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December 22, 2007

Virtual Worlds and Second Life: A Changing Media Environment

Virtual Worlds & Second Life: A Changing Media Environment

Philip Rosedale and his avatar

Philip Rosedale the founder of Linden Labs who run Second Life alongside his avatar.

Introduction

One of the most fascinating developments in new media is the growth of virtual worlds with Second Life currently the leading virtual world in the marketplace although there are other ones being developed. Here I start to examine the growth of the virtual worlds and discuss whether phenomena such as Second Life should be considered as a game, a social networking site, or as something else in its own right. A quick search on Amazon UK reveals 11 titles currently available on Second Life. But these are largely not academic more like Lonely Planets Guides. An academic one just published is linked below. It is the first in a stream that will undobtedly appear in the next 18 months.

This page has developed out of my attempts to encourage my AS students to investigate Teen Second Life as part of their Audiences and Institutions: New Media Technologies Unit. It would be interesting to develop a media teaching environment in there so any media teachers / lecturers teaching this age range please drop a comment in the box. 

Game or Not: A Convergence?

The Uvvy wiki points out with a clear position on whether it is a game in the opening to its entry:

Second Life is a 3-D virtual world entirely built and owned by its residents. Since opening to the public in 2003, it has grown explosively and today is inhabited by millions of people (August 2006) from around the globe. Second Life is not a videogame, but a complete platform for business and entertainment. ( My emphasis: Uvvi wiki entry 22 / 12 / 07)

Uvvy itself can hardly be said to be neutral on the issue as they are:

uvvy is a full service Internet, Virtual Reality and Metaverse consulting and engineering team

Here some of the ideas are explained:  

The uvvy is the ultimate p2p communication device invented by the mathematician, computer scientist and science fiction writer Rudy Rucker. The uvvy does not exist yet but maybe coming soon.

Academia hasn't quite caught on to the fact that computer games represent the convergence and the flowering of the most ambitious frontier efforts of the old twentieth-century computer science: artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and artificial life." Rudy Rucker, "The Lifebox, the Seashell, and the Soul" (My empahsis).

Well this gets us around the question of whether it is a game or not - sort of!

The Virtual Worlds Review 

Virtual Worlds Review has a useful page which analyses several types of virtual world:

A virtual world is an interactive simulated environment accessed by multiple users through an online interface. Virtual worlds are also called "digital worlds," "simulated worlds" and "MMOG's." There are many different types of virtual worlds, however there are six features all of them have in common:

1. Shared Space: the world allows many users to participate at once.

2. Graphical User Interface: the world depicts space visually, ranging in style from 2D "cartoon" imagery to more immersive 3D environments.

3. Immediacy: interaction takes place in real time.

4. Interactivity: the world allows users to alter, develop, build, or submit customized content.

5. Persistence: the world's existence continues regardless of whether individual users are logged in.

6. Socialization/Community: the world allows and encourages the formation of in-world social groups like teams, guilds, clubs, cliques, housemates, neighborhoods, etc. 

Below there is an interesting attempt to develop a more politically astute environment.

Agora Exchange

This site has led me to an interesting  site in which a political game is being devised. It is taking a range of ideas from contributors who must first of all log in. It has actually been commissioned by the Tate Gallery online:

Commissioned by Tate Online, through funding from the Daniel Langlois Foundation for Art, Science and Technology. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Changing Concepts of Cyberspace 

The 07 Siggraph Conference brought out some interesting ideas relating to virtual worlds. As Amy Bruckman suggested in a paper reported by the BBC. 

Already online worlds such as Second Life challenged notions of what was meant by "cyberspace", said Amy Bruckman, associate professor in the College of Computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Coined by William Gibson, cyberspace has been defined as the "place" where a telephone conversation appears to occur. Increasingly it has been associated with online spaces, often games, where people go to play and socialize and are represented by an avatar.

However, said Prof Bruckman, it was becoming obvious that blogs and MySpace and Facebook pages were also in cyberspace, even though they also had strong links to the real world, because they were used to showcase events such as birthday parties, excursions or the birth of their children.

How will the Audience Develop?

Exodus to the Virtual World

Published by Palgrave in the US in November 2007 by Edward Castronova  this is one of the first of what will soon be a stream of academic publications on developments in Virtual Worlds.  

The appeal of online virtual worlds such as Second Life is such that it may trigger an exodus of people seeking to "disappear from reality," an expert on large-scale online games has said. (Edward Castronova, Associate Professor in the Department of Telecommunications at Indiana University to the BBC)

But he stressed there will be a group of people that spends all their lives there, and that the big question is the size of this group. (Ibid)

Castronova goes to some pains to differentiate between escapism - somebody avoiding a  situation say a weak marital relationship -  compared to a refuge from the world in which somebody can make a go of things whilst in conventional life they were being discriminated against. He also comments that it is likely to have a strong appeal to those in low paid low skilled jobs. however wherever people congregate there is usually exploitation and they will be paying to be exploited twice just like going to the movies, but if they enjoy themselves and they feel there is some element of control in their lives maybe it won't be so bad.

