I am Batman

In the comics, Superman is still most often depicted as a brightly colorful character. His red and blue attire is a clear reference to the red, white and blue of the American flag. His smile brightens even those days that are already incredibly bright. Seeing Superman in the sky makes people feel safe and happy. Batman is a very different personality. Everything about the Batman is dark and foreboding. Part of the reason for selecting the bat as a symbol, was to make Batman frightening to the criminals of the world. The dichotomy is clear: embrace with a smile versus entrap in the night.

When it comes to technology companies, whether hardware or software, my character is much more in keeping with Batman’s. I strike fear into their hearts because of one glaring trait – I don’t automatically upgrade when the newest version, of anything, comes out.

This is by no means a minor issue. I continue to be one of the many people who sits astounded at my keyboard, amazed at people’s willingness to shell out hundreds to thousands of dollars for Apple gadgets that are known to be majorly overpriced and do not necessarily create new functionality that was unavailable before. The quality of the music from a first-generation iPod is not significantly different than the quality emitted by the most recent iPhone. The Apple watch is a beautiful device, but hardly an essential tool for many people. Apple, nevertheless, has succeeded in filling lines around the block, full of people waiting desperately for the latest greatest products. If I was an Apple fan, perhaps I would be the same way. Perhaps, my lack of drive to upgrade until I found it highly warranted, is one of the reasons why I am not an Apple fan.

Since the advent of smart phones, I have had three phones. The first phone was an HTC Windows Mobile, and was very much a cutting-edge product at the time. This phone was from the first to have a high quality screen over 4 inches in size. I bought this phone specifically for my work, in order to remotely view x-rays. The “biggest brightest” screen was not a luxury. It was an essential component of the remote diagnostic system I had written. The phone was fast, convenient and not unreasonably expensive. Overall, I was very satisfied with this phone. I did upgrade to the Samsung 3 when it became available. It was the first android phone that seemed to be significantly superior to my original phone. Its screen was bigger and brighter, and it allowed for more capabilities in terms of web-based programming. Once again, this was critical for my work.

My most recent phone is a Nexus 5. In my personal opinion, this is an excellent phone which can arguably suit the needs of the vast majority of people in the world. I once had the audacity to compare the Nexus 5 to an Apple phone. I was immediately lambasted and told that the Nexus was “intolerable” if for no other reason than the quality of its photos. I returned to my own collection of photos and found them to be more than satisfactory. They were sufficiently colorful and of high enough resolution to be displayed in full screen mode on one of my screens. Although I am sure it is possible to generate far superior images on other more expensive devices, I found my Nexus 5 to be totally adequate for my needs. My Nexus was faster than my Samsung 3 and once again the screen was bigger and better. With the Nexus 5, I also had access to a whole new slew of downloadable apps. Over time, this phone has become a truly critical partner in my day-to-day life and work.

The next generation Nexus 5 will be coming out in the next few months. It definitely looks prettier and will likely hold a charge for longer and has, guess what, a bigger and brighter screen. It will cost about the same as my Nexus 5, about 2000 shekels, and as such is a justifiable upgrade to my present phone. What will I do with my present, very functional Nexus 5? I am very much in favor of hand-me-downs. Therefore, my wife and my children all receive in turn my last phone, once I receive my new one. The joke on me is that my family seems to be happy with whatever phone they already have.

My youngest daughter still has a Nokia flip phone. Only recently did my other two children upgrade to Nexus 5’s, due to totally unavoidable and noncriminal damage to their previous phones. Even more frightening is that my family’s lack of drive to upgrade is not limited to phones. I have a couple of tablets in my house and these are older Samsung devices. I am running Windows 7 on my home computer, which I only upgraded to, years after it had become available. Truth be told, I’m in no rush to upgrade to Windows 10, even though my five-year-old machine could perfectly handle it.

Way back in the Stone Age, you could really feel upgrades. Moving from a 286 to a 486 was a leap forward in technology. Pentium 1’s were clearly inferior to Pentium 3’s. A few hundred megabytes of main memory couldn’t handle more involved software, so you needed more memory. All of these upgrades truly were legitimate for the purposes of doing even basic work better.

The situation today is very different. How much more power does anyone really need for creating a PowerPoint or checking email. I personally have opted for moving more and more of my activity to the cloud. Therefore, I no longer have an interest in purchasing bigger and bigger hard drives to hold all of the music that I never listen to and all the movies I never watch. The tremendous advances in mobile technology have led to a situation where many people manage critical day-to-day activities all via their phones, and perhaps tablets, but without a desktop computer. Desktop computer sales have definitely taken a hit and are dropping. The expectation is that even laptop computers may slowly drift down in purchases, to be replaced by single devices that fit in a person’s pocket. It seems that I will be far from alone in my attitude in the coming years. In other words, I suspect that more and more people will make the decision to stay with the technology they have and not upgrade.

Microsoft has declared that Windows 10 would be the last version of Windows. In other words, after Windows 10, updates to the operating system will be piecemeal. There will no longer be an event when a completely new operating system with a fundamentally different approach is announced. One could understand from this that software that runs today on the Windows 10 environment will continue to run without the need to update it for many years to come. This is a huge boon to software development. Knowing that your environment will not fundamentally change, makes it easier for people and companies to invest in development, knowing that their products will still be useful many years on. This same boon for developers, though, means that the drive to change systems will slow dramatically.

So what happens when people no longer feel the desperate need to buy the latest TV set? What happens when all of our computing needs are served by a pellet sized device that is paid for as part of a low-cost subscription model rather than thousands of shekels/dollars once every 2 to 3 years? The answer is that nobody knows. Microsoft knows that making money off of operating systems is going to become harder and harder due to the Apple and Google approach to upgrading operating systems for free. Home entertainment companies are already desperately looking for new features to convince people that their present 50 inch TV is totally inadequate. I really do wonder though what will happen when 50 inch TVs cost a few hundred shekels and already have such superior quality that “better” systems are not discernibly better.

I would be surprised if the world of computing does not become somewhat of a background technology, equivalent to our telephones [I mean land lines] and cable lines. Future children won’t think about a box sitting on a desktop or a cabinet, as a necessary tool for interacting with Youtube. These children of the future will just know that anywhere and everywhere, they have access to the latest and greatest technology without ever thinking of the concept of upgrading. I honestly don’t know what the repercussions will be of such an environment. Will businesses stop investing in any infrastructure, when it is always clearly cheaper and faster to just rent everything for a relatively low price? Could it ever be that there just isn’t enough money in the technology sphere, to justify further major advances in technology that cost billions to implement? This is to an extent what has happened in the pharmaceutical industry, in regards to the development of new medications.

In any case, I’m enjoying listening to legally free online music, both via my desktop and mobile phone. It’s definitely good enough for me. There might be better out there, but I’m happy with what I have. I think that even Batman would be happy. That is if he can even smile.

Thanks for listening

About the Author
Dr. Nahum Kovalski received his bachelor's of science in computer science and his medical degree in Canada. He came to Israel in 1991 and married his wife of 22 years in 1992. He has 3 amazing children and has lived in Jerusalem since making Aliyah. Dr. Kovalski was with TEREM Emergency Medical Services for 21 years until June of 2014, and is now a private consultant on medicine and technology.