Sony's latest iTunes Extras is another step after Apple's start

PaidContent profile Sony's latest release, a Will Ferrell movie, The Other Guys, which will have some interesting new features available in their iTunes version.

iTunes Extras are as I've noted before at least a start from Apple in acknowledging the issues facing film in the digital era. They re-introduce the idea of DVD extras, available only when you purchase the movie via iTunes. To date, they've been a predictable set of additional video clips and slideshows along with text. So far, not really a new deal, all very familiar. It's limited, in fact, by the unavailability of directors commentary in the current format.

In the Sony offering you can search for any word in the script and the movie will jump to that spot in the dialogue. Which is pretty neat. Other options including sharing a clip on your social networks and having direct links to the songs on iTunes.

A step forward after Apple's start perhaps. Good to see studios stretch a bit and interesting that Sony was the one to do so first. Perhaps it stems from their experience in the music industry, a few years ahead of the film industry in dealing with the digital revolution.

The PaidContent article talks about one-upping DVD, but the reality is this is about one-upping piracy. The key differentiator in the future for legitimate paid for content is to offer more than the pirates, to make purchasing the digital film compelling. The article makes some good points about how the Extras format pushes consumers to buy rather than rent. I think there needs to be some preview of additional material and functionality in the movies iTunes page for that to be a compelling factor.

The overall issue, of course, is the limitation that the film be viewed in iTunes at all, and the relative clunkiness of the Extras .ite format, a bundle of HTML, CSS and Javascript. There's only so far it can go here. The main creative act in the Sony offering, the 'wouldn't it be neat if..' is the script integration. We need a lot more of that, deeper too, looking to interaction with story itself.

All our future viewing devices, large or small, will be precisely that, devices, computers in various forms. The future here surely lies in some format, as yet undetermined, whereby content is not simply presented, much as a player might do, but also available through creative programming to be interacted with. The future of film lies as an application running on a device.

There's a lot of experience in the gaming industry, there's a lot of talent in the film sector. Apple have fundamentally changed people's relationship with applications with iOS, essentially shifting the public's perception of them as a new content form.

All in place. But not here yet. My gumption is that it'll start in two ends of the spectrum.

First, a major film will plan a digital release as an application, iOS, but also Windows and Mac and perhaps Android, offering only rentals via Netflix, iTunes etc. It'll be big, it'll be expensive. It'll be along the lines of a game, or at least employ a lot of gaming style interaction, and it'll probably be a lads, sci-fi, film. At some point the money on that will make sense, including the marketing requirements they'll face. They'll target the gaming market as a core and build upon it. They'll make this approach the story and get a lot of media attention.

Second front could even be first off the bat, small teams will form where filmmakers will fold programmers into their team at story stage and will fashion the shoot around the requirements of the planned application. They will release on iOS and perhaps Android alongside their Festival release, they'll embrace mobile as part of their strategy. The film will be made by respected indie filmmakers and will get a lot of attention as a result.

This all builds upon the revolution in production and distribution and marketing the film industry has been dragged through over the past years. The filmmaker's role has expanded from maker through to distributor and marketer and curator as Ted Hope has expounded upon at length. Transmedia, storycubes all of these exploratory approaches will end up forming ways of exploring the question of "how to make a compelling interactive rich narrative which isn't a game?" I'm hoping, that here, on this end of the spectrum, we'll see some diversity in approach and theme.

This year, perhaps, we will see the first one. If not, by the end of 2012, for certain. There, that's my new year's prediction, time for a resolution or two, methinks...

Facebook Contacts linger longer than you might think

Okay… Like most people at some point, I asked Facebook to check to see if any of my contacts were on Facebook. It did its thing, I selected some and moved on, never really thinking much more about it. What I didn’t realise is that Facebook keeps all that data.

All of it. Not just the friends you add. They keep the contacts you didn’t add too, that includes work, business, confidential numbers and emails etc. If you go and look at your Facebook Phonebook (no, I didn’t realise I had one either) you’ll see the full list. And you’ll quickly see not just your Facebook contacts but everyone who you had in your contact database when you checked for contacts. Be it your Apple Addressbook or your Outlook contacts or Yahoo or whatever.

Your Facebook Phonebook is available by Clicking on Account then choosing Edit Friends and selecting Phonebook from the sidebar. Up it pops.

Safari hosted by Ember

Now here you see the first listing of my contacts. None of them are Facebook friends, actually only one of them is on Facebook. That doesn’t stop Facebook keeping their telephone numbers and email address however.

