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January 12 2012

15:20

Wearing Our Computers on Our Sleeves

It's natural to imagine our computers as devices that have screens and some sort of keyboard input, real or virtual.

Those two design elements constrain the device's form factor because the screens need to be big enough for us to see and the keyboards must make room for our fingers or thumbs. But a number of technological hurdles are being overcome that will, in the coming year, dramatically alter the shape of our computing and communication devices. We are about to enter the world of wearable computing.

 

Before the end of 2012 many of us will be sporting bracelets, watches, fobs and other fashion doodads that will send us messages or convey data to our phones, computers and the Internet.

 

These devices already exist.

 

The rise of the wearable device

Apple's year-old iPod Nano is being worn as a watch. There are at least a half-dozen companies making watch straps specifically for it. The Nano is a touch-screen iPod, a radio, a Nike running monitor, a photo frame and, of course, a watch -- with 18 different fashion faces. Apple's already considering the next step.

The Up Band, a thin, colorful bracelet from Jambox, captures biometrics about your exercise and sleep patterns and, when you plug it into your computer, sends that data to the Internet so you can see and share your health data. The Fitbit, a pedometer updated for online, does the same sort of tracking, but attaches to your belt, not your wrist.

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But these are just the early vanguard of wearable computers that will be much more powerful and versatile. That shift will be fueled by four major trends: improved short-range communication protocols, flexible screens, and better battery life and voice recognition.

Protocols first. A new Bluetooth standard, Bluetooth 4.0, is now being built into smartphones and upcoming wearables. Standard Bluetooth 2.0 is a wireless communications protocol that allows smartphones to "talk" to earpieces.
 

But Bluetooth 4.0 uses less power and allows devices to "pair" with each other almost instantly. That means that a smartphone in your pocket can share information with a watch or bracelet on your wrist. That information could be the text of an incoming SMS, email or alert. Or, it could just be a signal that makes the bracelet flash blue if you have a new message, green if you've received a new email, or red if you've gotten an important alert.

 

Or, you could sport earrings that subtly buzz on your earlobes to signal arriving missives.

 

Of course, it could also have more serious uses, conveying health-monitoring data from patients to their smartphones and on to their doctors via the web, for example.

 

The devices could also support Near Field Communication (NFC) protocol so that your watch or bracelet could act as a transit token or a movie ticket by touching it to a point-of-purchase pad, much the way the Presto card in Canada works now.

 

A smart bracelet is possible due to advances made in flexible screens -- often OLEDs (organic light-emitting diodes) -- printed on a plastic backing. Such screens can arc along a circular bracelet. These screens display text, images and have a refresh rate high enough to show video. Cheaper e-ink screens (like those in Kindles and Kobo eReaders) have already been made of flexible backing and are being used to display color and monochrome data and images. It's easy to imagine an inexpensive bracelet that can, chameleon-like, alter its appearance based on sensors that detect a change in ambient temperature, surrounding colors or the vital signs of its wearer. Samsung is already working on flexible screens that will show up in wearable devices this year.

 

Of course, none of these wearables would work without power. Some, like watches or bracelets, could be powered by solar cells built as a layer of the display screen. Or, since the charging capacity of lithium-ion cells is improving dramatically and the Bluetooth 4.0 standard sips power, they could be powered by small, thin rechargeable cells.

Intelligent ears

Finally, these upcoming wearable computers can have intelligent ears. Siri, the speech-recognition technology now in iPhones, could power speech-recognizing earrings or watches. The wearable device, of course, would not do the speech-recognition work itself. It would just pass the captured speech to your smartphone via Bluetooth 4, then the phone would compress that audio data, send it to the Internet for Siri servers to decode, and then translate the text and send it as an SMS or email, sending a confirming alert back to your watch.
 

Why does this matter to us? Because these gadgets will become the next wave of communication devices, as different from tablets as tablets are from desktop computers. As journalists, we need to understand what's coming and ask important questions like -- how do you tell a story to a wristwatch?

Wayne MacPhail is a veteran journalist who now heads up w8nc inc., helping non-profit organizations, colleges and universities, charitable organizations and associations develop and implement technology-based, marketing driven communications strategies. MacPhail also teaches online journalism at the University of Western Ontario and Ryerson University. He serves on the board of rabble.ca where he founded the rabble podcast network and rabbletv. He's a tech columnist for the website.

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This article was originally published on J-Source. J-Source and MediaShift have a content-sharing arrangement.

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December 22 2009

17:31

Film Industry Experts Offer 10 Predictions for 2010

Films such as "2001" and "2012" illustrate how the future has long fascinated Hollywood. With a new year on the horizon, I asked 10 executives and analysts, many of whom were in attendance at the recent Future of Film Summit in Santa Monica, Calif., for their predictions about the film industry. Below are 10 topics and thoughts on what the industry and consumers should expect next year and beyond.

