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The Future of All Media was written in 1993. Kinda.

May 22, 2010 9 comments

In 1993 Time Magazine published a landmark cover story called “The Info Highway” and got nearly every prediction about the coming information age right.  Except they got it all wrong, at least in one crucial aspect: they missed the Internet. 

The article, written by Philip Elmer-Dewitt, is fascinating in its prescience and serves as a platinum example for anyone trying to predict the future. 

(To his credit, Elmer-Dewitt did end the article with the note that they could have it all wrong and still be surprised, and his follow up work over the next several years tracked the surprises and road bumps that were to come.) 

[update:  This article was republished on The Producers Guild.  Then Philip Elmer-Dewitt, or PED as I now know him, was ever so cool enough to write his own review of my review on his blog at CNN.  Thanks PED!]

For those of you too young to remember, the early nineties weren’t like today.  We had a down economy, a war in Iraq started by a Bush, a young Democratic President following a Bush, and Jay Leno had just taken over The Tonight Show.  Ok that was too easy, but really the Cold War had just ended and we didn’t know what was going to follow it.  Things were in transition.  There was a sense of newness in the air. 

I had been promised in the late eighties (yes, personally promised) that someday something called “ISDN” would allow us to balance our checkbooks on our TV screens.  That was nice, I thought, but is that the best application anyone can come up with?  Actually “Cool!!” was what I thought, but in hindsight… is that the best application anyone can come up with? 

The phrase “Interactive Television” started getting thrown around, though no one knew what it meant.  The big ideas back then were stories where the audience made decisions for the character (which is contrary to the idea that plot comes from character) or to let the viewer buy the sunglasses off someone’s face or order a pizza during a commercial for a pizza (which is contrary to the idea that I just want to sit and watch TV in peace!).  These are still the ideas being thrown around today. 

The digital revolution was just beginning to appear on the distant horizon.  The “dot com” era had not yet begun.  The “home computer” trend of the eighties had been a bust. Cable TV was still delivered using a box that showed the channel number in red LED lights on the front of the actual box, not on screen, let alone showing the name of the channel, the show you were watching, or what was coming up later.  

An assortment of video tapes (wikipedia)

I remember wondering why I couldn’t just pause TV like it was a video tape. (Remember video tape?) When I saw the quality of the first offline Avid systems, I had my answer:  Even high end digital video systems at that time were not capable of playing back video with anything approaching acceptable quality. 

We didn’t have words like bitrate or streaming, but I knew instinctively that it was just a matter of time until TV would be delivered in ways that would bring about radical time shifting with serious effects on scheduling, advertising, audience measurement and the very basics of broadcasting norms.  

I would try to explain to my friends and family, and they would just cock their head sideways and say “interwhat what what?” 

When I picked up the April 12, 1993 issue of Time it was a revelation.  “YES!” I thought, “This is what I’m talking about!  When do I get this?  I want this.” 

Not only did I want it as a consumer, I wanted to make a career out of it.  It was the distillation for me of a turning point in history, a vision for my own future as a professional in “the new media.”  An inspiration. 

Now it’s seventeen years later and many of the predictions have come forcefully true, while others radically not, at least not yet, so let’s take a step back and have some fun. 

  

Following are quoted excerpts from the 1993 article with my notes and updates. 

  

“Coming Soon to Your TV Screen” 

It didn’t come to the TV Screen, it came to the computer first.  Some parts of it did end up on TV eventually in the form of video on demand systems from cable companies, and more may still, but the interplay between the ten foot experience and the two foot is still not settled.  WebTV, BD-Live, Yahoo Widgets, the Roku, Xbox Live, the Wii-Browser… all are (or were) platforms to provide interactive online services on a TV screen, but do people want them?  (DVRs don’t count.) 

Plus the first wave of a whole generation of kids are now exiting college where they had free wifi in the dorms and laptops and smart phones with them everywhere they went.  This is where they watch “TV”.  These kids will be the adults who may never buy a traditional television set in their lives.  (and are very morally relaxed regarding piracy, but that’s another topic) 

Speaking of WebTV, the recent announcement of Google TV is bringing more focus onto the TV as an interactive medium, but no one’s got it right yet.  People don’t want browsers on the TV, they want content. 

  

“Imagine a medium that combines the switching and routing capabilities of phones with the video and information offerings of the most advanced cable systems and data banks.” 

Phone + Video + Information 

What is being described here is nothing less than the “Triple Play” bundle offered by the big players in the space today.  

What they miss here, and the biggest miss of the article is the assumption that it would be the “switching and routing” of the contemporary systems, even those deemed the “most advanced” that would provide the interactivity.  The packet based switching of the Internet Protocol (IP) was not even a contender.  More on that later. 

  

“Instead of settling for whatever happens to be on at a particular time, you could select any item from an encyclopedic menu of offerings and have it routed directly to your television or computer screen.” 

Spot on. They even do include the computer screen and not just the TV. 

Seems simple now, but this was profound in 1993.  Actually it’s still not so simple now. 

