Hard News by Russell Brown


The Southern Apps

"Why on earth," I wondered, "are they bringing around the boiled lollies now?" Turned out it was the usual reason: the plane was landing.

I had been so absorbed in my task that 80 minutes in the air had passed without me noticing. And I'd nailed a 23-slide Keynote presentation on the iPad. It really wasn't bad -- more comfortable in an in-flight situation than a laptop would have been, and, in some respects, just plain better than working with a physical keyboard and mouse. But one thing remains clunky and difficult in a multi-touch interface -- selecting (and, therefore, copying, pasting and formatting) text. The old-fangled computer mouse really is still the chap for that.

I'd earlier discovered one irritating quirk of the iPad: unless you're prepared to jailbreak your device, the iPad won't mirror its screen in general use. Any number of apps support mirroring to another monitor or projector -- it's just a few lines of code -- but only one man in the world can demonstrate to an audience what it looks like to use an iPad: Steve Jobs. I fully appreciate the the greater part of the iPad lockdown is simply a means of ensuring that it just works, but I can't see the point of this particular limitation. Steve, c'mon man, fix this.

I was, after working Wednesday evening and getting up at five sodding thirty on Thursday morning, on my way to my annual talk to students at the CPIT Broadcasting School. I explained to them what I thought was an interesting argument in the wake of Chris Anderson's claim in this month's Wired magazine that "the Web is dead" -- and we should all welcome our new app overlords.

There are many things wrong with Anderson's argument -- starting with, as Rob Beschizza pointed out in a Boing Boing post -- his graphs. Although the total proportion of internet traffic attributable to web browsing has been falling since 2000, that doesn't meaning that use of the web is actually diminishing. Like everything else, it continues to rise, just not as quickly as video traffic has been rising in the past two years. And video is big. That's not necessarily a good measure of the uptake or utility of internet video compared to, say Twitter, which has a tiny traffic profile.

But I don't think Anderson's argument is without merit. We really are seeing a rise of apps -- small, single-purpose applications that exist independently of your web browser. Sometimes they manifest on your personal computer -- you can either use Twitter as a web app, or opt for the utility of TweetDeck or Tweetie. But more often, we're seeing apps where they really belong -- on appliances. There's your smartphone and my iPad, but also TV sets, which increasingly in the US are shipping with built-in apps for Netflix or YouTube, and the Playstation 3, which now offers you a slightly unstable dedicated player for TVNZ ondemand. In all these cases, web applications have moved out of the browser.

And there's a big shift coming next month, when Apple launches iTV. According to Kevin Rose, whose sources are generally very good, Apple's slim new box will run iOS4 and provide access to a TV version of the App Store, which will offer streaming video, dedicated interactive apps from major news organisations and other content providers, games, and whatever else the app development community thinks might fly. And it'll cost, it is said, $US99.

For media companies, the, er, killer app of apps is the ability to monetise. Rupert Murdoch, who lost 90% of his readership when he put up a paywall at The Times website this year, this will be powerfully attractive.

I also ran the kids through some other developments in a rapidly-changing market: Google TV, Hulu's impending IPO, Boxee battling on as an independent application, and this month's Ofcom report into Britain's electronic media use.

The Ofcom report is really worth a look. Among the standout figures: the volume of traffic across the British internet rose by 69% in 2009, and mobile data jumped by 240% -- all this in the midst of a rather nasty recession.

Use of catch-up TV across the internet jumped, as did the use of digital video recorders. But evening viewing of live broadcast TV remains stable, and the number of radio listeners actually increased. Britons, especially men, are simply consuming more and more electronic media, and paying less for it.

In part, that's been made possible by another trend: media-multi-tasking. In particular, 16-24 year-olds managed to squeeze in an average 9.5 hours of daily media use into 6.5 actual hours, by doing more than one thing at a time.

I talked about this for 90 minutes, then had lunch with Paul Norris, Christine Vavasour and Bryan Pauling, who wrung me dry of Auckland media gossip. And then, presently, it was time to meet up again with Bob the Toddler and his driver, Mr Haywood, for a trip to Sumner and many pleasant hours playing with talking animals on the iPad. Emma and Karl and Blair from the L.E.D.s joined us for takeaway curries and many lulz into the night.

I've missed Ian Dalziel this time, but I did conduct the pilgrimage to Whisky Galore, from whence I departed with a few fine drams fizzing on my palate and some of the wares of the Adelphi bottling company. For special, Adelphi's 17 year-old Longmorn bottling, and for just any old day, the Adelphi Private Stock blended scotch, which is strikingly good value at $44, and quite the nicest blend I have tried.

Also, the weather down here is lovely, except in the evenings, when it was so cold outside I feared I might go into a coma. Yes, I am a big Auckland softie.

And that is all. Feel free to post whatever in comments-- it being Friday and all.

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