However if you check out the Densu Virtual Tokyo initiative below they are aiming to use Second Life to conduct high added value services like selling real estate. Clearly there are a number of ways in which this world might develop its audiences in the plural.  

Identity in Virtual Life

It is remarkable to see the reactions of people when one talks to them about Second Life and the possibility of spending a considerable amount of time in one / several virtual worlds. Is the fear / attraction of escapism from "the meat" as William Gibson describes it?

One thing is for certain the issue of identity is likely to be the core one when it comes to the success of these worlds. Many of my own students either quickly expressed an interest or reacted quite strongly against the possibility.  

Historically it might be possible to equate these virtual spaces to the societal role of the masked ball or issues of carnival written about by Bahktin. These are spaces where people can legitimately "transgress". Psychoanalytic accounts based upon Lacanian thinking will probably come to analyse these spaces as ones of the remainder. Probably different worlds will develop different codes of behaviour and perhaps different worlds will prove more attractive to different classes and types of people and come to be understood as functioning differently there are after all lots of different types of pubs and clubs and Bourdieu's notion of cultural capital will, I'm sure, be applicable in due course. It is if course far to early in the development of these worlds to be anyhting more than speculative.   

Here is a long paper by Judith Donath teaching within the MIT media department on "Designing Sociable Media" in 2001. It is quite an old paper now but the issue of identity and deception is even more important now than it ever was. Donath's course had many intersting elements. Here we can see that she is applying her research into the early MUDs into the beginnings of the developing online virtual worlds:

Nearly all of the avatar systems in current development (or in fiction for that matter) are graphical versions of real-time conversation systems (Rossney 1996). This is not surprising, since many social cues that are needed in a real-time conversation - such as emotional expressions, indications of attention, turn-taking signals, and awareness of presence - are problematic in a purely text-based world. Many of the distinctive vocabularies and discourse patterns (smileys, emote commands, etc.) that have evolved in these environments are attempts, given the very limited communicative channel, to introduce expression and other non-textual components of real-world speech (Cherny 1995). Graphical interfaces provide a promising new medium for conveying this information. (From Donath: Inhabiting the Virtual City). 

Donath's key point here is that avatars will effectively become and already are much more effective means of communication incorporating a wealth of non-verbal communication. It might not be real life but then it's not meant to be! It is a media and communications system.

Avatars from Worlds Away

Donath has illustrated her paper with this image of avatars from the World's Away environment dating from 1996. Obviously things have moved on a lot since then.  This environment  originally run by Fujitsu is now owned by VZone

Making Life Easy or Making it Worse?

As we increasingly move towards shopping on the internet there could be distinct advantages in doing this in a virtual world environment points out Philp Rosedale the founder of Second Life:

Shopping on Amazon might be much easier and enjoyable if you could turn to one of the other 10,000 or so people on the site at the same time as you and ask about what they were buying, get recommendations and swap good or bad experiences. (Philip Rosedale in BBC interview - 14th Dec 2007)

The Developing Institutional Context

Thus far it seems as though the media giants haven't invested in Linden Labs and Second Life yet however I'm sure Rupert Murdoch has a close eye on it especially its possible business applications. computer companies are definitely getting very interested and IBM once one of the largest companies in the world is linking up with Linden Labs to develop Avatars:

A virtual character, or avatar, for all the virtual worlds in which people play is the goal of a joint project between IBM and Linden Lab.

The computer giant and the creator of Second Life are working on universal avatars that can travel between worlds.(BBC Technology pages)

The project started by IBM and Linden Lab aims to create a universal character creation system so people only have to create a digital double once. (ibid)

Clearly there is an expectation on the part of IBM that virtual worlds are going to grow and this development could make it much easier to move through a great variety of these worlds. If this sounds strange to some readers now remember it only about 12 years since the web started up with a graphical user interface and things have moved exponentially since then!. 
If you don't believe me then take a look at the impressive line up for the forthcoming virtual worlds conference in 2008 and also take a look at the topics being covered.

The Future Media and Communications

Dentsu in Second Life

One of my AS students kindly added this link from the Financial Times Aug 2007. The advertising agancy Dentsu has spent an enormous amount of money with Second Life establishing a virtual Tokyo:

Virtual Tokyo gets a virtual Second Life Tokyo 

By Mariko Sanchanta in Tokyo, FT.com site
Published: Aug 22, 2007

Dentsu, which spent about Y10m ($870,000) to acquire the 85 hectares in Virtual Tokyo, is aiming to recoup its investment by lining up 30 or so blue-chip companies to build a virtual presence within the first year.

Mr Aihara said: "We're aiming to create a virtual Japanese Wall Street, where major Japanese financial institutions will have a presence.

"For example, users would be able to negotiate a virtual home mortgage with a bank to then buy a virtual flat. (My emphasis). 

Virtual Business Tools for Second Life 

Just as this site uses Google Analytics to monitor usage and to help develop pages and audience relationships so a range of business tools are being developed for Second Life. This image comes from Maya Realities who have develop a Second Life Analytics.

