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Technology TV

The Magic Box

Could this be the year of a magic box that simplifies the home entertainment experience?

This week saw the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas where numerous companies display their wares and issue a blizzard of press releases in the hope of creating awareness for their products.

But there is a missing piece of technology that looms large over this year’s CES, mainly because it hasn’t been released yet.

What if a company could unify the TV and Internet experience for the average user?

THE CURRENT LANDSCAPE

Over the past few years the rate of technological change for the consumer has been dizzying.

Not only has there been the introduction of high-definition television but there has also been an explosion in more powerful mobile devices and applications.

However, despite the ability to time-shift and view sharper images the fundamental experience of sitting down in front of your TV and watching a film or show hasn’t actually changed that much.

You still have to juggle at least two remotes, navigate a tricky user interface and occasionally experience your box freezing as it struggles to absorb all the digital information hurled at it.

It can be hard to generalise, but let’s start from the proposition that the vast majority will some form of digital widescreen TV.

If you don’t, then it will be hard to watch anything in the UK from April as that’s when they finally switch off the analogue signal.

Then let us assume most people have some form of digital TV – be it a basic Freeview setup (one off payment for a box or PVR) or premium services like Sky (satellite), Virgin (cable) or BT (digital phone line).

Nearly all of these services have some kind of recording or on-demand capability which allows you to time shift your viewing.

FRAGMENTATION

But if you think the current landscape is by any means straightforward, then you should think again.

The acid test is to go to your main TV and describe the services attached to it.

When you have finished, then compare it with family or friends and you’ll not only be swapping tales of multiple remote controls and horrible user interfaces but you’ll find it hard to keep track of what everyone’s setup is.

The Economist recently quoted a Forrester Research report which found that:

…many people didn’t fully understand the devices they had bought, and only a few had recommended them to their friends

But this confusion only reflects the comparative pace of change in recent years.

Most people just want something to watch, be it regular shows, sporting events or a movie.

INTERACTIVITY

An added factor over the last decade is the whole business of the Internet coming into our living rooms and merging with our televisions.

This process has been gradual starting with red-button services in the late 1990s and really picking up steam in recent times with services like BBC iPlayer available online and via web-connected TVs.

As it stands, various TV manufacturers such as LG, Samsung and Sony have all tried to offer a TV that can blend the world of broadcast and the web.

So far, they haven’t really got there yet.

Partly because it is early days for truly web enabled TVs but it part of it is also down to modern remotes and user interfaces being designed for another era.

Have you ever tried to access YouTube on an LG TV? It is like learning how to type text messages in the late 1990s.

I’m betting that the same is true to a greater or lesser degree for other TVs and services.

Over the last decade a generation of TV viewers has got increasingly used to the web and since 2007 web enabled smartphones.

This brings us to the one company that could truly unite television and the web.

ENTER APPLE

Over the last decade Apple revolutionised the music industry by creating the iPod and have started to make inroads on the laptop market with the iPad.

In Walter Isaacson’s recent biography of Steve Jobs there is this revealing passage:

…he very much wanted to do for television sets what he had done for computers, music players, and phones: make them simple and elegant. “I’d like to create an integrated television set that is completely easy to use” he told me. “It would be seamlessly synced with all of your devices and with iCloud.” No longer would users have to fiddle with complex remotes for DVD players and cable channels. “It will have the simplest user interface you could imagine. I finally cracked it.”

Since 2006 Apple have regarded their current TV efforts as basically an extension of iTunes, with digital downloads of TV shows and movies.

But broadcast TV has proved a much harder proposition.

In June 2010 Jobs gave what was to be his last in-depth interview at the D8 conference.

Right at the end of the session he was asked a fascinating question about reshaping the ‘traditional interface of television’.

Jobs replied:

The problem with innovation in the TV industry is the go-to-market strategy. The TV industry has a subsidized model that gives everyone a set top box for free. So no one wants to buy a box. Ask TiVo, ask Roku, ask us… ask Google in a few months. The television industry fundamentally has a subsidized business model that gives everyone a set-top box, and that pretty much undermines innovation in the sector.

