As the great 20th-century bard Flava Flav once said, don't believe the hype. The purpose of any new word should be to provide clarity. But every day in the tech world, we get further and further away from that goal as marketeers develop laughably superlative names for their products and abuse popular terms until they've lost all meaning. Here are 10 terms that need to be deleted faster than an accelerated super turbo mode:
- Super Phone / Smart Phone / Phone: For the last couple of years, we've all been tying ourselves in knots trying to find the right way to explain that making calls is the least important thing today's best cell phones can do. So we called them smart phones, but that didn't seem good enough so someone upped the ante to super phones. I suggest we stop calling devices with mobile Internet capability and apps phones at all, because the word "phone" harkens back to rotary dials and Alexander Graham Bell. I propose we now call web-connected, call-making devices "personal communicators." Or just "communicators." Who's with me?
- APU: On its new Fusion platform, AMD has eschewed the term CPU in favor of Accelerated Processing Unit (APU) because the company has combined the processor and graphics on a single chip. Intel is doing the same thing with its second-generation Core processors, but it's not calling them IPUs or Super-Duper Silicons. But in the spirit of AMD, I'm going to launch a new website that loads a little faster than my old one and insist that people refer to it as an Accelerated Data Publication, or ADP, which just happens to be my initials.
- 4G: Today, all four major U.S. carriers are touting their new high-speed networks as 4G (fourth-generation, get it?), because they are allegedly faster than previous 3G technologies. There are just two problems. First, nobody can really agree on what constitutes 4G. More importantly, not all 4G networks are created equal. In our tests, Verizon's 4G LTE service was actually faster than our home wired connection, T-Mobile's HSPA+ technology has been only marginally faster than 3G, and Sprint / Clear's WiMax 4G is somewhere in the middle. Can't we just agree to call all these technologies by name and say "I want an LTE phone" or "I have a WiMax modem"?
- Super App: It was only a matter of time before one of the major phone vendors decided that simply referring to smart phone applications as "apps" wasn't good enough to move product. RIM has decided to use the tried and true method of attaching the word "super" to the front of the term and deemed certain BlackBerry software "super apps."
What makes an app a "super app"? Groundbreaking differentiators include the ability to start when the phone is powered on, download data before it's needed, send notifications, and . . . wait for it . . . share data with other apps. In one commercial, a blogger says her favorite app is a super app because it can add a restaurant to her contacts list and post it to Facebook. That's not super, or even new.
- The Cloud: This term began life innocently enough as a synonym for "server-based computing." The idea was that you'd be able to store all your data or even do your hardcore processing on someone else's server somewhere out on the Internet, without worrying or caring about the hardware which would be run by somebody else behind the scenes. The concept of Cloud Computing is thriving, but the term has been broadened into extinction. Microsoft's "to the Cloud" ads (see below) actually tout its Windows Live software (most of which lives on your PC), and Iomega brands its web-accessible NAS drives as "Personal Cloud" storage. It's all very foggy.
- High Definition: Like 4G and "The Cloud," the term "high definition" or HD used to mean something tangible. A few years ago, HD referred mainly to TVs with more dots and sharper images than the old-school, standard-def boob tubes we'd been using since the 1950s. Then LCD panel makers forced computer manufacturers to switch their screens to 16:9 aspect ratio and the whole thing went haywire. Today, the lowest resolution notebook screen with the worst picture and least desktop real estate is 1366 x 768, otherwise known as HD. A step up from that bottom rung is 1600 x 900, otherwise known as HD+. Then finally you have 1920 x 1080, which we call "full HD." Confused yet? Let's take off the HD sunglasses and describe screens by their resolution or, at least, by their number of vertical lines (720p, 1080p, etc).
- Netbook: The term netbook, originally championed by Intel, was meant to refer to 10-inch notebooks with low-power processors that are primarily used to get online. However, now that we have 12-inch netbooks with discrete graphics, 500GB hard drives, and Windows 7 on them, journalists and marketeers are struggling to draw the line between a notebook and a netbook. Let's give up the fight and call them 10-inch notebooks.
- Desktop Replacement: In the notebook biz, a desktop replacement is a hulking notebook that's large and powerful enough to presumably allow you to forget about your desktop. The problem with this term is that most people are buying notebooks today and even a 3-pound notebook can pack as much power as a high-end desktop. If anything, we should start calling desktop computers "notebook alternatives."
- Social Media: While there's no doubt that services such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter have redefined communication, the word "social media" has started jumping the shark. Are online forums and mailing lists now considered "social media"? We had those in the Reagan era. What about user reviews? We've had those since the 1990s.
- Fragmentation: Critics of Android have developed a nasty habit of using this term to kvetch about the fact that different phones have different versions of the OS and even different software. However, when Microsoft comes out with new versions of its desktop operating system and both Lenovo and Hewlett Packard install their own battery managers, nobody complains about Windows fragmentation. What critics call fragmentation is what we used to simply call differentiation. You're not really mad about fragmentation. Let's scream about "carrier laziness," forced obsolescence, or wireless crapware.