Maya Realities Analytics Screen

Equally important to where visitors spend time on your land is where they are located in real life. The above map helps determine what languages to offer your products and services or what cultures warrent focused resources.

Work in Progress on Virtual Tokyo 

The Japan Times of Oct 25th 2007 reprots the following:

A work in progress, Virtual Tokyo so far houses online representations of such entities as Keio University, the TBS television network, Mizuho Bank, as well as a takeoff ramp for ski jumping and a sports stadium.

Sceptical and Critical Views of Second Life

The Phoney Economics of Second Life

Summary

The more I research about virtual worlds the more convinced I am that they will be normal for a lot of people in advanced industrial societies in 10 -12 years time. The enormous potential for interactivity will make older media forms seem like the dinosaurs they are. As the number of these world's increases we are likely to see the smart media money from the Rupert Murdoch's of this world move into the arena once it becomes a little more established. In world advertising will probably drive these environments making the cost of entry very low in order to attract mass audiences. Obviously the broadband systems will need to be far better. The likely outcome if this scenario unfolds is for low grade TV channels to disappear. Who wants so called reality TV when you can have a much more intersting time online elswhere? I would rather put my pension fund into Linden Labs than ITV (The current 84.4p, up 1.4p on Thursday) that's for certain !

For my students I'm hopefully preparing them for what will become more important in media, communications and cultural studies departments at an undergraduate level when they get to university. Right now a lot of research that has been going on will come on stream and new courses will start to emerge just as these worlds are likely to take off.  

As can be seen above the prospect of a multiplicity of virtual worlds is upon us. Just like early colour TV sets there will be much that is a bit flakey in terms of quality. But it seems clear from this brief round up of things as they stand at the back end of 2007 that the future of virtual worlds is currently a rosy one. Despite some figures suggesting that Linden labs has lost some members in November it is sensible to take a medium term development view. Dentsu a big advertising (media company) is clearly a large early adopter and is making a clear developmental push to develop quite a sophisticated audience. It is likely that this trend will continue. As the dollar equals around 2 Linden and the Pound Sterling is around $2 there are clearly some entreprenuerial opportunities awaiting! I still wonder whether there will be avatars queuing out of the Second Life Banks on a Satureday morning though! Things seem to have moved on steadily from a year ago and the the pieces are gradually moving into place for a much larger adotption rate of residents to begin who will swamp the pioneers. Lets hope Linden have got enough servers!

Webliography and Online Resources 

Search Term on Google: Identity and Virtual World. This leads to a list of scholarly articles. The ones at the top of the list are the classic ones. You will need to go down a couple of pages to find more up to date material

B. Book. Moving Beyond the Game:Virtual Social Worlds

Stephen Webb : Avatar culture: Narrative, power and identity in virtual world environments (You will need to pay for this one or have subscription rights).

BBC money Programme: Virtual world Real Millions

Elizabeth Daniel is Professor of Information Management at the Open University Business School check her blog here.


December 16, 2007

Podcasting Equipment Update

Podcasting Equipment  Update


Introduction  


Below I'm giving some links to some basic podcasting equipment which will enable anybody with a computer and the internet to get going. Since I  last posted something on podcasting some months ago I've managed to get the budget for a couple of Marantz PDM 660 semi professional audio recorders. They are semi professional because they record to compact flash cards which have a higher spped of data transfer rate than SD cards. The other main feature is that they have phantom power and XLR microphone inputs which should allow you to use them with unpowered condenser microphones. I have to say I have been very unsuccessfu l with this using the Rode NT2 mic and their Broadcaster mic.

On this basis I would recommend using microphones with their own battery power source as a safer bet. I haven't had a chance to research these properly, however, Sony used to have a good mini-jack input one with battery power apparently used by the BBC. This would be very useful with the new Marantz digital recorders I have just ordered. Which I am providing links to below. I have also spotted some useful looking gaming headsets from Sennheiser which look just the job and the students might have fun using those and Audacity. 


The Marantz PMD 620 Stereo Recorder


Marantz PMD 620


According to one online retailer: The main features of the Marantz PMD 620 include (I suspect that nobody has invented a 2 terrabyte SD card yet but dream on):

  • Powerful and feature-laden Portable Audio Recorder that accepts up to 2 TB (my emphasis)SD Flash memory cards
  • Records WAV audio in 44.1/48KHz at 16 or 24 bit resolutions
  • Records direct to MP3 at three different quality levels
  • Includes 2 internal condenser mics, a 3.5mm (1/8 inch) external mic input, and a 3.5mm (1/8 inch) line input
  • First Marantz recorder to use SD flash memory with support for cards up to 2 TB
  • One-touch record engagement with red highlight illumination
  • OLED display for low power consumption
  • Powered by 2 AA batteries
  • Configurable screen with 2 font sizes
  • Do basic non-destructive copy and paste style editing directly on the device
  • Transfer audio to your PC via USB 2.0
  • "Skip back" feature lets transcribers review audio recorded from 1 to 60 seconds previously
  • Level and Peak LEDs
  • Display can be set to show time remaining, elapsed time, or other important numbers


Transom.org do a thorough review:


I have recently discovered this very useful site whilst trawling for reviews of the Marantz PMD 620.

