iPad the Spork

After two days of showing the iPad to the community at USC, I got an interesting questions from a student in class: “It isn’t really a computer, it really isn’t a mobile device, so what is it?”

The best explanation I came up with: a spork.

It’s a digital spork.

Spork
Spork

Now I mean that in the most affectionate way. Rather than doing neither thing well, it does two things quite competently in one tight package.

It’s a browsing device with a large bright screen, powerful processing for multimedia and enough storage/connectivity to mimic a laptop. On the mobile side, its 10-12 hour battery means you constantly use it without rationing your time (this could be a bad thing), you can toss it in your bag without thinking twice, and you can lean back in bed or lounge at the beach to use it.

Now, the “lean back” aspect makes things interesting.

This is what makes the device so exciting for publishers and TV folks.

See, this whole laptop-based “lean forward” crouching over your keyboard phenomenon is foreign to them. It’s too participatory. You’re at your keyboard, ready to comment, to chat, to pan, to praise. You’re multitasking,  your attention is scattered, and you’re almost always one tiny step away from being bored and doing something else.

Traditional media companies aren’t used to that, and haven’t understood what to do with it.

Instead, the iPad brings back the passive, single-tasking, lean-back experience. Lean back is what they understand — couch potatoes, lounge chair magazine leafers and bathroom readers. You’re doing one, and one thing only.

So the iPad gives them hope the pendulum can swing back away from the wild chaotic bazaar of the mouse-based desktop, and back towards what they understand. And to help monetize this, they now have the elusive micropayment system they’ve been missing for a while — the iTunes Store. Years of Apple iPod and iPhone consumers buying songs at $0.99 and apps at $0.99 have conditioned the populace to pay these micro-amounts, driven by an ephemeral impulse buy for content.

Or so the industry hopes.

It’s a very real possibility it will be successful, even if I don’t particularly care for the trend.

Paid apps already available from Time and ESPN replicate the web content on those sites, but with more interactivity and a rich multimedia display. Folks who think this is folly, that the same content can be had for free on the web, and will kill the iPad paid-content market, need to consider consumer behavior more carefully.

By that logic, bottled water companies should not exist because of course we have free water everywhere, from taps and bubblers.

We know otherwise. That Evian, Perrier, SmartWater (and even Aquafina selling what is practically the same as tap water back to us) make money, and lots of it, is no secret. There is upselling of what is commodity. And if there’s ever a perfect partner for making that work (reselling what is common at high markups) it’s Apple.

And that’s what we’ll see — a bustling marketplace for captive content. That’s not my concern per se. What does give pause is a whole new generation of content that is not linkable, commentable or recordable. The iPad is a closed box, and for that reason, the rich discourse (and ugly trolling) goes away. But along with that goes the chaotic mashed-up marketplace that has spawned a creative content community.

For that reason, I hope the iPad will be good like a spork is good on a camping trip –something that will do the trick in adverse conditions, but not something you’d want for your main dining experience. Because that lean-back experience takes away the culture of the read-write web, and that would be a step backwards.

Update: my friend Cory Doctorow has an even stronger warning when it comes to the iPad: “Why I won’t buy an iPad (and think you shouldn’t, either)“.

NBC LA Review: Cables!

Ever wonder why the weekly ad circulars for Best Buy and Radio Shack use valuable space for promoting expensive HDMI cables, right next to $1000 flat screen TVs and BluRay disc players? The not-so-secret secret — cables are one of the highest margin products in electronics retailing, with markups of 80% not uncommon.

Best Buy/Magnolia advert for a 4 foot HDMI cable: $149

Best Buy/Magnolia advert for a 4 foot HDMI cable: $149

Back in the analog era of turntables and 1st generation CD players, there was some reasonable debate about getting high end, $200 speaker wire, stereo RCA cables or coaxial connectors. In today’s digital age, there is very little to this argument. With digital interconnects, it either makes it or it doesn’t. For any connection less than 6 feet, you should never be paying more than $15.

This week on NBC LA TechRaw, I talk about HDMI cables, used to connect your consumer HD camcorder or BluRay HD DVD player to your flat screen TV. Outlets where I found good cheap HDMI cables for less than $10 include Amazon.com and their AmazonBasics line, Frys Electronics and even Ross Dress for Less. Others in the tech sphere have had luck with Monoprice for their cables.

The bottom line is that you should never be paying the $149+ for digital interconnects (with the very rare exception that you’re doing long runs of 50 foot home installation cables behind walls)

View more news videos at: http://www.nbclosangeles.com/video.

NBC LA Review: iHome IP88

While most gadgets are “Toys for Boys,” I reviewed one that you can share with your spouse. Literally.

The iHome IP88 is an iPod clock radio alarm and speaker system setup for his/her iPod charging. While the sound quality isn’t spectacular, it is nice to have a compact, functional way to charge and play from two different iPods or iPhones. It can even sync the time from your handheld device. Price of $149 a bit high, but if you’re a CostCo member, it can be had for $99.

View more news videos at: http://www.nbclosangeles.com/video.

NBC LA Review: Panasonic LUMIX

This week on NBC LA TechRaw I review the Panasonic LUMIX DMC-ZS3 which has the trifecta of what I’m looking for a compact point and shoot:

  • Wide angle and long zoom lens (25mm to 300mm in film terms)
  • 720p high definition video, optical zooming works while recording (!)
  • Beautiful optical quality (Leica lens)

It finally is a decent all-in-one package for journalists in terms of visual quality. The only missing element is an external microphone jack for great audio interviews. It lists for $349, and can easily find it for less than $300 at online retailers.

View more news videos at: http://www.nbclosangeles.com/video.