How Much More Tech Can We Really Afford?

It happened right smack in the middle of that mesmerizing Apple Watch launch. Tim Cook was talking about the “mile long” list of features when a stray thought flashed across my consciousness: I wonder how long before this pricey little gadget is obsoleted by a “gotta have it” upgrade?

Not to sound like a cheapskate but, at $349 and up, let’s face it; the last thing we all need is another smart gadget on a two-year upgrade cycle along with our phones, tablets, notebooks and everything else. You’ve got to admit, the price of keeping up with the tech is getting a little out of control.

I’m not even talking about all the completely ludicrous smart gadgets I hear about daily. Do we really need sleep monitors to tell us that we’re not sleeping, smart outlet plugs to tell us how much our tech is running up our energy bills, or PetChatz so we can video chat with Fido from anyplace with a Wi-Fi connection?

I’m talking about the real “gotta have it” stuff. The smartphones, tablets, computers, game players, watches, fitness and ID bands, home entertainment audio and video systems, routers, security and video monitoring, smart thermostats and smoke alarms, smart appliances, smart lighting and control, smart toothbrushes, and of course, the cases, headsets, docks, backup storage and who knows what other accessories for all that junk.

And those are just the devices. Then there are all the license and subscription fees. You know, the gifts that keep on giving: the mobile cellular and data plans, cable and satellite TV service, broadband Internet service, Internet TV access, satellite radio, home and auto security monitoring, not to mention all the apps, games, video and music downloads, Internet security monitoring, backup services and warranty plans.

Look, I don’t want to sound like one of those old geezers who can remember when we played 45s on Hi-Fi phonographs, there were only 5 TV stations that were all free, Bill Gates wasn’t old enough to say the word “upgrade” yet, and the only subscriptions you had were for your home phone line and paper things called magazines and newspapers.

It’s just that about half of all American households now get some sort of government entitlement, too many of us live paycheck to paycheck, and everyone’s running around whining about the income inequality gap, the skyrocketing cost of everything, and that there are no jobs or at least the kind of jobs they went to school for. But somehow they all manage to have the latest iPhones, iPads, Xbox, Netflix, Tivo, Cisco routers and Comcast cable.

Speaking of which, I was watching Charlie Rose’s momentous interview of Tim Cook the other day. (Remember when presidential interviews used to be momentous? Now President Obama is a regular on late night television but nobody cares; we’re all on YouTube shouting at the screen, “Ask Cook about Apple TV, Charlie! Ask him about Apple TV!”)

Anyway, Cook is describing the new iPhone 6s and his eyes start to light up as he says, “These are the best iPhones we’ve ever done. And I think you’ll agree – you have them in front of you there – it’s the thinnest phone we’ve ever done. The screen is just to die for. It’s screaming fast on the wireless networks.”

And then Cook really starts to gush uncontrollably over this thing, “It’s really unbelievable. And it feels unbelievable in your hand. Hold it. It’s something … it’s really unbelievable. The design … Jony and his team did such an incredible job here. It’s really seamless between the glass … it’s like a singular form.”

I don’t know why I’m surprised that Apple’s CEO talks about a gadget like it’s a priceless gem or something, but things did seem to get a little awkward until Rose jumped in with, “But back to what’s next …” The iPhone 6 gushfest starts at about the two-and-a-half minute mark on the video; check it out and tell us if you think it got a little creepy.

Finally the conversation rolls around to the one product we’re all still waiting for, even after Apple’s massive event last week. The answer to the annoying kludge we all have in our living rooms: a flawlessly integrated Apple TV.

“TV is one of those things that, if we’re really honest, it’s stuck back in the 70s,” says Cook. “Think about how much your life has changed … [TV] almost feels like you’re rewinding the clock and you’ve entered a time capsule and you’re going backwards. The interface is terrible. I mean it’s awful. And you watch things when they come on unless you remember to record them.”

I know one thing that will never change: Apple keeps secrets better than the NSA. Way better. All Cook would say is that Apple continues to have great interest in the TV space. It feels odd to say this, but I’m almost hoping Apple never pulls together an integrated TV product. I’m just not sure if I can afford it. That is, unless it actually lowers the cost of the devices and monthly fees that go with them.

Tech is great. Simplicity is even better. Maybe lower prices and fewer subscriptions are too much to hope for, but it sure would be nice for a change.