All-American Tech: What’s Hot Here (and Nowhere Else)

All-American Tech: What’s Hot Here (and Nowhere Else)
People are always eager to point out cool technologies that America ignores, but what about the ones that we—and only we—use? Enough with the grousing: Here’s what we’ve got that they don’t.

For a long while, TiVo was the undisputed king of TV recording. Other DVRs have come a long way in the last ten years, but they’re all late to the party, and still playing catchup: The TiVo name is now permanently tattooed into the public’s consciousness, synonymous with recording shows and backed up by still-impressive hardware.

But the fact that TiVo has attained a near-Kleenex level of brand recognition in the US doesn’t mean a thing overseas. As of writing, the service is only available in a few other places—Canada, the UK, Mexico, Taiwan and Australia—where it has been met with limited enthusiasm. While the US, with its huge, old, fragmented cable industry, offers a fantastic opportunity for a meta-service like TiVo, smaller countries with one or two dominant pay-TV providers—which have their own increasingly formidable DVR alternatives—are tougher nuts to crack.

The Kindle
This choice might seem odd—or at least inconsequential—on account of the steady stream of new e-reader hardware available all over the world, but Kindle exclusivity is actually a technological feather in America’s cap. Why? Because the source of the Kindle’s importance isn’t its hardware, but its connectivity and the service it’s tied to.

Anyone can slap a case around a panel of E-Ink and add an off-the-shelf Linux OS—and plenty of companies have. But being linked wirelessly to a massive library of legal downloads, bestselling books, magazines and newspapers, is what will make a reader great. For now, the only mainstream reader that can claim such a feature is the Kindle, and the only country that can claim the Kindle is the US. Not that it can’t go global—similar services for music and TV, like the iTunes store, have found ways to deal with tricky licensing and gone global—it’s just that it probably won’t for a while.

Without a doubt, this is the technology that feels the most American on this list. Intended primarily for the workplace, push-to-talk technology has tragically seeped into the mainstream, subjecting millions of innocent mall shoppers to that incessant, inane chirping, and the shouting at the handset that accompanies it. Who hasn’t been inadvertently pulled into the middle of a heated, long-distance argument about novelty Jimmy Dean breakfast sandwiches flavours while waiting in line at Walmart? Well, pretty much anyone who doesn’t live in America—and not just because they don’t have Jimmy Dean, or Walmart.

As it turns out, PTT’s Amerophilia can be explained by little more than poor marketing. According to ABI Research:

In other world regions MNOs have failed to market PTT successfully to business users or have opted to market to consumers, and it just hasn’t taken off.

Nextel, which was inherently crippled by a proprietary network technology that wasn’t built out in any other country but the US, found success with PTT by pitching handsets to businesses as turbocharged Walkie-Talkies, not by marketing them directly to consumers, most of whom would have trouble imagining a more efficient way to make themselves look like brash assholes.

Video On Demand
iTunes has gone worldwide and services like BBC’s iPlayer have brought the Hulu model overseas, but America still has the best VOD situation in the world, bar none. The problem is simple: Even countries with a healthy entertainment industry import a tremendous amount of American TV, often well after it was originally broadcast. This regional disparity seems kinda stupid in the age of the internet and VOD, but it’s just as severe as it ever was.

European or Asian viewers have to wait for painful weeks or months for a domestic channel to licence, schedule and dub international American hits like Lost or Mad Men, and hope, assuming their stations have a VOD service, that the show eventually finds its way online. As an ad-supported service and a product owned by the networks who profit from the above arrangement, Hulu’s reluctance to stream content to countries is understandable, but the despair is deeper than that: You can’t even pay for TV if you want to. People without American billing addresses are barred from VOD services like Amazon’s Unbox, and will find their iTunes video selections sorely lacking.

Satellite Radio
Since is smells distinctly like a waning technology, satellite radio might not do much to stir your techno-patriotism, but goddernit, it’s ours. The US has far more satellite radio subscribers than the rest of the world combined, all through the remains of Sirius and XM, now merged under the lazy moniker of “Sirius XM”. Why? We have lots (and lots) of cars.

Satellite radio actually has roots as a proudly international service—after all, it is broadcast from frickin’ space—having been developed in part by a humanitarian-initiative company called 1Worldspace, which was established to broadcast news and safety information to parts of the globe without reliable terrestrial radio infrastructure. They still exist today, but they broadcast to fewer than 200,000 subscribers, mostly in India and parts of Africa. Satrad’s American success can be solely credited to our auto manufacturers, who eagerly installed satellite units in new cars for years, healthily boosting subscription numbers (but not necessarily car sales). With no comparably pervasive car culture to take advantage of anywhere else in the world, satellite radio is a tough sell.