Then came the key bit:

The only way this is going to change is if you start from scratch, tear up the box, redesign and get it to the consumer in a way that they want to buy it. But right now, there’s no way to do that….The TV is going to lose until there’s a viable go-to-market strategy. That’s the fundamental problem with the industry. It’s not a problem with the technology, it’s a problem with the go-to-market strategy….I’m sure smarter people than us will figure this out, but that’s why we say Apple TV is a hobby.

This was a classic Jobs tactic of stating facts and whilst hinting at the future.

Five years previously at the D3 conference in 2005 he talked about the difficulty of getting video displays on iPods just months before Apple unveiled a (yes, you guessed it) video-enabled iPod in October of the year.

When asked at the same session about the possibility of an ‘iPod phone’ he laid out the challenges:

By January 2007 the iPhone was unveiled and effectively reshaped the mobile industry.

If you compare the challenges of Apple producing a phone in 2005 with that of making a TV in 2010 it is easy to feel a sense of deja vu.

Although a secretive company it does leak carefully selected morsels of information to favoured outlets (that was how one editor got in trouble tweeting from his iPad before the official launch).

In recent times the Wall Street Journal has become the place to watch for clues as to where Apple may be headed.

One article in December was of particular note:

Apple Inc. is moving forward with its assault on television, following up on the ambitions of its late co-founder, Steve Jobs. In recent weeks, Apple executives have discussed their vision for the future of TV with media executives at several large companies, according to people familiar with the matter. Apple is also working on its own television that relies on wireless streaming technology to access shows, movies and other content, according to people briefed on the project.

In the recent meetings with media companies, the Apple executives, including Senior Vice President Eddy Cue, have outlined new ways Apple’s technology could recognize users across phones, tablets and TVs, people familiar with the talks said. In at least one meeting, Apple described future television technology that would respond to users’ voices and movements, one of the people said. Such technology, which Apple indicated may take longer than some of its other ideas, might allow users to use their voices to search for a show or change channels.

This basically confirms what many technology writers had long suspected, but until Apple unveil a dedicated TV some fascinating questions remain.

What if they can truly turn apps into what are effectively TV channels?

What if iOS devices can become the remotes that don’t suck and seamlessly integrate with the (future) Apple TV?

Part of Apple’s original strategy for the iPod was to create a ‘digital hub‘ around the home computer which Jobs revealed way back in 2001:

By making the computer the hub around which they built iPods, iPhones and iPads Apple tapped right into a huge market as the halo effect of these mobile devices drove Mac sales and vice versa.

This virtuous circle is precisely what has driven Apple’s phenomenal growth over the last decade.

Although iTunes overtook Walmart as the world’s largest music retailer in 2008 (itself an incredible feat), Apple really make money on the hardware, whilst the digital music and apps are kind of the key gateway drug.

Could a TV be the final part of an overall home hub strategy?

In fact, you could argue it is the last frontier in the home just waiting to be conquered.

Imagine getting rid of all those channels you don’t ever watch and throwing away those clunky remotes.

iOS devices are effectively pre-built remotes and with Siri enabled voice commands it opens up a world of possibilities in the long term.

As for premium programming, the main drivers for pay television are movies and sport.

Apple already have plenty of films on the iTunes store and via apps like Netflix and Lovefilm.

When it comes to the major studios Disney have already put their chips firmly with iTunes, whilst their rivals (Sony, Fox, Warner Bros and Paramount) have signed up to UltraViolet, which is essentially a digital locker strategy.

Apple are rumoured to be working on a similar service for films, which will almost certainly involve iCloud.

Sports is potentially a much trickier area – and it is not clear whether Apple would want to even go there – but it could be a possibility if you extended the ‘app as channel’ model a bit further.

Imagine if the MLB, the NFL or even the Premier League wanted to make a deal with Apple for an exclusive deal to broadcast their games.

It would be a great way of driving sales of the new Apple TV.

The WSJ story highlights the difficult dilemmas traditional TV organisations face:

The pace of change puts media companies that make TV shows and program TV channels in a dilemma. On one hand, they hope that they can increase their profits by selling new services on new devices. But they are worried that a proliferation of new services could undermine the existing TV business, which brings in more than $150 billion a year in the U.S. in advertising and consumer spending on monthly TV subscriptions from cable, satellite and telecommunications companies.

Could 2012 see Apple provide the elusive magic box and disrupt the TV business like they did to the music industry?

