Mike Elgan: 10 obsolete technologies to kill in 2010

Make the world a better place. Just say no to dumb tech.

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6. Home entertainment remotes

Just about every component to a home entertainment system comes with its own overly-complex remote control. The TV's got one. So does the TiVo. The Blu-ray player has its own remote. Even the sound system has one. Some people have multiple TVs, disc players, stereos and other remotely controllable electronics, and end up with a dozen or more remotes in the house. Each one has to be programmed, refreshed with toxic batteries and kept track of (they tend to disappear).

Hardly anyone takes the time to properly manage, consolidate or program their remotes. Enough! It's time to replace remote controls with mobile phone apps.

Mobile phones make superior remote controls because they have better user interfaces, rechargeable batteries and we tend not to lose them. Phone apps are more easily programmed and upgraded.

A few cool apps exist for iPhone and other devices, which control TiVos, and other devices. Apple makes a really simple app for controlling media on iTunes from an iPhone.

TV makers need to improve the functionality for controlling settings on the TV itself, then join the smart phone app revolution and build simple remote-control apps that can be universalized, so all devices can be controlled from single apps.

7. Landline phones

The number of people in the US who have ditched their home landline phones in favor of cell phones doubled between 2006 and 2009, according to a recently released federal report. Now, one-quarter of US households have no landline.

What are the other three-quarters waiting for? Landline phones are redundant, annoying and waste time (because chances are the person who answers isn't the caller's target). Landline phones either have no way to take messages, or they have some obsolete answering machine. It's time to make the call and get rid of that landline.

8. Music CDs

Music CDs work fine. It's just that they have no significant advantages over downloadable media, such as MP3 files. CDs are environmentally unfriendly, fragile and inconvenient to carry around.

We should move to an all-digital, file-based library, which can be searched, backed up and carried everywhere.

9. Satellite radio

Sirius XM programming is great stuff. But you don't need rockets and orbiting satellites to deliver noise to radios. Sirius XM itself demonstrated this by offering its content on the Internet, and via an iPhone app.

There are some cases in which satellite has an advantage. For example, when you're driving outside a mobile broadband coverage area and are listening to timely content, such as news. But most of us rarely venture into the wilds, and most Sirius XM content isn't all that timely. Besides, you can't listen if you travel outside North America, or into covered parking. Or near buildings. Or in tunnels that don't have costly repeaters.

Since the whole satellite radio idea was dreamed up years ago, MP3-based music, podcasts, audio books and other sound content has been mainstreamed. Car audio equipment now has a jack for plugging in a media player or cell phone.

If you're going to pay a costly subscription for something, pay for a mobile broadband data subscription, which can bring you the whole Internet, not just sound files.

Sirius XM should keep the programming and the content, but drop the satellite delivery and the subscription price, and continue to serve their audience via the Internet.

10. Redundant registration

Many Web sites offer some form of registration, which typically ask you to add your personal contact information and specify a username and password.

Why do some sites require me to enter my e-mail address or my password twice? They're going to verify all this anyway. Why do I have to enter city, state and ZIP code, when the ZIP code already knows the city and state, and vice versa.

Bad, redundant and obsolete technologies make life needlessly complex, expensive, irritating and ugly. Let's get rid of them.

Mike Elgan writes about technology and global tech culture. Contact Mike at mike.elgan@elgan.com, follow him on Twitter or his blog, The Raw Feed.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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