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In Depth: 20 tiny tech advances that would make 2014 awesome


In Depth: 20 tiny tech advances that would make 2014 awesome

We cheered. We actually stood up and applauded the nameless bosses of the USB consortium, when it was once introduced that a future version of the ubiquitous connector would be able to be plugged in both ways around.

This will solve the problem of going to plug something in, thinking it’s the wrong way round, turning it round, still failing to plug it in, then turning it back to the way it was and… yes. It goes in now. Very funny.

But what else needs fixing? What other tiny annoyances could the tech gods of our world solve in 2014, were they to just have a little meeting with themselves and end some small forms of modern technological suffering?

1. Stop phones connecting to Wi-Fi hotspots

Hooray, we have a Wi-Fi connection! But wait. It’s a dead one. It wants a password we don’t have or money we’d rather not spend for the convenience of seeing that we haven’t got any emails. Why did you connect to it, stupid phone? You know where we live because you track my every move, so why have you connected to nextdoor’s Wi-Fi when we are at our GPS-confirmed actual home, and every single day we manually disconnect you from nextdoor’s Wi-Fi?

2. Longer USB leads

The EU needs to mandate a minimum length of USB cable, one that’s at least 33% longer than today’s. It never quite reaches from the plug to the bed without having to do an awkward lean. We’ll all grow up lopsided from twisting our bodies toward power sockets, like technological sunflowers. The 3 in USB 3.0 isn’t supposed to mean ‘feet long’, is it? If so, hurry up and roll out USB 6.0.

3. Stop reminding us about missed messages


If you’ve told us once we have a voicemail, we will remember that. We’re probably not listening to it on purpose, because we don’t want to hear it and are scared about what it might say, or frightened that it might mean we have to talk to someone about a grown-up matter perhaps involving money or hiring a tradesman. So you reminding us of it by sending me endless texts about it only serves to raise our stress levels and makes us less likely to ever read it.

Just leave us alone, stupid phone. We bought you because you look nice and can go on the internet and was technically slightly better than everyone else’s at time of purchase, not because we want to talk to people.

4. Make it obvious where downloads are

Some sort of arrow or flashing icon system ought to appear in computers, so that the PDF it decided to dump in some random hole on the hard drive is easily discoverable. How many times have we downloaded something twice, simply because the effort of finding the first version of the thing is too much? And that’s on desktop computers. Multiply the suffering by 100 should you want to work out where LG decides to put things when you download an MP3 on your phone.

5. Autocorrect that’s not an embarrassment

Substituting the word "penis" in a conversation with relatives should never be a thing we have to explain. Apps like SwiftKey have the right idea, in that they scan genuine conversations for the likelihood we’re about to use certain words, but even in the very latest Android 4.4 code we see some baffling wrong-word suggestions. Daily. Every time we type anything, in fact. Penis.

4. Washing machines with just a STOP/GO button

washing machine

All they do is go round and round, what difference can all the settings really make? They seem to just make it take longer. Surely a smart washer could sense by weight or light wavelength what sort of stuff is in it, then sort the settings automatically? If it detects the thick fibres of heavy man clothes, give them a five-minute rinse. If it’s fiddly and lightweight woman clothes in there, delicately swill them about for nine hours as if savouring a particularly fine sherry. Can’t be hard to implement that sort of thing.

We shouldn’t have to squint at meaningless stuff like "H – Non-Fast Coloureds" all the time. And why do some machines have save water buttons? If you can save water, save water all the time on your own. And generally be quicker. The weather’s getting less predictable so we have less available drying time nowadays.

7. Standardise game controller "invert" options

All it would take is a meeting between Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo. They could all agree on which way is up and which way is down, then give everyone an account that synchronises options across platforms. Then, we’d never have to remember whether we play games with controls set to normal or inverted, nor would we have to wade through options before playing every single game we are tricked into thinking might be fun to own and play.

Failing that, make inversion setting the first thing that happens. Before the opening cut-scene. Before the menu. Before the logos. Maybe even sell "inverted" and "non-inverted" versions of each game. It’s that important to our continued mental wellbeing.

8. Batteries 2.0


There needs to be a "Moore’s Law" for batteries. They haven’t got better for decades. Radios from the 1970s still run on the same tech we use today. Can’t there be nuclear batteries? Graphene batteries? Even a battery that runs on diesel would be better, as at least we could then refill them instead of having to wait for a charge. Yes, we’re working them harder than ever before, but battery makers have been resting on their laurels for years. We need… more… power.

9. Ban auto-playing video on websites

It never used to happen. Then it started happening and everyone went mad about it, so it stopped. But now, now there seems to be a second-wave of desperate monetisation going on out there in internet land, auto-playing videos are starting to appear again. Vine has the right idea in muting the volume when clips auto-play themselves, but it still feels like a special kind of privacy-invasion whenever it happens.

