#commutebox playlist & spotify; TV next, please?

It’s been a while since a few folks and I started mucking about with the #commutebox hashtag on twitter.  It was a way for friends to share the tracks and albums they were listening to on the way to work. 

That way, you’d find out what else folk were listening to, and might find a few more interesting things yourself.  (I talked about it here, ’twas over a year ago now it seems.  Doesn’t time fly..?)



But of course, twitter’s hardly the most natural home for doing it perfectly.  Like it is for many other things, the simple twitter interface was the inexpensive ‘best’ we could do at little effort at the time.

But most folk didn’t search for #commutebox every day, they probably just saw a tweet here and there suggesting some new music.

What we were probably all waiting for was the social Spotify malarkey. 

Since they launched the social features, we’ve compiled a lovely spring playlist, and we’re halfway through a summer playlist.  It’s really easy just to quickly add tracks whenever the mood takes you.



Then everyone who subscribes to the playlist has it on their desktop, or their phone if they have a premium account.  An instant source of a peer-curated music.

So with that experience, it’s of great interest to see the launch of Spotify TV in Sweden & Finland…



Sure, at the moment it’s just for creating your own playlist of music through the TV remote.

But you’ve got to think they’re just paving the way for the technology to work for TV content, rather than just music.

Which would be great; a TV guide curated by you and your mates, that you can all set up to watch on specific occasions (not unlike when we’re ‘all’ commuting with the music…). 

It’s been talked about before, but please, make it so, Spotify…


Social TV yes. But a Social TV remote? Oh FFS…

There’s a great piece on Social TV in the MIT Technology Review, which talks a lot of sense (HT @graemewood).

But there’s a barrier at the top that makes you initially want to skip over it… and it’s this stupid picture…



See, the article features an idea that makes a lot of sense; provide services and software that work through people’s existing technology (e.g. phone).

Whereas the picture is another example of people thinking ‘oh, I’ve got a great idea… and I’ll turn it into a standalone gadget…’

Yeah, because we don’t have enough gadgets lying around the place.

If you already like the notion of Social TV, you probably use your phone to do talk to other people about what you’re watching anyway… so why would you want a ‘social remote control’?

Companies are, more than ever, playing catch-up to the things people do together through whatever technology they have to hand.


Obsolescence, dusty keyboards and shining screens

Now, I’m not overly proud of this picture… it’s of the keyboard of our home computer, and it would appear to be a bit… errmm, dusty…



It’s probably very fair to say that since we moved in to our new place at the beginning of February, neither Helen nor I have been near the computer that sits in the spare room. 

Indeed, I only noticed it because I had to go and print out some tickets to go to the Brighton Sealife Centre (print out!?!  It’s 2010, codes & mobile ticketing, please…).

But it did get me thinking, about two things that are, quite possibly, on their way out.

Firstly, the ‘home PC’.… 

Or at least, the description that will be familiar in many homes; a desktop computer that sits in a home office, or squeezed in the corner of the guest room, or wherever there’s room (or is close enough to a phone socket to plug a modem into)…

Like millions of other folks we’ve now got enough mobile/laptop shenanigans going on that to have a separate machine in a different, isolated part of the house is actually now just taking up space… desktops have been outsold by laptops consistently since 2006.



The desktop PC was designed not for convenience, of course, but for necessity.  To get as much computing power in as possible (and make sure that you could power it, cool it down etc), you had to have a big bloody box sitting under a desk somewhere.



Nowadays, though, you can fit all the necessary power into a laptop that you can take wherever you wanted to be in the first place… which was unlikely to be the spare room.

Which means we’re seeing the rise of things like social television (which this article from the BBC will tell you all about if you’re unfamiliar with it). 

Magical computery power is starting to change the dynamics of the home in lots of interesting ways, which will no doubt have more of an effect on the sectors people previously didn’t imagine t’internet would affect that much originally.

So, bye bye ‘home PCs’. 

Secondly, I started thinking about keyboards

The keyboard has been around for ages.  Have a read of the fascinating history of the typewriter on wikipedia…

…the earliest is arguably the ‘Typowriter’ (patented in 1829 by William Austin Burt), but by far my favourite is Giuseppe Ravizza’s “Cembalo scrivano o macchina da scrivere a tasti”, which translates as “scribe harpsicord, or machine for writing with keys”



So approaching 200 years old is not bad going for a technology that by and large hasn’t really changed.  People talk about touchscreen computers (iPad et al), and claim that they’re not great devices for ‘creation’, just ‘consumption’.