Friends who are in your address book but not on Facebook (or use a different email address for Facebook) will appear with ‘Invite to join Facebook’ down the bottom. Their telephone numbers are listed and presumably their email addresses are stored too. Friends who are on Facebook have an ‘Add to Friends’ link.

Spot the small ‘Learn more’ in the top line above? Clicking on it brings up the following dialog box.

Safari hosted by Ember

There’s no actual instruction how to disable the feature on your mobile device but my bet is most people uploaded a contact file at some point. Clicking on the ‘this page’ link again at the end brings up this dialog box.

RemoveQuery hosted by Ember

This is a by now standard Facebook wording designed to discourage you from protecting your privacy. Their standard approach is to discourage through planting some uncertainty every time you protect your data.

Clicking ‘Remove’ brings up this.

Safari hosted by Ember

The troubling thing is most of you who know me probably have my numbers and addresses in yours….even if you’re not my friend on Facebook. I have over 3,000 contacts in my Mac Addressbook, and only a few hundred contacts on Facebook. But Facebook has held on to those telephone numbers and email addresses years after I checked when I first joined.
There’s very little hope of them all being deleted, most people won’t be bothered to do it.

The answer lies in Facebook’s hands, but the simple courtesy of not storing data after a contact list check seems to be beyond them.



We had a Mother's Day picnic here on top of Knocknarea. This was actually taken on top of Queen Maeve's cairn on top of the mountain. And it's not one of us, a tourist. It's a tradition to bring up rocks from the bottom and carry them to the top.



A quick snatched shot while I was in traffic in central Sligo end of day. I liked the bird at the end of the buIlding… and then the plane obligingly flew into view.
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Markree chandelier

Markree chandelier

I like using the camera apps on the iPhone which come preset for particular styles. My two favourites are Polarize which does this sort of Polaroid look and Format 126 which recreates the Instamatic look from the mid-Seventies.

If I'm going to take a snap, it may as well have the fetishistic sheen of the crap cameras of my youth.

Make Way for Tomorrow

The bleak and moving "Make Way for Tomorrow", 1937, by Leo McCarey. When he ended up getting the Oscar for "The Awful Truth" he told them they gave it for 'the wrong movie'. New, and by all accounts beautifully restored, release on DVD by Criterion is now available on Amazon. Can't wait.

Lough Gill Rainbow

Lough Gill Rainbow






I think I'll get back to posting photographs here. Been ages since I have.

I like the square format here, the slipway made that possible. Marian's response was that it stopped it looking like an image from a religious calendar.

So I'll take that as a compliment.


Apple Tablet - it's all about content

The speculation about the tablet from Apple has swirled up again.

I’ve always felt that the next generation device for viewing content has been with us for quite a while, it’s called a laptop. All over the world people spend their evenings with them, "duelling laptops on the sofa" as one of my students described her evenings with her partner.

And it's not just the sofa, it's extended into the workspace too. Over the past few years, the desktop computer has looked increasingly like it has a quite specific, need driven future. You only install one if you want something either sturdy, dumb and cheap or very powerful indeed. The laptop, increasingly more powerful and connected, pretty well matching the desktop in raw power and capabilities, has ended up being the general computer of choice.

Apple’s proportion of laptop sales reflect this, steadily increasing year on year. They’ll be in no rush to replace or compete with that. Why a tablet at all? If Apple do one, it'll have to clearly differentiate them.

Many years ago Apple released a tablet, namely the Newton which it then dropped. The difference now is Apple’s focus on content. Content is everything now, we've finally reached a stage where all our content is digital and online, that future has actually come to pass at this point.

Kevin Kelly has talked about how all content is merging onto one platform, from news to music, from film to blogs, from books to financial services. There's but one platform, the internet, and all our devices simply offer different windows onto it.

Apple notably have always pointed out that the internet content flows into every aspect of their machines, that it's not just for the browser, as Google would have it. That firehose of content can and should be pushed into many different apps. I'll return to this in a bit, but here is where future exploration lies.

Any tablet, if Apple are to release one, will likely have one guiding principle, how best to present and manage content. Apple have understood how important this is from the early days of OSX, iLife has been a key factor in the successful rebirth of the Mac platform. The emergence of iTunes as the single most important application for Apple has consolidated ownership for Apple of the content creation and distribution arena. Apple also want to establish and control how that content is monetised in much the same way that iTunes does in digital music. They know all too well how content can drive hardware sales.

