Social Viewing With (But Not On) iPad: A Pile-Up Of Fail

networked tvsThe social media revolution has produced a lot of amazing services and capabilities, especially as it intersects with the world of mobile devices -- but inevitably there is a lot of chaff to be separated from the wheat, as programmers combine various hot concepts seemingly at random (just imagine: DogSpark, a new service that lets your dog "sign in" at the dog park! BoobTube, a ChatRoulette service for breastfeeding women!). Throw an Apple product into the mix, and you get a positive frenzy of gratuitous app-making.

Here's a good one: it seems developers are creating apps for the new iPad for social TV viewing. According to the article in Ad Age, MTV is working on branded apps for the iPad (as well as the iPhone and Android) that will allow groups of people to interact in a common forum while watching a TV program. Part of the idea is that the iPad will be a more appealing device for multitasking during TV shows than, say, a cumbersome laptop or diminutive mobile phone.

Maybe I'm too negative (my mom said so) but all I can see for this are downsides. At the most basic, ergonomic level, I wonder if anyone has actually studied how people use tablet-style devices while watching TV. By all accounts the iPad isn't exactly well-suited to "lean-forward" activities using the touch-screen virtual keyboard, which requires you to, well, lean forward, hunching over the tablet as it rests in your lap. If you were lying back on a couch with your knees up I suppose you could rest the iPad against your legs, but in general it has been my observation that laptops are actually pretty ideal for multitasking while watching TV -- you can arrange the smaller, closer screen so it sits next to or beneath the bigger, more distant screen in your field of vision, swivel it further away or closer to block the big screen, and so on.

But setting aside ergonomics, the real downside is that social viewing with an iPad merely highlights multiple technological shortcomings (none of which are the app-makers' fault, but still). The first that comes to mind is the fact that the iPad doesn't allow you to watch video itself, at least anything that requires Flash (CBS is apparently working on an HTML video player, but that's not part of these iPad apps). I haven't heard anyone use the term "convergence" lately, but this definitely seems like a failure of convergence to me: why, in 2010, should a cutting-edge media device merely serve as an "appendage" or adjunct to traditional TV viewing?

The second, related failure highlighted here is the seeming inability or unwillingness of cable networks and service providers to integrate Internet and TV on the "big screen" in people's living rooms. Currently just getting Netflix on demand requires a fairly convoluted hookup through an Xbox or similar multimedia center, so I'm guessing it will be a while before an average viewer can, say, have a social media portal open on screen next to the TV program they're watching.

3 comments about "Social Viewing With (But Not On) iPad: A Pile-Up Of Fail".
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  1. Arun Sinha from Access Consulting, March 29, 2010 at 5:30 p.m.

    Maybe we should all just stop talking about the iPad and how it will or won't change the world until the thing goes on sale and large numbers of people actually start using it.

    Irony: By writing this comment, I just talked about the iPad.

  2. Brett Johnson from Independent Contractor, March 29, 2010 at 8:49 p.m.

    I've been engaging in live chat during sports events or about 5 years now and I'd have to say that ergonomics will be tricky. Most likely the screen will become covered when typing. That's ok if you're just chatting, but if you're pulling live data (scores, timing, stats, etc.) at the same time it will be difficult for the user as they will have to remember details then communication. Pretty slow for double checking facts.

    On the other hand, laying on your back and somehow thumb typing might be preferred to having a complete on screen keyboard or using a laptop that falls down if you're not holding it up with pressure on your legs.

    I don't think the convergence piece holds quite yet. Eventually when TVs can push live chat to the bottom of the screen it will be cool.

    Perhaps the most insightful takeaway I have from live chat is that you have to have closed friend groups. Facebook Connect would work well for this. That or Twitter lists. Regardless, open chat bites, and you can't ask a group to migrate without some way to bring the crowd with whom they like to chill.

  3. Frances Foley, March 30, 2010 at 12:05 a.m.

    It's like trying to not think of a purple elephant.

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