Sunday, October 30, 2005

First look at the new iPod

The new iPod is now in the Apple store Birmingham, though curiously the only model on display is the 30GB white even though they claim to have the 60GB too. The first thing to say is just how damn thin this thing is; its more prominent curves sit nicely in the hand, and the proportions make the screen seem a lot wider than it actually is. The picture is bright, the frame rate good, and in the Apple store lighting it was easy to see - we'll need to get one outside to know what it's like in daylight. Other than that there's not much to say about the device itself; it's an iPod first and foremost and doesn't mess with that formula. I think that's still a good thing, though you can find any number of people who disagree. The new Universal iPod Dock is good news too; for me because it'll work with our household iPod minis, nano, 3G (and the inevitable 5G); for Apple because I'm bound to drop £25 on the dock and another £20 on the lovely Apple Remote. Ah well. As for the iPod itself, I've been waiting a while for a smaller model with more than 40GB to hold my audio library (currently at 35.6GB over 7519 tracks), my photos, and some space for audio recording. The specs on the new model include stereo recording at CD-quality, but there are no microphone input adaptors yet. I'll be waiting for those to hit market, then I'll bite.

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Saturday, October 22, 2005

6 Keys Good, 41 Keys Better?

Nathan Weinberg at InsideMicrosoft on Blog News Channel wades into the discussion over Apple's Remote Controller and Front Row on the new iMac G5: In Steve Jobs Universe, Less Features Is The Biggest Feature:
Front Row is an interface for iTunes that uses a six-button remote. It just doesn’t compare. Maybe after Apple has worked on once/twice yearly revs for four years it will have a competitive product, but I don’t think so. MCE 2002 had more features than Front Row has; and MCE Vista makes Front Row look like a little leaguer to Microsoft’s major league MVP. I love how Jobs compares the remotes to say that six buttons are better than 40+, while the only reason Front Row has six buttons is because it has so few features. My MCE remote has 41 buttons.
Specifically Nathan's points about his MCE remote in comparison to Apple's Front Row remote are as follows:
  1. 10 keys on the MCE are digits, while Apple's doesn't need these since it doesn't do TV.
  2. 2 are phone keys * and #, again keys that Apple doesn't need because FR doesn't do phone calls.
  3. 2 keys on the MCE are for channel up/down
  4. 2 are for skipping commercials (and again, something that doesn't even figure in FR)
  5. 1 record button (same argument)
  6. 1 mute button. Nathan thinks this is an oversight and presumably something that ought to be on Apple's remote.
  7. 4 directional buttons which Nathan says Apple have "integrated into the six, meaning you can’t control video and navigate at the same time".
  8. 1 info button
  9. 4 feature-specific buttons (essentially mode buttons)
As I posted to Nathan's blog, I think these are very questionable assertions which most product designers would disagree with. Would Apple be forced to have 10 number buttons if it had TV channels? Why doesn't my iPod have 10 of them then, or 1000 for that matter? Phone features? Video conferencing is there in iSight, and for that you use the mouse (and probably sit pretty close to the screen). A mute button? For what precisely? If you're watching/listening to media under your control then pause is what people do generally. Mute is only necessary for something you can't stop (like live TV when you have no PVR function - the best option there would be for the play button to 'pause' the live stream by spooling it to disk/memory). I think Nathan hits the nail on the head when he compares MCE 2002 with Front Row: This isn't about product revision and version-to-version feature creep, it's about focus, deciding what makes sense in the context of what you're offering, and ruthlessly iterating before you release in order to make something work better. I don't think Front Row has all the features it might ever need either, but I know it won't need a 40-button remote when it does.

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Sunday, October 16, 2005

The End of TV

From Tao of Mac:
One thing's for sure: This is the end of TV as we know it. It's been heralded time and again, the BBC has been running their little trial, etc., but even if Apple somehow fails to leverage their lead, the media industry will never be the same - again.
Rui's opinions are always informative and worth reading. It'll be interesting to see what the BBC do as a part of this, though they seem to understand that media is moving towards a long tail, narrowcasting model, and that even the big hits will have to adopt the networks and paradigms that are slowly taking hold. Mark Cuban goes just as far, and a little further perhaps, especially in detailing how this paradigm shift might work economically.
Its not inconceivable that just as DVDs have surpassed box office in revenues and the theatrical release has become a commercial for the DVD sale, the network TV broadcast could become the commercial for the download sale.  I dont see download sales surpassing advertising revenue, but I do see it as likely that the download sales could more than compensate for any advertising market weakness brought on by ratings erosion and / or changes in how ads are delivered on TV. I also think it wont be long before we see an ad or two in front of the show that will further increase revenue.
I'm just about losing count of the industries that this will affect, but I'd bet that Education will be one of the first. Though it's typically slow to adjust to paradigm shifts, this one is just too efficient (and clearly monetised) to ignore. Apple didn't invent distibuting video in this way, and there'll be a lot of players (the iTMS is hardly the only way of getting music, or even podcasts, onto an iPod), but 200 million copies of iTunes and a lot of iPods in students' pockets is pretty hard to ignore.