What they really mean is that they aren’t great for ‘creation of stuff I now use a keyboard for’.

My generation (I’m 32 now) were introduced to a keyboard as a route to playing, creating or working, but in ‘isolation’; what you played or did via keyboard you did on your own.

A generation underneath probably see the keyboard as a route to communication first (email, IM, social networks etc), then playing, working and creating together.

Whoever we are, we’re all still rooted in that keyboard tradition… so many of us have been trained to use it already, it’s going to be a hard habit for society to shift.

But a generation that grows up in a world of touchscreens…

…well, surely they’ll work out a way to get from this…



…to this…



Just watching the wee fella with touchscreen devices is a joy… he’s only 7 months old, yet he gets the very simple concept that if you touch it, it does something. 

He’s really, really surprised that ALL screens don’t work this way, of course.  And tried to see if the fish tanks at Brighton Sealife centre reacted to frantic touch-motioning. 

Which, admittedly, they did.  Poor turtles.

Anyway, I reckon that keyboards might just be on their way out, but not for a good 10+ years or so. 

Or are we confident that like the wheel, the basic keyboard model is here to stay forever?


The iPad; it's TV, only more so

Now, you’ll remember my previous post on the iPad, TV and the like, yes? 

Well, our superclever research team here at PHD (Clare, Chris & Carrie) have been working on a project to gauge the impact that this generation of devices (i-pad-tablet-slate things).

Here’s Clare to take you through what they’ve found so far…



Following on from this, I thought we’d add the view from the research couch. 

We recently did some work with people – not early adopters, not geeks, just ordinary people who like gadgets that make like easier, or more enjoyable – about how they use mobile devices (netbooks, smartphones etc) in our qualitative facility, The Living Room. 

The ulterior motive was to get them thinking about mobile media use and then get them to consider how they might feel about and potentially use iPads in the future.

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The results were fascinating.  We found massive enthusiasm appetite for mobile TV.  While few had watched much TV on their iPhones to date, when asked to try it out for a couple of weeks they came back full of enthusiasm and thought the iPad’s combination of screen size and simplicity of use would offer an even better way to watch mobile TV and video content.  <o:p></o:p>

The possibilities for combining viewing with interactions through social networks also appealed to some, with the chance to watch and discuss things together while apart, or pass on recommendations all from the same device you’re watching on.

They also thought it could easily be an option to replace second and third household TV sets, and could even replace some main set viewing especially where people have limited multichannel access, which suggests potential for a “pay as you go” option for mobile tv.



Basically, they saw an opportunity for telly, only more so.  And better.  And easier to share.  Whats not to like?

Mind you, the success of TV on iPad will rely on Apple and other service providers marketing their mobile TV apps clearly and effectively as awareness of existing services for smart phones and computers was still pretty low (we had to show our groups some of the possibilities to get their views).


iPad video review; it's the future of television

I got my mitts on an iPad for the first time yesterday, thanks to David at The Guardian.

We worked with them and Canon on the Guardian Eyewitness app (now the SECOND MOST POPULAR free app for the iPad… FTW).

So we were understandably VERY eager to see the fruits of our labours.

(Apple, ‘fruits’?  See, it’s a pun, geddit?  Oh, never mind…)

Anyway, I took the opportunity to create a little video run through of some of the ‘media’ properties on it, just to get a first feel for what ‘worked’ on the iPad:

So, that was yesterday.  My thoughts today?

All in all, whilst newspapers and magazines (and of course comics) can do some wonderful creative things with the iPad, having used it you realise what a great in between step between ‘lean back’ and ‘sit forward’ it is…

…which is perfect for just watching TV on.

Ben Malbon points out that the posters they’ve put up are like a giant user manual… “this is how you use it”. 



Looks like a great way to watch content, yet still have access to everything the web offers at the flick of a finger.

And sure, as a device it has the potential to do untold amount of wonderful things, depending on the apps developed for it.  And it may revolutionise many markets (news, games, work, healthcare…)

Yet given the amount of ‘watching’ people still do (television, films etc), and the quality and flexibility of the iPad for fulfilling that need, I believe that for mainstream take up it’s the viewing capabilities that will be key. 



