Categories
apple

AirPods are everywhere (except for here)

I’ve been traveling a lot for work lately. While on the road, I’ve noticed some differences between my current hometown (in the rural, remote West Virginia mountains) and the wider world. For example, I’m always encouraged to see more racial and ethnic diversity, compared to the near-monoculture closer to home.

I noticed less profound differences, as well, particularly in the adoption of technology. Take the AirPods, for example. At home, wearing Apple’s wireless earbuds feels awkward, since I rarely see others wearing them. But when traveling, I see AirPods everywhere: in the airport; on city streets; coffeeshops; etc., etc. AirPods have clearly broken through in a huge way—but you wouldn’t know that, walking around my neighborhood.

Why the discrepancy in AirPods adoption? On the one hand, differences in discretionary income probably factor here.All other things being equal, rural West Virginians are less likely to have the financial flexibility to spend $150+ on headphones—especially since perfectly serviceable alternatives come free in the box.

But AirPods’ rarity here may have something to do with lifestyle, as well. Travelers and city-dwellers are more likely to need the AirPods’ flexibility and portability. Commuters spend big chunks of their days sitting on the bus, waiting in airports, and pacing city blocks. Those are ideal use cases for AirPods, but they rarely apply in rural locales. ■

Categories
internet

Hotel wifi is the worst

I’m traveling for work this week, which means I have a cheery room at a generally pleasant extended-stay suite hotel. The accommodations are clean, the breakfast is reasonably tasty, and the amenities are generous—with one exception: the hotel wifi.

Speed tests on my internet connection peg at 5Mbps downstream or so—embarrasingly slow for this tech-centric city. The network also forces me to reauthenticate multiple times each day—an unwelcome reminder that the connection is locked down. Yes, as I’m repeatedly nagged, I can upgrade to “premium” internet service for $5 a day, but I refuse to pay three times more for a connection that’s noticeably slower and flakier than what I enjoy at home—in the mountains of rural Appalachia.

Why do hotels still nickel and dime their guests when it comes to connectivity? Don’t they know that every guest has an LTE modem in her pocket, and that we’ll fall back to it at the slightest sign of trouble?

Funnily enough, the internet service seems to get worse as the hotels get nicer. This past weekend, I crashed at a $75-per-night hotel in a sketchy neighborhood. Overall, the experience wasn’t great: a breakfast overloaded with processed carbs, pungent whiffs of weed in the halls, and a cigarette-burned bedspread were among the highlights. But the internet at that dive easily beat the pants off what I have at this business-class hotel. Speeds were snappy, and authentication was easy.

I’m not sure why cheap hotels offer better connections. It’s as if hotels have resigned themselves to the fact that value-conscious clientele won’t pay extra for things that ought to be complimentary. By contrast, those customers for whom the experience is paramount might surrender five bucks for convenience’s sake.

But as someone in the middle—a value-conscious and picky guest—I resent the “freemium” hotel internet model. ■


  1. Suitcase and wifi artwork courtesy of Vecteezy.

Categories
Culture tech

Inflight entertainment and technophobia

Inflight entertainment was once a lifeline on commercial jets. Drop-down TVs made all the difference between a bearable multihour flight and an absolute hellslog. Even Will & Grace reruns, played back on a tiny, faded CRT three rows away, were a welcome distraction from the cramped discomfort of the average domestic flight.

The rise of mobile personal devices has changed things. Once, a personal LCD viewscreen with live satellite TV would have seemed like an unimaginable luxury. These days, I switch off that headrest screen without a second thought; I’d rather watch content I like, downloaded onto my own devices.

The airlines have noticed this change—more and more passengers ignoring the cabin-wide entertainment—and they’re updating their planes in response. Why bother with expensive entertainment hardware if people won’t use it. Some jets have even ditched the screens altogether, moving to onboard wifi as a means of distributing movies to customers’ personal devices.

That’s all well and good for digital natives, who can jump through the requisite hoops. I love having a library of recent releases to stream. But the move away from shared entertainment on flights isn’t as welcome for those who struggle with tech—or who don’t have their own smartphone or tablet.

My mother is a good example. As the airlines have shifted away from built-in screens, she’s left without anything to watch. She’s not familiar enough with her cheap Android smartphone to connect to the inflight streaming library. Consider the dance required: download the airline’s app before boarding, enable airplane mode, re-enable wifi, open the settings app, connect to the network, etc., etc. That’s a familiar dance for the young and nerdy; for her, it’s an insurmountable wall. She resigns herself to boredom, sitting quietly through interminable transcontinental flights.

The airlines ought to accommodate edge cases like my mom’s. A little tech support could go a long way on planes without in-cabin screens. Why not invite tech-averse passengers to press the call button to receive help navigating their devices? The steward staff would receive baseline training for Android and iOS—just enough to help get customers connected.

Maybe that’s an unreasonable added burden for an already-overworked inflight staff. And maybe there are too many technophobes onboard the average flight to offer that sort of concierge-level hand-holding.

If so, the airlines probably shouldn’t have removed the shared screens in the first place. ■