To speculate, primarily because it's fun, but also because it presents factors which will are in play.

Resolution and size - It’ll be like a large iPhone, but not that large and probably smaller than most people expect. Apple lead the way in pixel per inch displays in consumer products. The iPhone runs 160 dpi. Given that Apple have settled on 1280 x 720 for iTunes Extras and the LP formats recently introduced, you could be looking at a device 8 x 4.5 inches if the device is 160dpi. This is a perfect 16 x 9 form factor for HD video exactly matching iTunes native HD format. Take a sheet of paper and fold it in half, it’ll be a little smaller than that. I wouldn't be surprised if Apple increase the dpi and reduce the size further. They'll want to reduce the weight.

Weight - You’ll have to be able to hold it comfortably in one hand. It’ll have to be light, and that’s probably the biggest engineering challenge they face, finding some version of their beloved unibodies which can deliver strength with the right weight. It'll need some body to it for the audio.

Audio - It’ll certainly have good speakers, Apple have focussed a lot on speaker technology lately. They've excellent small speakers in the new iMacs and they've progressively made the internal speakers on iPhones and iPods louder.

OS and App Store - It’s going to run a version of OS Touch like the iPhone, with full screen apps running at 1280 x 720. Yes, this will take time to develop. Yes, developers will grumble and scramble, as they quickly rush to embrace it. Given FCC clearance times, there’ll be some advance time prior to market release. The App store will be king, no other way in bar jailbreaking it. The App store has been a huge success and moneyspinner for Apple. They’d love to extend that model. Apple's approval process will annoy and present new challenges for developers, but won't ultimately matter a damn to the market. Apple understand one thing very well, the key shift here is the relationship between the users and applications. Users have a simple uncomplicated relationship with Touch apps, Apple will do anything to protect that.

Bundled apps - The principal focus will be on viewing media of various forms from movies to albums to photography, the internet and email, lightweight document production. There may even be cut down but ever improving Touch versions of iLife and iWork bundled. And I wouldn’t be surprised if the Kindle app is in there too at launch.

Price - my guess, it’ll be 800 bucks. It’ll ship with all the iPhone aerials, GPS, Bluetooth, Wifi, 3G and a SIM slot. Hopefully Apple have learned not to tie themselves into a carrier, It’ll be unlocked and be available from carriers at a discount.

Connections - a version of the dock connector for sure but that's probably it. Much as I would like USB and an SD card slot, I can't see it. They'll expect you to use wifi and bluetooth for connection with other devices, be they printers or storage systems. MobileMe users will have access to their iDisk everywhere.

The geeks will complain about the closed system, Apple's control over applications, the limited feature set, yada yada. Everyone else will swoon. Emotionally and functionally, it'll be perfect for 90% of people. It will do pretty well everything most people want from a computer, email, browse, word processing, photo and video management and of course, listen to music, watch films, read books and magazines and check the net. You know, look at stuff. A platform for content of every description.

The one thing it won’t be is a general purpose computer.

We'll still be using them in our offices and workspaces. I couldn't work without VoodooPad and DevonThink Pro Office, Nisus Writer Pro and Bento, Photoshop and RapidWeaver, or without access to my years of data and I suspect that most people will discover their own version of that pretty quickly.

But a lot of people will not be lugging their laptops home at night.

It’s almost old-fashioned in it’s limited feature set as I have outlined it, almost like the computers in the early eighties with physical buttons for word processing and databases. I think most people will find a comfort in that, eating it up, a computer which ‘just works’ the way their iPod does with all the stuff they like. But for me, that's not really the full potential here. Despite the controls Apple have in place, despite the limits on features and focus on experience, or maybe because of all of them...other newer possibilities emerge.

I've blogged here before about the shift with the App Store. A fundamental change between how ordinary people and applications interact. People feel about apps the way they do about songs or movies. They're personal, a reflection of you, what you do and what you're into.

I see applications as a new content form. Both a form in and of itself but also one with the power to work with all existing content too. We're going to see the creatives who develop the best apps celebrated as widely as other artists as this century progresses, where apps become expressions of ideas and emotions.

This device, like the iPhone before it, could be very significant in the development of that, as software developers begin to fully explore the fact that, given that all content is digital now, they are ultimately the shapers of how that content is communicated to all those people on all those sofas.

It could even end up being the device where that old dream of computer art actually takes place.
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