This is the Transom Home page .

Marantz 620 in the hand


Here is an image from the Transom Marantz review.  As always there are pros and cons, nevertheless I have gone for some. This review does make some useful things clear about microphones which may apply to the PMD 660 mentioned in the introduction. This review is a very thorough one and you are urged to read it if you are in the market for a digital handheld recorder.


An excellent feature of this review is that there are downloadable tests with some external microphones. The Marantz according to this review has the lowest level of background hiss Transom have tested for in the small handheld recorder range.  


Getting One For Xmas?


Getting this Marantz for Xmas is a tempting prospect. The advantage of it being a recorder with a headphone output means that there is a playback facility as well. With 1 GB SD cards now being very cheap it would be easy to take a few loaded with music around with you in MP3 or even Wav format. This beats even the iPod! 


Tripod mounting

Something which might come in useful is the ability to mount it to a tripod which could be useful in certain circumstances as the Transom review points out :

The 620 ships with a cradle with two connectors on the back: a belt clip and a standard photo tripod socket that allows the recorder to be mounted in a stable position. It's plastic and flimsy-feeling, but effective, and allows access to all important controls.


Marantz PMD 620 on Tripod



Audacity


I see that it's time to upgrade my version of Audacity  the free audio editing open source software. This software is an excellent package to start editing with and will fit especially well to the educational environment where low budgets are the norm. Students can also get a hands on feel for editing which combined with a USB headset - which many gamers will have anyway - can get you on the road to making your own content. There are versions available for Linux and Mac as well. Audacity screenshot of envelope tool


Find Audacity here 



Headsets


The last time I looked at headsets was several months ago when I ordered myself the USB Beyer MMX1. Since then I have noticed some models from Sennheiser which look as though they are more flexible. They have the facility to be used as a USB and with their own built in soundcard can be used with any computer even those without a sound card. The other thing is that they have an adapter so can be used with line input soundcards. I haven't tested them yet but in an educational environment where one might be swapping rooms and have an institution full of machines with different specifications this could be a powerful advantage.  


Sennheiser pc155 USB Stereo Headset Mac User Review from 2004 giving it a 5* review. This  appears to still be available one outlet had it for £61-95.

Below is a Sennheiser P166 Headset. The USB connection can clearly be seen. This can be disconnected and the headset can be plugged into normal souncards. With upmarket soundcards there may be better quality sound. 

Sennheiser pc 166 Headset


Below you can see how neatly the cable is dealt with:


Sennheiser pc 166 close up of cable arrangement


Apparently these headphones can be found for £60 - £90 so look hard before you buy. Trusted reviews is positive at prices below £70 in terms of value for money. Techgage too was also generally positive recommending the use of a good soundcard for better quality. 


Behind the Neck Multimedia Headsets 


Some users may prefer to wear their phones / mic combination behind the neck rather thanover the head. In which case the Sennheiser pc 145 multimedia set is a possible choice. For Mac users there is a version specifically designed for Mac.


Sennheiser PC 145 Behind neck set


Rapid technological developments


It can quickly be seen that the market place for equipment to create user generated content is rapidly improving all the time. Thye euipment is also becoming easier to use and cheaper. This is helping to fuel the revolution which is turning the media world if not upside down then putting the media moguls on the back foot.


We certainly are living in the midst of a mass media revolution  in which the 'mass' part has changed from being relatively inactive consumers to active producers of content which can often challenge or very effectively complement the professional organisations. This is genuine competition for the media companies and they are being forced to adapt!


November 21, 2007

Broadband Usage November 2007

UK Broadband Usage Grows Inexorably....Digital Divide... Gridlock....Higher Prices are some of the Possible Outcomes: Can technology ever make us happy?

Broadband 1

The BBC technology pages report that:  

Information gathered by National Statistics (ONS) for September show that 88.4% of Britons are choosing to use broadband rather than dial-up.

This is approaching an exponential rise as in Aprill 2003 only 17% of a smaller number of users had a broadband connection.  However some members of the industry are worried that this massive rate of growth is set to flatten out dramatically. some even plead a social justice argument to ensure that the development of broadband accessibility will not flag too badly: 

"With almost 40% of British households on the wrong side of the digital divide, the social and economic progress of the UK will be stalled unless the great majority of these homes can be brought on to the internet," 

As much as anything this shows how British society has become more and more polarised along class lines despite the New Labour government now in office for over 10 year committing itself to ensuring that there would be full digital citizenship.

Perhaps there is a case for a flat-rate national license fee to be levied just as there is is with the TV license. The fact that the BBC has historically beeen able to deliver a universal service to UK citizens utilising advanced technology shows that it can be done. Of course Gordon Brown's friends in the City might be a little sceptical of this possibility, however where there's a will there's a way. Surely the point of good government is to provide universally accessible infrastructure such as roads so that the rest of the economy can thrive.