People LOVE watching TV, as we all know.  This represents a different, flexible, personal way to do that, wherever you want.  TV has a mass appeal that opens up the interest in the device to a wider audience than would be interested in more early-adopter tech (the iPhone, for instance).

Which means there’s probably an interesting behavioural economics thing going on here too

People will justify spending £500 or so when they compare it not just to the price of netbooks, laptops etc… but to the price of flash flatscreen TVs.

For instance, would you buy a TV for the kitchen when you could buy a stand for an iPad and sit it in the corner when you’re there?  Especially if you can download whichever recipe you want on it too.



Which all means that whilst people will be watching as much, if not more, television content in the future, the way in which they are watching it is even more flexible and on demand…

…whatever, whenever, wherever.

Which has interesting, challenging repercussions for business or marketing models based upon the traditional linear TV watching with ad breaks every 20 minutes… but more on that another day…

What do you think?  Is the iPad the future of TV?


Buttons and button-down flies

Over the weekend, in passing I flicked through an article on PSFK talking about the relaunch of the Levi’s flagship store on Regent Street… “definitely worth a look” it said.

So when Sean and I found ourselves in the vicinity last night after a meeting, we thought we’d pop in for a look… and yes indeed, it definitely is worth a wander through.



From the gallery installation that welcomes you at the front door, the wonderful theatrical touches all the way through, to the basement ‘mine’ of denim, it’s not a shop, but an experience…







We both walked out with some new jeans, as you would.

Anyway, there’s two things of interest that I took from our little excursion.


Firstly, it’s the centrepiece of Levi’s attempts to rejuvenate themselves in the UK; in this Guardian article last week, European president Armin Broger neatly identified their problem:

“The presence of players like Uniqlo and Topshop is a fact, but it would be asinine to try to be them.”

Levi’s can’t afford to compete with the ‘fast-fashion’ houses when it comes to jeans, so they’re centring on a mix of heritage and craft to convince people of the value of the clothes they make.

But rather than just saying it in an advertising campaign, they’re committing to it in a space they own, and using that commitment to become the story that spreads.

The gallery installation which forms the front of the store (you won’t see any clothes at all until you’re inside) features young artists and musicians chosen (‘curated’ no doubt) by Levi’s. It’s not a temporary thing either, apparently; this space will permanently be reserved for artistic space by ‘craftworkers’.

And it’s not just for customers; the staff I talked to were all thrilled to be working there.  One guy couldn’t believe it was the same shop when he walked back in after the refurb.



Now, it’ll be interesting to see how far this story, and the commitment, spreads… is it just a London thing?  The store in Brighton looks the same as it did, largely.  Is it enough to do something in the flagship store, then expect the whole UK business to turn around?  We’ll have to wait and see I guess.

On to the second point…


In the changing room there was this delightful little touch…



It reminded me of a button I saw a few weeks ago in Homebase… same idea, but it failed to encourage the customer to press it with the excuses and limitations added by the staff in the store…



Clearly a top-down idea that the in-store management has decided is impractical, and tried to change.  This is for ’tiling only’ now.  So what if the tiling guy isn’t around?  No-one answers?  Nice one, Homebase chaps.

Anyway, we love a button, don’t we.  There’s something very reassuring in the modern age to see a button that says ‘get help now’. 

Because we’re all used to have a button to press that finds us the thing we want, be it on a screen, wall or door.



Of course, with the advent of touchscreens, people have tried to replicate the physicality of ‘pressing buttons’ to give the same sense of satisfaction you get from clicks and physical displacement.

I used to own an LG Viewty touchscreen phone that had ‘haptic response’, which meant it buzzed back when you ‘pressed’ a button on the screen.  It was useful, but only because the touchscreen was so rubbish you needed to know if it had registered your actions.

In the future though, kids growing up now won’t necessarily need that type of interface… they’ll be used to the fact that screens can be touched, and will react, to the simplest, natural gestures.

Have a watch of this video where a two and a half year old tackles an iPad for the first time…

(from here, via Mark)

It’s astounding how adept the kid is with the iPad interface. 

The mechanical button could well be obsolete by the time she is my age.  But perhaps the chances are that the Levi’s button-flies will still be around though have increased.


