Sunday, November 8, 2009



I think I'll get back to posting photographs here. Been ages since I have.

I like the square format here, the slipway made that possible. Marian's response was that it stopped it looking like an image from a religious calendar.

So I'll take that as a compliment.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Apple Tablet - it's all about content

The speculation about the tablet from Apple has swirled up again.

I’ve always felt that the next generation device for viewing content has been with us for quite a while, it’s called a laptop. All over the world people spend their evenings with them, "duelling laptops on the sofa" as one of my students described her evenings with her partner.

And it's not just the sofa, it's extended into the workspace too. Over the past few years, the desktop computer has looked increasingly like it has a quite specific, need driven future. You only install one if you want something either sturdy, dumb and cheap or very powerful indeed. The laptop, increasingly more powerful and connected, pretty well matching the desktop in raw power and capabilities, has ended up being the general computer of choice.

Apple’s proportion of laptop sales reflect this, steadily increasing year on year. They’ll be in no rush to replace or compete with that. Why a tablet at all? If Apple do one, it'll have to clearly differentiate them.

Many years ago Apple released a tablet, namely the Newton which it then dropped. The difference now is Apple’s focus on content. Content is everything now, we've finally reached a stage where all our content is digital and online, that future has actually come to pass at this point.

Kevin Kelly has talked about how all content is merging onto one platform, from news to music, from film to blogs, from books to financial services. There's but one platform, the internet, and all our devices simply offer different windows onto it.

Apple notably have always pointed out that the internet content flows into every aspect of their machines, that it's not just for the browser, as Google would have it. That firehose of content can and should be pushed into many different apps. I'll return to this in a bit, but here is where future exploration lies.

Any tablet, if Apple are to release one, will likely have one guiding principle, how best to present and manage content. Apple have understood how important this is from the early days of OSX, iLife has been a key factor in the successful rebirth of the Mac platform. The emergence of iTunes as the single most important application for Apple has consolidated ownership for Apple of the content creation and distribution arena. Apple also want to establish and control how that content is monetised in much the same way that iTunes does in digital music. They know all too well how content can drive hardware sales.

To speculate, primarily because it's fun, but also because it presents factors which will are in play.

Resolution and size - It’ll be like a large iPhone, but not that large and probably smaller than most people expect. Apple lead the way in pixel per inch displays in consumer products. The iPhone runs 160 dpi. Given that Apple have settled on 1280 x 720 for iTunes Extras and the LP formats recently introduced, you could be looking at a device 8 x 4.5 inches if the device is 160dpi. This is a perfect 16 x 9 form factor for HD video exactly matching iTunes native HD format. Take a sheet of paper and fold it in half, it’ll be a little smaller than that. I wouldn't be surprised if Apple increase the dpi and reduce the size further. They'll want to reduce the weight.

Weight - You’ll have to be able to hold it comfortably in one hand. It’ll have to be light, and that’s probably the biggest engineering challenge they face, finding some version of their beloved unibodies which can deliver strength with the right weight. It'll need some body to it for the audio.

Audio - It’ll certainly have good speakers, Apple have focussed a lot on speaker technology lately. They've excellent small speakers in the new iMacs and they've progressively made the internal speakers on iPhones and iPods louder.

OS and App Store - It’s going to run a version of OS Touch like the iPhone, with full screen apps running at 1280 x 720. Yes, this will take time to develop. Yes, developers will grumble and scramble, as they quickly rush to embrace it. Given FCC clearance times, there’ll be some advance time prior to market release. The App store will be king, no other way in bar jailbreaking it. The App store has been a huge success and moneyspinner for Apple. They’d love to extend that model. Apple's approval process will annoy and present new challenges for developers, but won't ultimately matter a damn to the market. Apple understand one thing very well, the key shift here is the relationship between the users and applications. Users have a simple uncomplicated relationship with Touch apps, Apple will do anything to protect that.

Bundled apps - The principal focus will be on viewing media of various forms from movies to albums to photography, the internet and email, lightweight document production. There may even be cut down but ever improving Touch versions of iLife and iWork bundled. And I wouldn’t be surprised if the Kindle app is in there too at launch.

