Over the last decade we’ve seen things people wouldn’t believe. Samsungs on fire over our shoulder. We watched Windows Phones glitter in the dark near Bill Gates.
Many of those moments are already lost in time, like tears in the rain. But some other awful things endure, and it’s time they got in the sea.
When it comes to naming the tech trends we’d like to see the back of, we’re spoilt for choice: hardware you can’t upgrade, surveillance tech you can’t evade, streaming service exclusives and Windows Flipping Updates. But despite their obvious irritations, they aren’t the worst. Far from it. These are the ones we love to hate, the tech trends we’d like to see the back of in the 2020s.
Style over substance
You know who we’re going to pick on here. The 2010s were the decade when Apple’s designers ruled the school at the expense of practicality, when 'it just works' became 'it doesn’t work, but it looks brilliant'.
Remember the MacBook Pro keyboard that couldn’t handle people typing on it? The Mac Pro that didn’t so much put form over function as throw function in the bin, set the bin on fire and push the bin off a cliff? The MacBook with a single USB port that meant you couldn’t charge it and use an external device at the same time?
And don’t get us started on the iPhone headphone jack, the location of the charging point on the second-generation Magic Mouse or the clown car of remotes that ships with the Apple TV.
The good news is that Apple appears to have belatedly realised this, so for example the new 16-inch MacBook Pro has a proper keyboard again.
Here’s to more slightly duller but more user-friendly design decisions this decade.
Subscriptions for everything
You’re in a cafe. You ask for a coffee, but the barista won’t take your money. They want your bank details, because you can’t just buy coffee any more. You need to sign up to the Vibrate My Eyeballs Mega Super Deal Member Plan. You get seven days free and you can cancel at any time but if you forget it’s $79.99 a month.
That’s pretty much where tech is now.
The slow march of subscriptions didn’t stop with TV and movies. Today you don’t just need six different streaming subs to cover the programmes you want to watch and the songs you want to stream. You need your photo storage sub and your online gaming sub and your Creative Cloud sub and the Patreons you support and the sub that unlocks the filters in your photo app and your wireless security camera sub and the eighty-six different subs you’ve had to take out because nobody lets you just buy an app any more and you look at the graph in your online banking app and you ask yourself, hey! How did I get here?
And the short answer is: cheapskates, mainly. Cheapskates who wouldn’t pay for stuff even when it was reasonably priced, so the people who make stuff started to see too many ribs poking through their T-shirts and decided the only way they’d actually get to eat was to make the entrance fee zero and then hit everybody with a sub to actually make things work.
And that’s fine, and it’s fair, and it’s OK until the day when that check doesn’t clear or the client doesn’t pay and your bank account is full of cobwebs and your email app has 17 messages telling you there appears to be a problem with your payment method and nothing works anymore.
Launches for tech that doesn’t work
Ever since everyone discovered that the original iPhone demo featured a phone held together with duct tape and sheer force of will we’ve had to sit through tech launches where execs will quite happily burble on about products that don’t work.
Take Samsung, for example: in their rush to market a folding phone, they forgot to make sure that the folding bit of the Samsung Galaxy Fold could handle being folded and unfolded. This is rather like a parachute company forgetting to put the parachutes into its backpacks, or a shark repellent manufacturer not checking that its product actually repels sharks. And before the Apple fans get too smug here, one word: AirPower. A charger so advanced, so beyond what anybody else is capable of doing that, er, Apple wasn’t capable of doing it either.
So here’s our request to the tech industry. If you’re going to make shit up, if you’re going to announce products you know you can’t make and that you might never be able to make properly, go crazy! Show us holographic heli-trousers! AR glasses that reveal our enemies’ most shameful thoughts! An affordable, rock-solid triple-A streaming games platform with minimal hardware, 4K resolution and zero lag!
OK, maybe not that last one. Too far-fetched.
Dockless electric scooters
It’s not much of a stretch for dockless electric scooters to get in the sea when so many of them get in the rivers, in the canals, in the storm drains and anywhere else where drunk and/or lazy people can throw them. They’re still illegal in the UK but in many parts of the US they’ve become a curse: blocking sidewalks, being dumped all over the place and causing all kinds of problems for pedestrians and local authorities.
The problem with dockless scooters isn’t the tech, or even the fact that some – critics would say many – riders are awful. It’s that the companies behind them are 'disruptive', which is tech-speak for 'irresponsible and of dubious legality'. The same story repeats: operator appears from nowhere, doesn’t apply for a licence, floods the streets and expects the council to pay for clearing up their mess. It’s Facebook’s 'move fast and break things' strategy taken far too literally.
It’d be a shame if bad business practices spoiled the scooter party, though: if they’re not being thrown into bits of the environment, they can be better for the environment than cars.
What could go wrong with a Facebook-connected camera in your home, apart from absolutely everything?
All personal digital assistants are potentially sinister, of course. But Facebook’s rivals haven’t spent most of the last decade demonstrating their complete disregard for people’s privacy. How many times have we heard senior FB execs apologise, say they haven’t lived up to their usual high standards and promise to do better after yet another privacy scandal?
You know how Portal will pan out: Facebook will promise not to listen to or look at anyone without permission, and then an accident or a leak will make it clear that Facebook has been listening to and looking at a whole bunch of people without permission – just like it’s continuing to record and monetise your location data even when you’ve said no to location sharing with the Facebook app. Facebook will then apologise, say that it hasn’t lived up to its usual high standards and promise to do better.
Expecting Facebook not to try and analyse and monetise Portal video and audio is like expecting your dog to ignore a plate of sausages you’ve left on the worktop. Oh sure, they’ll give you those big sad eyes when you come home, but they’ve still eaten your dinner.