  

“A movie?  Airline listings?  Tomorrow’s newspaper or yesterdays’ episode of Northern Exposure?  How about a new magazine or a book?  A stroll through the L.L. Bean catalog?  A teleconference with your boss?  A video phone call with your lover?” 

Netflix.  Expedia.  NYTimes.com.  Hulu.  Time.com.  The Kindle.  Amazon.com.  Skype.  Sexting.  

It’s not just airline listings, but price comparisons, bidding, e-ticketing and paperless boarding passes.  It’s not just the LL Bean Catalog, but meta catalogs, affiliate programs, Groupons, Ebay, digital goods, Pay Pal, virtual currencies.  Ecommerce on a massive scale with unprecedented consumer access to information. 

Who cares about tomorrow’s newspaper or magazines?  News is now a constantly updating and rolling cycle of information.  New brands emerged like Slate or TMZ that have no print counterpart.  

But again other than cable provided VOD and the emerging “over the top” market, very little of this occurs on the TV.  For now. 

  

“Already the major cable operators and telephone companies are competing – and collaborating – to bring this communicopia to your neighborhood.” 

“The final bottleneck — the “last mile” of wiring that takes information from the digital highway to the home — has been broken, and a blue-chip corporate lineup has launched pilot projects that could be rolled out to most of the country within the next six or seven years.” 

“Driving this explosive merger of video, telephones and computers are some rather simple technological advances: 

—    The ability to translate all audio and video communications into digital information. 

—    New methods of storing this digitized data and compressing them so they can travel through existing phone and cable lines. 

—    Fiber-optic wiring that provides a virtually limitless transmission pipeline.* 

—    New switching techniques and other breakthroughs that make it possible to bring all this to neighborhoods without necessarily rewiring every home.” 

We all thought it would be the cable companies or the phone companies making it all happen, but the Internet appeared from out of nowhere and surprised the industry.  It would be a few years before cable and telephone would become Internet service providers and get themselves back into the position they wanted to be in. 

Ironically, the traditional “switching” systems of cable TV are themselves being replaced in some markets with technology that while not open to the general Internet, uses the IP system of packet switching.  Fios from Verizon is such a system, although pulling that fiber into “the last mile” was recently halted due to its expense and limited adoption.  For now. 

*Note how fiber-optic is described as “virtually limitless.”  How many times have new technologies carried the promise of being infinite or free, only to find their limit later when the demand rose to fill the supposedly inexhaustible supply?  Keep this in mind as gigabytes turn to terabytes.  Someday I’ll be complaining I don’t have enough yottabytes to store the latest holographic virtual world in the grain of sand sized device floating under my eyelid. 

  

“Now the only questions are whether the public wants it and how much it is willing to pay.” 

Yes we want it, but what will we pay?  As Hulu plans a premium service and Apple pushes the “there’s an app for that” model on the iPad hoping to put the “internet=free” genie back in the bottle (See There’s a charge for that?) this is still one of the great unanswered questions at the heart of the business of entertainment. 

The downstream effects have caused strikes among the creative unions, brought about the (low cost) reality TV phenomenon, and created new relationships between content companies and technology vendors to enable things like video players that don’t let you skip advertising, the HDCP standard, and Selective Output Control (the ability to disable all but the piracy stopping HDMI outputs from a device, which was just approved by the FCC). 

  

“Next spring Hughes Communications will introduce DirecTv, a satellite system that delivers 150 channels of television through a $700 rooftop dish the size of a large pizza pie.” 

“But to focus on the number of channels in a TV system is to miss the point of where the revolution is headed. When the information highway comes to town, channels and nightly schedules will begin to fade away and could eventually disappear.  In this postchannel world, more and more of what one wants to see will be delivered on demand by a local supplier (either a cable system, a phone company or a joint venture)…”  

This was one of the most exciting things I had ever read, “A postchannel world.” This has partly happened, but not to the fully radical extent I think it still will.  

Radical time shifting will eventually mean shows will not be limited to weekly release schedules or thirty minute time slots.  (see DVRs Still Suck

And of course DirecTV now offers hundreds of channels, and the dishes are free. 

Note the assumption that again it’s the phone company, cable company or a joint venture that will be driving (not a third party like Netflix or Amazon).  

Also how the phone and cable company are referred to as a “local supplier.”  These are now national suppliers, there are no more local phone or cable providers. 

Finally “channel” is just yesterday’s word for “brand.”  You know what you’re going to get from HBO vs. Disney vs. Spike, but you don’t need a channel to access those brands.  You only need the appropriate economic relationship with some distribution entity, and perhaps a widget or app carrying that brand.  (in the short to medium term, this will likely require a contract with a cable or satellite provider even if delivered via a custom app, the “TV Everywhere” concept) 

  

“As new ways of packaging and delivering these shows emerge, skirmishes over copyrights and program ownership are likely to become increasingly bitter and complex.”
 