Price - my guess, it’ll be 800 bucks. It’ll ship with all the iPhone aerials, GPS, Bluetooth, Wifi, 3G and a SIM slot. Hopefully Apple have learned not to tie themselves into a carrier, It’ll be unlocked and be available from carriers at a discount.

Connections - a version of the dock connector for sure but that's probably it. Much as I would like USB and an SD card slot, I can't see it. They'll expect you to use wifi and bluetooth for connection with other devices, be they printers or storage systems. MobileMe users will have access to their iDisk everywhere.

The geeks will complain about the closed system, Apple's control over applications, the limited feature set, yada yada. Everyone else will swoon. Emotionally and functionally, it'll be perfect for 90% of people. It will do pretty well everything most people want from a computer, email, browse, word processing, photo and video management and of course, listen to music, watch films, read books and magazines and check the net. You know, look at stuff. A platform for content of every description.

The one thing it won’t be is a general purpose computer.

We'll still be using them in our offices and workspaces. I couldn't work without VoodooPad and DevonThink Pro Office, Nisus Writer Pro and Bento, Photoshop and RapidWeaver, or without access to my years of data and I suspect that most people will discover their own version of that pretty quickly.

But a lot of people will not be lugging their laptops home at night.

It’s almost old-fashioned in it’s limited feature set as I have outlined it, almost like the computers in the early eighties with physical buttons for word processing and databases. I think most people will find a comfort in that, eating it up, a computer which ‘just works’ the way their iPod does with all the stuff they like. But for me, that's not really the full potential here. Despite the controls Apple have in place, despite the limits on features and focus on experience, or maybe because of all of them...other newer possibilities emerge.

I've blogged here before about the shift with the App Store. A fundamental change between how ordinary people and applications interact. People feel about apps the way they do about songs or movies. They're personal, a reflection of you, what you do and what you're into.

I see applications as a new content form. Both a form in and of itself but also one with the power to work with all existing content too. We're going to see the creatives who develop the best apps celebrated as widely as other artists as this century progresses, where apps become expressions of ideas and emotions.

This device, like the iPhone before it, could be very significant in the development of that, as software developers begin to fully explore the fact that, given that all content is digital now, they are ultimately the shapers of how that content is communicated to all those people on all those sofas.

It could even end up being the device where that old dream of computer art actually takes place.

32A DVD is here and out in the wild...

Yes, see the link to the right for purchasing options...

or here at the main Janey Pictures site

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

32A DVD is coming...


Delighted to say that the DVD of 32A is coming soon. It’ll be released on October 16th, Friday in Ireland available nationwide in Xtravision and for sale via the Janey Pictures site and via Amazon.

It’s actually available now for preorder on This will take a little longer to come, November 9th.

For those of you not based in the UK or Ireland, it’s a PAL disc with Region 2 encoding. So you’ll need a multiregion DVD player and television to match. That or a good laptop...

Thursday, September 10, 2009

iTunes Extras - a start at least

Well it’s a start.

It’s always interesting to see when Apple put a new element into the media mix. With iTunes extras, they’ve placed a marker in the sand, acknowledging the need to address additional content. but they have not provided a full solution. That’s a while away. I think that’s probably Apple’s take on this too, given the short amount of time it got at the presentation in San Francisco for iTunes 9. The independent sector is in full flight at the moment examining new ways of engaging audiences using additional content amongst other things, but there’s only studio offerings here.

Apple have taken one thing on board, that digital downloads provide a thin experience compared to DVD. The additional material is popular and acts as a piracy deterrent. Up till this point it has also been a deterrent to buying on iTunes. The public would sooner own a DVD with extras for the same money as a download. This decision is a step towards addressing that. Kudos to Apple for being the first major player in the market to step in and start providing a solution. But my hunch is that Apple have taken an interim measure to see how this shakes out. This has the vague air of the AppleTV about it in terms of Apple’s commitment.

iTunes extras are essentially websites bundled into a package for download. iTunes has Webkit built in for quite a while, it’s what the iTunes Store is built upon. As such the extras are designed for a specific screen size, resizing windows won’t scale anything, it’s a set frame. This means it won’t migrate to the iPhone or iPod Touch. it certainly could work well on an AppleTV, but there’s no news on that possibility. AppleTVs would need a system update, which is probably in the works, it would make sense. The extras would also have a lot of appeal on a future tablet which Apple may release.