#CMS2010 – three big things, pt III

Finally, after part I & part II, we reach the final part of the Guardian Changing Media Summit thoughts…

Part III – The BBC of the past, present & future…  the all powerful Timelords

So, the BBC have been getting a regular kicking over the past year…

Back in August, James Murdoch’s MacTaggart lecture left no doubts about his thoughts on the BBC…



“The corporation is incapable of distinguishing between what is good for it, and what is good for the country… Funded by a hypothecated tax, the BBC feels empowered to offer something for everyone, even in areas well served by the market. The scope of its activities and ambitions is chilling.”

Then you had the cost-cutting review announced by Mark Thompson, which included the axing of 6music and the Asian Network. 

It was nothing but a self-mutilating act to try and head off the inevitable calls from what an incoming Conservative administration might demand of the BBC in terms of cuts & sell-offs… this poster from mydavidcameron nicely encapsulates Tory thoughts on the BBC…



So, under all this pressure, it was always going to be really interesting to see what Erik Huggers, BBC Digital Chief, would say about the BBC’s new, pared down service.

I thought what he gave us was a great vision for what BBC online should be; precise, focus, less sprawling, better value….



“The BBC’s online strategy has, for many years, been to play a supporting role to our broadcast output. Programme first, website later. This is not the best way to deliver our public purposes in a digital age. We are moving away from the disparate approach of the past, and to create a single coherent BBC Online which is greater than the sum of its parts.”

And summing up, my notes from the liveblog run as follows:

“The focus moving forward; the core five editorial areas, working as equals with the technology guys, to be the one ‘BBC’ that is the ‘past, present and future of the BBC’…”

(The full blog of his speech is here, btw)

What does all this add up to?

They’re cutting over 200 websites, being more focussed, leaving space for competition… which on the face of it is of course what the Murdochs and the Conservatives want…

(…though I’d like to echo David Mitchell’s sentiments from his Guardian column – “the BBC is the envy of the world. Why are we letting its competitors, and the politicians they have frightened or bought, tell us that we can’t keep it as it is?”)

But something struck me as Huggers outlined the vision…



The BBC has been forced into a corner.  Its tormentors are prodding and poking it…

…’yeah, be more focussed, yeah, take away the license fee, yeah, let’s see how you survive in the competitive landscape… ‘

If I was James or Rupert, I wouldn’t be quite so sure that this is a great idea.

(Given the announcement today that The Times will charge £1 a DAY for access to their website, I’m less and less convinced that they’re big on great ideas…)

Firstly, the focussed vision of the digital element showed just what happens when someone makes the BBC concentrate, think a bit more about what it’s delivering, how to make it lean, mean and effective.

It’ll be brilliant at it. 

I mean, it’s really good now, but not very joined up, a bit haphazard and bumbling… but given drive and focus the BBC will be terrifyingly good at the online offering bit, and joining it up with the TV & radio bits.

Which doesn’t exactly sound like great news for the Murdoch Empire.

Secondly, this whole ‘take away the license fee’ movement.  Think about the strength and depth of the content, public trust, ability, talent, experience all wrapped up in the BBC…

…and then saying to it ‘you’ve got to make all your money from commercial routes’…

…so like advertising, paid for games, apps, archive content, pay-TV platforms, news services… and on and on?

If the BBC is forced by its competitors into a place where it has to focus, react, become more commercial… it will simply eat those competitors alive.  Think about how good BBC Worldwide is at making money from around the world.

Fittingly, it all reminds me of a Doctor Who episode called The Family of Blood



The episode goes as follows… there’s a parasitical family of aliens chasing the Doctor, as they want to feed off his life force and live forever. 

The Doctor hides his mind away so he thinks he’s human and doesn’t know who he is, in order to prevent them from doing so.  But they keep chasing him, hunting him down, until they find him, and force him out into the open…

…but they don’t get exactly what they bargained for…

I guess the moral of the story is ‘be careful what you wish for…’


#CMS2010 – three big things, pt I

I was at the Guardian’s Changing Media Summit last week… look, see, really I was…



I did a lot of liveblogging in the morning, then was on a panel early afternoon.  I took some photos of people coming in, just for fun. 

Maybe you were there, and you can spot yourself…





But then, like the awful liveblogger, I got caught up in conversations and inspirations and the like…

…which meant the liveblogging fell away a bit. 