Disclaimer: I do work for Disney, but no proprietary knowledge is necessary to cite the very public conflict between Disney and Starz over Disney’s product being sold on iTunes, then Starz’s subsequent licensing of content to Netflix for instant streaming without having explicitly cleared such use with Disney.  There was speculation that Disney would eliminate that loophole in its renegotiated contract with Starz, but as if this writing that has not happened. 

Look at the all out war, let alone skirmish, between the cable operators and the networks over affiliate fees.  This is the biggest driver behind why the Internet cannot really offer “free” video to your TV.  As more and more people use it, it is moving from being a niche loophole for those who could figure it out to a legitimate distribution point that has to carry its weight like the rest and stop giving it away. 

  

“The same switches used to send a TV show to your home can also be used to send a video from your home to any other — paving the way for video phones that will be as ubiquitous and easy to use as TV…”   

Skype and iChat have shown demand for personal two-way video, but for some reason the classic “video phone” never took off.  LG and Panasonic are now offering Skype on TV sets with cameras attached, so we’ll wait and see how that goes. 

I love the assumption that a video phone in your TV would be as easy to use as TV.  No interactive service in a TV is anything like using TV.  TV is easy to use because you just sit there. 

  

“The same system will allow anybody with a camcorder to distribute videos to the world — a development that could open the floodgates to a wave of new filmmaking talent or a deluge of truly awful home movies.” 

“Mitch Kapor [of the] Electronic Frontier Foundation, wants the superhighway to do for video what computer bulletin boards did for print — make it easy for everyone to publish ideas to an audience eager to respond in kind. He envisions a nation of leisure-time video broadcasters, each posting his creations on a huge nationwide video bulletin board.” 

This is astonishingly right, more than ten years before YouTube, here’s YouTube.  Score one for Mitch Kapor. 

The term they used to use was “video dial tone”.   The idea was that through your cable box you could plug in your camcorder and “upload” (though we didn’t have that word at the time).  Of course, the cable companies did not make this happen, this kind of innovation needed the real disruptive power of the Internet.   However the mobile phone providers did later enter this fray with phones that became camcorders and can upload directly to YouTube and others. 

Video Dial Tone, meet Android.  (do phones even have dial tones anymore?) 

  

It’s easy to imagine families exchanging video Christmas cards. Or high school students shopping for a college by exploring each campus [by] interactive video. Or elementary schools making videos of the school play available to every parent who missed it. 

Now we just take these things for granted. 

  

“In the era of interactive TV, the lines between advertisements, entertainment and services may grow fuzzy.” 

“This is the vision that has the best minds from Madison Avenue to Silicon Valley scrambling for position at the starting gate.  

The lines between content and advertising were already blurring with product placement and sponsored content that goes back to the golden age of TV.  (see Commercial Creep: The Merging of Commercials into Original Programming

Advertising online has obviously become a major industry, but the really interesting stuff will come when ads on TV can be targeted directly, or consumers can choose the ads they want to watch (and cannot skip them, if that genie will fit back in that bottle). 

Google seems to want to lead in this space, but the advertising community hasn’t fully woken up to the idea that the current model is strictly 20th century.  This will be fun. 

  

“Meanwhile, TV Guide is racing against InSight, TV Answer and Discovery Communications to design electronic navigators that will tell viewers what’s on TV and where to find it.” 

Replace “electronic navigators” with portals, search, and recommendations. 

Replace “TV Guide, InSight, TV Answer and Discovery” with YouTube, Yahoo, Tivo, StumbleUpon, and again Google. 

This has still not been solved and the process of “discovering” content as a consumer has evolved along with everything else.  

One of the most critical developments is the growth of social networking as a means to promote and find content through the people you know and trust.  A.K.A. Viral Video. 

  

“The Government is the dark horse in the race to the information highway. It got into the business almost by accident: thanks to [Al] Gore’s lobbying during the 1980s, it funded the fiber-optic links that form the backbone of Internet, the sprawling computer grid that is for students, scientists and the Pentagon what Prodigy and CompuServe are for ordinary computer users.” 

This and the one that follows is the only reference to what we know as “The Internet” in the article.  They refer to it simply as “Internet” and all but dismiss it as a non-profit Prodigy and Compuserve used by a few elites outside the mainstream.  Prodi-what and Compu-who? 

  

“Internet has grown into the world’s largest computer bulletin board and data bank, home to 10 million to 15 million networkers who use it for many of the purposes the information highway might serve: sending and receiving mail, sharing gossip and research results, searching for information in hard-to-reach libraries, playing games with opponents in other cities, even exchanging digitized sounds, photographs and movie clips.” 

“Digitzed sounds”?  You mean music?  Hello Music Industry, Napster calling on the Video Phone. 

Mail, gossip, research, games against remote opponents, photos, movie clips.  Yes all of the above.  And then some.  

“Purposes the information highway might serve?”  Actually it was and became the highway.  It’s as if the cowpaths and dirt roads rose up and surrounded the concrete and steel construction project that never took hold.