1. 3D

Ahmad Ouri, CMO, Technicolor: "2010 will be a defining year for 3D in theaters, in the living room, and even on mobile. For nearly a century, Technicolor has innovated entertainment for the big screen and the small screen, and we've seen the 'big' get bigger, and the 'small' screens get smaller, with the advancements in mobile devices. In 2010, we'll see 3D film and other content infiltrate all of these visual display mediums, and 3D will no longer be confined to the multiplex."

2. Alternative Content

John Rubey, president, AEG Network Live: "Alternative content (e.g. concerts and sports in movie theaters) continues to grow in importance as traditional audiences shrink and fragment, while the alternative content grows and shows better, more predictable results."

3. Digital Production

Steve Canepa, general manager, IBM Global Media and Entertainment Industry: "2010 will be the year that Hollywood productions begin to go digital end-to-end. Starting with capturing films on location with digital cameras and scanning analog prints into digital form, the footage will move across studio lots as digital data files. This will help to streamline workflows, to shorten production cycles, to support day-in-date release windows (theatrical, DVD and potentially video-on-demand for some markets) and to provide a readily accessible archive of all the film source content."

4. Digital Living Room

Mike Saxon, senior vice president, research, Harris Interactive: "We have seen steady growth in consumer uptake of legal digital distribution outlets, including iTunes, Netflix, and Hulu. We expect this trend to continue in 2010, as Internet-connected TVs shift these services from the office to the living room."

5. DVD Rentals + On-Demand Online

Steve Swasey, VP, corporate communications, Netflix: "In 2010, the trend toward movie enjoyment via the Internet will continue to grow, but not only as you might guess. Yes, more people will instantly watch movies and TV episodes from Netflix via the Internet on the TV or their computer in 2010 -- this area grew by 100 percent in the last year. But more people also will continue to rent DVDs online in 2010 compared to 2009. Netflix will increase its U.S. postage bill to $600 million in 2010, and to $700 million in 2011, to keep pace with the increased DVD rental demand. Whether it's streaming instantly or sending DVD and blu-ray discs via the U.S. mail, Netflix will continue to increase its delivery to people who want to watch great movies."

6. Mobile Video

Frank Chindamo, president and chief creative officer, Fun Little Movies: "In 2010, everyone with a mobile phone will realize they're also holding a really cool video player, and start watching what they want to watch, when and where they want to watch it -- instead of having crappy over-hyped TV shows shoved in their faces."

7. Online Distribution

Rick Allen, CEO, SnagFilms: "Online distribution will play an increasingly important role for all films, particularly documentaries, as audiences demand convenience and accessibility, and filmmakers seek to overcome the diminished opportunities on traditional platforms. Documentarians will bring in partners such as charities and advocates to help expand awareness, as well as audience."

8. Release Window

Blair Westlake, corporate vice president, media and entertainment group, Microsoft: "As studios look for more revenue streams, a premium-priced home viewing window for movies will be commonly sandwiched between the theatrical release and the DVD release."

9. Theatrical Exhibition

Andy DiOrio, corporate communications manager, AMC Entertainment: "Our crystal ball says that we will continue to see digital deployment expand in the industry, and at least one film is sure to pleasantly surprise us and exceed our expectations at the box office."

10. Video On Demand

Jamie McCabe, executive vice president, worldwide PPV/VOD and EST (electronic sell-through), 20th Century Fox: "We will see continued growth in VOD across cable, telco and Internet delivered platforms with a significant expansion of available content and increased access to multiple screens."

Nick Mendoza is the director of digital communications at Zeno Group. He advises consumer, entertainment and web companies on digital strategy, distribution and engagement. He blogs at The Social 7 and is the film correspondent for MediaShift. Follow him on Twitter @NickMendoza.

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December 21 2009

19:45

Media Mavens Wish for More Collaboration, Less Talk in 2010

Layoffs, buyouts, furloughs, and more than a few shuttered newspapers and magazines. That's definitely part of the story of 2009. Yet, at the same time, many established news organizations pushed online with impressive results, and online-only organizations continued to grow and innovate.

Now, with 2009 ending, we have a new year of media to ponder. I contacted a selection of media people and asked them to name their biggest media wish for 2010.

New Year's Wishes from Media Folks

David Carr, Media Equation columnist, New York Times: "I'd like old/new media to put away the squirt guns and start exploring the venn diagram where interests intersect and collaboration can take place. A more sustainable model of news production is evolving as we speak: the whining and blaming is just delaying a practical discussion about how we all move forward."