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Monday, October 10, 2005


Owen Kelly asked me to point him to some more information on how these traditional roles are breaking down (as we casually assert in the Transformative Technology paper), and I struggled to find references to precisely what I'm talking about. Partly this is due to it being educated (or at least informed) conjecture on my part, but it's also due to there being a sense in which it's just assumed now, and a baseline for any further discussion about what the future holds (for consumer tech, for big media, for creative education). Each new technological conduit (the railways, telegraph, telephone, fax, sms, email) has increased the participatory potential of big media (from letters to the editor to the BBC turning R1 playlists over to the whims of SMS-equipped listeners), but the flattened, symmetrical landscape of the emerging media really takes this to a new level. 10 years ago it cost the equivalent of a small house to do digital video at anything like production quality, and not a whole lot less to do what was called desktop video. Nowadays there's hardly any video that doesn't happen on the desktop, and plenty of people watching video on equipment as good as or better than that which was used to create and edit it. Add P2P into the mix and you might be consuming it on something that's also serving it up. You can see the general direction of this, and why I called it a baseline for further discussion rather than an end in itself. In fact I think this recombining (hmm, I'm going to have to justify the use of that word at some other point aren't I?) might well be a feature of the anthropology of digital natives which is the starting point of the paper we're writing for League of Worlds in Melbourne. More on that soon.

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Saturday, October 01, 2005

The Social Hyperspace

The Transformative Technology paper is done and dusted, and off for compilation into the electronically-published proceedings of the Cybercultures 2005 conference. The last paragraph of the paper is for me the one that interests me most in terms of exploring this further:

Kurzweil's Law of Accelerating Returns inevitably creates dramatic effects which will begin to be felt more widely within creative practice as the curves of technological advances progress beyond their initial stages. While these effects are by their very nature unpredictable, we might reasonably expect them to be characterised broadly by a displacement of existing centres of power in the creative industries, by the further breakdown of the defined roles of artist/producer/distributor/consumer, and by the sudden rise and fall of new forms which evolve and propagate in net-time, mutating and sometimes disappearing literally overnight. We have been conditioned to consider the possibility of "Business at the Speed of Thought", yet we are still encouraged to view serious creativity as a more measured and mediated activity. Given the personal panopticon, the supernetworks, and tera-transaction computing, the ability for new kinds of information/software/media/art to coalesce around the sudden requirements of micro-communities will transform how we think about production, and create vehicles for creativity at the speed of ideas themselves.

While the paper is written from the context of creative practice, I'm much more broadly interested in the transformative effects of technology as it moves beyond appliance-centred and performance-driven modes. Some of the effects of this are visible today in Web 2.0 oriented services and the variegated, richly-textured and densely-layered social web that's emerging from the interweaving of what Mike Priddy refers to as our personal hyperspaces and the oft-derided but still advancing collapse of distance (or, at least, the tendency of latency towards the asymptote). To put it plainly, though the coming of me-dia (Negroponte's Daily Me) was meant to shatter social cohesiveness we seem to have been remarkably adept at using technologies to create a new, and much more complex, form of commons. My networks overlap some of yours, and a url (or increasingly an automated aggregator) is all it takes to clue you into something that I want to share. The move from broadcast simultaneity to podcast/Tivo timeshifting doesn't seem to have reduced the likelihood of us having heard the same show: If anything the dramatically-improved opportunity for access and the multiplying of the available forms for the same content seem to have made it more likely that we're on the same page (though we might get there at different times, and by different routes).

In practical terms I'm hoping that we can begin to get into the detail of how applications and services are beginning to reflect this transformative stage of technology. I think that before we begin the next paper (Mike and I still plan to develop the abstract that we submitted to League Of Worlds in Melbourne despite not hearing anything back) I'll be working up an article around some of the best examples of the emerging nodes on this emerging social hypernetwork.

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