  

“If they watch a lot of news, documentaries and special- interest programming, those offerings will expand. If video on demand is a huge money-maker, that is what will grow. If video bulletin boards — or teleconferencing, or interactive Yellow Pages, or electronic town meetings — are hot, those services too will thrive and spread.” 

All of the above have succeeded to varying degrees.  Full screen on-the-TV-set video on demand is the only one not fully provided by the Internet and still dominated by the traditional TV providers.   Will “over the top” products change this, or will the triple play providers overtake the open standards and close the net?  Either way, the consumer will still have to pay something.

  

“Arrays of computer disks can hold hundreds of movies, a weeks’s worth of TV programming, and a library of information.” 

Try tens of thousands of movies, years worth of TV, and all the world’s libraries’ information. 

  

“A converter box in the home will decode the words, sounds, pictures, or movies and send them to your TV,  computer, printer, picture telephone, hand-held tele-computer or some as yet unimagined device.” 

Replace “converter box” with modem/router. 

“Decode and send” with download. 

“Hand-held tele-computer” with smart phone.  (“hand-held tele-computer”?  Priceless) 

“As yet unimagined device” with the iPad

  

“Get [news] directly from the wire services and the network feeds.” 

Wire services and networks as the only source of news?  Wow, missed that one.  Blogga please! 

  

“Current films.  For a price you can order Hollywood’s newest releases.” 

Films currently in theaters, not so fast other than a few exceptions for indie experiments and of course pirating.  However the windows are shortening and now some VOD is expected to start immediately after the theatrical release and well before the physical disk release.  (as long as the “analog hole” is plugged using selective output control) 

  

“Computer companies such as IBM, Hewlett-Packard and Sun want to build the huge file servers that will act as video and information libraries.”  

“Such software companies as Microsoft and Apple want to build the operating systems that will serve as the data highway’s traffic cops, controlling the flow of information to and from each viewer’s screen. “ 

File servers and operating systems have become commodities. Small fish. What Microsoft, Apple and others want to control is the economic relationship. 

  

“The government is more likely to play a critical role in cutting through the thicket of state and federal regulations that have grown up over the years to keep the local telephone and cable-TV monopolies out of each other’s business. “
 

The communications act of 1996 is a topic for an entire series of articles, but the quick version is that in the 1996 act the “triple play” of television (cable and satellite), telephone, and a loosely defined “other” category were all set up with very different regulations.  Today companies under these various designations compete against each other but under different rules so while the monopolies may be much less secure than they once were, the regulation has still not kept up with the technology or the market. 

Then there’s the Net Neutrality debate that pits the democratic freedom of what we now think of as the Internet against the simple fact that it is a privately owned and controlled network, not all that unlike the “switched network” originally assumed to be the Info Highway’s foundation. 

  

“The telephone companies, with their switching networks already in place, want to build the superhighway and control what travels over it.  The cable-TV companies, with their coaxial systems, think they should own the right-of-way.” 

Cable companies have become ISPs, and though the Internet began as a government funded system, it’s the primarily Telco companies that ultimately own the crucial pieces.  

It may just be that in three years, when I write the “twenty years later” version of this article, we will in fact see the telcos and cable companies taking over the position they were expected to after all. 

  

“Just as likely, it could veer off in surprising directions and take us places we’ve never imagined.” 

Yep.  And it continues to.

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Primer, possibly the best geek movie of all time

May 13, 2010 3 comments

See Primer.  

It disappears from Netflix instant view at the end of this month (May 2010) so get on it already.  

I’m not going to write a detailed review because it’s already been done and it would melt my mind, but this is absolutely one of the most interesting films of the last decade and you must see it.  

Here’s why it’s a delicious geek-fest:  

Shane Carruth

 

– The creator is a geek.  One person, Shane Carruth, wrote, produced, directed, did the music and sound design, edited it over three years, and plays one of the two leads.  

– He made it made for $7,000.  

– The characters are geeks. It’s filled with very detailed dialogue that makes sense if you want to follow it, or just let it breeze by as exposition if you don’t.  

– It’s got an unconventional narrative style that pretty much demands you watch it more than once.   

– There’s a legitimate cult for this film that have filled the interwebs with theories and discussion, so much that they had to close the official forum to new users because it was getting to be too much to handle.  

There’s a lot of technology and crazy mind bending plot, but it’s ultimately a story about human frailty and friendship.   

Links and trailers   

Official Primer Site   

Wikipedia Primer site (SPOILERS)   

Art & Industry article   

Official trailer:   

Scene “The Box”   

Scene “You’re Talking About Making A Bigger One”  SPOILERS   

Someone actually went to the trouble of doing a Primer/Brokeback mashup.   

Categories: Reviews

DVRs still suck

May 5, 2010 5 comments

DVRs seem to have revolutionized television in the last decade. Ten years ago when they first appeared, Tivo and Replay TV were shocking devices that offered the utopian promises of skipping ads and having everything your way.

But I’m here to tell you it’s an illusion. The DVR is nothing but a VCR in a fancy tuxedo. It’s a 20th century concept on its last legs. The real revolution has yet to come.

