Friday, 30 December 2016 10:29

Technology in 2017: gadgetry goes old school


Given the failures of professional pollsters to predict anything of late, I am loath to be your crystal ball for the year’s upcoming tech developments. Those who imagined a revolution last year fuelled by the Apple Watch, heralding the death of the Swiss watch industry, have been proven mightily wrong.

Instead, it’s the little victories that fascinate, and in many ways, have greater relevance. Just as the Apple Watch has not killed off health monitors from Fitbit or Garmin, the new high-definition TV formats won’t necessarily drive those blissfully content with “normal” high-def LCD screens or Blu-ray players to upgrade. Sources in the trade suggest that “4K UHD” (for “Ultra High Definition”) and HDR (or “High Dynamic Range”) are desperate moves by manufacturers to counter the 3D fiasco, as even higher-resolution hardware is being developed for launch a few years hence.

A saturation point is being reached. Fewer people are prepared to swallow the depreciation that accompanies being “early adopters.” Equally, many buyers are overwhelmed by features they neither need nor want – yet they no longer fear being treated like Luddites who are simply afraid or ignorant of technology. Gone are the days when one was mortified by the superior tech knowledge of the average seven-year-old, despite recent TV ad campaigns to the contrary. Simply put, enough is enough.

Smart phones are the exception. A couple of years ago, for example, we reported on the Punkt.Phone, which removed all but the basics for those who only wanted mobile phones for voice and text. I have no idea what the take-up has been, but there is no discernible trend away from do-it-all models, and nothing has slowed down the hyperactivity in the world of smartphones – not even exploding batteries.

Phone junkies are lining up for Google’s first effort, the Pixel, which could be a game-changer. Samsung and Apple clearly have their work cut out for them, the latter having antagonised some customers by ditching the standard headphone socket. The latest craze is improving in-phone cameras, with specialist camera makers collaborating and co-branding with phone manufacturers.

No less than Leica and Kodak, two of the most important names in the history of photography, have appended their logos to new smartphones. Kodak’s Ektra – reviving a name from the past – even looks like an old-fashioned rangefinder when nestling in its case. It offers DSLR functionality, has a 21 megapixel main camera, a front-facing 13 megapixel camera, 4K video capture and a host of features you expect of a camera but not a phone. 


Porsche Design Huawei Mate 9 Phone

Porsche Design Huawei Mate 9 Phone


Leica has teamed up with no less than Porsche Design to create the a limited-edition, all-black version of the Huawei Mate 9, a price tag of £1,200, available exclusively from Harrods. This beauty – which I’ll cover in depth next month after using it “for real” – features a Leica Summarit lens, 20 megapixel monochrome (did you hear that, retro-snappers?) and a 12 megapixel RGB Dual Camera. Both this and the Kodak boast all of the latest phone specs, the former with dual SIM capacity for example, so you aren’t trading off smartphone performance for imaging. 

Porsche Design Huawei Mate 9 PhonePorsche Design Huawei Mate 9 Phone

That said, the standalone camera is not dead yet. Aside from selfies, smartphones still do not handle as well as made-for-the-purpose cameras, whether SLRs, compacts or rangefinders, and accessing the various functions is still fiddly compared to the physical buttons or knobs on a “proper” camera. The truism remains that the most important element is still the photographer: David Bailey with an iPhone is still going to massacre some nebbish with a Nikon.

Following the success of Olympus’ Pen F and the lust created by Hasselblad’s X1D, next year will see a host of new, sophisticated models to keep serious photographers from abandoning cameras for phones. Most new cameras already feature wireless connection to computers, tablets or phones, for easy transfer of images, GPS to add metadata, high-def video and other niceties. Amusingly, the hottest new cameras, especially the Pen-F and the latest Fujis, boast 1950s rangefinder styling.

Headphones continue their inexorable rise at the expense of loudspeakers – clearly this is analogous to what smartphones are doing to cameras. In sacrificing quality in both instances, we are losing performance for convenience, but the high-end is fighting back.

2017, in part because of iPhone 7, will see an increase in the number of Bluetooth models at all price points and quality levels. For those (like me) who prefer a physical cable, existing models with detachable cables can be converted for the iPhone 7 (which comes with an adaptor, by the way) with new cables terminated in a Lightning plug. 


MoFi One-Step LPs

MoFi One-Step LPs


Far be it for me to suggest that there is global backlash against the tech onslaught in general, but the vinyl LP has had another bumper year, and, surprisingly, it has done so at the expense of downloads. An indication of its return to greatness is not the plethora of cheapo plastic record players, but one significant event: super-hip manufacturer Shinola, which revitalised watchmaking in the USA, has launched a serious turntable made in conjunction with high-end brand, VPI. 


Shinola turntable

Shinola turntable


Called the Runwell, and costing US $2500, it is easy to use, beautifully-made and utterly gorgeous. As with many LP buyers don’t play them but display them as objets d’art, the Runwell could easily find an audience buying it for its looks alone. That would be a waste, however, because we all know that vinyl sounds best. So my predictions for next year? Back to the future.And on that note, have a suitably luxurious New Year.

Author: Ken Kessler

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