Lots of people make New Year's resolutions, but I'm making them on behalf of tech companies -- even though they never asked for my advice. Here are a few things I'd like to see for 2013.
One is the return of the optical viewfinder on compact digital cameras. Most cameras you buy today don't have a viewfinder that you peer through with one eye, like the old-fashioned film cameras I grew up with. I'd like a return of viewfinders not out of nostalgia but because I can take better pictures if I hold the camera to my head.
With a viewfinder, you don't have to worry about the image being washed out by bright sunlight. And holding the camera against your face stabilizes it. With today's cameras, you have to hold them way in front of you and if your arm is a bit unsteady, the camera will shake. Maybe using a viewfinder is just an old habit, but it makes me feel more composed as I compose the picture.
Speaking of cameras, hats off to Sony for letting users charge their battery in many of their cameras using a nonproprietary micro-USB cable. I'd like to see all portable products adopt the same strategy.
I've recently been testing Sony's amazingly good DX-150, which comes with the same type of charger and cable as most cell phones (except those from Apple (AAPL)), which means I can charge it with the same adapter and cable I use on my Android phone. A few years ago, I forgot to pack my proprietary charger and cable when I took off on a trip and, once the initial charge on my camera was depleted, I was unable to use it till I got home.
If you're traveling and do forget Sony's nonproprietary charger and cable, there's a pretty good chance your hotel's lost and found has several compatible ones on hand they would loan or give you. Sony's DX-150, by the way, has lots of other great features, including a larger than usual sensor that gives you great photos, even in low light. At $650, it's expensive compared to other compact cameras but it's the first pocket-size camera I've tried that's as good in lowlight as many SLRs.
Another pet peeve of mine is being forced to wait for an update that I may or may not need at the moment. There are times when I turn off my Windows machine but before it powers down, I'm forced to wait for a Windows update. Microsoft has no idea whether I'm in a big hurry to reboot or catch a plane. Apple does a better job by just letting you know an update is available and trusting you to install it on your own time.
I'm a big fan of predictive spelling, in which your cell phone or other tech device tries to help you out by guessing what word you're typing and suggests the correct spelling either before you finish typing or if you get it wrong. But sometimes the software gets it wrong. I was recently in Latin American where I tried use my iPhone to send an email to someone to meet me at the Hotel Nacional. My U.S. iPhone insisted on typing National, which is correct in English but not in Spanish. It also tends to mess up abbreviations and the names of restaurants or other places.
While I like devices making suggestions, I don't like them forcing the change on you unless you verify that the device is right and you were wrong. Sometimes those changes can be laughable or even embarrassing. I once accidentally misspelled the word "warehouse," and was a bit red-faced when the spell checker changed it to "whorehouse."
Here's a resolution for Apple and Google (GOOG). I love Apple's Siri voice recognition system but hate that she only interacts with Apple apps. If I ask her how to find an address, she'll show it to me in Apple Maps instead of Google Maps, which is now my preferred map app. Apple needs to create an application interface (API) that lets Siri talk with any app and offer users a configuration panel that lets them choose default apps similar to the way you can specify a default browser in Windows or OSX.
And Google could make it easier to use voice recognition within its new iOS mapping app by creating a really big and easy-to-find touch microphone icon for people who want to speak to the app while driving. I know, you're not supposed to look at or touch your phone while driving. But people do use their phones, and it's better to make it safer and easier than to force them to interact with tiny icons.
It may seem presumptuous for me to tell companies what they should do for 2013 but it's only fair, because they'll undoubtedly reciprocate by trying to tell me and everyone else what we should buy this year.
Contact Larry Magid at email@example.com. Listen for his technology chats on KCBS-AM (740) weekdays at 3:50 p.m.