One of the best known stories about Steve Jobs is how he saw graphical user interfaces and mouse input devices at PARC and it inspired him to push for the efforts at Apple that became the first Mac.
It could be argued that the iPad and iPhone are also in a way inspired by PARC, (parctabs and pads) though it may just be that the guys at PARC saw an ecosystem that would make sense and we are just now catching up to it. That ecosystem was called Ubiquitous Computing and it has three major ingredients which are analogous to iPhones, iPads and iTV. All this TV talk is pretty boring though and misses the point; that ubiquitous computing (interfaces everywhere) is just as revolutionary a shift as general computing (one device that can become many things) was and goes way beyond media consumption.
That last device is one we have not seen yet, though speculation is now running rampant, especially since the SJ bio published this week has direct quotes from Jobs saying he “finally cracked it”. Whatever ‘it’ is, presumably a simple model for interacting with the display.
Joe Hewitt wrote an interesting piece1 talking about how latency between the iOS device and the display would be a technical hurdle to overcome. I don’t think this is likely to be the case though; Airplay display mirroring exists today and works fine, but in the case of videos and music why would you relay a media stream through a mobile iOS device to the display? This may be what has been cracked; by moving everything to ‘the cloud’ here is no longer a relay issue, instead the mobile iOS device triggers the stream, but from that point the display is receiving the stream directly. The mobile device can stream directly, but in most cases won’t need to. This improves stream stability, means that the device doesn’t have to say involved full time, and saves on battery life and wireless traffic.
Others have been talking about how none of this can work from a logistical standpoint because of the mess of how broadcast and cable television works; that you can’t corral all these moving parts and get the various players to work with you to provide enough content. That you’ll have to provide at least a cable card connection. I would argue this fight is already past the middle thanks to the iPad and that the only connector an iTV will have is a power cord. Maybe an ethernet jack.
There are already multiple apps for the iPad that provide streaming video either from cable providers or directly from programming providers like HBO. You can already to pretty well with these on an iPad, certainly well enough for the early adopter crowd. There are already sports apps that provided nice real-time data, and live video is the obvious next step.
Apps that work across multiple devices and screens may become the norm. Your NFL app has stats and field positions, do-it-yourself replay and more in your lap while the larger display is tied into the video stream, but they are tied together so things can jump around as appropriate.
Your presentation software can be driven from your phone or tablet, but the display is seen by everyone. Your notes are on your screen, people are already doing this now, it just gets simpler when the wall display is standardized and well understood.
Stand in the kitchen and ask your display where your kids are. Hello the ‘family clock’2 from Harry Potter.
There are many scenarios that will be possible, or more practical, and new ones will be invented. That is the point of general purpose computing, and now ubiquitous computing; that the devices are malleable, and new things will be created on top of them that their creators did not conceive of.
There is nothing necessarily brand new here, especially to hard core techies. “The future is already here, but unevenly distributed”. Just as I was time-shifting my video watching with a satellite dish and multiple VCRs five years before TiVo, and archiving video with a digital tuner to a server for years before iTunes and other services came along, so too do other ways of thinking about content and computing move from being esoteric to mainstream. People are growing accustomed to nice interfaces to their data and devices, witness the Nest thermostat that is getting buzz this week.
I suspect many techies will initially feel let down by whatever iTV turns out to be, but will gradually realize how revolutionary it is to have a “wall computer” finally be around when they start to show up in kitchens and board rooms.
- Airplay TV http://joehewitt.com/2011/10/25/airplay-tv ↩
- Weasleys’ family clock http://harrypotter.wikia.com/wiki/Weasleys’_family_clock ↩