I think Canada truly is one of the best countries in the world, but there are some glaring deficiencies when it comes to technology. Not only do we pay more for Internet, cell phones and other gadgetry, we arguably get far less for that money.
It's easy to forget about that, at least until a new technology comes along that calls attention to the fact that we can't get anything here.
One example is Zune Pass, an annual subscription to Microsoft's music store that gives you something like 14 million songs for about $15 a month - including 10 songs you get to download and keep forever, even if you let your subscription lapse. This service has been available in the U.S. since 1999, and is also available in the U.K., France, Italy, Spain and all kinds of other markets. Only now is the pass finally coming to Canada at $10 per month (or $100 per year) with no free tracks.
Netflix came to Canada last year with a scaled down service that offers a fraction as much online content as in the U.S.
YouTube's movie rental service finally came to Canada last month, two years after it was available in the States.
Hulu, the online television network of networks, is still not available in Canada - and as long as Canadian networks hold the licensing rights to so many of the shows I doubt it ever will be
We can't get Spotify, LastFM, Google Voice, Pandora Radio, and so on. My Xbox gets a fraction as much media content as you can get in the U.S., especially with the announcement that Americans can now get access to HBO, Crackle, Bravo, Syfy, Lovefilm and other network content.
We can't get the Barnes & Noble nook tablet/e-reader, and we can't get the new Amazon Kindle Fire tablet announced last week.
The last one hurts because aside from Apple, Amazon is one of the few competitors in the tablet market that has actual content ready to go out of the box - tens of thousands of apps through the Google Android Store, over a million e-books, 100,000 movies and television shows and a library of 17 million songs.
In last week's column I mistakenly said that the Fire's storage would be expandable with a MicroSD card slot, but that rumour didn't pan out - instead, all tablet owners can sign up for Amazon's Cloud Drive, essentially expanding storage using the Internet. That's also bad news because Amazon's Cloud Drive isn't available in Canada either!
I'd really like to buy this thing. Not particularly caring about the ability to take photos or video, or 3G, it makes far more sense to get a Fire than an iPad 2. Its custom Silk browser supports Flash, it has stereo speakers, I like the smaller form factor and it's less than half the price! But it's not available yet, and even if it was I doubt I'd buy it unless I had access to all of the features available. Which I wouldn't.
I could get a RIM Blackberry Playbook - the price has already been cut and by all accounts it's a far more powerful tablet even if it's anemic when it comes to apps and doesn't come with a store like iPad 2 or Amazon.
There are various reasons why these things are not available, like licensing issues, bilingual requirements, Canadian Content requirements, agreements with unions representing artists, compliance issues with federal laws, and so on. Add in the fact that Canada is a relatively small country with 1/10th the population of the U.S. and 1/15th of the population of Europe - which standardized most of its telecommunications laws through the EU - and we're way behind the curve.
If Marshall McLuhan was right in his theory that "the medium is the message," then the message for Canada is that we're backwards and behind the times, a true medium in the purest sense of the word.
Silk reinvents the wheel
Speaking of Amazon's new Silk browser for their tablet devices, the company has really achieved something unique. Instead of loading all the software required to render every plug-in onto your device, Silk does most of the heavy processing in Amazon's servers, collects all the pieces in advance, then beams down a webpage as a single stream of data. The result is a faster, more powerful web browsing experience in a lightweight program. The browser also caches data on the server rather that downloading every big to your memory.
It's not a new idea - Opera, the most underrated browser in the galaxy - has been doing something like this for years when in "Turbo" mode. But Amazon's implementation of this is a huge twist on the idea, keeping the browser light, fast and portable.
Conmigo is a must-have app
Having lived with roommates for the better part of the last 20 years, I urge everyone out there with an Android device and flatmates to download Conmigo - a new device that helps you split your expenses among roommates. Like other personal finance tools you can download your actual bills and expenses, and then let Conmigo figure out who pays for what.