(Wikipedia)

The VCR was a revolution too, actually a much more significant one. The VCR created the home video industry in the eighties. Prior to that you saw movies in theaters and caught shows when they aired and that was usually it. There would be the occasional release or revival at a local theater, and one round of reruns on TV, then you’d move on.

The VCR created two opportunities that didn’t previously exist: libraries and timeshifting.

The library concept has moved from VHS to DVD to Blu-ray without changing significantly other than the occasinal upgrade cycle creating new revenue surges (less so with Blu-ray).

Timeshifting has similarly had a number of phases. The first VCRs had clunky analog dials, just like the TVs at the time, that could only be on one channel at a time and a single timer unaware of days or dates, just time, like an alarm clock. Then the equipment got a little smarter and you could program the time and channel and the magic device would do it all at the appointed time. Amazing!

The interface for all this was often inscrutable blinking lights on the box itself, only later did it move to an interface you saw on the TV screen so you didn’t have to hunch over the device poking at buttons.

VCR-plus came along and let you enter in a few numbers (found in your printed TV Guide, remember those?) to make it a little easier.

But up until the DVR you still had the limits of recording one thing at a time, you had to cue up the tape yourself and make sure there was enough time left. You also couldn’t record while watching another recorded show let alone watch the beginning of a show while the end was still recording.

The DVR changed that. Now you can pick shows by their name, not obscure codes or complex date and time selections. You have access to metadata about the show that includes actors names or key words so you can find things more easily, the system can make recommendations, and you can watch while you are recording. Incredible! Right?

Not really, it’s just the same timeshifting concept evolved to its next logical point. It’s just a fancy VCR.

You still, even with a DVR, have these quaint analog artifacts:

  • Shows start and end at inexact times, so your recording may begin partway into an advertisement before the show starts, or you may cut off the end (particularly with live events)
  • The schedule may have changed and instead of the latest episode of FlashForward you actually get a press conference from the White House.
  • You can still only record a limited number of things at the same time, on most systems it’s two, some go to four, so it’s possible some things will not be available to you at a particular time.
  • You still have to manage the media on which it is recorded. Your system can still fill to capacity, particularly if you are a collector.

You are still setting a timer on a recording device and waiting for the linear broadcast to deliver the content. This is an inherently analog system.

It’s like trying to acquire baseballs by standing in the outfield and waiting for one to be hit to you, then running to catch it. Why not just go to the store and get a baseball off the shelf?

The 20th century model was broadcasts happen when they happen according to the holy “scheduling grid” and for the last thirty years we’ve just rigged up increasing advanced clocks and timers to capture them. The 21st century model is on-demand, and your library is where ever you are. The show starts exactly at the top without any slip in timing or partial cutoff.

Now you probably have this already in some form, but it’s not the primary method for most. Eventually, I believe, it will be not only the primary way, but the only way.

I’ll give it twenty years, say 2030, when there will be an act of congress to make it official. There will be coupons handed out to the remaining stragglers still running the old hardware (just like we saw with the DTV cutover) and a date will be set when the old broadcasts can simply be shut off.

Once there is 100% compliance, we can finally do away with the onerous and outmoded concept of the “time slot.”

No longer will you describe a show as being “on Friday night at 8pm” or “up against American Idol” or “following your late local news.” We’ll no longer call it “timeshifting” because there won’t be an assumed original time to shift from.

There will be packaging of shows surely, so having a “good lead in” will still be a way to introduce new shows to existing audiences, but there will be an infinite number of ways to package or target those audiences. Packaging will also be performed by third parties, recommending and selling bundles of content from different suppliers.

A show will not be limited to a thirty or sixty minute format, but can be as long as the producers need to tell the story they’re telling. This week it’s thirty, but next week it’s twenty three, the week after that it’s forty two.

Shows won’t have to be weekly. A series may be released in ten minute episodes daily, or spaced out every thirty days, or an episode can be held for a few days while the editing is completed.

Multi-hour story arcs (we currently call them “seasons”) can be consumed in whatever portions the viewer decides, and released in whatever packaging the producer wishes.

No more requirement to program exactly twenty four hours on each of the channels a programmer owns. No need to fill time with junk, and no limit on the amount of time available when deciding what to green light. Some networks (by this time really brands more than channels) will offer a hundred new hours of programming in a day, while others offer only a few new hours per week.

Television may adopt a scheduling practice that borrows some from the music and movie businesses where work is scheduled for release based on its nature, not the tyranny of a calendar.

This is already happening to some extent on the web, and some networks are more flexible with hiatuses or mini-seasons, but this won’t be fully realized until the concept of linear programming based on a calendar grid is history.

So the DVR, as cool as it is, is little more than the latest, most advanced kludge we have to manage a totally outdated system that is on its way out.

Set your timers.

iPad week in reviews – Part 3: There’s a charge for that?