Broadband for all at an affordable price. Look what a committment to broadband has done for South Korea - they're all online gaming geeks. OK so maybe Broadband prices should go up after all  :-).  

In the US they have a more creative use for broadband than the Koreans:

Nearly 75% of US internet users watched an average of 158 minutes of online video and viewed more than 8.3bn video streams during May, according to research by measurement firm comScore.




man_in_tangle_of_cables.jpg

What complexity broadband is leading too...look out for "Bytelock" a word for the future grunged up version of cybersapce. 



Netgridlock Panic

This worries many that a NetGridlock will ensue so the answer is similar to that of the argumnent about building motorways: create more capacity. Oh well at least the carbon footprint is a bit lower than car gridlock! 

The explosion in popularity of online video could lead to increases in the cost of broadband for UK consumers.

Internet services providers, such as Tiscali, say that the raft of recently launched on-demand services will "undoubtedly" congest the network.


Freeview High Definition on the Way?

Finally Freeview Looks as Though it will Deliver High Defintion TV

A brief article making sure you are aware of likely changes in the British Broadcasting environment.  

On the 20th November 2007 the Freeview consortium which includes both the BBC and Sky along with Channel 4 and Five announced that there had now been technological advances which meant that High Definition (HDTV) could be delivered through the current Freeview system without the need for more bandwidth. Previously they had been campaigning for more bandwidth which OFCOM had been unenthusiastic about.  As they had denied that it was possible that it would be impossible to do this and that they made the announcement the day before OFCOM was due to announce its future planns for Digital Terrestrial TV some people are likely to be upset reported Ben Fenton in the Financial Times:

The reversal is likely to infuriate Ofcom, which is due to publish its own proposals today for the future of digital terrestrial television - a market that includes Freeview (Fenton FT 21st Nov 2007).


November 19, 2007

Video–Games: Genres and Markets

Video-Gaming Genres

Introduction

For all the hi-tech mumbo jumbo and huge investments going on in the video gaming world we are still stuck with the same old populist genres which aim to make a bit of money out of people by 'shocking them'. The story below is a typical case of wrapping the same old junk in new clothes. I'm not a fan of horror I'm afraid, who needs it in a World full of wars, genocide, malnutrition and disease as well as the usual poverty. It's exploitative rubbish but astonishingly it gains a big enough audience to keep going.  Why can't the puerile watchers of this stuff do something useful with their time? (Especially postmodernists!)



Manhunt 2

More puerile populism? An image from Manhunt 2.



Manhunt 2 was developed for the Wii and PS2 boxes. The game wasn't awarded a certificate by the BBFC (British Board of Film Censors) whose director David Cooke said:

There is sustained and cumulative casual sadism in the way in which these killings are committed, and encouraged, in the game.

A spokesperson for Rockstar the production company of Manhunt 2 as well as other controversial videogames commented: 

The adult consumers who would play this game fully understand that it is fictional interactive entertainment and nothing more.(My emphasis).

Of course for the word  "adult" read "total moron". Why is it that the most puerile or unpleasant forms of "entertainment" are described as "ADULT"? They also seem to be defined by a threatened masculinity.

The video game Manhunt 2 was rejected for its "unrelenting focus on stalking and brutal slaying", the British Board of Film Classification said.

Below we see the result of some "ADULT" activities 

The original Manhunt game caused huge controversy and was blamed for the murder of Stefan Pakeerah.

The boy was stabbed and beaten to death in Leicester in February 2004.

His parents believe the killer, Warren LeBlanc, 17, was inspired by the game.

Webliography 

Censors ban 'brutal' video game

Banned video game is 'fine art'


November 17, 2007

YouTube fails to create cash

YouTube Fails to Create Cash:


While doing the annual round of recruiting next year's students to the wonders of A level Media Studies  a bright eyed school student asked the obvious question when I was talking about the rapidly changing world of the internet and the $1.65 Billion acquisition of YouTube by Google - one of the World's greatest money spinners:

"But how do they make money?"

I replied that whilst Google was doing extremely well out of advertising thank you,  as far as I knew they had not found a money making model for YouTube yet. This is rather confirmed by the folowing blog posted on the FT website the following day (talk about serendipity):

“The lack of monetisation on YouTube today is astounding,” said Dennis Miller of venture capital firm Spark Capital.

“You’ve got the single best monetising machine that can’t figure out how to monetise all those eyeballs. There’s some paltry number out there for the millions of streams they serve.”

There is a but though with this fact to remember for the Audiences part of the Exam:

But while there may be dissent among the videorati of Silicon Valley, YouTube’s status in the public’s eyes is still considerable. According to Nielsen Online, YouTube was the seventh most popular brand online in the US in October with a unique audience of 57m users. (My emphasis and it is Oct 2007)

Well YouTube are promising to work how to make money out this phenomenal number of users who apparently spend 15-20 minutes on the site.

