The iPad and “private media spaces”

One of the interesting things that is happening in the world of media, I believe, is the arrival of what I call private media spaces.

Let me explain what I mean.

I grew up at a time when a single TV was a bit of a luxury. Not everyone had one. Not everyone had a colour TV. And the box took pride of place in a room of the house in which it could be seen by all the members of a family. We all gathered around to watch and all we watched was free to air TV, because home VCRs were 10 years away from being affordable.

This arrangement remains prevalent today, but as just one of several media spaces centred around other screens. Sometimes the new screens – think media rooms, second TVs in second family spaces – remain shared spaces. Others are private media spaces for a single person. Kids have PCs and/or TVs in their bedrooms. TVs have arrived in grownups’ bedrooms. Or we can curl up with a laptop. Often, we make a shared media space into a private space by using a mobile device for private media while watching TV!

I think proliferation of media spaces is notable because it means that instead of media consumption being a communal experience, it is (increasingly) becoming a private experience (there’s a whole bunch of stuff to consider around the demise of “appointment TV” that goes with this, but that’s for another post).

At present, I believe that computing devices don’t lend themselves to easily facilitating a private media space. Laptops are large, hot, have poor battery lives, take ages to boot, insist you update their anti-virus sofwtare in the middle of a movie, aren’t easy to use when reclining and have all those stupid buttons (the keyboard) which scream “not for entertainment”. Desktop PCs have “work chairs” in front of them, hardly the relaxing furniture best-suited to taking in a movie. Desktop PCs aren’t much fun to use with headphones.

An iPhone seems a candidate for creating private media spaces and as it happens I’ve extensive experience of the device in that role. I often wake up very early in the morning and need something to do that is very quiet, as my home has a central corridor and turning on the TV or typing on a PC are both no-nos as they would wake the rest of the family. The iPhone almost works for pre-dawn video, but not quite as the screen is too small to allow comfortable viewing. I also get frustrated because the iPhone is not useful for work-related tasks other than email (and it is not very good for that).

Enter iPad, which I think makes it easier to create and sustain a private media space than an iPhone, while also being a bit easier to use than an iPhone for other tasks. It’s far from perfect, becaue downloaded content is not sorted, but it looks a lot more “movie-friendly” than other devices I mention. I also think that touch without a keyboard to confuse matters works better, as the interface is less confusing (and there’s a rant coming on touch on the dekstop). I therefore think it fits into the emerging niche for convenient, elegant devices that create comfortable private media spaces.

Having said all that, I don’t like the idea of private media spaces. I dread my kids being holed up in their bedroom experiencing media alone, because I think it erodes an important part of family life. So it may be a while before I buy an iPad.

I also think that private media spaces will become more common, but that central home storage will rise at the same time. Right now, iTunes’ performance on a NAS is spotty. That may need to change.

I bet the iWhatever is useless outside the USA to start with

Here’s a prediction or three about the iWhatever, Apple’s new geegaw.

We all know it’s a tablet-y e-reader thing that will do books, newspapers, videos music and the web, probably with some kind of subscription model.

I bet that subscription stuff is not available outside the USA for ages. I reckon Apple has done deals in the USA, probably Disney-centric deals, and that the subscription stuff is limited to start with. So the company won’t bother selling the iWhatever outside the USA until it gets more deals up.

This will demonstrate, yet again, how odd it is that we have a global network to excite people about content but national arrangements for its release and distribution. Apple treads carefully with its content partners, so I suspect the iWhatever will not begin to erode these odd arrangements. But just as the music industry took a while to wise up to digital distribution when the iPod came along, I suspect the iWhatever will start the process of eroding national content fiefdoms.