Ruminations on iPhone 4, iOS and mobile video

We're on the cusp of the post-PC era, and Apple is pushing us there.

“It’s a little bit like holding a high-definition television just inches from your face.”

– Travis Boatman, EA Mobile (talking about the iPad)

Follow the path that Apple has forged in creating a 100-million-device-strong iOS platform and ecosystem (iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad).

Next, watch the seamless flow of tens of billions of consumer downloads from an iTunes and App Store marketplace that is backed by 150 million active credit cards.

Then, understand that behind the scenes, many tens of thousands of developers, writers, artists, musicians and filmed entertainment professionals are pretty much able to post, manage and monetize their creative vision within this same marketplace, guided by Adam Smith’s invisible hand and the “soft touch” of Steve Jobs and Co.

Simply put, whether you consider the emerging “it” a phone, a computer, a media player, a netbook or a gaming device, is it even a stretch to argue that Apple is on the cusp of completing the last mile to … something?

The “it” is, most basically, a domain where compute, communications, mobile web, gaming, media playback and media creation tools are literally and perpetually at your fingertips.

Now don’t get me wrong. PCs will continue to have a useful life for a decade or more. But make no doubt that Apple has irrevocably marshaled in the post-PC era.

I say “irrevocably” so Android devotees won’t accuse me of saying that Apple is destined to be the gorilla of the post-PC era. My point is more basic; namely, that win, lose or show, it’s game, era, on.

That said, a tip of the hat should go out to Apple for pushing the stage forward so forcefully. Lest we forget Apple’s supremely high customer satisfaction and customer loyalty rates, not to mention how much of a favorable departure the Apple approach represents from what came before it.

The mobile video studio arrives

mobile-studio.png

One can see this truth in action with Apple’s inspired incorporation of iMovie into the new iPhone 4 (and ultimately, one suspects, other camera-equipped iOS devices).

For one, this speaks to the company putting a stake in the ground that iOS will be a platform for serious photo and video capture devices going forward.

Specifically, look at how iMovie overlays the iPhone’s video and photo functions with touch-based editing, theming, the ability to add music and photos into video creations, and the agility to wirelessly share the finished production with anything from palm-sized screens to big-screen HDTVs.

Now, think about how such a workflow could open up new forms of mobile programming, such as multimedia postcards, live and recorded shows, news programs, spontaneous broadcasts of “flash events” and FaceTime meetups.

Imagine a tripod attached to your iPhone. You can create click-by-click animation sequences just by moving physical items in, out or sideways on your desktop or whatever physical space you’re staging your video production from. Future versions of iMovie could facilitate green screen overlays and augmented reality sequences.

A creative mind could apply this cinematic vehicle to engage, entertain or educate by creating stories, asking questions or cultivating dialogues in new, media-rich ways.

If you think about it, the existence of iMovie within iOS-based devices opens a logical front for Apple to foment a revolution in digital content creation by doing for the consumer what desktop publishing did for the graphic design and print professional in the early days of the PC era.

When you see the fork in the road, take it

Fork-in-the-Road.jpgSo here’s a riddle: Apple’s supposed advantage over Android is that by controlling and shaping the end-to-end, it can deliver a consistent — and superior — user experience.

But, therein lies a conundrum. If the iPad is analogous to holding a high-definition screen in front of your face, and the iPhone 4′s Retina Display pushes optics to a whole other level … And if the next Apple TV is simply an iOS-powered Mac Mini viewed on a 60-inch big screen … Is iOS then still to be judged primarily as a communications device platform? Or, as a low-end gaming disruptor to Microsoft Xbox or Nintendo Wii in the living room? Is it a personal media library, home theater or something else entirely?

To fragment or not to fragment? To support a matrix of different form-factors and function sets (phone, camera, 3G, direct, touch-based input), so as to optimize around a broadened segmenting of “jobs” and outcomes? Or, to constrain device-type variants, so as to maintain the Apple credo of elegant simplicity?

And don’t forget the developer in this equation. We can talk about shielding developers from the added complexity, but I am here to tell you that such a scenario has the usual caveats attached to it. Nothing is free.

Then again, nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?

Related:


Visit iphone.oreilly.com for a complete list of books and resources to successfully create, distribute, and market iPhone apps.

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  • Rich Rosen

    Steve Jobs said it at D8 this year: PCs are like trucks. Not everybody needs a truck, but a lot of people do, and those that do will continue to have the ability to purchase a truck. All the talk that simpler more limited platforms are stifling creativity and innovation are just hot air – the PC will continue to exist and thrive for those who want that kind of functionality. And those who feel (not unjustifiably) that the complexity of a general purpose computer has essentially been imposed on them unnecessarily all these years, they can now have iPads, tablets, internet appliances, etc., whatever the simpler devices are going to be called as this market evolves.

    And realize that the term “PC” as Jobs used it was clearly meant to include Windows PCs as well as Macs and any other general purpose computing platform that comes to mind. (To paraphrase Python’s Life of Brian, he was referring not just to “the cheesemakers” but to “any manufacturers of dairy products”. :-) Steve Ballmer at the same conference clearly didn’t understand that, and chose to whine about how he thinks the PC still has a future. It does, to be sure–but not for the target demographic Ballmer and company like to imagine they “own”. Just for those of us who need “trucks”.