Well, perhaps it would be nicer if Google kept this as a sort of Public Service Broadcasting (Webcasting) space in cyberspace especially as Google is getting so powerful now that people will start to dislike it rather as they do Microsoft! 


July 20, 2007

Impressions of the iPhone

Follow-up to BlackBerry, iPhone or Sony UX1 from Kinoeye

Impressions of the iPhone



One born every minute?

iPhone Fan

I'm going to run home and ring people just to say 'Guess what, I've got an iPhone, bye!'
Shawn King


one of the most-hyped technology products in history

Well the iPhone is well and truly launched. This posting is now collecting impressions and comments from the press, blogs etc. Will it live up to the hype is the big question. As stated elsewhere on the blog the real issue for me is how well this gadget is going to work with iTunes and where is iTunes going to go? I think this will be the secret of its long-term success (or not). I'm guessing that Apple are making a play for the mobile moving impage market which will become increasingly important over the next few years. In Britain the big year will 2012! Why? UK goes fully digital & the Olympics are being held in London. Who wsaid that concidences don't exist? (A: Arthur Koestler).

To prove my point here is the comment of a journalist from Business Week, Arik Hesseldahl:

Just installed iTunes and looked in the preferences tab and noticed a new feature specific to the iPhone: Looks like it will back up data from the phone, which is a feature that cell phones in general have been needing for a long....

The Role of iTunes 

As a kind correspondent in the comments box has pointed out the facility to back up is available on some phones. A contributor to the Business Week blog above has also noted this. It is the link into iTunes which is important. In this sense iTunes is just bundling already available technologies.  Intantaneous subscriptions to podcasts & vodcasts as well as everything else which iTunes has to offer is a powerful marketing tool. iTunes is already a proven and popular technology which other phone companes simply do not have. 

Whilst Apple is nominally ahead of the game Nokia, Sony etc will not be far behind but as with the synergies produced by iTunes and iPods supporting archiving and downloading software is going to be crucial. This is where Sony MP3 players have lost out. Functionality combined with becoming a style icon is the game.

An interesting issue is whther iTunes is going to make deals with video content providers which could effectively lock consumers into a sytem.  With music the content providers and therefore iTunes had a problem. Music was easy to download in 'pirate' versions and at the end of the day anybody could go to a record shop and get a Digital Rights Management (DRM) free CD. This isn't going to be the same with video content. This huge commercial game seems to be less about phone sales than grabbing a good share of content provision via an online database like iTunes. The chic technology provides a bigger screen and an automatic widescreen facility. Whilst the technology geeks are watching out for what the next versions of the iPhone has in store look out for signs of business dealings with content providers. This is what will drive iPhone sales over the longer term once the gadgetry spree has run its course. If Apple gets this right its share price really will start to become stratospheric and with good reason. A quick look at the Footsie 500 companies will quickly show that the software providers are making more profits on less turnover than hardware providers such as Sony.

I think Apple are likely to be outstandingly successful with this combination. They have learned a lot through the iPod / iTunes combination and this is likely to pale into insignificance once the video infrastructure catches up  

Thus far Apple has the edge. There are also some video links to current iPhone "rivals", which aren't really on the link below: 

Some people had been queuing for days outside Apple and AT&T stores across the US to ensure they got hold of one of the devices. (The BBC provide a link to an iPhone demonstration from this page).

The Audience

Can your phone do this?

iphone_widescreen.jpg

Whatever else Apple appeared to get off to a good sales launch with  over half a million phones sold in its first weekend. (Thursday, 5 July 2007)  That has to be impressive by anybody's standards.  According to this BBC report 02 is the phone company which is getting the contract to provide iPhones when they launch in the UK in this autumn (2007). However MacWorld of 20th July has discovered an argument that Vodaphone may well be the company which has iPhones if the work of a clever hacker is anything to go by.

The price is expected to be in the region of £300 initially.  These sales need to be put into the perspective of the sales of other mobile handset makers. some are arguing that even sales of 10 million is still 'small beer' compared to the Nokias of this world as a BBC analysis argued in January 07 when Jobs announced the gadget:

Mr Jobs predicts Apple will be able to sell in the region of 10 million iPhones in 2008, when the device will be available not just in the US and Europe, but also in the fast-growing Asian market.

While sales on that scale would be good for Apple, they would still be relatively small beer when compared with total annual global mobile sales.

US handset maker Motorola revealed last year that it had sold more than 50 million of its Razr branded mobile phones since its market debut.

Analyst: Apple to Sell 45M iPhones in '09

One web report on the iPhone by an industry journalist Jeff Gamet

8:05 AM EDT, June 7th, 2007 comments on the predictions made by a leading analyst called Gene Munster about the sales potential for the iPhone :

Jaffray analyst Gene Munster is predicting that will signal the beginning of a skyrocketing climb leading to 45 million units sold in 2009. For calendar year 2007, he expects Apple will sell 3.2 million units, and 12.4 million in 2008.

