Netly: The Third Screen

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[This is totally off topic but I'm at Pop!Tech this week.]

The Tiger Guy stole the show yesterday at Pop!Tech. He got a standing O from the 500 people crowded into the Opera House—the site of an annual conference in Camden, Maine, where the digerati meet the socially conscious. Or maybe it’s more a case of the digerati ARE the socially conscious. But you get the point—everyone here wants to save the world.
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Haven’t seen a good concept video in ages. Some good stuff in this one:

The Future of the Book. from IDEO on Vimeo.

(See the Jeremy Allaire post here, and the Fred Wilson expatiation here.)

You can be sure there are no folks more deeply interested in the whole Flash/HTML5/native app tri-fork than those of us in the publishing business. That’s because we’re now trying to figure out exactly how to transition from those whizzy demos to actually manufacturing e-magazines every week. So which platform would you pick?

I desperately want to believe in HTML5 because it’s a neat solution. It stands to reason that the main reading platforms will come from Apple, on its OS, and Google on Android and Chrome. Since Apple and Google engineers are co-chairing the HTML5 working committee, you’d think it’s the answer to all our problems.

But HTML5 won’t be our salvation for years to come, I’m afraid—at least, not if we want to build large, rich, Web apps that work smoothly, everywhere.

The problem isn’t lack of IE support.

It’s bandwidth. As in: WiFi/3G is a crappy experience outside of the home and office, and it’s likely to stay that way for a long time. (“Long” = five years or more.) You get it on most airplanes. But it sucks. You get it in most hotels. But it frequently sucks. It doesn’t work in the subway at all and it’s frequently unavailable to passengers in cars. Even at work it can be a painful experience.

And there’s no way to fix this for years.

The more I think about this, and the more I learn about it, the more I think that native apps—good, ol’ apps, downloaded to hard drives, always available to users, regardless of connectivity— are going to be very hard to beat for the foreseeable future.

As for Flash, I think its days are numbered. As the iPad comes online, and the iPhone continues to plow the way, I suspect we’ll see lots of big websites quietly detecting Apple hardware and diverting users to H.264-enabled video “shadow” sites.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m looking forward to experimenting a lot more with HTML5. But I think it’ll be a long time coming.

Everyone has been citing an analyst’s report in which he asserts that Apple has been talking to book publishers about defecting from Amazon to the rumored iThing. I doubt it. 1.) The notoriously secretive Apple hasn’t been talking to anyone yet; 2.) if they were talking to anyone, it wouldn’t be book publishers. Of all the media types that will need to be rejiggered for the larger-screen tablet, books are affected least.

Digitimes has a credible-looking report that the anxiously awaited iThing won’t be available until the second half of 2010. This is not good news and the otherwise dependable Apple-beat writer Dan Frommer, is mistaken when he writes:

The only people upset by a later launch now—if it’s really true—are gadget nerds and maybe a few executives in Cupertino.

I guess by “people” he’s referring to Wall Street. But I can guarantee you that the people who run the publishing industry collectively plotzed this morning when they contemplated how the rescue ship USS Apple could be delayed yet again. And they’re floating around in the frozen Atlantic, turning an aortic shade of blue…

I am a hyperbolic guy, not to mention a purple writer, but I think it’s conservative to say that in the miserable publishing business, there is no greater hope for salvation that the iThing. With visions of giant iPhones dancing in our heads, all of us are working on prototypes of magazines and newspapers that will work on 9.7-inch, multi-touch screens linked wirelessly to stores. (See, for instance, Peter Kafka’s report yesterday on Wired Magazine’s demo.) And, while there are at least a dozen manufacturers heatedly working on their own iterations, we all await the iThing because history has shown us that Steve Jobs leads the parade. Chaos will ensue, with many idiotic and competing platforms drawing precious resources from content makers who have to try just about everything until a frontrunner emerges.

The iThing will be the inflection point and the sooner it gets here, the better for publishers.

Of course, there was a rumor over the summer that Jobs was planning to unveil the iThing in January but not ship it until June. So maybe we’re still on track? In the meantime, anyone have a cig? It’s cold in here.


At long last, Plastic Logic has not only named its soon-to-be-released E-Ink tablet, it’s named the soon-to-be-release day. Yup, it will unveil its “ProReader”—called the Que—at CES in Las Vegas on January 7. See the website for more details

From day one, Plastic Logic has been aiming v.1 at business users. The original idea was that it would be a way to move to the paperless office—users could carry around all their docs on it. But focus groups begged for other kinds of content, such as business magazines, and Plastic Logic broadened its vision.

The tablet is made entirely of plastic, which means it won’t shatter when you drop it. That’s good, but the Kindle seems pretty drop proof as well…

Interesting trivia: Since Plastic Logic’s patented display technology is super thin and flexible, the tablet could have been as bendable as a sheet of paper. But those same focus groups preferred a device with a stiff back—business users wanted something that felt more like a clipboard than a newspaper.

Extra thin, lightweight and wireless-enabled, QUE is the size of an 8.5 x 11 inch pad of paper, less than a 1/3 inch thick, and weighs less than many periodicals. The innovative QUE proReader features the largest touchscreen in the industry, an intuitive touch screen user interface, and provides access to a file cabinet’s worth of documents, plus your favorite—and most necessary—publications.

The Que will be linked via AT&T’s 3G network to an online Que store, and Barnes & Noble. Amazon? Your move.

In the last 3 months, Zinio, which produces digital editions of print publications, has added over 1,000 magazines and books to its portfolio of offerings.  But ask anyone you know who doesn’t work in the publishing biz what Zinio is and you’ll get a blank stare.  A new partnership with Target, announced today, could help change that. 

Reuters’ Robert MacMillan reports that Zinio will sell electronic versions of magazines on a digital newsstand on Target’s website.   

MacMillan notes, “these titles are meant to look — if not feel — like the print magazines they are replacing.”  The question is, if consumers wanted to experience the look and feel of print magazines, wouldn’t they just read one?   Zinio announced earlier this year it would make its offerings available on Plastic Logic’s eReader when it launches, so consumers will have to make that call in more than one place.


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