December 27, 2007

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A look back
The most whatevers of 2007
By John “jaQ” Andrews  jandrews@hippopress.com

As we in the media like to point out, this time of year isn’t just the Christmas season, but a period chock full of holiday rituals. One of those rituals is to look back and seeing what sense we can make of the year as a whole. There’s no reason a calendar year should be cohesive at all, but we humans do like to impose order upon chaos. As part of this ritual, we make lists. The best, the worst ... I don’t like to limit myself that way. Who says you can’t make up categories on the fly?

• Most overhyped: Apple iPhone. Big surprise, right? That’s what “overhyped” means. Sure, if you want a decent phone, with a touchscreen, with maps (but not GPS), that plays music, with a fair amount of storage, that takes mediocre 2-megapixel photos, and browses the Web pretty well, it’s a good product. If your priorities are in any other order — say, taking your MP3 player to the gym without accusations of locker room snapshot shenanigans, or dialing your phone with actual buttons, or taking more than 8GB of music with you — then you’re better served by something else. Like most all-in-one gadgets, it does a lot of stuff, some of it very well, but not much the very best.

• Most underwhelming: Microsoft Vista. Even Microsoft couldn’t get really excited about this one. Oh, they try. They’ll tell you it’s been adopted more quickly than any previous Windows release, it’s on more PCs than blah blah blah. But most sales of Vista were on new PCs anyway, so folks weren’t so much upgrading their operating system as upgrading their whole computer. Even worse, most of those PCs couldn’t run the whiz-bang features of Vista — they could only handle the basics. With high-end hardware, you could get fancy things like, um, 3-D windows, but ... why? If only Windows XP hadn’t been so darn usable, we wouldn’t be so happy to stick with it.

• Most expensive vaporware: Optimus Maximus keyboard. A keyboard with a tiny display in every key that changes depending upon what function is currently associated with that key sounds pretty cool, doesn’t it? Russian designer Art Lebedev thought so too, so he set about making one. It’s taken a little longer than he planned, though. At his online store, the promised ship date of December 2007 is actually crossed out, replaced with a revised, totally pinky-swear date of February 2008. You can get “cheap” versions with one or a few changeable keys starting under $500, but the full version will set you back $1,500 or so, depending on how far the U.S. Dollar falls. One more reason to order now.

• Most egregious misuse of USB: USB Humping Dog. Technically this came out at the very end of 2006, but I can’t let the year go by without mentioning it. You know USB flash drives, right? You plug them into your computer, you store files on them. Picture one in the shape of a dog, with the USB plug in between its legs. Take away the flash memory, so there’s no useful purpose for the thing. Now make the dog move when it’s plugged in. In just about the only way it can move, the way a dog moves when it really, really likes your leg. If you own one of these, please don’t ever write to me