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11 Much-Hyped Tech Features That Aren’t Worth the Money

Tech companies go to great lengths to foster the illusion that they are not actually tech companies. Rather, they'd have you believe they're a merry band of digital craftspeople bonded by the single-minded pursuit of delivering to you—their beloved customer—a magical gadget that will improve your life.

To be sure, tech companies do invest a lot of time and resources creating their products. But let us never lose sight that tech companies are not in this for the love. They are not your family. They are not your friends. They are amoral, for-profit entities whose whole raison d'etre is to part you from your money.

Each time these companies introduce a new product, they hope it will compel you to head down to Best Buy and fork over hundreds—if not thousands—of your hard-earned dollars. Whether that device actually ends up improving your life in some meaningful way afterwards is not their concern.

Tech companies are under pressure to constantly deliver newer, better products. But sometimes, their R&D teams can't quite get there. But that sure won't stop them from trying to convince you otherwise.

There are dozens of examples of needless flourishes that are very specific to particular brands, but we've isolated 11 that we see again and again across the board. Don't fall for it, people. Newer, bigger, better is all well and good. Just don't make us pay extra for it.

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  • 1

    Fancy Phone Designs

    Sorry, Jony Ive. All those sleepless hours spent perfecting the iPhone's sinewy rounded corners and Apple-worthy hues were for naught, you design nerd. The cell phone accessory market, led by phone cases, will be a $107.3 billion business by 2022, according to Allied Market Research. effectively nullifying all those minute design obsessions.

    A smartphone is a not-insignificant financial investment; you'd be foolish not to protect it from the bumps, scratches, and occasional oops that will most definitely befall it. Apple certainly isn't the only company that uses external phone design as a selling point. But once a case comes into play, your phone's exterior will be seen about as much as its interior. Do you want to pay a premium for that?

  • 2

    'Exclusive' Video Game Titles

    When you buy an "EXCLUSIVE" vidya game for your console, there are probably some additional caveats out there you should be aware of. Microsoft and Sony are so caught up in their own console war that they often choose to forget non-console platforms. For example, the box art for Street Fighter V included the designation "PS4 CONSOLE EXCLUSIVE GAME," but neglected to mention that the game is also available for PC via Steam. So, while SFV is indeed not available on the Xbox, it can be played on Windows and Linux PCs. Often, console titles listed as "exclusives" neglect to include the PC versions. It's not "lying" as much as it's massaging the truth by ignoring some key details.

  • 3

    Large Megapixel Cameras

    One of the most direct ways to discern the quality of a digital camera is to compare megapixel counts, right? As it turns out, not so much.

    Let's start by defining "megapixels." The prefix mega = one million, so megapixels equals the number of millions of pixels a camera sensor can capture for a particular image (i.e. a 10-megapixel image contains 10 million pixels, an 18-megapixel image contains 18 million, etc.) But there's more to great photos than just numbers.

    While megapixel counts on phones can contribute to better images, they only matter up to a point. When you look at an image on your tiny phone display or print it out, millions of extra pixels cease making a difference. So, insane megaxpixel counts end up being of little use to the average consumer. "Camera megapixel count above eight is often a red herring," according to our lead mobile analyst, Sascha Segan. "Especially on phones, optics and image processing matter so much more. The debate between 12-, 13-, and 16- megapixel cameras actually means little or nothing to real-life use."

  • 4

    Smartphone Display Pixel Density

    I predict that if any readers feel compelled to leave comments disagreeing with any points in this story, this will probably be the slide that prompts them to do so: Pixel densities on smartphones are WAY overrated—after a certain point. I know there are people out there who swear that ever-increasing pixel counts on displays truly make a difference (some in this very office). I respectfully disagree.

    I think tiny smartphone displays reached peak "good enough" a few years ago when Apple intro'd the 300ppi Retina display. And since then, there has been an escalating spec war in which each new salvo has failed to impress me in any meaningful way.

    I'm currently rocking a Samsung Galaxy S7 with a 577 ppi display. And it's great! And it appears that Samsung may have come around to my side of things—the Galaxy S8's screen specs don't pack in any more pixels beyond the S6 (or even a few less, depending on how you measure things). This is a wise move on Samsung's part IMHO. It means the S8's upgraded processor can deliver even better performance by not having to deal with even more pixels.

  • 5

    Millimeters of Thinness

    Remember those Apple TV ads that showed how the iPad Air was thinner than a No. 2 pencil? The reveal promo for the iPad Air 2, which debuted the following year, showed a pencil being sliced length-wise with a laser to demonstrate how this new generation was even thinner (0.29 inches versus 0.24 inches to be exact.) I actually have an Air 2 and am very happy with it. Personally, I was never burdened by that extra .05 inches of thickness.