> WSJ on Apple’s TV plans
> CNET on the Apple TV
> More on Apple TV at Wikipedia

Categories
Interesting Technology

Steve Jobs PBS Interview from 1990

PBS have posted a a rare 1990 video interview with Steve Jobs.

With news that another interview with late Apple boss has surfaced in a garage in London, it makes for fascinating viewing.

Filmed during his time at NeXT, he talks about his early experiences with computers at NASA, network computing, the desktop publishing revolution of the 1980s and his vision for the future (which, as we now know, was prescient).

Although regarded as a costly failure at the time, in hindsight NeXT was essentially research and development for Jobs’ second stint at Apple.

Watch An Interview With Steve Jobs on PBS. See more from NOVA.

A transcript of the interview is here.

The video is taken from unedited rushes for the PBS series The Machine That Changed the World, which aired in five parts in 1992.

> Steve Jobs 1955-2011
> More about computing at Wikipedia

Categories
Interesting Technology

Walter Isaacson on 60 Mins

Walter Isaacson’s new biography of Steve Jobs came out today and 60 Mins did a recent interview with the author, which included sound clips of the late Apple boss.

I’ve already started reading the book and although some of it has been leaked, there are some incredible insights and details.

Here is Part 1:

Part 2:

Overtime segment:

> Buy the Walter Isaacson book in Hardback or Kindle
> Steve Jobs 1955-2011
> More on the history of Pixar

Categories
News Technology

Steve Jobs 1955-2011

The co-founder and former CEO of Apple died yesterday at the age of 56.

It says much about the impact of Steve Jobs on technology and culture that news of his death made headlines around the world.

Last night as the news broke my Twitter feed lit up with tributes (including the above logo by designer Jonathan Mak) and perhaps his true legacy lies in the fact that many of those tributes were written on devices made by his company.

When he stood down as CEO in August, Apple lost an inspirational leader who helped create it in the 1970s, save it in the late 1990s and then engineer one of the most remarkable corporate turnarounds in history.

As one of the key players in the computer revolution of the last forty years, he has played an instrumental role in how we use technical devices, listen to music and watch entertainment.

His first period at Apple (1976-1985) saw him co-found a company which helped introduce the idea of graphics based computing into the mainstream.

The three-part PBS documentary Triumph of the Nerds: The Rise of Accidental Empires (1996) gives some background to the revolutionary industry of which Apple was a part:

After being fired by the man he hired to run the company, he founded NeXT, a company which aimed to produce workstations for businesses and higher education.

This demo video featuring Jobs from 1987 shows how it pioneered many things we now take for granted:

Most significantly, a NeXT Computer was used by Tim Berners-Lee in the early 1990s to create the first web browser and web server.

Around the same then bought part of the computer division of Lucasfilm and relaunched it as Pixar in 1986.

One of the most significant entertainment companies to emerge in the modern era, they used computers to make animated blockbusters such as Toy Story (1995) and Finding Nemo (2003).

In 1996 Jobs and John Lasseter described the history of Pixar on the Charlie Rose show and what they were trying to do with the company:

This profile of Jobs from the same year focuses on his career up to that point and features a particularly obnoxious news presenter (note the key quote from Jobs when he says: “Apple still has a future”):

After paying Lucas $5m for it in the mid 1980s, he eventually sold it to Disney for $7.4 billion after an unprecedented run of critical and commercial hits.

This alone would have made him a key figure in the entertainment and technology worlds, but in 1997 he made a dramatic return to Apple, which was then in dire trouble.

Restoring the core computing products to their former glories he made bold moves into the music and film industries with the iTunes store, revolutionised how we listen to music with the iPod and reshaped mobile computing with the iPhone and iPad.

Since 2005, Apple’s revenues have grown enormously, to the point where this summer it surpassed oil giant Exxon Mobil as the most valuable company in the world.

In recent years health issues have cast a shadow over Jobs, as he survived pancreatic cancer in 2004 and a liver transplant in 2009.

After his first bout of cancer he gave this memorable commencement speech to Stanford University in 2005:

In January of this year he embarked on an extended leave of absence, despite making key public announcements and being involved in key strategic decisions.

His last public appearence was this proposal to his local city council for a new Apple Campus on Tuesday, June 7th:

When the news was announced back in August about Jobs resigning, it made headlines around the world and was the end of an era.

