I like it when things just work.
You know what I mean – no putzing around, no fiddle-faddle, no compromises, no excuses – things that just do what it says on the tin.
Here are my personal top five new discoveries this year that make that list (and yes, I’m well aware that I’m a late arrival to a few of these – what can I say? Better a late convert than a lifetime skeptic).
Also note I have no connection with any of these organizations or products – I’m just a happy user:
Press a button, track the car coming for you, get in, go where you want, get out. No wondering when (or if) a car will turn up, no messing with payment at the end, and pretty much universally a pleasant professional ride. I love Uber.
It’s not an exaggeration to say it has transformed how I travel. And all that hoo-hah about surge pricing? Please. If you ever design and deliver a service as good as this, go ahead, premium price it – I’ll still sign up.
2. Mobile Banking
I know, I know. You’ve been doing it for a couple years now, and it’s far from cutting edge – but my bank only got ’round to rolling out a genuinely usable app to enable mobile deposits this year, and, well, for this late-era baby-boomer, it’s wonderful.
I know that making deposits from the comfort of my desk (or anywhere else) instead of having to schlep to the bank falls squarely under the hashtag #FirstWorldProblems, but there it is – I’m one of the last generation who will have memories of taking a slice of dead tree to a large building, handing it to someone to do god-knows-what, then waiting for three to five days to see it pop up in my bank account.
This machine sits 14 inches from my left arm – it’s here right now, watching over me as I write this piece – and it gets only marginally less attention than Alfie, my golden retriever.
I load paper into it all day long – basically, anything that comes into our office that doesn’t get tossed as junk – and the Fujitsu sucks it in, produces a scannable pdf, and shoots it off to whatever electronic folder I choose.
It does such a great job both mechanically (I’ve never had a paper jam, not once, even when I’ve loaded it up with over 100 pages) and electronically (it auto-detects when it needs to read two sides of a page, produces perfectly legible scans of even my dreadful writing and generates near-perfect OCR-based searchable documents) that I’ve essentially abolished paper filing.
All the paper gets checked into one large, unsorted box, and if I ever need a copy of anything, I simply search for it on my computer.
If reading is any part of your life, take a look at this gorgeous lamp. Actually, ‘lamp’ is a travesty of a word to describe the Lumio, but that’s basically the function it performs. The difference is, I can pick it up, fold it into the size of the book I’m reading, carry it wherever else in the house I’m going, open it up again. Like the Nest, Lumio takes something mundane and makes it elegant.
5. The BBC iPlayer
As many of you are aware, I’m an expatriate Brit – and one of the few things I’ve stubbornly clung to is a belief that the BBC is the best news organization out there.
I also happen to prefer radio to TV – not just as defensible a position, I know – so when I got my first iPad, I was excited at the possibility of streaming the BBC radio channels anywhere I went.
Unfortunately, early versions of the BBC iPlayer required Flash, and that meant it was more or less useless on the iPad and other mobile devices. This year, they fixed it, and what a treasure trove it is – just about any BBC radio program available, on demand, from any device. Heaven.
Oh – the other big UK channel, ITV (they of Downtown Abbey, Lewis and a host of other PBS hits) have a similar player, but you need to putz around with proxy addresses to get it to play in the US, so it doesn’t make the list.