Looking at the 45 million unit prediction for calendar year 2009, Mr. Munster commented "While this may seem like a bold prediction, we believe a number in this area is not as far of a reach as some may think. Specifically, to reach iPhone units of 45 million, we believe the product will have 7.0 percent hand set market share in North America and 2.8 percent handset market share in the rest of the world."

Whilst one Internet wag has noted that 45 million phones in one year is a significant amount of the world's population the key point is that Jobs has given an estimate of 10 million sales by that time. Obviously any sales in excess of this will be a feather in the cap of Apple. 

What Apple aren't saying

The handset has also been criticised because it does not use the 3G network, does not support instant messaging or voice-activated dialling and does not let people choose ringtones beyond the 25 pre-installed on it.

Some critics have said that the iPhone's touch screen makes texting hard work but most agree that the design is likely to filter down to other mobiles.

Disability & the iPhone

The "Ouch" BBC Disability Magazine has some intersting individual postings such as the one below. The posting has included some choice quotes from Apple geeks which are blunt to say the least.  

I'm a bit of an Apple geek on the quiet, so when their sleek and shiny new iPhone was announced last week to whoops of delight, I'm afraid that I rather joined in the chorus of "I want one! Gimme one!" I'm ashamed to say that almost the last thing on my mind was how accessible it might be to blind and visually impaired users, considering that its operation relies almost entirely on touch-screen technology.

I must admit that a phone which is marketing itself on its visual capabilities primarily the playback of larger size video is by its very essence unlikely to be very useful to blind or partially sighted people. Clearly phones which are primarily for voice communications and interface via more haptic or aural methods are going to be more suitable. It does seem a little pointless attacking Apple for designing a piece of technology which is about visual communications. The issue is surely are there a good range of alternative technologies available for bling and partially sighted people. Voice recognition and being able to connect with soembody using voice only instructions seems the way to go. I'm sure this would be more useful for most people as well as for visually impaired people than the iPhone.

so far no manufacturer has made a phone that you can completey customize (font size, colour scheme etc) like you can with say Mac OS or Windows.

One comment on the entry seems to make the point well. Interfacing which can be accessed flexibly by a wide range of users is going to be be better. I imagine this would appeal to a wide range of people. Nevertheless touch technology as an interfacing system for large audiences is in its infancy. I suspect mobile interfacing still has a long way to go. On this basis Apple's technology is to be welcomed even if it is still limited.   

iPhonography 

Sales at launch of iPhone

Apple sold up to 525,000 iPhones at its stores and AT&T's in the first weekend since the device launched on Friday, the Los Angeles Times has reported.

First impressions of the iPhone
Ian Hardy
By Ian Hardy
Click's North America technology correspondent

June 06, 2007

Not everybody is buying in to Web 2.0

Web 2.0 Is User Generated Content just a cheap profit generating trick? 

The big change for me in Web 2.0 is that you leverage the people's resources."


This is why websites are so keen to harness what they call the wisdom of crowds.

Businesses are much cheaper to run if you get your customers to do most of the work generating content

BBC Click Promo

Perhaps that is why users are made to feel so good about Web 2.0. It venerates the amateur over the expert and tells us we can all collaborate in producing something worthwhile.

The Growth in Online Software: an Advertisers Paradise?

Ian Hardy Click's North America technology correspondent has raised some interesting issues in relation to Web 2.0 when it comes to the growth of online software:

Adobe has released a stripped-down web version of its video editing software, called Remix, and later this year plans to launch an internet version of its very successful photo manipulation program, Photoshop.

One incentive for companies to supply online software is compatibility. In one go all customers can be upgraded to the newest version and create files that are universally compatible, unlike different generations of Word documents.

"Another advantage of online software is that the companies can track exactly what you do and how you use it. Then they can target specifically to you," said Mr Thompson.

"If you send a lot of e-mails about they'll know that maybe you're trying to buy a cellphone, and they can serve you ads on cellphones.

"So the companies really like it, and it's to the companies' advantage for the software to work extremely well and for you to use it all the time because then they get more information and then they can sell you more stuff."

Moral of the story is you will have a choice of free or very cheap online software and have to put up with cleverly targetted advertising aimed at YOU. Or, you could just pay Adobe the £600 + for Photoshop. It's a no brainer really :-). 


June 05, 2007

One Laptop Per Child Project Gets Heavyweight Competition

Developing the Digital Heart of Africa 

We have covered Nciholas Negroponte's One Lap Top Per Child project elsewhere on this blog. The project was planning to produce a wind-up computer with a Linux operating system with a robust build that could communicate wirelessly with qa local transmitter. The plan would put internet based computing into the centre of countries with very weak telecommunications infrastructure providing a huge boost to the educational system and enabling new voices to develop and be heard globally. Negroponte's ideas were to be run by a not for profit company.  

In a flippant mood I suggested to visitors that they email the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to stump up some money and send a few thousand of these computers out to Africa or wherever. Bearing in mind that these computers don't run on Windows this was a little cheeky I admit. But of greater significance is the fact that a real commercial battle is developing as the BBC has reported today as computer chip global giant (3,000 pound gorilla) Intel has announced that is producing a rival computer in conjunction with Asus the world's largest motherboard maker:

The laptop has been dubbed the Eee PC - and will sit alongside Intel's Classmate which is also aimed at the developing world.