  • Phil Earnhardt

    One fascinating part of the equation is the iPod Touch. This is the third year running that the Touch is the the incentive in Apple’s “Back to School” program ( http://store.apple.com/us/browse/campaigns/back_to_school ). Students and faculty purchasing an laptop or iMac can get a free 8GB iPod Touch or get $199 off the larger-capacity iPod Touch machines.

    What role do these machines play for students? Do they complement their other iOS devices well? How much sharing of data and iOS programs is done between machines? Is Apple encouraging developers to make one version of their programs that work on all devices? The “back to school” iOS devices are one advantage that is difficult for the Android ecology to imitate: they encourage users to keep all their portable devices in the iOS family.

    Rumors are starting to pop up about the new iPod Touch to be revealed after the “back to school” promotions are complete (see http://www.macrumors.com/2010/07/08/next-generation-ipod-touch-parts-reveal-hole-for-front-facing-camera/ ). A camera seems inevitable. I’m guessing the new iPod Touch will have a significantly-improved speaker like the new iPhone 4.

    Will the Touch get the iPhone’s hi-res display? That’s a tricky call. I’m guessing that the low-end iPod Touch will have a lower-resolution display but high-end models will mirror the resolution of the iPhone 4.

    I hope they throw the gyros in all models of the new iPod Touch. Those devices are crucial to the feel of games; it would be nice to have all of the small iOS devices with identical sensors.

  • Mark Sigal

    @Rich, great comments. It’s our (unfortunate) human nature to make these discussions all or none oriented, like for the Post PC era to take off the PC has to die. It doesn’t. I am still quite happy with my MacBook Pro even though my iPad is starting to capture more and more “jobs” during the day.

    Or, we reason that iOS v. Android is a zero sum outcome, as that is largely how the PC era played out. A handset OEM focused Android can thrive with a vertically-integrated iOS device value chain, but we tend not to like that kind of nuance.

    I call it the Tyranny of the ALL or NONE.

    Cheers,

    Mark

  • Mark Sigal

    @Phil, I can tell you that based on first hand experience (with my company Unicorn Labs) that there are increasing trade-off decisions on development front, which you can see plainly in App Store. There is an iPhone tab, to filter on those apps, a iPad tab to filter on those apps and a section featuring iOS-optimized apps (to showcase iPhone 4).

    I recently wrote a post on the whole question of information flow between these devices, which hearkened me back to Apple’s old OpenDoc technology, which you can read about here:

    Apple and the “last mile” to true Mobility (iOS, meet OpenDoc)
    http://broadcast.oreilly.com/2010/07/apple-and-the-last-mile-to-tru.html

    There is no question, though, that kids grok the iPod touch big-time, and it’s positively shocking to see my son’s first grade class where all the kids know the device, all play the same top games, and just get.

    That stated, logic dictates that even that platform will fragment between the version of the device with camera, better display and better processor, and the less expensive version, which may have some or none of those functions, all of which creates fragmentation complexity for Apple (and developers) to manage.

    Best,

    Mark

  • Matthew Weber

    Excellent post. Another question this could raise is : is the future of desktop computing going to be void of any of the OSs that today we call dominant? For example we could have iOS on Apple products, and Chrome OS on other machines. Also with the current dominance of Windows in the PC market, what will Microsoft’s contribution be to this new OS landscape?

  • Mark Sigal

    @Matthew, I think that the moral of the story from industry in general is two fold. One is that legacy doesn’t just go away over night. I have compared Microsoft to the collapse of Communism in the sense that Soviet Style Communism died as a viable economic and political system long before the Soviet Union itself collapsed, and similarly, Microsoft will continue along making billions serving a legacy business long before business as usual is no longer viable:

    Comparing Microsoft’s challenges to the fall of Communism
    http://thenetworkgarden.com/weblog/2007/03/microsoft_and_t.html

    Two, is that the nature of disruptive innovation is that it often starts in the low-end of the market before subsuming the main of the market so it’s not out of the realm that the iPad we see today, which is great for content consumption, games and communications evolves into a input, creation and programming device, initially by capturing a segment like field sales where lugging a notebook is dysfunctional but an iPhone or Blackberry is not powerful enough to capture detailed notes, creating custom reports and the like.

    From such an initial beachhead anything is possible, as the mobile studio example spotlights (case in point, the typical news reporter on local tv now is both camera man and reporter, as opposed to separate people handling those functions).

  • bowerbird

    marc-

    just 6 comments? that’s all? and 3 of those are from _you_?

    i don’t know where all your other commenters have gone,
    but i am boycotting radar because i am being _censored_
    over on the o’reilly t.o.c. blog. i know, it surprises me too.
    whodathunkit?

    anyway, best of luck stirring up reaction in the future…

    -bowerbird

  • Mark Sigal

    Hi Bowerbird,

    I don’t worry about stuff like that. The effort in distilling the narrative is the primary driver, although to your point it’s certainly great when these things trigger rich and tangential discussion threads.

    As to censorship and blockades, avoid the black chevy. That’s all I can say. ;-)

    Best,

    Mark