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Josh Cohen, senior business product manager, Google News: You know that feeling in your stomach on New Year's Day? Part trepidation, part excitement, part hangover? Right now, the news industry seems struck with a mix of fear over what changes might yet come and excitement over the many paths available to it. The Internet is offering more and more opportunities for getting great journalism in front of eager consumers. A ton of ideas are swirling around -- exciting ways to distribute news, tap into citizen reporting and generate revenue. No one quite knows which ones are going to work. It's both terrifying and thrilling.

So my wish for 2010 is that the parties that have an interest in this -- news organizations, technology companies and others -- just dive in and start trying everything. Whether they do it on their own or through partnerships with Google or our competitors, news publishers need to keep innovating. Let's spend less time discussing, more time launching and iterating. I know we're a bunch of optimists at Google, but I'm really hopeful that 2010 is the year that journalism really hits its stride on the Internet."

David Cohn, founder of Spot.us: "My wish for 2010 is that it be a year of doing. I hope the larger media industry continues the ongoing conversation about the state of journalism, but not unless it means taking action. Next year should be the year we stop writing/reading the white papers and start being the change we wish to see."

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Megan Garber, staff writer, Columbia Journalism Review: "Assuming we can't wish for 1,000 more wishes -- and/or for some billionaire oil baron to take a sudden interest in funding journalism -- I'd hope, broadly, for more collaboration. Among individual journalists, among news organizations, among individual journalists and news organizations. One silver lining in all our current gloom is that the media industry now has the opportunity to reinvent itself -- to imagine what journalism might be when freed from the constraints of historical accident. As we take advantage of that opportunity, I hope we'll be willing -- and eager -- to overcome outdated notions of reflexive competition, and to embrace instead a much more contemporary sensibility: 'We're all in this together.' "

Seth Godin, author, blogger, speaker and marketing expert: "A wish? That media companies would stop whining and start building. This is the chance of a lifetime."

Tara Hunt, blogger, speaker and author of "The Whuffie Factor": "My media-related wish is that all the websites out there that we use daily would start to work together more effectively, alleviating me from the pain of having to update my address in a gabillion different places. I moved to Montreal this summer and have been finding places all over the web that require updating."

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Craig Kanalley, founder of Breaking Tweets and now with the Huffington Post: "My media wish for 2010 is for news companies of all kinds to put aside differences of the past, egotism and self interests to work together. News organizations in 2010 should link to each other (yes, the competition), collaborate with each other, and get aggressive in implementing new media strategies and models that fit this web-first media world. It's time to put an end to archaic practices of the past and to think about how to do good journalism with the tools available to journalists today."

Hamilton Nolan, contributing editor, Gawker: "Jobs! I would wish for media jobs. Jobs for young people just coming up, jobs for everyone who got laid off, jobs for people who'd like to move up in the industry, dream jobs for people to aim for. Paying media jobs that people can live on and realistically hope to get. Although I'm not optimistic!"

Jolie O'Dell, community manager and writer, ReadWriteWeb: "My wish is twofold: First, I'd like for everyone to stop bemoaning the 'death of newspapers,' 'the demise of old media,' and 'the murder of journalism (subtext: by bloggers).'

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"And second, I'd like to see web applications and social media integrated into every journalism class in America. J-school kids ought to be taught SEO principles, such as metadata and tagging. They should be taught what constitutes a good Digg headline and how to get retweets. They should know about page views, clickthroughs, and conversion rates.

"Because these are all the things I wish I knew when I graduated and found myself working at a digital publication. It happened to me, and I'd wager it's going to happen to around 75 percent of the graduating class of 2010, as well. If those graduates are as unprepared for the Internet as I was, then we can really start to weep and wail for the passing of journalism."

Jack Shafer, Press Box columnist, Slate: "I have no wishes, no desires, no passion. I am a lukewarm mud-puddle. Sorry."

Rachel Sklar, editor at large, Mediaite: "My 2010 wish is for quality. I have no problem with page-view bait -- Megan Fox, anyone? -- but I do worry about gunning for traffic at the expense of quality. The good stuff takes time. It always has and it always will, but the payoff is so much more important than just another 'Twilight' slideshow. I love 'Twilight' slideshows (Team Edward!) -- that stuff is fun, and I never want to lose the fun stuff. But the flip side of the mini-wheat has to be there, too.

"That's not only the reason they give out Pulitzers, but also the reason corruption is uncovered and injustices exposed and hypocrisies revealed, and that's important. More and more, looking around the media space, I worry about losing that -- about the bosses losing that as the highest goal, and the newbies losing that as a goal in the first place. So my wish in 2010 is for quality time spent on quality content that matters, and makes a difference. Heck, it might even get page views."

Craig Silverman is an award-winning journalist and author, and an associate editor at MediaShift and Idea Lab. He is the founder and editor of Regret The Error, the author of Regret the Error: How Media Mistakes Pollute the Press and Imperil Free Speech, and a weekly columnist for Columbia Journalism Review. Follow him on Twitter at @CraigSilverman.

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