10. Screens that don’t rotate when you lie down

Yes, yes, there’s a toggle in Android that lets you turn this off and seize manual rotational control like you’re docking with the ISS, but phones are more clever than this and it’s silly blanket banning your phone from ever going sideways. Phones need to be aware of what’s really happening instead of just pretending they have the faintest clue.

If it’s dark, early, late, and our faces look rough, or the accelerometer has just felt us flump down on something soft, we’re probably in bed or sideways on the sofa trying to focus on the EPG. So be a bit more generous on the angles of lean before you whack it into landscape mode. And if we angrily flip the phone up to get it back to portrait orientation as soon as it rotates, bloody well learn from that and don’t do it again four seconds later.

11. Stop asking us if we’d like to use your app


If we wanted to install the Daily Mail app, we’d install it. All we’ve done is follow a link someone posted on Twitter so see what today’s fuss is about, so there’s really no need to ask if we’d like to install the app before looking at the page. It’s yet another intrusive form of advertising, only the sites we’re trying to give our custom to are advertising their own tatty apps.

12. No more restarting to update Windows

We’ve probably already delayed the installation process for days because it’s rather annoying, so why the rush to restart the computer to "finish" updates? Let it happen naturally, the next time we turn the computer off or, more likely, the next time there’s a power-cut and we have no option but to momentarily step away from our umbilical connections to the internet. Or make it so it just happens without any reboots. That’s what Steve Jobs would’ve demanded.

13. Microwave boil over alerts

When stuff starts bubbling over and making a mess of the special dish thing, have a sensor lower the power. It can’t be hard for a sensor to detect the hard outline of the brim of a plate or bowl (or mug if you’re a single man), then detect cheese/custard or any other soft, organic matter coming over the top of it? A Raspberry Pi and a webcam could do that.

14. OK Google, stop second guessing


Very rarely, Google’s auto-complete search works. But even then, it feels like an insult. It’s like Google is saying: "Predictable old you, eh? I knew you were searching for the 12-inch extended remix of the Grandstand theme music as soon as you typed ‘Grandst’ so here you go! Try to think of something original next time you open me up, you boring idiot, or I’ll uninstall myself and you’ll be back to using Internet Explorer."

It probably isn’t saying that and we’re getting a bit paranoid and manic from all the coffee again, but it could be. The computer might be laughing at us.

15. Phoning people while browsing contacts

There ought to be an "are you sure?" confirmation dialogue box that pops up before making a voice call to people, as the main way we’ve initiated contact with old friends, colleagues, parents etc over the years is by pressing their name to read their contact information, only to find this automatically triggers a voice call dial in most Android models. Panic then ensues, especially when using some Android skins, where the quickest and most reliable way to hang up is pull the battery out.

16. Remote browser close and history wipe


For those moments when you start to wonder if you left your home PC browser open with the last thing you were looking at last night. Some sort of "Text ACTIVATE PANIC MODE to 55689 to definitely close the browser and delete all history" sort of thing should be easy for Google to do via its clouds.

17. Rebooting when swapping SIM

We don’t have to switch the telly off and on again when going from BBC2 to BBC4, so why are phones so stressed about us swapping SIM cards? It’s so you can send everything to GCHQ, isn’t it? We know. We read the forums.

18. Networks stopping you going over data limits


Oh, thanks. We hit my 500mb data download limit this month, but you let our phone carry on automatically caching loads of music anyway and now we have a massive bill? How about the mobile networks instantly stop data connections when limits are hit? Send us a text about it, let us choose to go on if it’s a data emergency, otherwise chop it off. Tell us, don’t be so grabbing. We shouldn’t have to constantly watch our phone’s data consumption out of terror of being charged.

19. Fix passwords and captchas

We wouldn’t be so slack about security if it wasn’t such a monumental pain logging in to things. And signing up for new things is enough to put you off registering with the site or service in the first place. Surely there’s a way we can sign in by simply waving our uniquely identifiable genitals at a webcam? They all look different, we’ve seen lots of photos on the internet.

20. Eight plug sockets per room, please

You won’t believe this, but in some houses there are rooms that have just ONE plug socket in them. Imagine living like that. Imagine the hell and the misery, not to mention the mess of dangerously overloaded and daisy-chained extension leads. Should you want a telly, two games consoles and a set-top box in one corner, that’s four sockets gone already, so what gets sacrificed when the wife wants to plug a new lamp in? Your marriage, that’s what. Sort it out, builders. All new homes must have six to eight plug sockets in every corner.