Weekly output: Mark Vena podcast, Discovery’s streaming video ambitions

Ten years ago today, I finally crossed “see a space launch” off my to-do list, and I’m still working on the best words to describe what it was like to see, hear and feel Endeavour rocket into a cloudy Florida sky. Sometimes, I can’t quite believe that I did that–or that I’ve since had the immense privilege of returning to the Kennedy Space Center’s press site for two other launches. Fortunately, I have a framed print of the photo I took of the shuttle’s liftoff hanging on the far wall of my home office to remind me that I really did accomplish the goal I’d had in my head since I was 10.

5/11/2021: SmartTechCheck Podcast (5-11-21), Mark Vena

After a couple of weeks off, I returned to this podcast to talk about the tech business with our host from Moor Insights & Strategy and fellow tech scribes John Quain and Stewart Wolpin. Among this week’s topics: the legal battle between Apple and Epic over the former’s App Store governance, a newly announced smart-home standard, and the plague of ransomware.

Screenshot of the article as seen on an iPad5/12/2021: Discovery CEO says SVOD success won’t end its TV-bundle role, FierceVideo

My trade-pub client asked me to write up Discovery CEO David Zaslav’s interview at a conference hosted by the market-analysis firm MoffettNathanson. I figured Zaslav would wax optimistic about the company’s Discovery+ subscription video on demand (SVOD) service, but I didn’t expect him to explain that Discovery makes as much or more money off a D+ streaming subscriber than a cable or satellite viewer–and yet he expects no pay-TV provider will be able to get away with dropping Discovery from its lineup. I don’t imagine that many of you are feeling terribly sorry for those cable and satellite operators at this point.

Weekly output: password managers, streaming-TV forecast, Limelight earnings, EU vs. Apple

The most important item on my calendar this week: getting my second dose of the Moderna coronavirus vaccine.

Screengrab of story as shown in USAT's iPad app4/28/2021: A cheaper deal from Dashlane invites a new look at password managers, USA Today

Dashlane’s PR firm offered me an advance on their addition of a new, cheaper price plan, which I used as a news peg for an overview of the password-manager market.

4/29/2021: Expect To Spend More On Streaming Video Than On Traditional Pay TV By 2024: New Report, Forbes

I wrote up a Strategy Analytics report predicting a slow demise for pay TV as we’ve known it. Sports fans, take note of the streaming deal for Italy’s Liga Serie A that one SA analyst described for me.

4/30/2021: Limelight revenues drop and losses widen, FierceVideo

I filled in at this client to cover this content-delivery network firm’s disappointing earnings.

4/30/2021: EU’s Answer To Spotify’s Complaint: Apple’s Rules Have Consumers Losing Out, Forbes

Writing this post about the European Commission’s preliminary finding that Apple abused its App Store authority to suppress competition from Spotify took me back to 2011–when it already seemed obvious that Apple demanding a 30% share of in-app subscriptions while forbidding app developers from pointing iPhone and iPad users to their own payment systems represented an abuse of power.

Weekly output: the App Store’s fake-reviews problem

Valentine’s Day is one event that hasn’t changed because of the pandemic. I love to cook, but I’m not so fond of seeing a restaurant at its worst because of Feb. 14 crowds. So this has always been my day to put together a fancy dinner at home.

Screenshot of this post as seen on an iPad mini. 2/12/2021: Lesson Of A Ripoff Roku Remote App: Beware App Store Ratings, Forbes

I started following Kosta Eleftheriou on Twitter a couple of weeks ago after seeing one of his threads unpacking an outrageous level of obvious fraud at Apple’s App Store. His Friday-morning thread about a third-party remote-control app for Roku media players conning people into signing up for $4.99/week subscriptions struck me as a convenient intersection of my longtime interest in app-store governance and my Forbes gig covering the intersection of tech and media.

Weekly output: iPhone 12 (x3), Pippa Malmgren, sustainable online commerce, Fig O’Reilly, Apple vs. Telegram

In case you hadn’t heard, Apple announced a new set of iPhones this week.

10/13/2020: iPhone 12, Al Jazeera

The Arabic-language channel had me on to discuss the key features of this new lineup, starting with 5G. I felt sorry for the translator–the differences between millimeter-wave, low-band and mid-band 5G are confusing enough to native speakers of English.