April 16, 2010 Leave a comment

Continuing from iPad week in reviews – Part 2

One of the most interesting and apparent aspects of the iPad is how much you spend AFTER you get one.  Much has been written about the hopes of the content and publishing industries that the era of “the Internet is where you get stuff for free” is over.  Everyone sees what happened to the music industry in the last decade (which is that Apple took it over but at prices many feel are too low) and the question is how to avoid the same happening to movies, tv, print, sports and the rest.

Clearly coming out of the gate the play is to see what the market will bear by holding a firm line.  In this world, you have to pay for stuff.

Time Magazine

Time Magazine April 12, 2010 (time.com)

The $4.99 app is getting hammered in the app store reviews, people assumed they were getting a subscription or something like the FREE New York Times app that would be updated continually.

Instead, Time is taking the route of selling a single issue in a slick digital frame. There are very few ads, which somewhat justifies the cost, but that could also be simply that only a few advertisers bit.

The ads they did have were interactive in their way, although the video performance on the ad I tried was poor, it stuttered and quit and I lost interest quickly. That could have been due to my network, but it’s a problem.

I bought the first one out of novelty, I doubt I’ll buy another.

Major League Baseball

Also getting a lot of negative reviews on pricing.  I’ve already paid $15 for audio streaming of any game I want. (I follow the Tigers and White Sox but live in LA) I can get that on the web, but now to get access to the same content I’ve already paid for on the iPad, I need to pay another $15 for an app? And if I want it on my iPod Touch I need to pay again for it there?

And of course if I try to simply browse to the website in the iPad browser to redeem what I’ve already paid for, bzzzt, redirected! (somewhere deep in the terms of use I expect the lawyers snuck the language in to allow that, and it would have required Flash anyway which, oh coincidence, is not available on the iPad)

I did go ahead and bite on this because I can and I’m a fan, but it will be interesting to see how this stance plays out in the market. 

However I attempted to “upgrade” my audio only subscription to the video subscription rather than buying a new full price video subscription (which also includes the audio portion).  It’s not easy.  They clearly want to charge me a fourth time for something I already have, and to avoid that requires phoning them and waiting for the issue to be escalated.  It’s been four days so far and it’s still not working.  And I’m not the only one, see this post about struggling to upgrade GameDay Audio to MLB.tv.

App pricing

Apps are going for much higher rates than typical for iPhone apps.  $9.99 seems to be the norm, rather than $.99 as you see on the smaller platforms.

With Apple’s closed development platform, exclusion of Flash, proprietary everything and massive buzz making marketing, the play is clearly to hook users into a premium environment with few options and generate the necessary critical mass to make it the only tablet/reader game worth playing in.

Apple has been succesful so far with the iPhone and they’re on their way again with the iPad.  HP and Google are expected to enter the market with their own devices with open environments.  The question is whether they’ll be able to match the Apple buzz factor, create an app market, and gain significant market share.  The second question is do enough people really care, the tablet market is unproven and may only appeal to a niche audience.

What do you think?

iPad week in reviews – Part 2: Needs Improvement

April 14, 2010 Leave a comment

Continuing iPad week in reviews

Needs improvement:

The Web

Apple claimed the iPad would be the best web browsing experience you’ve ever had.  Intimate and up close.  Not so far.

It’s not a terrible experience, but I still find myself zooming in on things to make them larger so I don’t click on the wrong thing. 

Facebook in particular has very compact boxes with links so close to each other my finger obscures the target and I often hit the wrong one.  Also some of the text boxes on that site fail to invoke the keyboard, so whatever advanced html/css magic Facebook is using seems to fool this browser. 

It’s ok for casual surfing to look something up or as a type of eReading, but serious surfing mode brings me back to my hard keyboard and mouse in the lean forward environment.

I want a real mouse, sorry, I just do.  I’ll be the old fogey yelling at the kids to get off my lawn and demanding a right-click button until I die.

Netflix

NetflixIt’s great that Netflix is now in the mobile device game, they’re on just about every other connected device out there (Roku, game consoles, blu-ray players, and all the new TV’s) and they’ve done nearly everything right so far.  (Supposedly an iPhone and iPod Touch version is coming next)

In a rare stumble, their iPad app feels like a rush job (which is understandable) so I hope a revision is on the way.

They did little more than push their browser site out in an app, so it suffers from the same issues the browser does:  Text is too small, hitting the wrong link is too easy, and there are no rollover states… which would be ok if the site is designed for that, but Netflix requires rollover states for adding titles to your instant queue.  Without them you have to either play it directly and bypass the queue, or add it to your DVD queue and enjoy the side effect that it is also added to the instant queue.  (then you want to delete if from your DVD queue because you don’t want the DVD)

Also there’s no drag and drop in the queue manager, you still have to hit a small target then type in a number and submit.  Trying to drag like you can on the (real) web instead invokes the select/copy/paste mechanic, so it’s actually a worse experience than the web.