Obituaries have been published at the New York Times and Wired, whilst Laughing Squid and Walt Mossberg have nice tributes.

> Steve Jobs at Wikipedia
> Details on the forthcoming authorised biography of Jobs
> Bloomberg video profile of Jobs (48 mins)

Categories
News Technology

Steve Jobs resigns as Apple CEO

It says a lot about Steve Jobs that his resignation from Apple has sent waves throughout the worlds of technology and entertainment.

As one of the key players in the computer revolution of the last forty years, he has played an instrumental role in how we use technical devices, listen to music and watch entertainment.

His first period at Apple (1976-1985) saw him co-found a company which helped introduce the idea of graphics based computing into the mainstream.

The three-part PBS documentary Triumph of the Nerds: The Rise of Accidental Empires (1996) gives some background to the revolutionary industry of which Apple was a part:

After being fired by the man he hired to run the company, he founded NeXT, a company which aimed to produce workstations for businesses and higher education.

This demo video featuring Jobs from 1987 shows how it pioneered many things we now take for granted:

Most significantly, a NeXT Computer was used by Tim Berners-Lee in the early 1990s to create the first web browser and web server.

Around the same then bought part of the computer division of Lucasfilm and relaunched it as Pixar in 1986.

One of the most significant entertainment companies to emerge in the modern era, they used computers to make animated blockbusters such as Toy Story (1995) and Finding Nemo (2003).

In 1996 Jobs and John Lasseter described the history of Pixar on the Charlie Rose show and what they were trying to do with the company:

This profile of Jobs from the same year focuses on his career up to that point and features a particularly obnoxious news presenter (note the key quote from Jobs when he says: “Apple still has a future”):

After paying Lucas $5m for it in the mid 1980s, he eventually sold it to Disney for $7.4 billion after an unprecedented run of critical and commercial hits.

This alone would have made him a key figure in the entertainment and technology worlds, but in 1997 he made a dramatic return to Apple, which was then in dire trouble.

Restoring the core computing products to their former glories he made bold moves into the music and film industries with the iTunes store, revolutionised how we listen to music with the iPod and reshaped mobile computing with the iPhone and iPad.

Since 2005, Apple’s revenues have grown enormously, to the point where this month it surpassed oil giant Exxon Mobil as the most valuable company in the world.

In recent years health issues have cast a shadow over Jobs, as he survived pancreatic cancer in 2004 and a liver transplant in 2009.

After his first bout of cancer he gave this memorable commencement speech to Stanford University in 2005:

In January of this year he embarked on an extended leave of absence, despite making key public announcements and being involved in key strategic decisions.

His last public appearence was this proposal to his local city council for a new Apple Campus on Tuesday, June 7th:

When the news was announced earlier today about Jobs resigning, it made headlines around the world.

> Steve Jobs at Wikipedia
> Details on the forthcoming authorised biography of Jobs
> Bloomberg video profile of Jobs (48 mins)

Categories
Technology

Vimeo Launch Free iPhone App

Vimeo have just launched a iPhone app which allows users to upload and edit videos.

Since launching in 2004, the video-sharing site has become popular with filmmakers and currently has over 3 million members.

They also launched a festival and awards last year with M.I.A., David Lynch, Ted Hope, Lucy Walker and Morgan Spurlock among the judges.

Part of the site’s growth was down to the fact that it was an early adopter of HD and in 2009 Engadget reported that around 10% of uploads were in high definition.

The interface for the new app is pretty slick and the combination of the site and mobile editor make it very handy indeed.

It is a free download which you can use on newer iOS devices including the iPhone (3GS or 4), iPod touch (4th generation), or the iPad 2.

After a quick play around, it seems easier to use than the iMovie app (which costs £2.99 in the UK app store and $4.99 in the US) and the fact that its free is also a major bonus.

You can download the app from iTunes or via Vimeo.

> More information on the Vimeo blog
> Find out more about Vimeo at Wikipedia
> Filmmaker Magazine on the 2010 Vimeo Festival and Awards

Categories
Behind The Scenes Interesting News

Park Chan-wook’s iPhone Film

Footage has emerged of the new film Night Fishing, which was made on an iPhone by Park Chan-wook.