10/14/2020: On Apple iPhone 12, it’s a battle of the 5G bands among AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, USA Today

I’m still puzzled by all the airtime Verizon got at Apple’s event, because its millimeter-wave 5G service increasingly looks like an epic disappointment. T-Mobile’s mid-band makes a better case for 5G–if you’re in one of the markets with the superior 5G flavor that T-Mobile has yet to highlight on its own coverage maps.

10/14/2020: Fireside: Friends or Foes? The impact of AI & Robotics on the Modern Workforce, Dublin Tech Summit Virtual

The first of three pre-recorded talks I did for this online conference had me interviewing science advisor and roboticist Pippa Malmgren about the future of drones–on Earth and across the solar system.

10/14/2020: Panel Discussion: Shopping for Sustainability, Dublin Tech Summit Virtual

My second DTS panel–but the last one I recorded–had me quizzing Etsy sustainability director Chelsea Mozen and Zalando product head Mike Mulligan about how these two online platforms are working to make their operations and their supply chains carbon neutral. We stuck around afterwards in the conference’s chat forum to answer audience questions.

10/14/2020: Fireside: Reach for the Stars, Dublin Tech Summit Virtual

As I noted in opening my talk with Fionnghuala (Fig for short) O’Reilly, who among things helps make NASA’s Space Apps challenge happen, the two of us share a few things in common: We both went to college in D.C., hold Irish passports, have pronunciation-defying names and know the joy of experiencing space launches.

10/15/2020: Apple To Telegram: Delete Posts Exposing The Belarus Dictatorship’s Enforcers, Forbes

I had meant to write this post last week, but held off on it to get some input from outside experts. Fortunately, nothing changed with the underlying story of Apple making the bizarre decision to tell the developer of a social app to delete individual posts allegedly doxing people propping up the dictatorship of Alexander Lukashenko in Belarus.

10/17/2020: SmartTechCheck Podcast (10-16-20), Mark Vena

I returned to the podcast Vena hosts for his employer Moor Insights & Strategy to talk about the pros and cons of Apple’s iPhone 12 lineup with fellow tech journalists Stewart Wolpin and John Quain.

Weekly output: online-video churn, Trump vs. social media, online-video UX, Tim Cook’s App Store history, Saudi Twitter spies, online-video ads, online-video lessons, Trump vs. TikTok

My biggest regret about this busy news week: I didn’t get to follow Access Now’s RightsCon digital conference. Having spoken at its real-world predecessor in Toronto two years ago–and knowing that friends were on this year’s panel schedule–I can only hope that I can catch up in my non-existent spare time this week.

7/27/2020: Sling’s ex-chief Warren Schlichting is content with churn, FierceVideo

My occasional trade-publication client signed me up to cover their OTT Blitz Week virtual event. I started that by writing up former Sling TV head Warren Schlichting’s observations about running an over-the-top video service.

7/28/2020: Here’s Trump’s Plan To Regulate Social Media, Forbes

Writing about the Trump administration’s proposal to have the Federal Communications Commission rewrite a law allowed me the unexpected pleasure of approvingly quoting experts at the left-leaning think tank Public Knowledge and the right-leading Charles Koch Institute, both of which said this plan seems nuts.

7/28/2020: There’s no UX without ‘you’, FierceVideo

My second post about OTT Blitz Week covered a panel that saw executives from Discovery, Sling, Pluto TV, Xumo and other online-video firms offering their insights on making their user experience feel comfortable for viewers.

7/29/2020: What Tim Cook Left Out Of His Version Of App Store History, Forbes

Apple’s CEO’s prepared statement for Wednesday’s tech-CEO hearings came close to erasing the history of online software distribution before the 2008 debut of Apple’s iOS App Store, and that bugged me. I wrote a correction of Tim Cook’s testimony, and I was flattered to see this post get a “Highly recommended” shout-out on Apple raconteur John Gruber’s Daring Fireball blog.

7/29/2020: New charges for Saudi moles at Twitter, Al Jazeera

Stories involving Saudi Arabia behaving badly online often result in appearances for me on this Qatar-based news network. In this case, the news peg was a set of new charges against Saudi spies allegedly burrowing into Twitter.

7/29/2020: We’re not Facebook, OTT ad execs emphasize, FierceVideo

The executives on this OTT Blitz Week panel on addressable (read: targeted) advertising on streaming TV emphasized how they don’t want or need behavioral data that gets too close to individual viewers’ tastes.