The partnership with Asustek is the latest twist in a developing battle between the chipmaker and rival group, the One Laptop per Child foundation.

Both plan to offer sub-$200 laptops.



Intel Classmate

The Intel Classmate which already is aimed at the underdeveloped world.

Intel has a World Ahead development programme



What is interesting is that presumably the new machine will be able to run the cut down version of Vista which Microsoft is designing for the underdeveloped world. One is reminded of the desperate battles fought by cigarette companies to get people in these countries smoking on a regular basis. Often it is possible to by cigarettes individually. Just as you don't get the whole package of cigarettes so you don't get the whole computer package but you get an excellent taster all the same.

This tends to show that big comapnies can respond to brave initiatives from the not for profit sector. In the long term history may well note that Negroponte's determination to provide affordable  computing for the underdeveloped world  forced the world's companies to move for fear of competition!


May 03, 2007

Yahoo's Mobile Move

Yahoo's Mobile Move

Introduction

Ever since the start of the British Broadcasting A2 unit and the AS New Media Technologies unit I have been encouraging you to think about what the main trends in digitisation are going to be. I have repeatedly noted that the future of mobiles is going to be increasingly important. As evidence of this I have noted the rise of reception technology in the form of the yet to be released (at time of writing) iPhone. In the UK this can be seen as an early example of what, by 2012 will be common practice as prices drop. That is mobile handheld devices downloading video services which are streamed as well as other internet services.

To provide large numbers of consumers with streamed video services it will be necessary to have massive bandwidth capabilities. This of course is being provided by the great analogue switch-off in the UK which will have been completed by 2012 if all goes to plan. The government white paper of 2006 made it clear that 'innovative' mobile services was what the freed up spectrum would be used for amongst other things.

So we can see the various bits of infrastructure coming together now which will both on the institutional side and the customer side of the equation. What now remains is the development of suitable content.

The recent story outlined below about Yahoo the internet search engine is one of the building blocks towards developing a wide range of content which is designed specifically for handheld device useage.  

Yahoo's special mobile search service

Welcome to the new faces of Britain's advertising industry - Google and Yahoo (BBC link below)

Yahoo is deperately trying to become the number one search engine and in this game innovative services and advertising are key. Advertising is what is required and what drives these companies. It is no wonder that TV is beginning to lose out. It is worth looking first at the amount of business generated by Google to see what Yahoo who don't publish separate UK figures are up against.

Last quarter, Google broke out its UK sales figures for the first time.

In just three months, it hauled in revenues of $578m (£289m).

Quadruple that for a rough annual figure, and you get some $2.3bn (£1.15bn) - a number which outstrips the total revenue for TV station Channel 4 during 2006 of £937m. (my emphasis; BBC link below)

Yahoo's cutting edge approach

Yahoo has a cutting edge approach which is designed to position itself into the rapidly growing possibilities offered by the handheld device market. To be able to place advertising you must first of all be offering a service which is wanted and used by the audience. Yahoo's answer to this is:

"We can monitor user behaviour - anonymising it of course - and then match advertising to it," says Glen Drury. "We're going to try to make it so relevant you won't see it as advertising."

On the basis of this information they can deliver adverts designed to appeal to the user. in other words it is an intelligent and dynamic service.

But the new frontier is mobile search; and here Yahoo hopes to stage a fightback.

This week the company launched its Onesearch product in Europe, claiming it would revolutionise mobile search. The plan is first to attract a big audience on mobiles, then sell them to

yahoo_onesearch_1.gif

above Yahoo shows how its mobile search screen looks. Below the accompanying blurb: 

Get better results – not just web links

Finally mobile search that works! Yahoo! oneSearch is now available for internet-enabled phones. oneSearch delivers results in a new, breakthrough format that redefines search for mobile phones. It’s all about getting instant answers with just one click - no need to sift through a bunch of links to find exactly what you’re looking for.

oneSearch results are easy to read, scroll through, and expand when you want more information - like more images to view - with a single click. You don’t have to “feel lucky” to be lucky every time with oneSearch!
(Yahoo website). 

The core approach of the service is that Yahoo oneSearch sifts out the feeble links which often come up on a typical Google search making it quick and easy for a user on the move to access what they need.

Below the advertising targeted towards the premium paying users of Internet enabled mobiles.

Yahoo Onesearch Phones

Conclusion

Overall it is clear the all the necessary pieces of a radically different internet for mobile users is developing. In the UK it probably won't be fully in place until 2012 but you can imagine how the Olympic games will be used as a marketing vehicle for this. Of course the other intersting thing is where will Rupert Murdoch's New international be in the new media landscape. Murdoch's empire is driven by the advertising revenues drawn by the popularity of its content. Perhaps we are going to have  MyMobileSpace - watch this space :-)   

Webliography

Battle for mobile online advertising between Yahoo and Google 

Google launches new mobiles search service


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