When the director of Old Boy (2004) and Thirst (2009) announced the project last week, it sounded like some kind of gimmick, but a new trailer and behind the scenes featurette seem to suggest something more substantial.

The Korean title is ‘Paranmanjang’ and it is a 30-minute fantasy with the following synopsis:

“A fantastical tale that begins with a middle-aged man fishing one afternoon and then, hours later at night, catches the body of a woman.The panicked man tries to undo the intertwined fishing line, but he gets more and more entangled.

He faints, then wakes up to find himself in the white clothes that the woman was wearing. The movie’s point of view then shifts to the woman and it becomes a tale of life and death from a traditional Korean point of view.”

This is the trailer:

Funded by the South Korean mobile carrier KT, it cost $130,000, features mostly black-and-white video and was shot on up to eight iPhone 4 devices.

This behind the scenes film shows the full range of filmmaking equipment that was used to augment the cameras on each phone.

Despite the cost of the project, Park is a champion of smartphones as a relatively inexpensive tool to make films, telling the LA Times:

“Find a location. You don’t even need sophisticated lighting. Just go out and make movies. These days, if you can afford to feed yourself, you can afford to make a film.”

Quentin Tarantino is an admirer of Park and as well as chairing the Cannes jury which awarded Old Boy the Grand Jury Prize in 2004, he also regards Joint Security Area (2000) to be one of best films made since 1992.

> Park-Chan Wook at Wikipedia
> Other films made on an iPhone 4 at Vimeo

Categories
Amusing Technology

Steve Jobs introduces the Death Star

If Steve Jobs introduced the Death Star, then it really would sound like this video mash up.

The George Lucas connection here is that Jobs bought the computer animation division of Lucasfilm’s Industrial Light and Magic in 1986, renamed the new company Pixar and the rest is history.

[Link via Adam Buxton]

Categories
Amusing Technology

iPad + Velcro

Who knew that the iPad and velcro would make such a winning combination?

Categories
Interesting Technology

iPad discussion on Charlie Rose

Charlie Rose recently had a discussion about the Apple iPad on his show recently with Walt Mossberg of the WSJ, David Carr of the NYT and Michael Arrington of TechCrunch.

Several good points are made, which makes a change from the complaints about it being a big iPhone and having no Flash (the latter hasn’t affected sales of the iPhone and iPod touch has it?).

Whilst I don’t think it will change how people watch long form films or TV (there’s still cinemas and large TVs for that) my gut feeling is that that it will revolutionise how we casually browse and experience the web.

When it comes to newspapers, magazines and regular content that we read, like RSS feeds, blogs and shorter form media, I think advanced touch tablets are the future.

It could be the iPad, the Google’s upcoming device (which apparently launches this autumn), or succeeding versions, but after years of desktops and laptops sticking to the same keyboard and operating systems, this feels like a new era.

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Categories
Amusing

Apple Introduces Revolutionary New Laptop With No Keyboard


Apple Introduces Revolutionary New Laptop With No Keyboard

Categories
Amusing TV

The Simpsons spoof Apple

 

Down the years The Simpsons has spoofed many areas of modern life and now they have turned their attention to lampooning Apple in an episode entitled Mypods and Broomsticks.

(Look out for the reference to this famous superbowl ad from the 1980s directed by Ridley Scott)

* UPDATE: Click this link if the above videos don’t work *

> The Simpsons at Wikipedia
>
A history of Apple at About.com
>
Listen to an interview we did with Matt Groening and Al Jean last year about The Simpsons movie

Categories
News Technology

iPhone 3G advert

It seems Robert Downey Jr is a busy man – not only is he appearing in Iron Man and The Incredbile Hulk, but he is also the voice for the new iPhone 3G ad:


Apart from higher download speeds due to being 3G, the other key features of the new iPhone are:
  • Thinner edges
  • Plastic back
  • Flush headphone jack,
  • iPhone 2.0 firmware
  • Runs 3rd party apps
  • Cheaper (8GB is $199, 16GB is $299)
  • Better battery life
  • GPS
The phone goes on sale in the US and the 22 biggest markets (Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK) on July 11th.

UPDATE: Here is the keynote announcement from Steve Jobs:

On a more lighthearted note here is the 60 second version:
> Check out more details about the new iPhone at Engadget
> Official page for the iPhone 3G