7/31/2020: There’s no one template for over-the-top video success, FierceVideo

I wrapped up my coverage of Fierce’s virtual event with a recap of this lessons-learned panel, featuring CEOs from the rhymable firms Fubo, Xumo and Philo.

8/1/2020: Trump’s threat to ban TikTok, Al Jazeera

I made a second appearance this week on the Arabic-language news network to discuss President Trump’s possibly-idle threat to ban TikTok. As I wrote last week at Forbes, the fact that the U.S. isn’t China leaves Trump out of options to banish that social app from American screens.

Weekly output: Apple’s App Store vs. Hey, cable modems, voice tweets

Happy Father’s Day to all who observe! Fatherhood is probably the worst-paying job I’ve had, but it’s also the best job I’ve had.

6/17/2020: Apple To Basecamp’s Hey: Expect To Pay Us If You Want To Sell Privacy, Forbes

I jumped on the chance to write about Apple hard-balling the Hey e-mail app with a demand that Hey developer Basecamp add Apple’s in-app-payment mechanism–allowing the Cupertino, Calif., company to take 30% of all subscriptions opened that way. Then I discovered that writing for a site that lets me publish immediately does not curb my instinct to fuss over my prose before filing. Another realization with this post: Calling out Apple’s abusive behavior towards an app built along the privacy-optimizing principles it says rank among its core values did not yield page views by the truckload, notwithstanding the history of reader interest in that company.

6/18/2020: Don’t keep paying for that cable modem, Talking Tech

I talked to my USA Today colleague Jefferson Graham about my recent column reminding readers that they should buy their cable modems instead of renting them.

6/18/2020: Voice tweets, Al Jazeera

The Arabic-language news network had me on to explain Twitter’s introduction of audio tweets. I said the upside of this was letting followers pick up on differences in intonation that text alone doesn’t convey, while Twitter will need to be careful about abusive types exploiting this feature. I told my producer that my favorite example of a good use of voice tweets was Liz Phair improvising a song about this product development; since I don’t know if that made its way to TV, I’m sharing that with you all below.

Weekly output: Audi stoplight smarts, Big Tech banter at SXSW, SXSW strangeness, Facebook outage, Spotify vs. Apple

I’ve been recuperating from SXSW in the lamest way possible: by spending a lot of time weeding the lawn. Early returns suggest that my prior years of springtime toil have led to less chickweed, so I’ve got that going for me.

3/11/2019: How traffic lights might talk to your next car, Yahoo Finance

I spent a few days driving around D.C. and northern Virginia in an A8 that Audi loaned to test its Traffic Light Information system. The whole experience got a little more terrifying when I looked at the spec sheet for the loaner vehicle and realized that I was trying test-driving Audi’s stoplight-to-car data service in a sedan with a list price above six figures.

3/13/2019: Breaking up Big Tech: Advocates spar over how to trim sails of technology giants at SXSW, USA Today

I did not get to as many SXSW panels as I wanted, but I did watch the session featuring Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D.-Mass.). Warren advocated forced break-ups of tech giants, and over the next several days multiple SXSW speakers took it to task. The critiques you’ll see in USAT comments on this piece, however, amount to trash.

3/13/2019: SXSW 2019: Synthetic sushi, a buggy demo, and other weird gadgets, Yahoo Finance

I didn’t even have the SXSW trade-show exhibits on my must-see list until meeting a friend for lunch, at which point he strongly suggested I check out Sushi Singularity. He was right.

3/14/2019: Facebook outage, Al Jazeera

The Arabic-language news channel had me on to talk about the Wednesday outage of Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp. My takes: Securities and Exchange Commission regulations give us strong reasons to take Facebook at its word about the causes of this downtime; we should all work to depend less on Facebook and its vassal states for communication with bystanders, customers and fans.

3/15/2019: Spotify has a point about Apple’s App Store fees, Yahoo Finance

If you were reading me eight years ago, this column should not have surprised you. My opinion hasn’t changed since because Apple still acts as if it has a God-given right to annex up to 30 percent of the content income of many App Store developers.

Credit where it’s due: Thanksgiving tech support has gotten easier

I spend a lot of time venting about tech being a pain in the neck, but I will take a break from that to confirm that my annual Thanksgiving-weekend routine of providing technical support has gotten a lot easier over the last 10 years.