    Many mobile manufacturers are quick to brag about how they are able to shave off millimeters of size. And when it comes to mobile, smaller and lighter tends to be better—certainly compared to the clunky mobile devices of old. But we hit "good enough" territory many years ago. I don't need my devices to be any thinner—I'd much prefer manufacturers make better use of the space they have to make the thing run even better for longer.

  • 6

    How Much RAM Do You Really Need?

    Mobile fans were blown away when it was announced that the OnePlus 5 would come with an astounding 8GB of RAM (in its highest-end model). Holy moly that's a lot of RAM! Most marquee phones, such as Samsung's Galaxy S8 max out at 4GB of RAM and run great. So, the OnePlus 5 must be absolutely explosive, right!?! Sure. But why exactly?

    Some people disagree, but there's not a lot you can do with that much RAM. In theory, it would help with multi-tasking. But how much simultaneous heavy lifting are you really doing on your phone? Do you really need to be streaming a TV show on Hulu, listening to an album on Spotify, and playing Pokemon Go all at the same time?

    In theory, this sort of beyond-bleeding edge spec future-proofs your device for things like Google Tango/ARCore, but by the time these beefy future features become a thing that you will absolutely need to have in your digital life, it'll be a time to buy a new phone.

  • 7

    Automaker In-Dash Systems

    By all accounts, Android Auto and Apple's CarPlay are capable on-the-road ecosystems, now that they're finally available. Some major automakers have accepted the fact that Google and Apple can probably handle UX better than they can, and have started incorporating these systems into their cars. But not all of them. While some systems from Detroit may one day end up being as good as those from Silicon Valley, I have my doubts. So, to all the automakers out there, Apple and Google know how to do software and interface—please stop wasting your time attempting to do your own thing (or, at least, don't expect us to pay extra for it).

  • 8

    Not Everything Needs to Be Connected

    The jury is still out on whether the public is ready to trust a smart house hooked into the Internet of Things. But that hasn't stopped a small army of upstart manufacturers from attempting to get their ticket on the connected train.

    To be sure, there are some very cool "connected" products out there (even if they are still figuring out that whole security thing), but not everything needs to be hooked into The Matrix. There is not yet a compelling reason for the smart toilet to exist. We may one day want the ability to control our toilet seat's temperature remotely through an app, but that time is not now. It's okay for some things to remain analog.

    For more, check out Connecting Everything to the Internet: What Could Go Wrong?

  • 9

    Special Editions

    Do yourself a favor and DON'T download that extended "Unrated" version of that comedy you like. You may think it will contain some real raunchy stuff that kept things a little too real for the MPAA ratings board. It doesn't. It just has some additional scenes that were left out of the final cut (oftentimes, with good reason), and the studio didn't get the new edit officially re-rated. (Probably so they could push the new "Unrated" cut to fools like YOU.) Don't fall for it.

    Also, DON'T pay extra to stream or download that Re-mastered album from your favorite band. It will sound exactly the same as the version you're used to (in fact, there's a real possibility it will sound worse).

    Basically any "special editions" you see out there are (often) cynical attempts to get you to purchase or rent an album or movie a second time.

  • 10

    Gaming Mice's Glowing Logos

    Generally speaking, quality design is something worth paying a premium for. But just like the aforementioned, over-hyped phone designs wasted underneath a case, the aesthetics of your mouse doesn't matter because it's being smothered by your palm.

    Now, we're sure to differentiate between aesthetic and ergonomic design. Ergonomic design—the way it feels in your hand—is absolutely something you should consider paying extra for. But a cool aesthetic design really isn't. (Remember those uncomfortable iMac hockey puck mice—they were Jobs @ Apple 2.0-era design marvels, but were awful to use.)

    Today, many top gaming mice manufacturers insist on including light-up logos directly on the palm rest. Ooh shiny! Often, these LEDs are customizable and can interact with the gameplay, which is kinda cool. This functionality may have some utility with the lighting mechanisms on the mouse's side or belly, but is completely wasted underneath your big fat opaque hand.

    It's difficult to say if these luminescent trappings actually adds much to the price tag, but a more minimalist aesthetic would almost certainly minimize the price as well.

  • 11

    8K TVs (Jumping in Early)

    I've made my case against the escalating pixel wars earlier in this piece. So, I feel obligated to jump in the next chapter a bit early. While the price on 4K TVs are coming down, the next format is already being prepared: 8K, a resolution standard with twice as many pixels as 4K and four times as many as HD. That's a lot of pixels!