Rather than try and cobble together the back half of the day, I thought instead I’d capture the three big-ish thoughts I walked away with from the day. 

Hopefully these will offer fair compensation for anyone who was following avidly, only to find coverage tailing off like a drunk’s sentence…

(I’ve decided to split it into three posts, because I do go on… so here’s ‘part I’)

Part I – The ebb and flow of mass and niche

So, Jimmy Wales of Wikipedia opened the day.  I love Wikipedia, it’s a community with a real sense of purpose, helped no doubt by a really clear mission…

“to empower and engage people around the world to collect and develop educational content under a free license or in the public domain, and to disseminate it effectively and globally”

As Wales said, “free, as in free speech, not as in free beer”.



And of course, it’s massively successful in achieving that mission.  But what’s next?

Well, it’s Wikia.  If Wikipedia is just the encyclopaedia in the library, Wikia’s going to be the other cultural artifacts in the library…

The mission of Wikia is “to enable communities to create, share and discover content on any topic in any language”

Not just educational content, learning, but anything people like.  The most successful ones so far are things based on big, cultural things that bring people together… like Star Wars, Lost, or Dr Who (more on The Doctor later, btw… )



See what they did?  They called the Star Wars one ‘Wookiepedia‘.  Clever.

And it’s not just the large, global cultural things that have their own Wikia sites…lots of smaller communities of interest do too.  You know all this, I’ll skip on.

They started as one big central technology idea, and are now spreading into lots of more precise cultural ideas…

Then Erik Huggers from the BBC was talking about the new vision for the BBC, where people would be able to edit and select their own personal, perfect BBC.  The BBC had sprawled into lots of niche and interesting areas of course, from before being one big central place…

…and all through the day, we heard from other big media companies saying they were spreading out into niche, niche and neat technology companies talking about going mainstream.

So it got me thinking about this notion of the ebb and flow of technology and media… back and forth, constantly changing, like the sea…



A new technology emerges, and something mainstream is done with it…

…because in order to get people using it, the technology can’t afford to be fussy.  It can’t serve the many and myriad needs of the population, it has to be for everyone.

Like television when it was just 4 channels, or like Wikipedia.

But when the technology matures, and people love it, more niche opportunities arise… people think ‘ahh, all these people love television, so maybe I could create a station that just shows films, and the people who like television, and like films, will like that better…’

…or think “right, people understand what this wiki thing is now, and they find it useful… maybe people who like wikis, and like a TV show like Lost, will like their own wiki better…”

But when a new technology comes along again, it has to be for everyone for a while… just until everyone gets used to it. 

Then it’ll break apart, and find interesting niches to serve.

For instance, maybe that’s where the location services like FourSquare and Gowalla will end up.  Rather than being technology for ‘everyone’, there will be precise iterations for foodies, football fans and bird spotters…

…the community you share it with will be the one in which you share interests, rather than the shared interest being the technology itself.



The tools of the modern age will make this happen a lot faster too… APIs to build specific versions of a general service, the ability to quickly share information with a given community.

At first, it seems people are interested in the technology.

But then, you realise they just want to find out how they can use technology to help them do what they liked to do anyway, but better.


3D TV saves the industry… but which industry?

Scrolling down my Hootsuite reader the other day, I spotted this from Mike Berry…



‘Oh yes’, thinks I, ‘that looks interesting…’

On clicking through of course I find it’s not talking about the television industry I thought it would be… it’s ‘recession-hit television manufacturers‘.

But it did get me thinking…

…if the world does go 3D bonkers, and wants to watch everything in 3D from now on in, what would that do to commercial television?

Firstly, new content would be more expensive to create… by about 20%, a well informed colleague tells me.  So not horrendous, but still no-one wants an extra 20% loaded onto the cost of what they produce.

But then there’s what to do with all the existing content… the repeats that make up a large proportion of TV viewing?

If people suddenly decided that they wanted to watch EVERYTHING in 3D, then TV channels would be pretty screwed as people stopped watching ‘normal TV’ in favour of the immersive 3D version…

But here’s something interesting; Toshiba announced their Cell TV at CES the other week,which claims to be able to convert normal 2D television to 3D ‘on-the-fly’ (as you watch it, basically).



Everyone’s waiting to see some footage to see just how well this works, but I think it’s a very desirable proposition for the TV channels if they want to keep on showing existing content.