Saturday, February 13, 2010

3D as the next medium

With the onset of home 3D television sets, and the commercially successful use of 3D in feature films, we will see another shift in medium - as was with film, radio, television and youtube. We recognize how artifacts of each of these impacted the other, and when we consider 3D, the early utilization of it will be to mimic what has come before. 3D television and film are an extension of existing methodologies and composition, but soon enough a new visual language will be developed to accompany what this technology will bring us.

I think, given the pervasive use of digital media tools, and the imminent release of consumer 3D cameras, we will see content that has only a tenuous relationship with what came before. It will become more than film in 3D.

The addition of spacial beyond the use of the lens will have a profound emotional impact on how we participate as viewers - indeed the line between audience and performer can be and will be blurred. Our perception of our world will be forever changed; these ghost-projections that exist in visual space, but are but wisps of light. In time, of course, we will be comfortable with them, see them as another part of our everyday life.

What dawned on me (thanks to a email from my nephew Dane) was how quickly this is happening. There are several competing technologies - which is unfortunate, but an inevitable of free market. Wax cylinders vs records, betamax vs vhs, the numerous standards for HDTV; we see this happen again and again. Sometimes we see a convergence around a single technology, such as the ascension of mpeg4/h264 as a defacto standard for web video (either via html5, flash or quicktime).

I am fairly excited about this. There will be a tremendous surge in the next few years as we move to this new medium, away from the gimmickry to the opportunities which will be available once the technology is commonplace. My nephew talks about capturing the best minds of time for the ages; I think that will be a great place to start (think TED in 3D). Performance art, documentaries, artifacts of our lives recorded forever - it seems to me to be the next leap. I think I need to be there.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Flash, iPad and publication

IEEE weighs in on the iPad

A very long posting follows. Sorry.

-Flash has grown from a nice vector animation program with some handy scriptability into an application development environment. In the process, a lot of what made sense before doesn't. To make an app for Flash, you first have to add an event to a timeline. Inside that one frame can live all of your application code. It is incredibly loopy. The programming environment itself has been plagued with bugs. I speak from experience here.

-Flash is indeed a memory and CPU pig. That is why Adobe developed Flash Lite, which is what many of these smartphones will be running. Adobe has a "device central" environment to help developers. I would prefer this on the iPhone etc although some might complain - it is enough though to write games, and I think stream video.

-Apple is put a lot of it's focus on retail revenue. The stores (online and real) are profitable. They have developed this incredible ecosystem that everyone wants to emulate (including Microsoft, Google, Palm, Amazon, etc.). Flash cuts into this - you can have flash games running from web pages, effectively cutting Apple out for some things - although the best experiences will always be native applications that can effectively use Apple's hardware and software underpinnings. Some of the apps are big as well.

I think an excellent compromise would be a version of flashlite that allows for basic embedded functionality - playback of video, slideshows etc, but greatly limiting other flash development.

I really do think Apple needs to address this because it significantly damages the iPad web experience. Seeing lots of pages with blue lego blocks leaves the customer going "why doesn't this work?".

Other than this, and a missing video camera for web conferencing, I am satisfied with the iPad. I read the iEEE spectrum article you mention, and the focus was on "is this a Kindle killer". That is really not the right question. Can the iPad be used read books satisfactorily? That remains to be seen. My guess is that it will be "fine" - not astonishing good - not necessarily a replacement for real books for those that are picky - but good enough to make it comfortable.

Really - the question is - is it something that people will buy? Tablet computers have been a "holy grail" since Alan Kay's dynabook, but no one has figured out the right balance of  functionality. Apple tried it before and failed. In my estimation, Microsoft has failed as well - the most popular tablet pc's are those that are "convertible" - essentially laptops with a writable screen that required a stylus to use. Microsoft didn't go far enough to ditch Windows interface for something that was pen-centric - at the risk of alienating hard-core Windows users - but making a device that ultimately could be more compelling.

Apple took what they learned from the iPhone and applied it to a new device. Exactly the thing to do, despite what all the pundits say. There are a lot of iPhone developers that suddenly have a new device to write for without having to learn a bunch of new stuff. I think we will see some very innovative software for the device, since a bigger surface opens more possibilities. I am amazed at times at what developers have done with the little screen on the iPhone - this will let them take it to a whole new level.

The hype was so much that it would have been impossible for Apple to deliver on it. OLED displays in the size that Apple needed are crazy expensive. It would have killed the product/platform immediately. Something more powerful would have been heavier and had a shorter power life - 10 hours is pretty compelling. Handwriting recognition has never really been there - remember graffiti - you had to learn it's characters - instead of the device learning yours.

I guess I am writing so much about this because it is not so much the iPad itself - it is the potential change in the periodical market it could help usher in. I will actually start subscribing to magazines again if I can avoid the paper - my subscription to Automobile is a mere $12.00 a year - I would pay that exact same amount in a digital form. While the pundits say that "no one will pay for content ever again", that is quite untrue. People still buy music, still watch movies; some even still buy a newspaper. I think a compelling case can be made for a digital publication that features quality writing that has gone through a editorial process, excellent graphics and photographs, and - on top of all that - a modest amount of interactivity and dynamic content. Plus they can still sell Ads - I am fine with that.

This is important to me because I think at some point someone has to get paid. People say "newspapers are dead", and think they are being profound - but the reality is that most of the news they read on the internet was written by a professional journalist that works for a publication - they are simply getting the second-hand version of it through their favorite blogs or web sites.

I want to see all of these writers, photographers, editors, researchers and artists get paid for their work - what they do is even more important than ever before. If paper publications go away (and they will) there has to be some model that can support something more than a blog full of someone's opinions.