Many years ago (almost five years ago in fact) I wrote an article about what the music industry might look like in a digital distributed world.
My premise was that thanks to networked portable devices and the Long Tail, bands would survive because distribution networks would allow them to reach their fans much easier. In effect, I was preempting the arrival of the iPhone and stating something similar to Kevin Kelly’s concept of 1,000 true fans being enough for a creator (like an artist, author or band, etc) to survive.
You can read the full article here –
In summary, I talked about having some kind of portable device you could take to you local gig to purchase music by the band playing right in front of you. No longer would the band need to go through a big label and no longer did the fan need to head down to the local shop to buy a DVD, which in the case of the small fan-base artist, probably wasn’t even available in the shop.
I was talking back then in theory about what is true today. We have iPhones and similar devices with access to the web and iTunes that we can purchase music with, and music artists don’t have to be super-popular to survive, they just need a hardcore fan base, just like a blogger can do well with a small fan-base, relatively speaking (I’m one such example).
Now We Have The iPad
If there was one thing I didn’t see coming, though it probably was more obvious than I thought all those years ago since iTunes and the iPod already existed, it was that Apple would be the dominating force for the introduction of these technologies. They’re doing it again with the iPad.
Of course the iPad is yet to be proven a success, but seeing its release did give me a little portent into a possible future, which I for one would like to see eventuate.
Before I explain the future I see, if you’ve never heard of the iPad, go check it out here at the Huffington Post –
The possibilities of a device like this are significant, too many to talk about here comprehensively. This device isn’t quite a laptop, but it’s more functional than an iPhone. It can run programs in full screen, which is quite usable, unlike an iPhone in some situations, yet isn’t quite as robust as a personal computer. It’s light and thin, so can easily fit into a backpack or bag, but won’t slide into your pocket.
For me, the real insight was how this device is going to change the game, is in the consumption of text based media. No doubt video and audio will play a big part in how people will use their iPads, but I think we might finally have a device that will one day replace the newspaper and book, or at least go as mainstream as these mediums are (replacement will never be complete as there will always be a group of people who prefer the old-fashioned models).
When I first saw the iPad I immediately had a Star Trek moment. If you’re a Trek fan then you know the little pad devices that were used on the show, which not surprisingly, look a lot like the iPad. Back in 2005 I wrote about a Nokia web-enabled pad device, but it was a bit premature, with Apple once again looking to enter the market with the game-changer, though that’s no guarantee for the iPad at this stage.
We’ve had the Amazon Kindle for a while now, which is a great device, but I don’t think it’s as exciting as the iPad because it’s a little too one-dimensional and it just doesn’t look cool. Focus is good, but in this case with the iPad, multi-functionality goes along way. I wasn’t that excited about the Kindle, but I can see where the iPhone would come in handy and could very quickly become a must-have device, or perhaps a future incarnation of it will be – it’s just does too much cool stuff not to have one, and it’s affordable.
The Newspaper of the Future
So here’s the image that immediately jumped into my head when I first saw the iPad…
I saw a coffee shop, with tables and chairs outside, not that different to our current daily rest spot. The one significant difference is that every table had a iPad like device available and instead of reading the newspaper, people were reading the newspaper in digital format on the iPad.
I saw this eventuating in two possible ways -
- The iPad, or it’s successor more likely, becomes so standard it’s like a television and everyone has one, so you pull it out at the coffee shop to read the latest news by downloading any newspaper in any language from around the world. That’s not its only purpose of course, but due to the array of functions and affordability, not having an iPad will be the unusual situation. Since they are more portable and affordable than most laptops, more people will have them.
- Instead of everyone personally purchasing an iPad, they will come down in cost so much that manufacturing the device will be negligible, and coffee shops will provide them for free to use – and not just coffee shops, you can basically use these devices everywhere and anywhere as standard interfaces into the digital world. They will be tools available to anyone at all times in all locations and intrinsically have no value, so there won’t be any reason to steal them.
In this case, our patron at the coffee shop simply picks up the device and reads the very latest news from the New York Times, or the Sydney Morning Herald or Toronto Star, or virtually any media they choose and leaves it there when they finish, like we do with paper newspapers today. Thanks to things like cloud computing, the device won’t provide personalization, it will only be the interface into the digital world, with your settings and files all stored online.
I like the idea of option two better, as it means information would flow more easily and there would be no cost to “get connected”. The devices would be free because they would be funded by commercial business, both large and small, who thanks to the adoption rate of these devices, could target media to virtually any type of person on the planet. This would be like having Google AdWords, banners, video advertising, etc that we have now, but with the entire world accessible to target with media. You could even target your ads or content based on where a person was using their “pad”.
It’s an ambitious image, but I don’t see it that far off. There’s a lot of little details that need to eventuate, including finding profitable models for newspapers, the challenge of ad-blindness killing response rates, technology dropping in cost and network infrastructure rolling out across the planet so global portable high-speed access is a reality, but it’s all doable.
I for one hope something like this happens because it means far less paper usage, which is a good thing for our trees. That only leaves us with the challenge of how to power all these devices. I expect being so small, eventually having some kind of solar power panel on the device, or making them kinetic like wristwatches, so you just move them around or shake them a few times to create enough power to use them for a session, are possible solutions, if technology takes us there.
No matter what happens, it’s an exciting time to be alive – technology is advancing at an incredible pace and what used to be science fiction is becoming reality.