last vacation, with your favorite playlist in the background, in between a short news podcast and that new NetFlix movie all from your little remote control, it really is a new experience of home entertainment!

Now this is certainly not the last word in convergence for home entertainment, and at the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas (which starts today) we’ll likely see a lot of new offerings towards Smart TVs. And while the proprietary Apple system is not for everyone, the low incremental price point ($99) made Apple TV a no-brainer for us. It will be a while before we can bring that kind of entertainment with us on the road…

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