Wednesday, February 22, 2012

2.23.12 SKY PILOT

This article was originally published in the 2.23.12 issue of Metroland.

Gotta love this. The Wall Street Journal reports this week that one of the fastest growing segments of the electronics industry is sales of.... television antennas! What’s going on is that as people are cutting the cord from their cable companies in favor of watching stuff on the internet, they’re rediscovering the joys (and no doubt the frustrations) of free TV signals in the air.

Cable networks have been racing to the bottom with soul-deadening reality shows and endless syndications of goofy cop shows. And as the quality of programming sinks, cable rates are going up. At the same time, the depth and variety of what’s online is exploding. Netflix just announced a deal with The Weinstein Company to stream their movies (like “The Artist”) even before pay TV. YouTube is launching channels dedicated to original programming. Hulu has all kinds of current TV shows available. And the gizmos available the turn your TV into a big computer screen are getting better and cheaper. And I keep hearing that Apple and Google have TV stuff up their sleeves that will drop soon.

So you ditch cable for the net and what are you missing? Local shows, maybe some sports, and the ability to see network shows as they debut. To the extent these things are important to you, you can get a lot of it by sticking rabbit ears on top of your set or an antenna on your roof (Be careful up there! You could break yer damn neck!). There’s at least 8 broadcast stations in Albany, and many more than that in larger urban areas.

Meantime, cable companies are starting to dramatically beef up on-demand offerings to keep customers off the net and on the grid. Comcast has just announced a new service of recent and high-quality on-demand TV shows and movies that will be available for basic cable customers for free or for cheap. Expect Time Warner to do the same, reversing its dismal practice of charging a la carte premiums even for 20 year old movies you don’t want to watch. It’s pretty remarkable that in the absurdly Byzantine worlds of telecommunications delivery and content licensing, we’re seeing the effects of real, honest-to-god competition in the form of increased consumer choice and value. Yay.

And speaking of what-won’t-they-think-of-next, the New York Times reports that Google will start shipping eyeglasses with little translucent displays in them by the end of the year. The glasses will be hooked to the web like your smartphone, the displays will be viewable by the wearer. Scrolling and pointing and clicking will be enabled by head-movements! And the glasses will have small cameras pointed outward that will allow the glasses to “monitor the world in real time” and even overlay what you’re looking at with an “augmented reality view.”

Holy freakin moley! The cost of these things will supposedly be in the range of a smartphone. The article didn’t mention whether the glasses would include a microphone or some other means of sending messages out. The article didn’t mention whether the glasses would include brain scanning capabilities that would allow the glasses to know what you are going to do before you do it. The article didn’t mention whether there would be a warning device to keep you from walking into walls or driving off a cliff whilst living in your own private translucent cyber-world.

On the downside, the article said the glasses would look sort of like Oakley Thumps. Oakley Thumps? RAY BAN WAYFARERS!!! C’mon Google, get with the program. Oakley Thumps... Sigh.

And I don’t think I believe this, but the article says multiple Google sources are saying there’s no business model being developed for these things yet. Google will just start selling the eyeglasses, and what people actually do with them will dictate the development of revenue streams. That is so counter to traditional corporate thinking it makes me want to juggle cats.

There’s no word on whether the glasses will be available with prescription lenses. Dudes, progressive trifocals, pul-eeze? Then again, if the glasses are so damn smart, shouldn’t they just know what’s in focus and what’s not and fix it? You know, like augment my reality view already, thank you so much?

I guess we should have seen this coming. Everything’s shrinking, your new phone is more powerful than your computer was 5 years ago, and of course that trend is gonna continue. Smart glasses today, smart contact lenses tomorrow.

The future’s so bright and Google’s got your shades.

Paul Rapp is an intellectual property lawyer and musician who likes long walks on the beach and pricy bourbon and hates everything else, except maybe those Google glasses. He can be reached on Facebook or at


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