    There are some ludicrously expensive 8K displays already for sale. And even if you had the money to purchase a functioning 8K TV, it'd be a waste—there's no content for it (there's still a limited supply of 4K content right now).

    To be sure, we'll start seeing consumer-grade 8K TVs and content within the next 10 years. But I'll take a stand now. I've seen 4K TVs, and they're aight. It hasn't made me contemplate breaking my HDTV just so I'll have an excuse to buy one.

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A major new campaign of disinformation around Brexit, designed to stir up UK ‘Leave’ voters, and distributed via Facebook, may have reached over 10 million people in the UK, according to new research. The source of the campaign is so far unknown, and will be embarrassing to Facebook which only this week claimed it was clamping down on ‘dark’ political advertising on its platform. Researchers for the UK-based digital agency 89up, allege that “Mainstream Network” — which looks and reads like a ‘mainstream’ news site but which has no contact details or reporter bylines — is serving hyper-targeted Facebook advertisements aimed at exhorting people in Leave-voting UK constituencies to tell their MP to “chuck Chequers”. Chequers is the name given to the UK Prime Ministers’s proposed deal with the EU regarding the UK’s departure from the EU next year. 89up says it estimates that Mainstream Network, which routinely puts out pro-Brexit “news”, could have spent over £250,000 on pro-Brexit or anti-Chequers advertising on Facebook in less than a year. The agency calculates that with that level of advertising, the messaging would have been seen by 11 million people. TechCrunch has independently confirmed that Mainstream Network’s domain name was registered in November last year, and began publishing in February of this year. In evidence given to Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee today, 89up says the website was running dozens of adverts targetted at Facebook users in specific constituencies, suggesting users “Click to tell your local MP to bin Chequers”, along with an image from the constituency, and an email function to drive people to send their MP an anti-Chequers message. This email function carbon-copied an [email protected] email address. This would be a breach of the UK’s data protection rules, since the website is not listed as a data controller, says 89up. The news comes a day after Facebook announced a new clampdown on political advertisement on its platform, and will put further pressure on the social media giant to look again at how it deals with the so-called ‘dark advertising’ its Custom Audiences campaign tools are often accused of spreading. 89up claims Mainstream Network website could be in breach of new GDPR rules since, while collecting users’ data, it does not have a published privacy policy, or contain any contact information whatsoever on the site or the campaigns it runs on Facebook. The agency says that once users are taken to the respective localized landing pages from ads, they are asked to email their MP. When a user does this, its default email client opens up an email and puts its own email in the BCC field (see below). It is possible, therefore, that the user’s email address is being stored and later used for marketing purposes by Mainstream Network. TechCrunch has reached out to Mainstream Network for comment on Twitter and email. A WhoIs look-up revealed no information about the owner of the site. TechCrunch’s own research into the domain reveals that the domain owner has made every possible attempt to remain anonymous. Even before GDPR came in, the domain owners had paid to hide its ownership on Godaddy, where it is registered. The site is using standard Godaddy shared hosting to blend in with 400+ websites using the same IP address. Commenting, Damian Collins MP, the Chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee of the UK Houde of Commons, said: “We do not know who is funding the Mainstream Network, or who is behind its operations, but we can see that they are directing a large scale advertising campaign on Facebook designed to get people to lobby their MP to oppose the Prime Ministers’s Brexit strategy. I have been sent a series of emails from constituents as a result of these adverts, in a deliberate attempt to alter the outcome of the Brexit negotiations. “The issue for parliamentarians is we have no idea who is targeting whom via political advertising on Facebook, who is paying for it, and what the purpose of that communication is. Facebook claimed this week that it was working to make political advertising on their platform more transparent, but once again we see potentially hundreds of thousands of pounds being spent to influence the political process and no one knows who is behind this.” Mike Harris, CEO of 89up said: “A day after Facebook announced it will no longer be taking ‘dark ads’, we see once again evidence of the huge problem the platform is yet to face up to. Facebook has known since the EU referendum that highly targeted political advertising was being placed on its platform by anonymous groups, yet has failed to do anything about it. We have found evidence of yet another anonymous pro-Brexit campaign placing potentially a quarter of a million pounds worth of advertising, without anyone knowing or being able to find out who they are.” Josh Feldberg, 89up researcher, said: “We have no idea who is funding this campaign. Only Facebook do. For all we know this could be funded by thousands of pounds of foreign money. This case just goes to show that despite Facebook’s claims they’re fighting fake news, anonymous groups are still out there trying to manipulate MPs and public opinion using the platform. It is possible there has been unlawful data collection. Facebook must tell the public who is behind this group.” TechCrunch has reached out to both Facebook and Mainstream Network for comment prior to publication and will update this post if either respond to the allegations.

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