When you download one, you get two files, the main movie file and the extras version, which also includes the main movie file. The main movie file is presumably for popping on your iPhone or AppleTV, the extras version is for watching on your computer. So flexible on one hand but, given the repetition, a bit clunky on the other. it would have been smarter to see a version that knew what it was playing on, but that’s not how they’ve been built, and it’s not how iTunes works. The Wall-E movie file is about 1.4 Gb and the Extras version was 1.8Gb, pretty big chunks of data given space and download caps. This clunkiness extends unfortunately and has implications.

The first howl of protest you’ll hear from the buyer is ‘No commentaries?’ and on first look through the offerings, there’s none. A closer look shows why.

The way iTunes extra versions are set up means that the original movie file, which comes with two soundtracks, stereo and surround, is bundled into the package. For Apple to provide a director’s commentary, it would have to be included in the main movie file as an alternate soundtrack. Or they would have to bundle into the extras version a different movie file with a commentary included. However...

- that movie file would have become more attractive to pirates. Metadata like commentaries are key now in providing a richer experience away from piracy. Studios may be slow to release this increasingly valuable additional material, this may be a negotiation issue.

- there could also be a technical issue, stemming out of the overall structure of an iTunes extra file. For example, there would have to be some way of having a movie file play with one soundtrack and not another from a javascript instruction. I’m unaware of that being a possibility, perhaps at some point.

So you’ll see a lot of ‘introduced by the director’ pre-scenes as well as deleted scenes with extensive introductions and afterwords, certainly in the Wall-E iTunes Extras version. Apple are seeking to re-invent a little here, skirting around the missing commentary. I wonder what process the films which are included went through with the iTunes team, would be interesting to hear. Clearly a fuller, deeper look at how metadata and films are to be presented digitally is still a ways off.

And on the front line? Indie filmmakers know that, like musicians before them, it’s increasingly all about a direct relationship with the audience and building up a conversation with them. Compared to real time interaction, continuously developing material and new forms of cross platform material, the iTunes extras look a little dated, taking on some of the aspects of the DVD which they seek to replace.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

San Francisco

As any of our friends will tell you, we loved San Francisco which we explored during our screening of 32A at Mill Valley last year. Wel, two of my photos from my SF Flickr set have been included in the Schmapp guide to San Francisco. Which is pretty cool.

California Academy of Sciences

Transamerica Pyramid

Friday, August 14, 2009

Software as the key artform of the 21st Century


Isn’t it time we stopped talking about media and returned to the term artform?

A medium is ultimately physical in our understanding of it, no matter how enhanced or extended it may be.

For me, one of the main achievements of the digital revolution is to have separated creative content from media. Now, no longer bound by the existing hardware models with all their limitations, we are free to explore our various artforms via software, a far more natural environment for creative material.

Technology has always impacted upon cultural development, in particular the arts. All you have to do is look at the Russian avant garde and the impact of the machine on art, or in the explosion of media in particular, from radio on up throughout the 20th century.

The rising tide of digital technology as the end of the 20th century which has matured at the start of this century, given the wide dispersal of computers and the emergence of broadband globally, gave birth to a new internet culture which has impacted hugely on existing media.

We’ve been distracted by how digital technology mimics a medium really well, how it extends them and combines them with other technologies. Those three steps are present in each of the creative fields, most clearly in music. There it took on the genre of music completely, extended the creative options for musicians and spearheaded the new distribution channels for music. These cultural forces, experienced as rapid changes to humanity, are almost alive in how unstoppable and progressive they are.