Finally the movement into and out of the full screen video is awkward.  Sometimes the audio continues playing in the background when you return and the screen you return to has an option to return to browsing but none to return to the video… then after a timeout it returns to browsing anyway.  The video player seems to display a “return to embedded mode” icon (two arrows pointing at each other) but that’s not the mode you return to, so it’s basically a mislabeled “exit” button.  It seems like they meant for the return screen to have an embedded video state, but then punted that and didn’t rework the UI after that decision.

What I want from Netflix is a wicked Instant Queue manager that gives me search and browse capabilities better than I can get with a remote control, with slick swipe and drag reordering.  I would use this from my sofa to manage content before I watch it on my internet connected TV.

This app is not that.

Typing

The keyboard is inherently limited, that’s a given, but there are behaviors within it that can be improved.

There are no arrow keys for one, and since there’s no mouse there’s only a pretty awkward magnifying glass tools that comes over from the iPhone.  It’s frequently inaccurate in my experience, I’d rather have cursor keys.

I tend to just delete backwards rather than struggle with the cursor, but then I found if you hold the backspace key down it shifts from deleting one letter at a time to one word at a time and almost instantly you can delete much more than you wanted to.

That’s when you need to “undo” and the undo is a very non-obvious shake of the device itself.

Seems like a lot to go through. This will keep me on my pc or netbook for writing.

Here’s a quick test I did, if you can make sense of it tell me in the comment section below:

I’m writing th is arti le using the ipad keyboard.  I will make no attempt to corre t my. Istakes. The autocorrect feature does some of the work, but obviously there are somoe oases.  Overall thourhg I’m getting better at it. Im ty ping as fast now as I would on a normal keyboard.  I hated it at first. Ut hVe gotten used it to after a week
S practice. It you type slower you’ll Get fewer mistakes, Nd the lact of some keys li ke aqhotes and a Ostrophes can be a problem,  also the shift keys and capitalization are often tricky.

Overall i think the theory of flat glass panels as in Ut devices may Abe flawed.  Its one of the star trek inventions that xpeople are trying to make come to Life. On st The next generation you often saw to ouch screen devices as keyboards and displays and I’m sure that influenced the growth of such devices in reality. But the fact that you need to loom at theta keys and not the words seriously ham Ers sth is. Y ou need to feel the key board with your fingers without Looking.

Until they can make these screen grow bumps you can feel blinding, they’ll be severly limIted.

IMDB

Meh.  Flatten the hierarchy — didn’t you read the designer spec?  Also it doesn’t resume at your prior state when task switching.   I try to like it, but I prefer the website to their app.

The Built-In Apps

The photo app is nice to use, but a hassle to sync.  Every single image needs to be “optimized” which takes a loonnnnngggg time. 

Mail is very basic and it doesn’t handle attachments well.  There’s no file system to save things to so you can only open them from the mail program itself.  (I would rather move pdfs into GoodReader, for instance, but you have to rely on GoodReader’s built in email client to do that)  And when you send a photo as an attachment, it renames it “photo.jpg”.  Why?  What if I’m trying to select from a hundred photos and send the best take to a collaborator?  Having the original name presevered would be helpful.

Memo is fine, though typing is what it is.

Contacts and Calendar seem to lack the magical page flipping animation everything was supposed to have according to Apple, but that doesn’t bother me that much.

What did bother me is that the calendar is just not as robust as you’d expect from a good calendar client.  I couldn’t set up an event to start on Tuesday and recur every day until Sunday.  It could only recur forever.  I can hear the Apple guys now, “just drag and pinch and swipe and create an event on each day, it’s fun!”.

I’ll never get tired of The Onion’s brilliant MacBook Wheel concept.  “Everything is just a few hundred clicks away.”

My iPad email signature reads “Sent from my MacBook Wheel” in homage.

It’s the Walled-Off Astoria

Not having a file system is a big annoyance.  I’ve heard Apple say in effect, “people are confused by file systems, they don’t want to create or worry about files, they just want to do stuff.”   I reject this.  Kids are savvy and get smarter all the time.  The world does not need to be led to the utopian Apple universe where files don’t exist.

There’s room for a simpler file system, sure.  I don’t need access to program executables or OS files, but a “My Documents” or desktop metaphor with folders that all apps can access would be perfectly comprehendable. 

Being forced to use iTunes to manage documents is an insulting hassle.  I’m a grown up, let me plug the device in via USB and mount it as a drive that I can drag files in and out of, from any computer, not just the one with my iTunes. 

Next up: There’s a charge for that? 

I’m looking at you Major League Baseball…

Categories: Reviews Tags: , ,

iPad week in reviews – Part 1: The Winners

April 11, 2010 Leave a comment

It’s been a week of living with the iPad, and overall I’m surprised how much I really like it.

This is not the DROID you are looking for. (tested.com)

As I wrote last week, the iPad makes an effective eReader for pdf format scripts.  I’ve also downloaded some free and sample books in both Apple’s iBooks store and the Amazon Kindle app for the iPad.  Both are very usable.

