It’s the ideal time for a tech journalist to make predictions for 2014. But if columnists were any good at seeing the future, we’d be filing our stories from Tahiti instead of Dorchester.
On the other hand, we love telling people what to do — and what not to do. I’ve got plenty of tech suggestions, but since you’ve promised to spend more time at the gym, I’ll stick with my top three.
Remember privacy? Between Google, Facebook, and the National Security Agency, there’s not a lot of it left. Apart from unplugging from the Internet, perfect privacy is impossible. But you should still try to limit the leakage. Start with the tools provided by major online services.
Google’s Dashboard is a comprehensive site that shows you everything the company has on file about you, and lets you delete some or all of it. Facebook’s privacy features aren’t nearly as user-friendly, but they include tools that can limit access to virtually everything you’ve posted on the service.
Don’t forget those Facebook-connected apps so many of us install —
I keep my most important documents in cloud storage services like Google Drive and Dropbox, where any secret agent can get hold of them. So I was delighted to learn of a free program called Boxcryptor. Created for personal computers and iOS and Android phones, Boxcryptor links to the popular cloud services. It lets you encrypt files before storing them, and decrypts the data when you need it. Boxcryptor is based in Germany, a country where US subpoenas don’t count and privacy laws have teeth. And since the company doesn’t keep its customers’ passwords, Boxcryptor can’t decipher your files even if it wanted to.
Now a word of advice for smartphone shoppers: Shop harder. Thanks to some daring moves by T-Mobile US Inc., we’re starting to see some real competition.
T-Mobile has broken the mold by letting customers pay for smartphones in monthly installments, in addition to choosing their own voice and data plans. With an old-school contract, you keep paying the same price, year after year. With T-Mobile, your monthly payments decrease as soon as the phone’s paid for.
Perhaps the best bargain around comes from T-Mobile and retailer Walmart. They’re selling unlimited texting and data, and 100 minutes of talk time, for just $30 a month. For those of us who mainly use our phones for e-mail and Web searching, it’s an exceptional bargain.
Other carriers are responding to T-Mobile’s aggressive moves. AT&T Inc., for instance, recently announced that customers will get a $15 monthly rate cut if they pay full price for the phone, or already own a phone. And those with two-year contracts will get a $15 rate cut if they stick around after the contract expires. I bet we’ll see still better deals as the months roll by, making 2014 a very good year for phone shoppers.
It’s also a good time to buy a new TV. My wife and I picked up a new HDTV set a couple of months ago. But we were forced into the market when our old set died. I would rather have waited, and you should, too.
That’s because those much touted 4K ultra-high-definition TV sets are coming into their own. Manufacturers failed to sell us on the glories of 3D television, because it wasn’t all that glorious. But 4K is different. It delivers a sharper picture than today’s HD sets, without those dumb plastic glasses.
A year ago, 4K sets cost around $20,000; today, you can find them for as little as $3,000. But by late 2014, they’ll be even cheaper. More important, today’s TV broadcasters aren’t transmitting shows in the 4K format. Change is coming; Internet video streamer Netflix plans to offer its popular show “House of Cards” in 4K this year, and Sony is releasing a lot of Blu-ray movies in 4K. But it will probably take a while to build up a large number of 4K video choices, and by then, 4K sets will probably cost about the same as today’s TVs.
So unless your set recently burst into flames, hang onto it. We’ve just been given a fresh year to play with, and plenty of digital wonders lie ahead. We’d better pace ourselves.Hiawatha Bray can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.