This has become the lament in my house as wife or daughter happen upon me in the living room in what is affectionately (I think) called my “mad scientist mode.” It usually entails a smartphone or tablet in hand and some very strange content on the TV. This time it is an old union-sponsored campaign film for FDR’s 1944 re-election campaign. Roosevelt’s patrician face forms the engine on a cartoon train that is outracing the “Defeatist” Express.
“And you make fun of us for sharing puppy photos on our iPhones,” my wife observes.
Well, I have wife and daughter on a trio of iPhones, and the idea was to experiment with having a family on a unified communication system (facetime, messaging, app sharing and all that). But in the end I can’t get my wife to answer my calls or messages (“oh, look, you left 10 voice mails in the last week!”) or my daughter to move far beyond Draw Anything, StumbleUpon and updating her Facebook page with comments that make a Dad squirm. And then there are the puppy photos. “Oh, look, the puppies!” is the chant whenever they get together.
So, yes, the mad media scientist is left to experiment on his own more often than not. And I am trying to play amongst the clouds, because this is the next great hurdle that both consumers and media companies have to traverse. IDC reports this week that the PC is about to lose its share leadership among technology connecting to the Internet. Their latest figures project that while 35.9% of devices connecting to the Internet in 2011 were Windows-based PCs, that share will fall dramatically to 25.1% in 2016. The new leading platform will be Android-based devices running on ARM CPUs, which will grow from 29.4% share in 2011 to 31.1% share in 2016. Apple iOS devices will have 17.3% share by then, up from 14.6% now.
The bottom line is not who wins or loses or which platform is dominant, but that most of us will be working across devices from a common (we hope) pool of data. “We are in a multi-device age,” states Bob O’Donnell, VP, clients and displays for IDC, about the projections. “We believe the number of people who use multiple devices will only continue to increase.” IDC is calling it the “PC-Plus” effect. “The trick, moving forward, will be to integrate all these devices into a unified whole through the personal cloud-type applications and services,” O’Donnell adds.
Indeed. That is exactly the simple trick I am trying to pull off here. My capricious pop culture historian head has settled on studying the brilliant work of the UPA cartoon studio of the 1940s and 50s, the home of Mr. Magoo, Gerald McBoing Boing and countless advertising spots that pioneered the use of abstract and limited animation. Adam Abraham just released a great history of the studio, When Magoo Flew, and TCM released a compilation of their films, which is late in getting to me because TCM appears to have botched the order.
At any rate, I am trying to cobble together UPA cartoon clips via YouTube to watch as I progress through Abraham’s history. Hence, I am using PC, iPad and iPhone to search out the right clips and send them to the YouTube app I can watch via Apple TV or Google TV on the living room screen. The idea is to experiment with leveraging multiple devices to triage media throughout the day and be able to push it to the screen where I have the leisure and setting to enjoy that media most.
The problems mount quickly. The nomenclature within YouTube is daunting to the uninitiated. It may seem obvious to veterans of YouTube how to distinguish Subscriptions from Channels from Watch Later from Playlists from Favorites. But as with Facebook, these ever-evolving and vaguely similar labels strike me as overlapping and disorienting. There are still so many signs in the digital ecosystem that this stuff is being designed by engineers with little respect for the fact that ordinary users just don’t want to learn their language. And as with Facebook, this nomenclature that bogs down the experience on any one platform becomes all the more daunting when you try to access the cloud data on multiple devices. I finally settle on creating a Playlist for myself of UPA Films, if only because that self-made tag will be easier to identify wherever it might crop up on the other devices.
And it can come from anywhere. One of the irritating weaknesses of the YouTube experience across all of the platforms is the ever-changing interface. Finding the Playlists among the clutter of possibilities on phone, tablet, PC Web site and then the Apple TV and Google TV is a chore. Any by the way, YouTube is not the lone culprit here. Netflix’s persistent experimentation with interfaces is similarly daunting when you are juggling a number of devices in the “PC Plus” world.
All of this matters because personal curation and screen sorting is certainly going to become a part of the “PC Plus” world. As we become more conscious of the multiple screens in our lives, we will encounter content on one screen and make a split-second decision not just whether or not to consume it but whether we would like to experience it on another screen at another time. I suspect that over time a well-calibrated device ecosystem paired with a reliable cloud service will put all of us in the position of being media curators. This was a behavior we first saw years ago, when early mobile content providers reported to me the high incidence of people emailing stories to themselves from their phones for more considered reading on the desktop. Obviously, the popularity of Instapaper rode this trend.
The winners will be the companies that can pay close enough attention both to synchronizing experience across screens and keeping the user well-oriented via design and interface. If a company like Apple or Google can nail that experience on three of the four screens a user encounters in a given day, he is more likely to opt for that provider on the fourth screen. Google Chrome keeps my bookmarks synchronized across desktop and laptop screens for me, but Apple Safari has a different set synched across iOS devices. At some point I will tire of this bifurcation and likely want to standardize on one platform if it can really coordinate all of my media inputs, so I can output the content to the right screens.
For cross-platform providers this should be a priority. There will be a lot at stake here because companies are now vying for helping the consumer build and maintain an orderly media environment for himself. I am still waiting for the provider that stops touting its “cloud” and starts helping me build the personal media bubble so I can float there.
“That boy just honked,” my wife says.
“It is Gerald McBoing Boing,” the mad scientist answers excitedly. “Dr. Seuss created him. A breakthrough in limited animation. Dig the subtext about personal communication in post-WWII age of mass media.”
“You live in your own strange little world, don't you, Professor?”
"I prefer to think of it as a bubble -- but I am trying to."