I haven’t used a Kindle device at any length, so I can’t say how it compares, but being generally new to the eReader device space, I’m now a fan.  Will the iPad be the best device in this space in a year?  Who knows. 

So in no particular order, here’s the stuff I mostly liked…

iBooks, Kindle for iPad, GoodReader

Ereaders are a winner in general.  The iPad’s sexy sliding interface feels great. I find it very comfortable to read. 

The iPad has a glossy backlit screen that did make me have to adjust my seating and later close the blinds while near a window, but those are minor inconveniences for now.  Haven’t tried it outdoors, but I don’t expect to, my iPad is a homebody.

It is a cold metal device, so the $40 optional cover is nice if you’re going to cozy up with it.

So far no eye strain issues.

The New York Times

I like format better than a standard browser, less cluttered and much more pleasant.  No distractions to the pure reading experience.  However I would like to see them add a Facebook share button. 

First mover advantage will also really help the Times, already I’ve formed a habit that is pushing out Yahoo as my morning news source.  Other news sources coming out with competitive apps will be significantly behind.

Jury still out: Will they get any other advertisers other than the Chase Sapphire Card?  I’m not getting this card, so they’re wasting their ad dollars on me now.

ABC

Full disclosure:  I do work for The Walt Disney Company, although I do not work for ABC and did not work on this app.  My opinions are mine and do not reflect the position of my employer.

Very well done interface and experience.  Smooth and slick.

Jury still out: The longest I sat down to watch any video on the device was about fifteen minutes before I got distracted and wanted to do something else.   This applies to not just ABC’s app but video consumption in general on the iPad.  I still think the internet connected TV will be the platform to beat for streaming video delivery. 

Marvel

(Again, full disclosure, I work for Disney but have no connection to Marvel or this app.  My opinions are mine and do not reflect the position of my employer.)

Gorgeous.  A great combination of standard eReading with pinch/swipe image viewing/zooming.  A very compelling way to read.

I’m not a comic book guy so I only downloaded one free one to check it out.  Getting a second free book required registration, which I didn’t feel like doing at this time, but it looks great on this device.

It may not satisfy the true collector’s fetish of having the physical artifact, but it could create an all new and expensive fetish — which sums up the iPad business model (see Part 3).

Best iPhone apps that work blown up:

Meteors.  Best Asteroids Clone Ever.  Please make an iPad version.

Google Earth.  Would seriously kill with an iPad upgrade, but even the current version blown up is pretty amazing.

Next up, the “Needs Improvement” list. 

I’m looking at you Netflix…

Why I bought an iPad

April 4, 2010 1 comment

Whatever the opening weekend sales figure is for the Apple iPad, it will be greater than I had expected by one: Mine.

I have been a vocal iPad doubter. My Facebook status the day of the January announcement was “iYawn.”

Late in the afternoon Saturday however, I found myself calling local stores to check on their stocks. When I found the Apple Store at The Grove still had plenty, I couldn’t stop myself.

It’s exactly what everyone describes, it’s a consumption device. I am not writing this article on it, that would be insane. Even in landscape mode when the keyboard is its biggest, I have to use a hybrid touch type and hunt and peck method and look at the keys, not the words, so it is not a writing tool.

I watched some videos on ABC and Netflix, and ok, yes you can watch videos, but I already have a TV and it does a much better job. I may use it to edit my Netflix instant queue.

There are already more scripts inside the tablet than seen here cluttering up my floor.

You can browse the web, it’s not bad, but it’s hardly the greatest web surfing experience of all time or however Apple’s breathless PR was putting it. In portrait mode the text on my favorite sites is too small. I miss mousing over a link to see where it’s going first and right clicking to open in a new window then using alt-tab to switch between windows. That’s still a better experience for how I consume.

What put me over the edge was reading.

In particular reading scripts. As a writer, actor, director and producer, I need to read scripts. I don’t read enough.

Film scripts are easily available as pdf files, but sitting at a pc scrolling through a pdf is not a good way to spend the two or more hours it takes to read, you really want to curl up on the couch and get lost in it.

So you can print it, but printing is a hassle. Even with a decent laser printer and bulk purchased three hole punch paper, printing a hundred and twenty pages takes some time and attention. Then you have all this paper (dead trees) that you have dedicated to a script that you may not like, may not decide to pursue, and may not even finish. Then you’ve got to either recycle it (don’t even think of just throwing it away), shred it if it’s senstive, or store it somewhere in case you want to revisit it.

Reading a script on the iPad

This picture wasn't posed, those are actual piles of scripts lying around.

The iPad (or any tablet really) offers a nice solve. I picked up the $0.99 GoodReader app which is now iPad optimized and loaded several pdfs into it and voila, I’m sitting on my sofa reading a script and did not have to commit the environmental and psychic load of printing it.

Also the New York Times app was nice to use, I may move some of my morning reading from my pc to my sofa.

I remain skeptical of the world changing hype, but if it does nothing more than make reading scripts convenient enough that I no longer have any excuse not to, it will have been worth the price. (I got the cheapest one)