Not all existing media fare well out of this, television as a medium was in trouble long before digital culture emerged. The structure of television, top down, one to many, rigid control of content, only a few outlets per nation, had been incredibly limiting over the years, and it had ended up myopically examining itself as the last century closed with top ten shows focussed on television’s own inventory. If music had faced similar limitations it would have withered and died.

The net disbands completely these kinds of structure, they have no place there. The recent economic downturn and the shift away from advertising saw those old models crumble alarmingly quickly, it became clear that the boom and advertising were all that was holding up the existing ways of doing business.

This dispersal of content creation opens up the very basics of each artform for questioning. As a creator of course, It matters not whether it’s individuals or groups of individuals, active independent content producers or production companies, all bets are off. And ultimately one major question we all face is that of production finance. Who’ll finance these?

Our focus now, both on creative work and it’s dissemination should be on exploring developing software with a view to creating work and it’s expression and communication. The creators of software whether it’s new services online or applications, are the structuring limitation or future liberators, the new artists in our mix. If Film was the artform of the 20th century. Software is the key artform of the 21st.

Earlier thoughts on software here and here.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Design decisions for iPhone

I attended DevDays, a useful one-day conference for iPhone developers, enjoyed it thoroughly, had a good positive chat with the folks from Apple and enjoyed most of the presentations. The slideshare presentation below was from Des Traynor of Contrast. It was a good positive talk where the route to making your app was clearly outlined as a concrete series of steps, decisions that need to be made.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

One Billion Apps

A billion apps downloaded. In just nine months.

What does that tell us?

It tells me a lot. It tells me that people have a very different relationship with applications on the iPhone than they do anywhere else.

That really made me stop when I thought that.

Because that’s a big deal, that’s the game changer right there.

For decades now, installation, even choice of apps, has been the domain of the lone specialist. Groups, whether they be families or companies, trusted nerds to specify, source, install, train, maintain, upgrade, replace them when needed.

That’s all gone. Everyone does it now, all that's gone on the iPhone.

I’ve been long fond of saying that Everyone’s A Nerd Now. That we all use computers and software to do whatever it is we do, but the reality is that most people used a trusted guide to structure that experience still. But here it’s clear that is over.

Why is this big for me? It’s big because it opens up the possibility of exploring that relationship. That people, individuals, will start to engage with software on the same level as they do with books, or songs, or film, other creative material. That it’s personal in a real way which it’s never actually been before, not shared, not mediated, not agreed or consulted about. But direct, immediate, intimate in a way.

Is this what Apple’s finally done after all these years? Ignited the personal in personal computing?

Monday, January 26, 2009

Choosing unpopular software

You know I don’t know what it says about me... but... I always pick the underdog.

I don’t use MarsEdit. I use MacJournal.
I don’t use Yojimbo. I use Together.
I don’t use Tweetie. I use TwittelatorPro.
I don’t use Twitterific. I use Twhirl.
I don’t use Preview or Adobe Reader. I use Skim.
I don’t use OmniFocus. I use Things, and occassionally TaskPaper.

I used Mailsmith for years until it became clear that development was just not going to happen and all sorts of cool plugins became available for Mail.

I’ve stopped using MS Office a long time ago. I use Numbers and Keynote, keeping Pages for simple page layout. I do my wordprocessing in the really rather lovely Nisus Writer Pro.

I don’t know. It says something. I just can’t figure what.

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Obama - Man on Wire


There’s been a lot said about this remarkable man, I’ve no intention of rehashing it.

I just have an observation... in Obama’s coolness, his calm handling of what is surely the largest burden going, I kept thinking of Man on Wire, and Petit’s incredible ease with his extraordinary act....

[youtube EIawNRm9NWM]

The key thing about Petit was his faith that it would be done, the sheer scale of his ambition and his willingness to risk.

He took a lot of strength from his support network. He brought people along a brave and risky path, and while they all made mistakes, they managed to achieve a truly remarkable act.

But also his strength came from his own devotion to just doing the work. And here he evokes our new President even more clearly.

I can see a difficult balancing act in Obama’s future, but like many people, I think he’s going to pull it off.

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