The single biggest upgrade has been the emergence of the iPad as something usable as the only computer in the house. It took a few years for Apple to make that happen–remember when you had to connect an iPad to a computer for its setup and backups?–but Web-first users can now enjoy a tablet with near zero risk of malware and that updates its apps automatically.

As a result, when I gave my mom’s iPad a checkup Wednesday afternoon, the worst I had to do was install the iOS 12.1 update.

That left me free to spend my tech-support time rearranging that tablet’s apps to keep the ones she uses most often on the first home screen.

Things have gotten easier on “real” computers too. Apple and Microsoft ship their desktop operating systems with sane security defaults and deliver security patches and other bug fixes automatically. The Mac and Windows app stores offer the same seamless updates for installed programs as iOS and Android’s. And while Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox aren’t in those software shops, they update themselves just as easily.

But the openness of those operating systems makes it easier for people to get into trouble. For example, a few weeks ago, I had to talk a relative through resetting Chrome’s settings to get rid of an extension that was redirecting searches.

Other computing tasks remain a mess. On a desktop, laptop or tablet, clearing out storage to make room for an operating-system upgrade is as tedious as ever, and it doesn’t help when companies like Apple continue to sell laptops with 128-gigabyte SSDs. Password management continues to be a chore unless (duh) you install a password manager.

Social media looks worst of all. Facebook alone has become its own gravity well of maintenance–notifications to disable to curb its attention-hogging behavior, privacy settings to tend, and propaganda-spewing pages to avoid. There’s a reason I devoted this year’s version of my USA Today Thanksgiving tech-support column to Facebook, and I don’t see that topic going out of style anytime soon.

Weekly output: Android backups, iOS app subscriptions, WWDC, net neutrality, Comcast vs. Verizon

For weeks now, I’ve been besieged with PR pitches about the right Father’s Day tech gift to get. You know what makes a great Father’s Day present? Letting Dad sleep in and/or get a nap. (That’s also a good Mother’s Day gift; I was glad to do my part to make it happen for my wife.)

USAT Android-backup post6/13/2016: Get back your data after resetting an Android phone, USA Today

I had to try to get a column out of my in-retrospect hilariously-stupid accidental resetting of my own phone at the end of a long notetaking session on the differences between Android’s standard interface and the one Samsung puts on its phones. You may have read it under a different headline; USAT reposted the piece under a new one a day or so after its debut in the midst of news from Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference.

6/13/2016: Apple is doing something generous for app developers — but it may cost you, Yahoo Finance

Apple announced some important changes to subscription-based apps in advance of WWDC. They seem good on the surface, but some details remained unclear when I wrote this–and there’s a history of Apple exercising its App Store oversight in developer-hostile ways that it didn’t think to document upfront.

6/13/2016: 5 previous WWDC debuts Apple might want to forget, Yahoo Finance

Apple is just like Google in one way: Its attempts to tell the technological future don’t always make reality bend in response.

6/14/2016: Big Telecom lost in court, but an open internet won. So did you., Yahoo Finance

I should have had this story written in advance, but I guess I couldn’t convince myself that the D.C. Circuit would ever hand down a net-neutrality ruling. Reader comments appear to be polarized between people who despise Comcast/Verizon/AT&T/Time Warner Cable and those equally upset over the Obama administration.

6/19/2016: How to choose between Comcast and Verizon for Internet service, USA Today

I’m not totally happy with how this came out: As one reader called out in the comments, I didn’t get into upload speeds. Given Comcast’s habit of staying mysterious about them–and the odds of other Internet providers being as cagey–I may need to devote a separate column to that angle. Should I?

Weekly output: WWDC

This embarrassingly short list of stories doesn’t include one post I wrote for Yahoo Finance about changes to Apple’s treatment of subscription-based iOS apps and my USA Today Q&A column on the state of Android backup, both of which should go up Monday morning.

CR WWDC 2016 preview6/10/2016: Apple WWDC 2016: What to Expect From the App Store, Siri, and More, Consumer Reports

CR asked me to write a preview of the Apple event I still haven’t attended (I thought I could in 2012, but Apple PR had other ideas). You’ll be able to see how accurate I was in this forecast starting at 1 p.m. Eastern on Monday, when the keynote opening Apple’s developer conference kicks off.